Are You Too Tough With Your Website Copy?

Kick ButtThere’s a strategy used in copywriting, and it involves being authoritative, even aggressive. Putting confidence into your copy almost to the point of arrogance is pretty powerful stuff, and it works out great for a lot of people.

It’s a lot better than sounding too soft, too unsure, too pleading. Begging people to like you and hopefully hire you will get you nowhere. Telling them you’re a good idea for what they want to achieve is the way to go.

However, all too often this confidence turns to cockiness. From there, it moves into plain jerkiness. We’ve had some pretty great clients, and they were amazing, wonderful, inspiring people – but their copy gave their target market the impression that they were… well, kind of a dick.

This happened because the clients crossed a line. Instead of building themselves up, they started tearing their clients down. They tried to make themselves seem good by comparing their awesomeness to the mediocrity of their clients.

The idea is if the service provider is great, and you’re measly, then of course you want to hire the great person to fix you, right?

Ehhhh. That’s true if the service provider is great. But it’s never true if the service provider comes off as a jerk.

So how do you know if there’s too much tough love in your copy?

Drawing a Line Right Off the Bat

First of all, never insult anyone that you want to hire you. This means no name-calling. Yes, even in jest. No telling them that they’re wusses, or cowards, or anything of the kind, even if it’s supposed to fire them up.

It may very well fire them up, but it will fire them right up to wanting to take you on, destroy you and all you love, not to start sending you money via PayPal.

Not insulting anyone also includes any times you sort of vaguely insulted them by insulting all people who do a certain thing. “Hey, look, you could not hire me. But the people who don’t hire me are stupid morons with no brains. You don’t want to be one of those people, do you?”

No. Don’t do that. Only a few select people can pull off name-calling. You’re not one of those people. Name-calling is out.

What else is out?

Pretending You’re More Important Than They Are

This is a tricky one. On the one hand, you want your potential clients to think you’re savvy and cool, totally worth hiring, because that’s what you’re trying to accomplish with your website copy. On the other hand, you don’t want to come off as an utter ass.

Here’s what doesn’t work:

“If you want to stop wasting your life and being a wuss letting people walk all over you, you need help. You’re not going to make it on your own and you need someone to help you do it. Of course, if you’re happy where you are being a loser, that’s your choice. I’m not going to try to convince you. My time is valuable.”

See how that went right over the line? That’s bad. Don’t do that.

You can tell them what people you’re interested in working with, and what people probably aren’t ready to work with you. You could write something like this:

“If you’re ready to kick butt, give me a call. If you’re still not sure, I’ll be honest – I’m probably not going to be able to help you yet, because this takes confidence on both sides. Go read my blog for a few hours and get psyched up. Then come back.”

That’s a crappy example, but you get the point. Right?

Being Confident and Powerful Without Being a Jerk

Now, there’s a reason that a certain level of “I just don’t care” works well sometimes. It demonstrates self-confidence. It’s not begging for clients. It gives a message like, “Look, I don’t need to do what I do for a living. I’m just trying to help you out.”

That’s a good message, even if you do really need to do whatever you do for a living. Acting like you don’t need work is one of the surest ways to get it.

You could be funny. You could make your potential clients laugh. You can make them see the foolishness of their ways without calling them idiots.

The whole idea behind a slightly aggressive route is convincing people that you’re powerful, which is all well and good, but you also need to put some of that confidence into the people reading your copy. Otherwise, you’ll just make people think twice about contacting you, because you might laugh or condescend their measly lives and then take their money.

Your potential clients need to think you’re confident, so they believe you know what you’re doing. You also need to make them think they know what they’re doing, which is making the good decision to hire you.

How about your copy? Can you make it more authoritative? Or does it need to be toned down a notch?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Yeah well, this one was awesome (nothing unusual!)
    I am sure I wasn’t being to hard on my readers but maybe I was being to ‘me too!’ or ‘me the great’ types.
    Thought provoking.
    .-= King Sidharth´s last blog ..Prove Thyself =-.

  2. Beautiful point and there’s a lot to be said for confidence … it always shines through.

    I like your before/after examples that light up the point.

    I still have trouble shifting back and forth, where, during the day, I need to be an authority, and at night, I can just be some dude on a blog saying stuff. It’s a voice and perspective thing. When I catch myself falling into prescriptive guidance mode, I do a reality check and ask myself, how would I say it if I was just talking with you across the table (versus at your, or past you, or in your general direction.)

    I also like your point on playing the nice guy. Put downs are lame, and are actually counter-productive.

  3. At the end of the day it’s all about collaboration and getting things done. Confidence is great but don’t be arrogant.
    Good post about being the nice guy, treat others with respect and how you would like to be treated yourself goes a long way in helping cement relationships for the future.
    .-= Kev Jaques´s last blog ..National Lottery Predictions – Sat 9th May 2009 =-.

  4. When I’m writing copy, I write as if I was talking to my family and friends. I wouldn’t put them down or make them feel bad or inferior. Having someone you trust proof read is a good idea also.
    .-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..Got a problem? =-.

  5. Spot on James.

    That confident/arrogant line is an easy one to cross, and it’s easy for people to confuse the two.

    My rule of thumb is this – arrogance is noisy, confidence is quiet.

    I have to get this tone of confidence right, otherwise I’m screwed. That’s my whole message, my whole offering, so if my tone doesn’t reflect that there’s a gaping incongruity and I’ve lost people.

    The good thing is that with natural confidence that tone is struck naturally, and you can also own up when you’ve got things wrong and you can let people know when you’re experimenting.

    I’m planning on rewriting a whole bunch of copy on my site that I’ve never really been happy with, probably because I was trying too hard to come across as confident.
    .-= Steve Errey – The Confidence Guy´s last blog ..Rihanna’s Left Me, Now What? =-.

  6. @steve errey

    “arrogance is noisy, confidence is quiet.”

    .-= Ben Curnett´s last blog ..The Wes Anderson Method Of Being Instantly Recognizable (To Your Fans) =-.

  7. @King – With a name like ‘king’, I’d say you’ve got it made and can rest on your confidently quiet laurels 🙂

    @JD – Ooh, now there’s something that’s good for you – learning to switch your voice around, to be “different people”, as it were. That’s something handy to develop, hands down!

    @Kev – Now that’s an interesting point: “It’s about getting things done.” You’re right – because you’ll get a lot more things done if you’re reaching out to people, making them feel your equal and inviting them to work with you. Well said.

    @Heather – I always have Tei read over my stuff when I feel strongly about something, whether ‘strongly’ means uber-excited or raving mad. My writing voice changes and sometimes I come off harsher than I’d like. (Must be that French blood and all…)

    @Steve – May I present you Case Study Number 3875, James Chartrand.

    I’m not quiet. Definitely not. (I think you can attest to that!) I’m confident. Got that in spades. (And then some.) But I like to think I’m not arrogant. (You be the judge.)

    So how does that work?

    (Though I do agree highly with you – inner confidence is generally very quiet, and subtly apparent.)

  8. Good post, James. Arrogant copy drives me crazy.

    If I ever have to use an example of stupidity in my copy, that stupidity has to be on my part. If I’m pointing out my mistakes and how I learned a better way, it doesn’t come off as condescending.

    One more point… Confidence isn’t something you can fake. If you’re not confident in what you’re selling, you shouldn’t be selling it.

    Selling doesn’t require arrogance when your just showing people that what you have meets their needs, emotionally and tangibly.
    .-= Henry´s last blog ..The Newtonian Laws Of Business – The First Law =-.

  9. This sort of aggressive copy works for certain products and certain buyers, generally for self-help and get-rich-quick. That’s because the sort of people who want those products often have low self-esteem and respond to authority figures, even to outright abuse. Sort of like listening to Dr. Laura on the radio. “You’re a worthless weasel! Your life is crap! But now you can be wonderful like me!”

    It’s unfortunate that so many new copywriters get sucked into writing this sort of thing and think it applies to any sort of copywriting. It doesn’t. But it requires little skill and no finesse, so it’s easy and fun to write. Every writer who has ever sent me samples hoping to get a project has sent me this sort of copy. It breaks my heart to tell them that’s not what I need.
    .-= Dean Rieck´s last blog ..Are you making these 7 freelance website mistakes? =-.

  10. re: Pretending You’re More Important Than They Are

    I am not more important than my clients. I would never even allude to that.

    What I am is more *knowledgeable* than my clients on the services I offer.

    As soon as you believe, as a person or organization, that you are more important than the next person or organization, arrogance and disdain creeps into your tone. Whereas, when you firmly promote your knowledge, you exude confidence.
    .-= Eliza´s last blog ..The (Mis)Adventures of Mike: Mapping out business processes =-.

  11. This is a rockin’ post!

    ” … but you also need to put some of that confidence into the people reading your copy.”


    “You also need to make them think they know what they’re doing, which is making the good decision to hire you.”

    Very well stated James and couldn’t agree with you more.

    After looking over the comments in last Wednesday’s post, I noticed I missed the beer call – “Yeah. Hopeless. Anyone want a beer too, while I’m up?” 🙁 This makes me think it’s all about the timing.

  12. Good post. This line:

    That’s a good message, even if you do really need to do whatever you do for a living. Acting like you don’t need work is one of the surest ways to get it.

    ….reminds me of a quote from Swingers when they’re getting drinks in Vegas. 🙂

  13. Wow, this was amusing. Some people talk like that?

    IMHO the best way to sell is not to sell, but let people buy. In order for this to happen, the business needs to offer value * first * before anyone pays. Demonstrate what you can do for a potential client, share your expertise, and people start fantasizing how great their lives would be with you.

    Good example is Naomi. She uses four letter words, but not to potential clients. And she offers tons of free valuable lessons on her blog. Or you. I bet you convert a good chunk of readers to clients.

    Keep up your good work. And happy holidays,
    .-= Akemi – Yes to Me´s last blog ..Online Gratitude Journal November 2009 Edition #35 =-.

  14. @ Akemi – Many, many websites have copy that talks exactly like that, or have blog posts with that bullying tone. Surprising, eh?

    @ Phil – Swingers and getting drunk… Well now. Weekend entertainment? 😉

    @ Mark – It’s personally important to me that when clients hire me, they do so because they feel confident and have thought through their decision. I’ve even been known to gently send clients away for a bit of a think when they’ve mentioned they’re not sure what they want or what their goals are. It’s important that they have confidence they’re doing the right thing.

    And yes. One beer please 🙂

    @ Eliza – Even being more knowledgeable can become a trap. It places us above people and they sense that. They don’t feel that they’re equals, and they feel we’re infalliable. Which twists the psychology so that they think, “No point in me doing business with THIS know it all!” That sucks.

    It’s also one of the reasons why people who say, “I screw up, I make mistakes, I’m no better than you,” tend to actually attract more clients.

    The mind’s a funny thing that way 🙂

    @ Dean – That was too funny – Dr. Laura. She’s exactly like that, isn’t she? And many people cleave to her, because they’re scared, have low self-esteem and think that authority means “must pay attention”. So yes, it does work.

    But like you said, all the time? Definitely not.

    @ Henry – Ahh, see, you have the right of it. Pointing out past mistakes and how you grew and learned from it exudes confidence. Even being able to point out mistakes that you haven’t yet learned how to fix conveys confidence, because you’re able to say that you aren’t perfect. Yes.

  15. “Putting confidence into your copy almost to the point of arrogance is pretty powerful stuff, and it works out great for a lot of people.”

    >> Heh, sure does! I like that picture too, kind of sums up what I do. Accept I would never wear heels, that’s just wrong. That will drive people AWAY from results not towards it.

    But it totally looks like James’ fantasy, he looks like the type that’d be into that sorta thing. 😉
    .-= FitJerk’s Fitness Blog´s last blog ..Guest Post: Why You Need to Stay Active, Even on Rest Days =-.

  16. Yes, James, I should have made it clear in my comment about the timing deal.

    Timing only as it applies to a beer call.

    I’m glad you clarified in your comment above because I feel the same way – well said.

  17. Just out of curiosity, what kind of service are these rude people trying to sell?

  18. People writing that kind of copy amuse me. I don’t take it personally, but I don’t buy either.

    Gary Halbert did “get away” with being insulting… I think the lesson here is “If you’re not Gary Halbert, don’t be insulting.” But he was funny too! “Listen up, Buckwheat…” that stuff just cracks me up.
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..DIY WordPress: Creating Sidebars On-the-Fly in WordPress =-.

  19. There should be some problem creation in your copy, but you shouldn’t be too tough, like you shouldn’t insult your readers. Once you highlight problems, present your service as a solution. As Akemi said, “Don’t sell it, let people buy it”.

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