What are most content marketers doing for 2017? Creating more content. So if you’re going make more, I recommend you do it right.
Here are ten of the most common content marketing mistakes I see:
1. You botched the headline.
Headlines matter. A lot. Old school direct response copywriters would spend half their writing time on the headline. Why? Because if you botch the headline, you’ve lost most of your audience.
Headlines are even more important now, thanks to social media. Most of the content being shared hasn’t been read by the people sharing it. They just see the headline, maybe look at the source, and share it.
So how long do you spend on your headlines? Do you use a tool, like CoSchedule’s headline analyzer, to try to come up with the best headlines? Most of us won’t go to the lengths of Upworthy (where they write 25 headlines for every piece). But could you try to get to 10 headlines?
Would you do it if you knew the right headline could triple or quadruple how many people read your content?
Good. Because it will.
See our blog post, “How to Write Headlines That Get Shared And Drive Traffic” for pointers on creating headlines that pull in big numbers of readers.
2. You don’t know your audience.
Want to really blow a blog post? Write for the wrong audience. For example: Write for CMOs, but talk to them like they’re newbie “let’s make money online” readers. Your CMOs will barely get past the first sentence, and somebody’s likely to leave you a nasty comment, too. You don’t want that.
We talk a lot about personas in content marketing, and there’s a reason. It comes down to relevancy. Relevancy, as one of my business school professors once said, “is the secret sauce.” It’s what made Google AdWords into a trillion-dollar project. It’s what makes marketing to specific groups so effective. It’s what makes account-based marketing so effective, as well.
There’s another mistake that’s related to this: insulting your audience. Talking down to them or talking to them the wrong way can be construed as being offensive. Openly bashing them (especially if you don’t offer a solution to their sins) is a good way to turn people off. I’m verging on making that mistake here … maybe you should imagine I’m talking to someone else. You know, those other content marketers.
Note that there’s a difference between talking “tough love” and just relentlessly bashing people. You can get away with tough love ‒most of the time. Just don’t be upset or surprised if somebody complains.
3. You’re saying the same thing that’s been said a hundred (maybe even a thousand) times before.
Two million blog posts are published every day. I’d bet that 98% of them are on subjects that have been covered before.
Sure, some are new. But most are not.
You can overcome this, so long as you frame and execute your content well. Here are some strategies:
- Take a fresh angle on it.
- Aim to create the best version of “10 Ways to Lose Weight” or “How to Grow Your Email List” that’s ever been published.
- Do original research.
- Line up old research in a way no one has before.
- Quote experts.
- Write unusually well, or in a voice the audience isn’t used to hearing this information in.
That’s just the beginning. There are a dozen more ways to safely cover topics that have been covered a hundred times before.
Where you’ll run into trouble is if you don’t add anything new. Then your content is just another one of those two million blog posts.
4. Your content has typographical errors and other editorial faux pas.
Typos happen. They’re awful, evil, and should be shot on sight. But they do happen. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Several fixes, actually.
If you’ve got the time and budget, hire an editor. Hundreds are available to help you, and most of them are surprisingly affordable. A good editor can take a rough, ugly draft and turn it into a thing of beauty. Heck, this pro might even turn it into something your audience might want to read. And share. And comment on.
If you can’t afford a human editor, use an automated one. Tools like Grammarly are excellent for catching mistakes.
And if you can’t afford even that? Surrender: Hand your draft over to another person. Have them read it, preferably out loud. That will catch most of the errors. Clean up any remaining ones as you find them.
5. Your content is terrible to read.
We wrote about the power of readability a few months ago. It’s still incredibly important. It still needs more advocates.
Writing more clearly benefits your readers, but it also benefits you. It’ll save you getting wrinkles on your forehead, for one thing. But it can also help you distill and articulate ideas that were only inchoate suspicions before. In other words, it’ll make you more articulate, more confident, and more convincing.
If your writing is still tangled, don’t be too hard on yourself. Tools like the Hemingway App can help. Books like “Everybody Writes” can help. Or just hand your draft over to an editor.
6. Your content is a solid wall of text.
This is a twist on “your content is terrible to read,” but it’s more related to the visual experience of your content rather than its syntax.
Here’s what I mean by a “solid wall of text”:
- There are no images.
- The paragraphs are longer than five lines each.
- There are no subheaders.
- There are no bullet points, even though there are long lists of items in many of the sentences.
These little typographic niceties make reading your content easier. But there’s also some evidence that they’re good for search engine optimization. SEO expert and Backlinko founder Brian Dean mentioned the importance of including images, bullet points, and numbered lists in his recent of update of “Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List”.
7. Your content has too many sales pitches in it.
Limiting sales pitches is easy to describe, but often hard to do. You may get significant pushback if you insist on not skewing your content heavily in favor of a company’s products.
Try your best to hold the line. Content marketing works in part because it gets past people’s resistance to being “sold to.” So don’t muck it up by bringing a sales pitch in.
8. You only publish content that’s laser-focused on your product.
Why should you avoid this? Because it’s BORING. Audiences don’t need boring.
Forcing all your content to be directly relevant to one product is a recipe for dull. It’s also a recipe for repetition – with such a limited area to cover, you’ll eventually begin writing the same blog posts over and over.
This is especially true if you offer a very highly specialized niche product.
All the successful blogs and content marketing programs stretch which topics they cover. That way they can reach people who aren’t already aware of their products and services. Their content, you know, reaches new people.
This is one of the core purposes of content marketing: to get your content in front of new audiences. But too many companies are missing out because they can’t write two inches beyond the topic of their products. And then they wonder why no one reads their blog.
9. Making assertions without backing them up.
“Post-truth” era aside and all, as a business person, I want you to back up what you say. You don’t have to back up every single assertion, but the major ones should be supported by evidence, or at least other people’s opinion (evidence is better).
Here’s why this matters: Unless you’re an influencer (and a really major one, at that), nobody cares what you think. Sorry. Nobody cares what I think, either. That’s why we back up what we say.
When you do back up what you say, please: Go find the original research.
There’s a spooky game of telephone going on in a lot of content. It happens when someone cites a piece of research from another article. Let’s call this article in development “Article A,” and the article it’s citing “Article B.” Trouble is, article B took that information from Article C, which took it from Article D. Article D took it from the original research report.
Linking directly to the research doesn’t cost anything. So let your readers skip the breadcrumb trail. You do the work and find the original research.
10. Citing research that’s too old to be relevant.
One of my all-time favorite writers and content marketers breaks this rule. Yet when I break this rule, I get called on my mistake in the comments. Every time.
Don’t reference research that’s too old to be relevant. Just don’t do it.
I know – this is hard. Finding new research takes time. And how old is too old? It depends on your industry, and what you’re writing about. For general business information, I’d say any research over two years old has passed its prime “use by” date. Anything under a year is A-OK.
If you’re writing about, say, social media, even a study done two years ago is out of play. But if you’re writing about, say, salmon management, a research piece from five or even ten years ago is probably fine. So long as the salmon stay off Facebook. ;)
Don’t let all my complaining and criticizing keep you from creating more content. We’re all going to make mistakes (myself included). I’ve mentioned several of the more common mistakes here specifically because I remember making them myself. True confession: I’m telling myself to avoid these gaffes as much as I’m telling you.
The good news is that none of this is fatal. We’re digital marketers – very little of what we do gets printed. And, as long as our work is digital, that means it’s easy to fix.
So, forgive yourself about that awful blog post. Overlook that rotten headline. Just see it all as a draft.
Now, go make it better.
Back to you
Got any of your own content creation pet peeves? Tell us about them in the comments.