We all make mistakes.

Sending a postcard with the wrong house number in the address, or forgetting someone’s birthday is something we’ve all been guilty of at some point.

However, there are some mistakes that should never be made, especially by those who are paid precisely so that those mistakes never occur.

Copywriters are paid – whether freelance or on contract – to write error-free text that will sell a product or service. That is the bottom-line definition of this profession.

Note the two key words in that definition: ‘paid’ and ‘error free’. When a customer sees your brochure, website or any other collateral that has mistakes in its text, they aren’t going to blame your copywriter. They’re simply going to think your product or service quality is as poor as the grammar, spelling and punctuation in the text they just read.

Below are the top mistakes to avoid when writing copy. If you write your copy yourself, take note. If you outsource it, make sure you keep a keen eye out for these!

1. Punctuation

Probably one of the most consistent errors seen by many proof readers and editors – and, scarily enough, ignored by them too – is bad punctuation. Excessive use of commas, missing semi-colons where periods have been placed and of course the ever popular misused apostrophe. My own pet peeve is the exclamation mark. My father put it best when he defined the rules of an exclamation mark for me: ‘Son, even one exclamation mark is one too many’.

Social media, sms, Blackberry Messages and iMessaging have given birth to ‘Text-speak’, and so many of us let small grammatical errors slide through in the interest of speedy communications, these slides start taking place in our regular work as well. Haven’t you written ‘Pls’ instead of ‘Please’ in an email lately? 🙂

2. You and me

Companies who write their own copy usually give that role to a manager instead of a marketer, thinking the manager will know best what the company’s strengths are. While that is true, most managers will talk as much as possible about the company’s features instead of what the company can do for the reading customer.

In short, there’s too much of ‘me’ and very less ‘you’. For any copy to be successful in selling, two things are extremely important: mentioning the word ‘you’ and the benefits ‘you’ will receive from working with this company.

Remember how social media works: marketing is slowly becoming consumer-led, and the consumer almost always thinks ‘me’.

3. Being too clever

Advertising awards globally are known to feature brilliant campaigns with clever headlines, taglines or copy. That’s wonderful. However, what many advertising execs will tell you is while those campaigns win awards, they never really got chosen to go live by the companies who the campaign was created for in the first place.

Reason? Clever copy only excites a minority of customers, but makes a majority of copywriters and advertising folk feel warm and fuzzy. A customer simply wants to know ‘why this product is important for my life/ business’. That’s is the beginning and end of all things related.

If you want to be clever, please go ahead however remember the person you are speaking to in your copy and know without a doubt if that person belongs to a target market which will ‘get’ your clever words/ phrases.

4. No call to action

Time and time again I get presented with copy that I am to proof, only to finish reading it and not knowing which number to call, which email address to send my query to or which website to visit.

Far too many junior copywriters and senior marketers fall into the trap of thinking one standard contact section or page is enough for any marketing collateral, whether offline or online.

Consider this: What if the copy you wrote was SO good that the customer began searching for the ‘Call now’ button on the first page within the first 5 minutes?

Ensure, always, to have a call to action on every page of your site. There’s a reason stores in shopping malls have attendants walking in every aisle: imagine having to constantly walk to the counter to ask a simple question when the attendant would answer everything exactly at the spot you are buying your product.

Social media is the foremost example of how this can go right: every website, page, poster or advertisement you see today has ‘Share’ buttons prominently displayed. Calls to action are becoming many companies’ most important marketing tool.

5. Getting SEO wrong

Digital marketing has changed the game considerably, or at least altered it. One of the biggest mistakes made by some copywriters today relates to misunderstanding how SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) works.

Writing copy tailored for strong SEO – which in turn ensures higher website page ranking on search engines – requires a new, recently evolving skill-set. A good copywriter understands this and spends time learning about how search engines work and how they rank web pages.

Writing copy for SEO is more about analysing keywords and key-phrases used by your target audience when they search for your products on Google, Yahoo or Bing. It is also about knowing when to use a set of various keywords when you have a commonly used product. For example, if you or your client sell shampoo, simply using ‘shampoo’, or ‘hair products’ in your copy won’t cut it. Try ‘shampoo for dry hair’, or ‘shampoo with conditioner for dry hair’.

Write as if you’re typing into Google. THAT is what your customers are searching for.

The digital and social media era have changed everything in a way that the previous generation’s best copywriters will struggle to come to terms with. Yesterday’s ‘Call now’ is today’s ‘Share now’.

Are your copywriting skills up-to-speed?

Remember, the above 5 mistakes are not an exhaustive list of mistakes, these are simply what I’ve noticed as repetitive in my 6 years of editing copy. Feel free to mention other mistakes in the comments below.