As we all know, content is back on top again. The crown of the King/Queen never really went away; we just forgot how important producing killer content was to get people motivated. Instead, we focused on stuff like backlinking, blog or link wheels, and other SEO tactics that once worked but are now the kiss of death.
But what constitutes good content? And how can content do damage to your business? As a professional writer for 20 years, I think I know a thing or two about what makes content great, and another thing or three about how you can end up looking like the biggest horse’s ass in the room.
Let’s talk about those things now. What are the WORST things you can do with a piece of content?
1. Not having a clear goal for your content piece
Content, like anything we do in business, should have a goal. Is that piece of content meant to educate, excite or entertain? Will producing it add value to your business or is your idea a waste of time and energy?
The last part is very important. If you’re planning on producing a piece of content that doesn’t help your reader in some way, that isn’t well-researched or well-written, or is just something you hacked out (yes, like a hairball), why waste your time or your readers’ time? Makes no sense at all.
Plus, it can actually hurt your SEO. When those creepy little search spiders see gar-bo, they know it. You’ll be thought of as an author that isn’t worth anyone’s time or attention.
Of course, a single article won’t do this; we all have bad days. But if you put a string of unimportant crap all over the Web, well… you know what that means, right? Google, at least, won’t be recommending your stuff to their search audience and other search engines probably won’t either.
2. Not researching your topic
OK, so you want to write about the latest technique in barrel gardening. Have you bothered to check out that topic online? Are there people who say the technique you want to write about is ineffective? Or are people raving about it? Who are they, and how can you quote them in what you’re writing? Can you agree or disagree with their statements?
Knowing your topic thoroughly is HUGE! To keep people interested, show some stats, quote experts or add a quirky story. Really show people you know your stuff.
For example, Emily Cretella in her article, “20 Content Marketing Mistakes to Avoid,” quoted Jay Baer, who said, “The biggest mistake is thinking that 'content' is just newfangled sales materials. Most content marketing fails on the utility scale. Content that is inherently useful is inherently successful.”
I totally agree. But Emily used that quote to strengthen her article. Quotes, statistics, graphs and charts, and other relevant content makes your article much more interesting than simple pontification about how not to train a dog.
3. Being unprofessional
I know that we all tend to speak with expletives now and then these days. However, if you’re promoting your business, you most definitely don’t want to include them in what you write.
You also don’t want to misspell words, use improper grammar or ignore proper punctuation. There are several guides to help you, since most people just aren’t professional writers.
The first one I can think of is Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, of course. That will help you, for sure, but if you really want to be a pro, you can dig up a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook at the library. Plus, there are tons of punctuation and grammar books on the Writer’s Digest site. I have a whole library of them.
People don’t realize it, but they feel discord when they read improper grammar. And if you spell a word wrong, well… Some people actually make a career of pointing these things out to publishers and write letters you wouldn’t believe. And so, I know there are people who will do this online. Bone up! You really don’t want to look stupid by writing something that isn’t professional, and that means proper spelling, proper grammar and usage, and proper style.
4. Selling rather than helping
Let’s talk about Baer’s quote (see #2 above) a little more. Content should not sell. Save that for copywriting. As I mentioned above, content should help people to solve a problem in your niche, in one way or another.
Take the healthcare brouhaha going on right now… If you write about that in terms of selling some insurance policy you’re trying to push, it won’t be a successful piece of content.
However, if you take that same piece of content, use it to describe issues people are having in regard to the cost of health insurance, how it has affected some real people (tell their story), and are able to offer your solution in your author’s bio, for example, that would be perfectly OK.
“John Doe has been a trusted source for health insurance for more than 15 years. For more information about how he can help people just like the Smiths, visit http://JohnDoeInsurance.com” is fine. You’re selling, but you’re not trying to make the sales part of the content. You’re hinting that John D. has a possible solution to a problem we all face.
5. Talking too much about yourself
Articles shouldn’t be personal essays. People who are hurting are looking for solutions to their problems so that they can feel better. They don’t really care that much about your wonderful life.
Don’t get me wrong. Including a picture of yourself on your website is OK, but if you have a slider filled with nothing but images of YOU, well... A tad narcissistic, yes, but annoying to your perfect audience? Absolutely. They would rather have their pain salved than bask in in wonderfulness of you, even though you may truly be wonderful.
It’s that old marketing acronym: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) It’s exactly what your readers want to know. Why should I waste my time reading about YOU when I could be reading another article that really gives me answers that can solve my problem?
One thing that readers like is consistency. If you write, write regularly. If you produce videos, do that regularly, and so on. It’s like TV. You know what night your favorite shows are on, right? People on the Internet want to know that, too. They look forward to a weekly newsletter, if it’s well done. But if it doesn’t arrive on the appointed day, they’re disappointed. Don’t do that to your audience. Be consistent!
People often ask me how much they need to blog and almost hit the ceiling when I tell them every day to start. But there’s a method to my madness. You don’t really have to blog every day, if it’s out of the question. Still, you need to be consistent. Blog at LEAST three times a week on the same three days every week, if you want a following.
If you’re doing things right, people will look forward to your blog posts, bookmark your blog and go to find your posts on those days. You’re training them to click and visit. I mean, look at someone like Seth Godin, as a shining example. He blogs every day, sometimes more than once, and he’s been doing that for years! I know I look forward to reading what he says and make reading his posts part of my daily routine.
7. Not promoting your work
When you do produce a killer piece of content, it’s not enough to just let it be. You need to tell everyone about it via social media, your email list, in forums you frequent, and in any other way you can think of. Remember there are billions, if not trillions of Web pages today, and if you simply build it, that doesn’t mean they’ll come. You have to take them by the hand and guide them to your killer stuff.
If you’re blogging in WordPress, use JetPack. It will send your posts to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and other sites you choose when you hit the “Publish” button. It’s really that simple and that important.
So, there you have it. If you’re going to produce content, do it well or don’t do it at all. Be sure to let someone else read, watch or hear your content before hitting the publish button, too. Get them to point out the flaws before your audience does. You’ll be much happier when someone writes to tell you how much you have helped them instead of writing to say how underwhelmed they were by your less than stellar content piece.
Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager of MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company based in Bradenton, Fla., which produces well-written content for clients in English-speaking countries all over the world. Pat's last article for SEMrush was "Does Hummingbird Mean a More Entity-Based Search?"