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There’s a disease plaguing marketers.

You can’t smell it. You can’t hear it. Most of the time you can’t even see it… until it’s too late.

It’s a disease that can spread all over the world in a matter of seconds, killing businesses that are infected with it in a matter of weeks.

Businesses infected with this virus have a survival rate of less than 10%, and death is known to be slow and painful.

That disease, my friends, is called lame copy syndrom. And your odds of being infected are more likely than you think! Up to 80% of businesses are anticipated to catch lame copy syndrome at some point in their lives.

1. It Doesn’t Sell.

The clearest sign that your copy sucks is it doesn’t sell. Period.

It doesn’t matter how pretty you think it is. It doesn’t matter how many creative writing courses you took. It doesn’t matter how many of your teachers don’t you you’re a great writer. If your copy doesn’t sell, it sucks.

That said, there are some qualifications here. Some offers are just so bad no advertising will sell them. If you try to sell a big mac for 50 bucks, no amount of sales magic will save you, because people know a Big Mac costs 5 bucks.

As a general rule “selling” is measured against industry norms. You need to know what the usual conversion rate for offers in your field are, and measure your sales against that. There are many places online to get data on conversion rates and other key metrics. Mailchimp, for instance, offers a table of typical CTRs for their users in different industries.

2. It Doesn’t Sell.

Well, what’s the second rule of Fight Club?

Some things can’t be said just once.

3. It Doesn’t Sound Good When You Read It Out Loud.

Try this experiment. After you’ve written something, try actually reading it out loud. If you…

  • Stumble over your words.
  • Find phrasings awkward.
  • Generally feel it just doesn’t sound good or natural

There’s a good chance that anybody reading it will feel the same way.

4. It’s hard on the eyes.

This is as much a matter of design as copywriting but it bears mentioning because it’s extremely important.

Copy that looks bad doesn’t sell.

Really small text is hard to read and what’s hard to read usually doesn’t get read for long.

Ditto with hard to see colors.

Bold and underlined or italicized text can be effective, AS CAN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, BUT TAKE IT TOO FAR OR DO IT TOO OFTEN AND YOU’LL FIND YOUR SALES SUFFER.

5. It Doesn’t Speak In Terms Of Benefits.

Probably the biggest mistake you can make is not to speak in terms of benefits. You’ve likely read this before.

But the idea of benefits in copywriting has been mis-used by many writers. It’s very common to say, “don’t focus on features, focus on benefits.” The truth is that features and benefits work hand in hand with each other. To simply list benefits on their own (“this product will change your life! it will make you lose 100 pounds! it will instantly fix your marriage!”) never works because there’s nothing backing it up. You need to link benefits together with features.


“The powerful 3.4 Gigahertz Quad Core Processor Will Make Your Computer Run Like Lightning.”

This is just a long way of saying that the computer has a high quality processor which will lead to faster performance. But it’s better than simply saying “this computer is fast,” because many computer buyers know that manufacturers will claim fast speed even if the computer isn’t really fast at all. The feature (the 3.4 ghz quad core processor) lends credibility to the benefit (the fast speed).

6. It Doesn’t Tell A Story.

All great advertising tells a story… Though the type of story depends on what kind of advertising you’re dealing with.

In direct response advertising (long form sales letters, VSLs, TV infomercials) it could be a literal story, a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. In ‘brand’ advertising, stories are told moreso through symbols and images. A great example of this would be Apple’s 1984 ad, which featured a hip looking young woman smashing a hammer through the face of Big Brother from 1984. The use of a well known image from a popular book helped tell a compelling story in under 30 seconds.

7. It doesn’t innovate.

Eventually, if advertising becomes too stale, viewers will develop “ad blindness.”

“Ad blindness” refers to tendency of viewers to not notice an ad if it looks the same as other ads he’s seen a million times before.  An example of ad blindness would be ignoring an email in your inbox because the subject line reminds you of many other emails you once saw that didn’t interest you. Another example would be zoning out during a certain type of ad that comes on TV.

Good copywriters are all too aware of this “ad blindness” phenomenon; for this reason they’re always thinking of how to do something in a way it’s never been done before.

The Bottom Line

The above are just some of the more obvious signs that your copy sucks. The good news is, with the help of a seasoned copy ninja, you can have copy that rocks. And much the same way bad copy doesn’t sell, good copy sells like crazy. Yes, there is justice in the world after all.


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