7 Common Content Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
According to the “2018 B2B Content Marketing Trends — North America” report put together by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 91 percent of B2B companies are using content marketing. And of those companies, 26 percent of the marketing budget is spent on creating content. But are you getting quality, result-producing content for your marketing spend?
To ensure your content is worth what you pay for it, require your writers to avoid these seven common content marketing mistakes.
1. Mediocre Writing
Content writing often is at the bottom of the barrel in many organizations, as far as respect for those who do it and the value placed on it. The reason: The more technical a skill (e.g., software engineering), the fewer people who can do it.
But writing is a soft skill: Everyone writes, as Ann Handley claims in the title of her book “Everybody Writes.” But can they? And at what level?
Ensuring that your content marketing team is made up of experienced professional writers is the No. 1 way to avoid mediocre writing.
2. Second-Rate Research
Increasingly, content often is treated as “Google goulash.” The writer uses Google to quickly research a few articles on the topic. He cobbles them together into a new article, one with no originality, first-hand knowledge, wisdom, new thoughts or insights.
It can make good clickbait in some cases. But really, what’s the point? All you are really doing is adding to the cloud of “content pollution” growing out-of-control on the web today.
Most of the writers described in point No. 1 — journalists, copywriters, PR writers, essayists, book authors and magazine writers — already have the research skills to gather facts for the content they are writing. You may want to also add an online researcher or two to your content team; these folks are research specialists, and may be able to dig for and find information that your regular writers don’t always uncover.
3. Taking the Easy Way Out
There are four levels of content, which from lowest to highest are why, what, how and done for you.
The lowest form tells people why they should do something; e.g., “Why You Should Start an In-House Call Center.”
The argument may be convincing and help readers make important decisions. But it provides no further help, other than guiding the reader’s yes/no decision.
The next rung up on the content ladder is telling the audience what to do; for example, “7 Steps to Planning and Implementing an In-House Call Center.” You get an action plan with the steps laid out. But you still have no idea how to do each step.
Climbing higher, we tell them how to do it, often by tips rather than step-by-step instructions. Now we have actionable steps or ideas — for example, what phone system to buy, how to train customer service reps — leading to a tangible result: a functional call center.
At the top of the hierarchy is “done for them.” For instance, if you tell the reader he needs prewritten scripts, you provide models or samples of telemarketing scripts that can be easily modified to fit the reader’s business, saving her time and money.
So many content writers take the easy way out and only tell the reader what to do and why to do it. Stronger content shows readers how to do it and, when possible, does some of the work for them. You may want to share this simple hierarchy with your content team, as a surprising number of content creators are not consciously aware of it.
4. No Interviewing or Fact-Checking With Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
Especially for technical content or content about your company’s proprietary methodology or systems, many content writers may have only surface knowledge. But they often need a deeper dive to produce a particular content piece. SMEs can give them an explanation that is at least somewhat comprehensible and likely accurate.
Journalists are skilled at conducting interviews with SMEs. When your topic is highly technical or complex, you may want to use a technical writer or a writer with some background in the subject matter, which could be work experience, education or both.
5. Not Understanding the Subject Matter
Content writers who have a degree, training or background in the subject matter should probably be on the team working on a project where their expertise would
enhance their contributions.
For instance, I have a BS in in chemical engineering, which gives me an advantage when writing in the chemical industry. I don’t know the client’s product in detail, but when I interview their SMEs, the engineers are immediately at ease with me, because we have a common background and I speak
A number of corporations I have worked for actively recruited engineers for their content marketing team. This is especially helpful, once again, when the subject matter is technical and difficult to understand. In some instances, the engineer prepares notes, an outline or a first draft. This is then handed off to a professional writer or editor who makes it clearer, better organized and easier to understand.
6. Not Crediting Sources
If you say in your article that 35 percent of U.S. companies have an in-house call center, your client will want to know the source of that statistic. If you found it on the web, credit the source with the full URL. Cite your source, whether it is a third-party trade journal, a technical paper presented at an association meeting, your client’s own website or an interview with one of their SMEs. If someone you interview gives you the information, you may want to track it down to where it resides on the web and confirm the accuracy.
7. Only Providing Opinion
Of course, you can give your opinion. But the best opinions are evidence-based and supported by statistics, graphs, examples, logical arguments and facts. As marketers, we cannot merely make our points; we must prove our points, lest our readers remain unconvinced.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.