Stop murdering your copy with clichéd phrases

Clichéd phrases in website content

Oi! Business owner, you can’t hide, I can still see you (and your clichéd phrases).

If it makes you feel better, many businesses barf up hackneyed lines all over their website. 

But why?

Old habits die hard.

That would have been a great title for that particular film franchise. A missed opportunity.

Without doing research, I can’t answer definitively.

(I’m so lazy.)

Instead, you can have my opinion based on my experience as a website builder and business writer. 

I think all these clichéd phrases are a hangover from early sites. 

The Hangover was a terrible movie.

Some find it difficult to shake off their stuffy business sensibilities. Even when they want to change things up, they still lean towards playing it safe.

Back in the 90s/00s the rules were clear: speak corporate professional jargon. Business-to-business (B2B) copy is legally obliged to be uninteresting.

This is probably why organisations have been spewing this shit across their web pages for years. They assumed it was what their clients wanted. Trouble is, not many bothered to ask their clients what they wanted.

This stuff lingers on.

Marry that with ‘industry best practice’ and you’ve got yourself some of the worst content imaginable.

As business owners, we’ve found ourselves in an odd situation. We’ve unwittingly created a terrible template for business copy

Business-to-consumer (B2C) swerves the problem.

B2C websites are for public consumption. 

They get to relax the tone, drop in a little conversational writing and no one faints at the audacity. 

Side note: before you turn your nose up at conversational writing, it’s important for SEO. Thanks to applications like Alexa and Siri, voice search makes up 20% of the pie on mobile devices. Think about that before you write your copy like a Pathé News announcer.

Talking directly to the customer and speaking to them as a human is pretty standard when you’re selling a soft drink or gravy granules.

And yet we (for reasons unknown to me) treat other businesses like they were another species of human – a ‘professional’ human (a personality vacuum in a suit).

It’s so dumb.

Examples of B2B clichéd phrases.

“We’re delighted to announce…”

This should be reserved for couples who insist on posting about the birth of their spawn on social media. 

You know the ones, they see themselves as celebrities who think all their Facebook ‘friends’ give a shit about what they’ve managed to genetically produce.

Yeah, that guy you met in Ibiza 12 years ago is desperate to know about your life milestones. 

No one in business is delighted to announce anything. And I’ll fight anyone who says they are.

(Well, I’ll pay someone to fight on my behalf. I don’t like to mess up my hair.)

“We’re the market leaders.”

Oh, well hold up! Take me to your CTA! No, take all my money immediately! Every goddam business says they’re the market leader – industries are full of ‘em.

“We are passionate about customer service.”

If you have to say you are, you’re probably not.

When B&M pop the word ‘luxury’ on their liqueur chocolates you know they lie. I can confirm that the chocolate is of poor quality and the booze inside, lighter fluid.

“We pride ourselves on…”

This phrase is usually followed up with something about customer-focused whatever. It really is another skin tag on the arsehole of business webcopy.

“We’re an innovative and agile company.”

I don’t even know what that means and that’s the trouble with all these phrases. 

Any meaning they once had has disappeared. These lines are as regurgitated as a fly’s meal.

I landed (landed, fly, brilliant) on a website the other day (I was being nosy) and found this on the homepage:

“We are the people who provide advanced, cloud-led digital transformation solutions

IT companies LOVE solutions, no?

But “transformation solutions” has me stumped. It’s so vague. It’s something I imagine Matthew Kelly might have said on Stars in Their Eyes – “What a transformation solution!”

And mission statements.

These really are a cesspool of business bullshit. 

I guarantee you won’t get half a sentence in without seeing the word ‘empowering’. Potential clients ‘love’ that stuff, an entire page dedicated to your “core values”.

Please, god, make it stop. 

Businesses say they’re different.

But they’re not really.

Trying a new approach means taking a risk so they end up staying exactly where they are. Which is in a safe uninteresting place overrun with clichéd phrases.

Go and look at your competitors’ websites.

I guarantee you won’t be impressed.

One of the reasons for this is plenty still don’t hire professional writers. If you do, you’re already doing something innovative. 

Organisations that are different.

Let’s take a look at a really dull sector: life insurance.

Most within that industry will euphemise the subject of death. They tread around it and avoid mentioning it, using terms like “When the unforeseen does occur”.

All their copy and content will have an air of solemn reverence – it’s never been done any other way.

Then a business called DeadHappy rocks up and all hell breaks loose. 

It wastes no time smashing through taboos.

It chucks headings on its homepage like “Die responsibly”. They have an insurance plan titled, “Make a death wish”.

Now, for the twin-set and pearls brigade, that’s a shade too far.

But that’s ok because they can pop along to SunLife and grab an over 50s plan. It’s safe to say, those people aren’t DeadHappy’s audience. 

They are cornering (and probably dominating) the younger market (which no one bothered to cater to before). Those crazy kids want insurance that’s quick to arrange without the threat of a prize draw or a free ballpoint pen. 

(They probably attract some old folks that don’t fit the stereotype.)

When I create copy I’m imagining the ideal customer as a person.

And not a faceless concept.

Sounds bloody obvious (and I’m always saying it) but only a handful of B2B peeps really do it (and do it well).

Approaching branding and in turn, copy like DeadHappy would be radical in a B2B setting. But it always comes back to the same thing for me: personality types.

Don’t just focus on the businesses within your target industry – think about the personalities within that area you’d like to attract.

Food for thought.

If, like me, you’re a bit of a business maverick, craving something other than clichéd copy, click here and hire me.

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