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Over the past few years, I’ve seen the same mistakes made by online copywriters over and over again, particularly SEO content creators. Now, I’m not just talking about the technical side of things either, but the actual voice, topic and entire attitude of the content itself.
We all know that creating engaging content is absolutely essential in the digital world, but so many copywriters actually get in their own way when it comes to their content and that can really put a reader off.
Personally, I think that it’s one of the reasons that shorter-form content has continued to grow in popularity amongst users; few creators have what it takes to really hook their reader right from the start so, instead, they try and stuff enough information into a piece of writing as possible. For all that I’m a proponent of long-form content, I don’t think longer articles and blog posts necessarily contain more information.
Simply, a piece of writing needs to be as long as that specific piece of writing needs to be. I’d rather read a good, informative article rather than one which repeats itself again and again in the name of technical SEO.
Here’s The Thing With Bad Content…
We know that stuffing keywords into a piece of content is a really bad SEO technique, so why do people think it’s okay to overload their content with info? Even then, writers aren’t really doing that either, particularly because you don’t have the space in a short piece of content to really go into any kind of detail.
That is why so much content, particularly short-form content, leaves people unsatisfied with a sour taste in their mouth. It’s like junk food and buyer’s remorse rolled into one. Sure, it can grab and hook the viewer with exciting, click-bait titles and a lot of exclamation marks, but after the reader’s consumed it they’ll feel unsatisfied and will often carry on looking for wholesome, nourishing content instead.
On occasion, bad content can be so bad that it puts the reader off from looking for any more information on their chosen topic in case all the information is just as bad. This can be really bad for businesses, as a single piece of bad content could have just cost them a potential lifelong supporter and customer who, in their turn, could have really benefited from their products or services.
Bad content is one of the major issues with websites of all kinds, from the largest organisations’ online retail solution to the smallest company’s brochure site.
What Makes Bad Content?
If you’re going to create great content, then you first need to understand what makes bad content. Now, before I really get into what makes blog posts, articles and on-page content crap, I want to talk about the surroundings of your content as well, which can really have a negative effect on the way that your content is perceived.
As much as I’d like to say otherwise, you need a great web design. You can’t avoid it. Even if you write the single best piece of content to ever grace the internet, if your sentence structures were so fantastic that they could make grown men burst into tears, if you were so eloquent that you could make Byron hang up his pen, it still wouldn’t make a difference if your website looks like rubbish.
The surroundings are just as important to your writing as the actual content, and an ugly or obnoxious website can act as a distraction to your work. At the very least, your website (or the website that your article appears on) needs to be presentable if you want your content to gain any kind of traction whatsoever. An ugly website, in fact, can prevent people from sharing your content, even if they thought your writing incredible.
The actual layout of your content can drastically change the way that it is perceived by your reader. Informative content is one of the best ways to build an audience, but composing your article entirely through bulky paragraphs and blocks of text can put any potential viewer off before they even start.
You need to use sensible paragraph sizes, and assume that your reader is only going to consume a few random paragraphs throughout your content. Skim-reading, or skipping entire paragraphs, is often an issue with content on a screen, so use it to your advantage! Make each paragraph a self-contained point. Write with that idea in mind and you’ll make every single paragraph the very best version of itself that it can be.
Of course, headings are absolutely essential for any kind of online writing. Aside from being a great way to break up your long blocks of text and make it easier for the reader to find the specific information they are looking for, they are also extremely beneficial when it comes to search engine optimisation as well. H1s, H2s and H3s, et cetera, also help search engines to understand exactly what a webpage is about as quickly and easily as possible.
A Lack of Images
You need to ensure that you use images and infographics to make your content visually appealing. Not only will this make it much easier to read, but it can make it easier to share via social media as well. By attaching images and photographs to your social media posts, you can drastically improve engagement with your content.
Now, many websites (if you’re trying to get your personal articles syndicated) prefer to create their own header images to associate with your content so they can maintain a coherent appearance, but they will often prefer to have images that you, yourself, have provided.
The Content Itself!
Finally, we’re on to the content in question! There are a whole host of factors that result in poor content, and you need to ensure that you know them all intimately.
- Voice – Now, you might not really consider your narrative voice when it comes to creating content, but you really should. Your narrative voice is the way that your reader perceives you, tries to understand you and can actually get to know you. By writing in a certain way, you are representing yourself or your business in that manner. If you are representing a business, make sure that you are effectively working within that brand identity.Considering your target audience is a great idea as well; if I was writing for a group of primary school students, I’d be using very different language, going into a lot less depth and generally be creating content that might be useful for them, but which would only give them very limited practical advice.
- Topic – If you’re writing purely for SEO reasons, then the topic might not seem so important. However, you need to be addressing topics that have a real audience if you want to enjoy any kind of return for your effort. It can be hard, particularly if you’ve written blog post after blog post or article after article, but there are always new things to talk about.In many circumstances, you can address the same (or a very similar) topic, but come at it from a different angle. For example, for this article, I could have focused on example of bad content and done my best to really tear them apart and explain what makes them so bad, whether it is topic, a pretentious or overbearing voice, or even just a gross misunderstanding of the target audience.
- Content Attitude – I’ve heard the phrase “negativity sells” before, and I’m sure you have as well, but it isn’t necessarily true. Not all readers want to know how horrible everything is all the time, just like not all readers want to be surrounded in a fairy tale world of complete joy where everything is perfect.Make sure that you approach any topic with the right kind of attitude; don’t be overly negative, but don’t be overly positive either. Where possible, try to straddle the middle line and present both sides of the argument, allowing the reader to make their own informed decisions.
How Can You Start To Create Great Content?
Frankly, there isn’t any great secret that can make you instantly better at creating content; there isn’t a devil at the crossroads that you can sell you soul to in order to become a digital marketing genius (although sometimes I wish there was!).
To be honest, you can look at almost any professional writer, author, poet or any creative person who makes a living from their words and they will tell you that bad writing isn’t a bad thing. Bad writing can actually be the foundation of any great piece of content; the most important thing it getting your ideas on the page.
To start writing fantastic content, even if you aren’t a professional copywriter, take the time to bullet-point your ideas and the major arguments that you want to get across. Come up with a few different titles and choose the one that would make you want to read the article associated with it. If you can, get a few friends to help you pick out the best one for you.
The best way to start creating content, great or not, is just to start. Nobody is necessarily a natural when it comes to online content marketing, particularly for SEO; it takes practice and dedication. Keeping yourself updated with the very latest information from your chosen industry is essential, and using your own blog, either a personal or business blog, to effectively share and try out different types of content is essential.
Don’t Advertise; Inform…
Barclays’ LifeSkills is a fantastic example of this. Whilst it doesn’t really mention banking at all, the entire campaign is devoted to helping young people obtain the skills that they need to get employed. Not only is this a great example of a fantastic topic, with so many people struggling to find employment, but it offers practical advice and recommendations that people can really use.
… Or Entertain
Heading straight back to Barclays, their marketing campaign for Barclaycard – PayWag – featured a dog called Smiler paying for his toys using his collar. Not only does this provide a practical demonstration of how contactless payment works, but it also provides a great piece of entertainment. It also taps into the internet’s instant love of animals, making it ideally suited for its audience.
Also, Smiler is pretty damn cute.
Pick The Best Subjects
If you’re struggling to pick a subject, choose to write about something that you’re really interested in. Even if you don’t necessarily have the technical skill, it can really prove beneficial if your passion shines through in your content and adds an extra sense of character to your narrative voice.
Don’t Be Too Long-Winded!
For all that I’ve said that short content is normally bad content; there is also the risk of being too long-winded. Oversized content can leave readers with the impression that you are too ‘wordy’ and that you need to rely on long content to get your point across. When possible, try to find the middle ground between detailed and informative, and short and snappy.
What’s Stopping YOU From Creating Great Content?
Honestly, the only thing that is really stopping you is you. Take the time to keep up to date about your industry, form your own unique opinions on the latest topics and share them with other people. Note down your ideas, hints, tips and any information you find useful and before you know it you could be creating great, evergreen, white-hat content that viewers really find useful.