If you’re a writer of any kind, whether it’s sales copy, blog posts, articles…and you want your readers to read from start to finish and take some kind of action, then these 7 crap words must be avoided at all costs.
Keep reading because you’ll discover:
- The 7 words you MUST avoid at all costs – they make your readers more nervous than the owner of a china store with a bull in it…and can they slash your opt-ins, sales, shares and comments in an instant.
- Awesome alternatives which help your writing flow like the Amazon river and convert your readers into leads, sales, likes comments and shares.
- A few simple, easy-to-implement strategies you can use to help your writing flow like a river and bring your reader from start to finish without them ‘stubbing their toe’ on any words along the way.
- How to use the ‘greased chute’ principle to guide your writing from start to finish and ensure your message is received and acted upon.
- How to strike the perfect balance between the Queen’s correct English…and English that SELL.
Understand this: I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. This comes from testing and measuring performed by marketers and media publishers for over a hundred years, long before texting and social media conspired to ruin the Queen’s English.
And while, as a copywriter, I’ve compiled this list from the point of view of writing great copy, it still applies to any kind of writing you can imagine – fiction, content, news, and so on.
Good writing is good writing, and even if you do not require ANY action from your reader except to enjoy your prose – when your writing flows easily and smoothly along, your reader will certainly enjoy it a lot more.
I’ve also tested this with freelance clients since 2003, online and offline, as well as working with some of the biggest names in marketing and during coaching and mentoring sessions with top copywriters. So you can be sure it’s all backed by results.
However – the force which is really acting on our readers and prospects, and causing them to click away from your page at the slightest bump in the road…
Here’s the thing – we’re all a seething, roiling bag of emotions. Emotions govern every facet of our lives, they make us do things we regret later, things our family loves us for, things to attract or repel wealth, and a lot more.
For everything which happens to us, we have an emotional reaction. Everybody is different, some will deal well with setbacks, while others have what I call a ‘glass jaw’, which means the slightest hitch is enough to bring them undone.
And when someone reads what you’ve written, they will have an emotional reaction to it. They might suppress what they’re feeling, or allow themselves to be consumed by it. But they’ll definitely FEEL something as a result of our words.
This is the power of the written word – the power to generate and transmit emotions and feelings.
It’s the core reason behind why people buy our stuff – it’s not logic, logic says we just need food, water, maybe a roof over our heads. However, this doesn’t explain why we can eat a lobster worth hundreds of dollars, drink champagne costing thousands, and live in an enormous 10 bedroom mansion with one other person.
It’s the EMOTIONAL REACTION to the words on this list which trips our readers up!
Don’t go through this list with a logical mindset, looking to discover some little-known secret to writing which has been kept from you all these years. This is the stuff of douchey business opportunity marketers.
The answer has in fact been hiding right there in plain sight all this time. You yourself have an emotional reaction to everything you read, even if only a minute one.
It’s a double-edged sword….emotions make our prospects buy our products, yet emotions can also derail the entire process at any time. Even if you never write to sell a product, you still have, by default, a responsibility to ensure a smooth passage for your reader, from beginning to end.
This list will help you minimize and eliminate those places where your reader might stub their toe, get distracted, decide Facebook or YouTube has more to offer and click away.
7 Crap Words
Crap Word #1: LEARN
This one brings back bad memories for a lot of people – especially those of us old enough to have experienced physical punishment at school. Even without this aspect, the word ‘learn’ implies hard work, it makes it sound like the reader has to make an effort.
And while you and I don’t mind making an effort, for most markets this is not something you should be pointing out. If you do, you risk killing the sale.
Here’re a couple of simple examples:
- Learn the power of hypnosis to quit smoking forever
- DISCOVER the power of hypnosis to quit smoking forever
The difference is very subtle, but it’s there. The first sentence basically tells us that we’re going to learn something. And while the feelings and emotions generated will vary greatly, a large percentage of the population will have less-than-precious memories of learning at school.
If you’re like me, you’ll remember being forced to learn uninteresting and irrelevant facts by rote, commit them to memory so at some arbitrary point your teacher will test your memory and use the results to decide whether you are part of ‘normal society’.
Maybe your reader has tried to learn a musical instrument, and a foreign language, and how to replace a computer hard drive, and with those perceived ‘failures’ in the back of their mind, the mere thought of being forced to ‘learn’ something again is unappealing.
Remember – this might all be happening at a subconscious level, so our reader may not even be aware of what’s happened.
Here’s another great example – The Learning Channel is a cable channel launched in the US 1980 and was initially focused mainly on educational and learning programs, however by 2001 the channel’s focus had shifted squarely to reality shows.
While The Discovery Channel remains the 3rd most widely distributed cable channel in the US.
Other alternatives such as ‘uncover’, ‘reveal’, ‘expose’, may be used within the context and writing style you are looking to maintain
Crap Word #2: BUT
‘But’ is a negative word which automatically negates everything in a sentence after the word ‘but, even if it’s the first word in the sentence.
- But if you’re like most people, you’ll be frustrated at poor marketing results.
- HOWEVER, if you’re like most people, you’ll be frustrated by poor marketing results.
The word ‘but’ can instantly spoil an otherwise perfectly good sentence. For example:
- You might do a great job of getting your reader’s hopes up, BUT you can deflate them in an instant with one poor word choice.
It sometimes seems like a perfectly natural word to use in your copy or prose – although it is not actually working for you. Alternatives such as ‘although’, ‘yet’, can be used in its place.
Crap word #3: BUY
The word ‘buy’ is one which seems to make a lot of sense if you’re writing sales copy. After all, we want them to buy, don’t we?
Of course we do, however, we’ve got to be a bit more subtle about it. There are ways to ask for the order, without reminding people they’re spending money.
And this is the key to ‘buy’ – we don’t want to remind people they’re handing over their own hard-earned cash. Yet they still buy…this is the weird part about emotions and sales. You don’t need to understand all the psychology (few do), you’ve just got to minimize and eliminate your use of this word.
- Buy this product today and I’ll throw in 3 valuable bonuses.
Sounds reasonable, right? It does – yet the following sentences, were you to split-test them, would all convert higher than the first one:
- INVEST in this product today and I’ll throw in 3 valuable bonuses
- CLAIM your copy today and I’ll throw in 3 valuable bonuses
- GET your copy today and I’ll throw in 3 valuable bonuses
- RESERVE your copy today and I’ll throw in 3 valuable bonuses
If you are selling a business related product, ‘invest’ always works well. And you don’t buy a hotel room, you reserve one, right?
Crap Word #4: SIGN UP
Yes, it’s two words, however they are often used together…with disastrous results for your conversions. Here’s the psychology…
People sign contracts, they sign divorce papers, they sign unintelligible paperwork which has been prepared either by a lawyer who is charging them more per hour than they make in a week or by a lawyer who is trying to destroy their life.
So as you can imagine, ‘Sign Up’ is something which may cause some negative emotions in a large number of people.
A couple of examples:
- Sign up today and get the entire course for free.
- REGISTER today and get the entire course for free.
‘Register’ is usually far less threatening and easier on the eye.
- I’ll reveal the secret to success when you sign up here.
- I’ll reveal the secret to success when you JOIN here.
If you’re trying to get people to opt in to a mailing list, ‘join’ works well. Words like ‘sign up’ tend to imply far more commitment than you are probably proposing. It’s like the old dating examples people so often give – where the man turns up for his first date…and asks the girl to marry him.
It’s too much, too soon. And if you can’t find a good alternative which makes the copy flow, you might need to change the whole sentence of even the paragraph around until it isn’t quite so in-your-face.
Crap Word #5: IF
The word ‘IF’ is often not strong enough, especially when you are writing sales copy. In fact it’s often too wishy-washy if you are seriously trying to get your reader to take action.
Here’s an example:
- If you are ready to enjoy inner peace, click here.
Basically what this says to your reader is: “Well, maybe IF you are ready, possibly sometime this year, (or maybe next year, it doesn’t really matter), so if you don’t mind, and if you’re not particularly busy, perhaps you might find time to click here….?”
If you’re writing to sell something, it’s not enough. Try this:
- WHEN you are ready to enjoy inner peace, click here.
One very simple word change, a seemingly obvious one, yet the tone of the sentence is completely different. Now, there’s no doubt about what the reader is to do. If they want to enjoy the benefit you’re talking about, (here it’s to enjoy inner peace), they must follow your call to action to get it.
It uses a simple psychology – using the word ‘when’ implies a presupposition that the reader already wants to enjoy inner peace, and they are already planning to click as commanded. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
Here’s a GOOD use of the word ‘IF’ – the ‘IF/THEN’ statement:
IF you’ve been searching for a way to get in touch with your soul, and finally liberate your pure, untainted spirit to manifest everything you’ve ever wished for, THEN you’re in the right place at the right time.
Crap Word #6: ORDER
This one is closely related to crap word #3 – BUY – again, we don’t want to overtly remind people they are spending money. This is where the ART of writing sales copy comes in – we want to focus more on the benefits they’re getting from our product, rather than having the price of it front and center in their minds.
- This special discount deal is only available when you order today.
- This special discount deal is only available when you INVEST today.
Once again, there’s only a very subtle difference, however the second version will always convert better than the first one.
Here’s another example you can use:
- Complete this order form today to claim your free bonus.
- Complete this APPLICATION form today to claim your free bonus.
The best part about this one…making it an ‘application’ rather than a simple order gives the sense of exclusivity, the prospect has to literally ‘apply’ to get in. Use with care as it can become douchey if not used correctly.
You can use similar alternatives as listed under ‘BUY’ – such as ‘invest’, ‘claim’, and so on.
Crap Word #7: THAT
The worst has well and truly been saved for last – ‘THAT’ is just an ugly word which often can (and should) be left out altogether. It’s the kind of word which stops the flow of your copy or prose mid-sentence, like a concrete dam.
Here’s a few ugly examples:
- I want to share with you the ideas that I have compiled over the years.
- I want to share with you the ideas WHICH I have compiled over the years.
As you can see, the second sentence doesn’t quite jar as much and flows more easily, yet it’s not quite smooth enough. As in 99% of cases – it’s better just to leave the word out altogether:
- I want to share with you the ideas I have compiled over the years.
Here we’ve edited for flow – simply removing the word ‘that’ altogether has created a much smoother, more flowing sentence.
Another alternative is the word ‘This’:
- Our beer is triple purified and filtered – that means you can be confident it’s 100% pure.
- Our beer is triple purified and filtered – THIS means you can be confident it’s 100% pure.
However there is another variation which is seen all too often and really kills your flow – and your conversions…
This is one which is completely unnecessary in every instance – it’s a flow-and-conversion-killing combination you must avoid at all times.
Here’s an ugly example:
- The seminar attendees told me that the content was excellent.
- The seminar attendees told me the content was excellent.
As you can see, there is really no good alternative for ‘THAT’ in the sentence, and it flows best by simply removing the word altogether.
Editing For Flow
What we’ve really been doing here is EDITING for flow. We’ve mostly been removing words, and occasionally substituting words, to make our copy and prose read more smoothly. And that’s what writing is all about.
Many years ago, comedian Jerry Seinfeld said “I’ll spend an hour editing an 80 word joke down to 5 words, if I can”.
Like many other copywriters, my process is to sit down and pour out as much copy as I can, empty my brain onto the page and get it all out there.
Then, I’ll go back and clean it up, edit for flow, make sure it reads well later on. If you fall for the trap of editing as you go, it’ll slow you down a lot, and you will find it hard to get any flow going at all.
New writers often do this because they want each sentence they write to be perfect from the start (understandably). You need to let go of the ego and be happy to have imperfect prose sitting there on the page, and be able to leave it until you can come back and fix it later.
The Greased Chute Principle
The greased chute is an overall principle to guide your entire written piece. It ensures your copy or prose does its job smoothly – that is, it takes the reader from start to finish without any ‘toe-stubbing’, hiccups or disconnects during the piece and obtains the required outcome at the end, whether this is an opt-in, a sale, a share, a comment, whatever.
Here’s how it works:
Imagine one of those old steel chutes, slides, slippery dips, whichever name you knew them by as a child.
Now, if you’re like me, you will have memories of sliding down one on a hot sunny day, in a pair of shorts, and when your bare skin contacts the steel, it stops you right there.
So what we’re going to do is pour some grease on our imaginary slide, so when we go down it, we slide easily right to the bottom. Simple, right?
Now, imagine the chute is your email, or landing page, or sales letter.
The prospect lands on your page or opens your email – this is the top of your greased chute. And once they arrive at the bottom, they find a Call To Action such as an opt-in form, or Add to Cart button.
If you’ve done it right – by now they’re moving so quickly and smoothly, going to the next step and opting in or buying seems absolutely natural.
Here’s what derails your copy and has your readers clicking away – crap words. The list of crap words we’ve gone through here are those spots on the chute where there’s no grease – they’re the bumps in the road which our readers stub their toes on.
The mistake so many writers make…assuming their readers actually read their entire piece.
Never take it for granted your reader will read your last sentence, just because they landed on the page and read the first one.
This is an imprecise, inexact science.
Sometimes you will not be able to find a suitable replacement for one of these words, and the text may just flow better with that word in it. I’m not proposing a total ban on these words, I mean just look back through this article and you’ll find some sprinkled throughout.
All you need to do is look out for these words as they come out, and remove them whenever you can, or at least minimize their use.
It’s a balancing act – we all want to write in perfect English, yet people don’t talk or think this way. And if you’re writing to sell, you need to write the same way your prospects and customers speak and think. Enter the conversation they have in their mind.
All of these words impair readership and disrupt flow, and when you improve these things, your conversions will go up, even if you change nothing else.
Next time you write, and every time you write, be aware of these words and ways you can delete them to improve the flow of your copy or prose.
Keep working at it and you’ll soon see results.
If you know any other crap words I should add to my list – share them in the comment below. Let’s talk about it.