Why Business Owners Should Never Ever Write Their Own Copy.

A few weeks ago I had an idea for a website. I would give away free 5 minute video critiques of small business’ web copy in exchange for a social media share, and an email address.

Within a day I had www.freecopycritique.com up and running, and after one post on reddit’s /r/entrepreneur sub, I soon had over 50 website submissions. Over the next few days I spent time going to each website, recording my thoughts, and posting the videos to my new YouTube channel.

What I soon found out was, most business owners suck at writing copy for themselves.

I came up with a simple checklist of crucial copy elements, and began to track which websites included them, and which didn’t. This is what I was looking for.

  • Headline
  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Who I am
  • What my problem is
  • How you solve it
  • What my benefit is
  • A call to action

Keep in mind, I wasn’t judging the sites on quality. I was simply tracking whether or not they included the information. Yes or No. Here’s what I found.

14 out of 50 Contained No Headline

The headline is the most important piece of your copy. It’s the first thing people see, and it’s what gets customers to keep reading. It’s been said that there’s an 80/20 rule regarding headlines and body copy; 8/10 people will read a headline while only 2/10 will continue to read the body copy. A well written headline can easily increase that number dramatically.

It’s shocking how many websites simply omitted this crucial piece of copy. I would have accepted, “Welcome to the Website of ABC Enterprises” as acceptable, but only 36 or the 50 managed to do even that.

There are many ways to use a headline to your advantage, but the ones which convert best usually convey a promise or guarantee of some sort. Say you have a website marketing online photography courses, which of the following is more likely to get you to read further;

  • Welcome to Josh’s Photography Site.
  • Photography Captures Memories for a Lifetime.
  • Learn Why Your Photos Look Washed Out, and The One Simple Trick Every Professional Uses.

16 out of 50 Didn’t Say Who They Are.

This is as simple as saying, “I’m Josh, a professional photographer with 12 years of experience.”

Only 34 out of the 50 websites included this information.

Of course, that’s the bare minimum amount of information you need, but it would have been enough to land you a check mark on my spreadsheet. The best of the best weave this information into a brand story. People naturally gravitate towards storytelling, it’s how information has always been passed from generation to generation. It’s why Hollywood can’t stop making movies about Steve Jobs, the shoeless hippie who became a billionaire.

It’s also what will get your customers to align themselves with your brand and remember your company.

4 out of 50 Didn’t Say What They Do.

That might not sound like a lot, but keep in mind, this is the most basic element of your website. If people don’t know what you do, why the hell would they buy anything?

I was only looking for something like, “We sell online photography courses”, and 4 professional business websites in my tiny sample still managed to leave out this information. That’s not counting the websites who made an attempt but utterly mangled the execution. Take this quote for example;

“XXXX Financials ERP Software will help your SME organisation draw information from many diverse sources into one recognisable and controllable information system; ERP software that allows you to increase your customer service levels and profitability, reduce costs, better manage inventories and improve your ability to control your business through better resource planning.”

If that garbled run-on sentence has ever convinced a single person to make a purchase, I’ll eat my words; my grammatically correct, coherently written words.

24 out of 50 Didn’t Identify Their Customer.

Who you are is just as important as who I am. That is, you have to tell your customers that this product is right for them. If you’re a novice photographer, you’ll be looking for a completely different online course than an experienced photographer looking to expand their skills and learn about a new, more specialized aspect of photography.

This is could be as simple as, “We sell online photography courses for first time photographers.”

Bam! Now I know that if I’ve never so much as held a camera, I’m in the right place. Of course, almost half of the business websites I looked at didn’t have this information. That leaves doubt in people’s mind whether this is the right thing for them. When people are in doubt they don’t buy, it’s as simple as that. It’s your job to remove this doubt as thoroughly as possible, or find someone who can.

26 out of 50 Didn’t Identify My Problem.

As a customer, I’m on your site because I have a problem. It’s your job to identify that problem and show me how you solve it.

If I’m a novice photographer and all my pictures are washed out, then I have a problem. If I were going to take a photography course, I’m going to make sure it covers this problem, and I want to know very specifically how you’re going to address this problem.

My Problem: I can’t take pictures that aren’t washed out.

Your Solution: We’ll show you how to adjust your camera’s settings for in any light.


23 out of 50 Didn’t Say How They Would Fix My Problem

Be careful of overlooking the actual solution and just listing results. Most of the websites I looked at simply made a promise without telling me how they’d get there. They’d say things like, “Learn how to take pictures like a professional.”

While this may be ok for a headline, it does nothing to convince me that you actually have the capability to do what you’re promising. Tell your customers exactly what they’re going to get from you. Take a look at this example of actual writing;

“XXXX is built on elegant design, flawless functionality, and effective marketing. We use the latest techniques and technology to equip your business with the tools it needs to grow. We’ll do whatever it takes to exceed our client’s expectations and deliver a great product. Every time.”

Does this identify a problem, then offer a solution? No. It uses vague terms to tell customers what they think about themselves. This is the kind of lifeless, wet noodle copywriting which many business owners write about their companies.

That’s because they’re too invested in their own ideas of what their company should be that they fail to think about it from the client’s point of view. It’s painfully obvious that this business owner has never tried to put himself into any shoes other than his own, and probably doesn’t even know the benefits his own company offers.

And that brings us to the big one…

35 out of 50 Didn’t Offer a Benefit.

The most important aspect of your sales copy is your benefit. You’ve probably heard this a million times, highlight benefits over features, yet only 15 out of 50 businesses did this. As a reminder, this is a feature:

We teach you how to use your camera’s settings.

This is a benefit:

You’ll learn how to take stunning pictures in any light.

Features are good to explain, but benefits are what ultimately sell your product. They can work together, however a list of features only gets you halfway there. It doesn’t close the sale.

Speaking of which, all your beautifully written sales copy doesn’t do a damn thing if you don’t tell your customers what to do next. The most shocking thing I found is that…

Only 13 out of 50 Included a Call to Action.

Whether you want customers to sign up for your mailing list, take a free trial, send an email, or give you a call, the only way they’re going to do that is if you tell them to do it.

The call to action should be the first thing you think about when starting to write your copy. What do you want your customer to do? Choose one thing; I want people to sign up for my newsletter.

The entire website, from the headline to the benefit, should be laser focused on getting people to click on that button. That’s the only reason you’re doing any of this. Yet somehow 37 out of the 50 business owners didn’t even include the button. What’s the point? That’s like building a rocket and forgetting to put in the ignition switch.

Do yourself a favor, hire a copywriter.