As marketers, we’re all doing two things:
- Writing with the intent to sell something. Maybe it’s a product description in an e-commerce store, maybe it’s a landing page trying to generate a lead, or maybe it’s a blog post (like this one!) that’s trying to sell you an idea.
- Writing phrases and clichés that turn off our audience.
The point of copywriting to make somebody feel something, which causes action. You’ve likely seen tons of examples of emotion at work in copywriting:
- Fear – fear of missing out (FOM) is a common motivator for companies marketing to Millennials.
- Pity – Look no further than the success of the ASPCA commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan. Or don’t.
- Hope – Nothing gets somebody to open their wallet faster than the hope of fixing his problem.
These are just a few examples. Making our audience feel something by using emotional triggers in our copy helps us sell. But what you don’t want your audience to feel is annoyance, or worse, outright anger, that you wasted their time.
The marketing industry is producing more online content than ever, and there will be more tomorrow! If you want to stand out, do your audience a favor by respecting their time and intelligence by banishing the following clichés and filler phrases from your copy.
1. Industry leader, industry-leading
You can find this phrase on a huge percentage of About pages for companies everywhere. It usually looks something like this:
“With more than 20 years of experience, [Company X] is an industry-leader in [industry]…”
Not only is this a self-centered way to introduce your company or brand to a web visitor generous enough to grant you a click, it tells him nothing about your company! Why should he care if your company is an “industry leader?” Does that mean lower prices or better service?
This phrase contains no value, is hyperbolic, and its ubiquity means it’s become a complete throwaway phrase.
Replace with: The reason your company is a leader in the industry!
Does your product or service help start-ups get to market faster? Explain that with a numerical anchor. Does your company have a mission it’s trying to accomplish? Lead with that, but make sure to write it in context of the audience.
This phrase has gained massive popularity for the past several years as a standalone adjective. For example, take a look at this Google search results page.
We get it—Anna Kendrick is adorable and quirky; just like all Millennials, right!? Insert eyeroll here.
The word relatable causes us to skip out on all the wonderful adjectives available to describe the person more accurately and paint a picture for the audience.
It’s worth noting, however, that “relatable” has become fodder for click bait headlines—it might be able to get you that click, but at what cost to your reputation?
Replace with: A description of the quality that makes the person relatable to a specific audience or niche. Further reading on the origin of our current use of the phrase.
Ah yes, conjunctive adverbs—possibly the only thing worse than regular adverbs. When somebody uses one of these words he’s usually trying to establish a tone, emphasize a point, or create humor. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of your audience’s patience or your own credibility.
If you have more than three of these words in an 800-word blog post, you should go back and drop the grammar hammer before publishing your draft.
Replace with: A fact that proves the emphasis.
“I’m basically/seriously/really broke.”
“I’m broke—my bank account is in the single digits.”
4. In order to
This phrase is an example of needlessly adding words to a sentence—90% of the time, you don’t need “in order” to get your point across. I’ve singled out this phrase because I see it used far too often.
Replace with: This is an easy one—just use “to” instead.
5. In today’s world
If you’re looking for a quick way to waste screen space and sound old-fashioned at the same time, look no further than this tired qualifier.
For the record, we’re all aware of what year it is, and you’re probably reading this on a smartphone! Unless you’re directly comparing some part of modern civilization to Mesopotamia, you’re better off omitting this altogether. Synonymous and equally useless phrases include: in modern society, in today’s fast-paced world, etc.
Replace with: Consider omitting entirely or restructuring your sentence. What is the point of comparing to the past? Is it relevant to your argument or persuasive to your readers? If not, just get to your point.
BONUS ROUND – Filler phrases galore
The filler phrase—helping high school students achieve word count since word processing was invented. Once you reach a certain level of clientele, filler phrases become the bane of your existence.
Every filler phrase, which says nothing, is an excuse for your reader to get bored and leave your site. Here are a few examples:
- For all intents and purposes
- With that in mind
- The fact of the matter is
- When all’s said and done
These words literally mean nothing. People include them in their writing because they feel they enhance the flow and readability of an article, but what they do instead is to make it sound like you have nothing of substance to say.
Be extremely cautious with filler phrases.
Replace with: NOTHING! Eschew filler phrases completely—your audience will thank you.
Is there a right or wrong way to conduct copywriting for your business? Of course not—if it works, go with it. Cormac McCarthy, one of the greatest American authors, is famous for his lack of punctuation.
The difference between Cormac McCarthy and your business, however, is that when somebody is reading his writing, they’ve already bought what he’s selling.
About the Author
Logan Mayville is a content strategist with bonus skills in copywriting, SEO, and digital marketing. He partners with clients who share his strategic, analytical, and creative style. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.