Content helps to increase traffic to your site, build brand visibility and boost SEO link building opportunities — as well as helping to identify you as an authority in your industry.
Content can also have a tangible impact on sales. Whether it’s on-site copy, an editorial or a blog post — well-crafted written content can take a curious reader and convert them into a loyal supporter of your brand and a paying customer.
But what makes content engaging, consumable and authoritative?
How can your business supercharge its content writing to reap the rewards of content?
It’s a difficult question to answer — after all, there is no good or bad writing in the world of online content. But when it comes to writing for your business, a different approach is needed. So, perhaps the better question is — what makes content unsuccessful ?
If you’re looking to cook up some truly awful content that is sure to frustrate your readers, then we’ve got the perfect recipe for you. But if you want to write some incredible content to boost your business and brand, then here are the things you need to avoid.
1. Long blocks of text with no headings
If you want to frustrate your readers, overwhelm them with unbroken pages of text. Long paragraphs of information that are impossible to navigate are a great way to deter potential visitors.
Online content needs to get to the point, and quickly. With so much information readily available just a few clicks away, audiences today are looking for what they want without any delays. Research finds that users leave a website after just ten seconds, which means that, however amazing your content, if you present it in a block, your reader is probably not going to stick around.
Why spend valuable time digging around to extract the information that you need when you can easily skim read and find it elsewhere?
Headings and subheadings help to break up a piece of content and allow both readers and search engines to work out what you’re trying to say at a glance.
Purposeful, valuable headings and subheadings are like signposts for your readers that let them know your content has everything they need, carefully laid out for their convenience.
2. Skipping on images
Ignoring the power of visual content is a recipe for disaster. Humans are visual creatures. It’s written deep inside our biology and inherited from our earliest ancestors who needed quick visual processes to assess danger and avoid predators.
Our visual senses are the most active of all of our senses, with over 40% of the brain dedicated to visual processing. It’s clear to see that our cognition is deeply entwined with what we see.
Images, like headings and subheadings, are a way of breaking up text and allowing your audience to gather information quickly and effectively. But unlike text — which we need to read to understand — the human brain can process images at an incredible speed. We can recognise a familiar object within 100 milliseconds and the faces of people we know in just 380 milliseconds.
As the saying goes, “images speak a thousand words” and in our visual-centric society it’s never been closer to the truth.
From Facebook to Tumblr, Instagram to Pinterest, image-centric social networks have changed the way we share and consume content — and articles with images get 94% more total views than those that don’t.
You don’t have to be a professional photographer to reap the rewards of carefully curated photographs. There are thousands of websites dedicated to sourcing stock images that visually capture your message, so there really is no excuse.
3. Confounding verbosity: (e.g.) over complicated writing
Words are incredible. For every thought and every idea, there are a thousand different ways of expression. And with each different word comes a slightly different sentiment, nuance or intonation. Words are also seductive.
More than a few writers have fallen down the thesaurus-rabbit-hole, in search of the perfect word, drawn in by the complex and creative array of ways to say something as overused as “good” or “nice”. There’s nothing wrong with getting creative with language — but when a writer gets a little too enthusiastic with synonyms and syntax, meaning can quickly get lost and audiences alienated. With a few exceptions, content online should be short, snappy and concise.
Long, lengthy and little known words don’t mean that the content that you’re writing is any good. In fact, more often than not, simple writing is better writing.
We’ve already established that there is a tiny window of curiosity for online audiences and too many “hence forths,” and wordy flourishes can quickly frustrate a reader and drive them from your content, never to return. After all, no one wants to have to forage for information or wade through endless purple prose or overly academic writing.
4. Not focusing on your buyer persona
You don’t have to look very far to gather examples of content that completely missed the mark.
Content that doesn’t target the right audience is bad content. If you run a family business that sells children’s toys, then writing content that’s full of swear words and adult subject matter is going to be off-putting. Similarly, if you’re a hip vegan delivery service company with a majority millennial clientele, lengthy content full of patronising information is going to be a miss.
If you’re writing on behalf of your business, then you’ll probably already have an idea who your clients are — your “buyer persona” — and it’s them that you should be writing for.
A buyer persona is a fictional customer, that is based on research and represents your average customer. Creating your buyer persona is a creative exercise that allows you to get into the mind of your audience so that you can deliver content that speaks to their needs and interests. You might start by asking some of the following questions:
- How old are they? Age is one of the easiest ways to forecast your client demographic and shape the kind of content you write. After all, you need to write differently for a savvy tween than you would for internet-cautious pensioners.
- Where are they from? Geographically situating your audience in a particular location isn’t just useful for local businesses but also for anyone writing content. Knowing where your audience is based allows you to make informed decisions on whether to write in American or British English, for example, or to use metaphors and sayings that resonate with the particular area.
- Gender. This can help you to understand your client’s motivations a little better.
- Where do they get their information? Social media, the news, blogs? Having an idea of where your audience gets their information from will help you to develop your own tone. For example, if you’re targeting social media savvy millennials who consume most of their content through short, snappy mediums such as Twitter or Facebook, then you should be writing in short and snappy phrases.
5. Write like an SEO-bot
There’s a fine line between writing great concise content and churning out bland, unreadable keyword-dense text. If you want to infuriate both your audience and the search engines, write solely with keywords in mind.
For anyone writing content on behalf of a brand or business, chances are you’ll know the importance of using keywords. These are the words that reiterate your key products, subjects and services and enable you to rank highly for them, in turn bringing more traffic to your site — but clunky writing that sounds like it was written to tick off the keywords is easy to spot and is frowned upon by the likes of Google.
Content written with an unnatural use of keywords can expect to rank in lower positions in search results and put off adventurous readers that managed to find their way to your piece.
One of the common misconceptions with online content is the primacy of SEO keywords. Google and other search engines are getting increasingly sophisticated — they can tell when you’ve written something for them and they don’t like it. They have a variety of techniques and processes that determine how good your site is, but one of the most primary is engagement.
- How often do people visit your site?
- How much time do they spend there?
No one is going to stick around if the content sounds like a robot has written it. Instead, focus on the E-A-T acronym — Expertise, Authority and Trust.
If you write with your audience in mind, with expertise and authority, your audience will trust you — and ultimately, that’s the most important thing.