I work with a lot of writers. Some work for my clients, some are freelancers I hire to help me complete project work and some are colleagues and peers who want a quick editorial take on something they've written.
I wrote a blog post about how B2B marketers need to tune and hone their writing skills. In fact, when I come across a marketer today who doesn't write, doesn't want to write and thinks that content writing is something other people do, I wonder what their next career will be...
This said, there are a number of things that screw up content. Sometimes they're obvious and sometimes they're not. But, they are all issues that will impact your content's effectiveness in doing the job you've given it.
Here's a sampling of 26 issues I've seen lately:
- The hook is buried somewhere farther than the 1st paragraph. In fact, sometimes it's missing altogether.
- Paragraphs are too long to be read comfortably on a web page.
- The writing is stiff, with a lot of big words that make you feel like the writer thinks they are important. Anytime the writing distracts from the point it's making, you've lost your reader.
- There's no structure to the piece to help the reader build the ideas into a meaningful takeaway with the addition of each new sentence or paragraph.
- The company is speaking to you like it's an individual, only there's no byline. Company's should not speak in first person. A human does that.
- The content is focused on getting what the company wants more so than providing what the reader wants.
- The content talks down to readers, emphasizing how stupid they are and how badly they will fail if they don't do what the company is telling them to do.
- FUD - similar to the above but focused more on scaring people with fear, uncertainty and doubt as the motivator to get them to take action.
- Acronyms that are never explained.
- Acronyms that have different meanings depending on industry orientation that are never explained.
- No call to action.
- Misleading calls to action. This happens a lot on Twitter when you think you're going to get one thing, but land somewhere that has nothing to do with what you expected.
- No takeaway big idea or impression.
- Too long for the format - like a 1,500 word blog post.
- Titles that make empty promises.
- Commercial breaks within content to push your product. Just because you gave me 2 paragraphs of good information doesn't mean you've now earned the right to give me 6 about your product.
- Chest thumping and bragging about yourself. The leading provider of... kind of crap.
- Defensive content that tries to protect your position on something. Either stick with your position or don't, but whining about it doesn't help.
- Offensive content that goes after a competitor. Really? Stop it. Do you think it makes you look better? Microsoft vs. SFDC comes to mind. Although it can be entertaining for the rest of us.
- Content essentially "borrowed" from someone else. Imitation is not the best form of flattery in some cases...nuff said.
- Content that tries to do too much all at once.
- Monotonous content that has no change in rhythm or repetitious sentence structure.
- Grammatical errors and typos. I know you know this, but if I didn't include it, you know someone would say something.
- No source attribution for statistics. Research shows that... Come one, inquiring minds want to know that you're not making it up.
- Too many cooks in the kitchen. I'm sure you've seen this happen. The piece is pretty good, on its way to being solid when the powers that be start adding their 2 cents. Pretty soon you've got a big mess on your hands and it ends up in the trash (hopefully).
- The 49-word sentence. If you have to stop and take a breath when reading a sentence, it's too long.
I could go on, but you get the idea. One of the best ways to fix a lot of this is to actually read your content out loud. First to yourself, then read it to others or have them read it to you. Watch for eye rolling, stumbling over the words, too much alliteration, etc.
Don't depend on spell check to find all the issues. Different versions of words will pass muster, but may not be the correct usage (there vs. their, for example).
Refer back to your premise for the piece. Does the content actually address what it's supposed to? Is every sentence on point? Is it focused on addressing a specific audience in a specific stage of buying?
Look at each sentence to make sure it's necessary. If you removed it would your content suffer? Would the point not be made? Tighten your writing and eliminate superflous words that aren't necessary - adjectives and adverbs love to sneak in. A few is fine, but often there are way more than are necessary.
Did I miss any pet peeves you have about content? Let's hear them.