Think of the last five content marketing blog posts you shared. Did they have a number in the headline? Was there an infographic involved? Did you stop reading after the headline? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re part of what I’m coining the content marketing crisis (and just to be clear, I’m not claiming that I’m not part of the problem, but admitting it is the first step to recovery).
This crisis mostly consists of an overwhelming amount of mediocre/subpar content that fits a formula that’s been outlined pretty spot-on by Boost the News in a recent tongue-in-cheek infographic: pop-ups, click-bait headlines, cliched quotes, lists, banal advice, buzzwords, and yes, infographics are the cornerstones of an incredibly average content marketing blog post.
As a writer/researcher inadvertently turned content marketer, it’s hard to take some of the content marketing ‘advice’ being written seriously, not only because of the way it’s written, but because of the advice itself.
Telling people to write quality content that includes an intro and a conclusion isn’t exactly groundbreaking, or even real advice: it’s writing 101. But I digress. In theory, this content isn’t for content marketers to read and critique, but for a targeted audience trying to find value in it.
While the good news is that despite popular belief, real people are reading content marketing blogs for tips and advice, the bad news is that they can see right through the crap too.
In a recent GetData survey, we asked people what annoys them most about blog posts.
Below are some of people’s biggest gripes, straight from the horse’s mouth, so that you’ll know what to avoid in your content marketing efforts and stay on your reader’s good side (yes, I realize that this implies that you only have one reader).
It’s poorly written
Do you have any idea what this is supposed to mean? Me neither. Did the ” ‘s ” at the end of “get’s” throw you off too?
You’d think it’d be easy to get away with a spelling mistake or a grammatical error here and there, but your readers are on to you. According to GetData, the biggest pet peeve for people reading blogs is poorly written content. Whether it’s the wrong there/their/they’re, a misplaced, comma, or a freakishly weird sentence like the one above, it can mess up the flow of your writing and make your blog post really hard to read.
Not all content marketers are trained writers, but having at least one other person check a piece of content before you publish will ensure that it sounds coherent.
It has a sensationalist headline that doesn’t deliver
Unless the author is promising retirement, there is no guarantee. And if by ‘new’, the author means worded in a completely new way, then sure. The problem with these click-baity headlines is that you know what they’re promising can’t possibly be delivered, and no matter how amazing, astonishing, or revolutionary the tips are said to be, they’re just not.
Use discretion to avoid going over the top, as you’ll end up turning people off more than convincing them that you’re about to change their entire life with one blog post.
It’s an obvious attempt at selling
Subtlety. It’s what many content marketing blog posts are lacking. At the end of the day, it’s still marketing, but your job is to make people forget that it is. People don’t want to be convinced to buy something– they want to think that they made the decision themselves, and when you’re pushing content in their faces which sounds too salesy, they’ll see right through it and leave.
It doesn’t teach your readers anything
This goes hand in hand with sensationalist headlines, especially when they make empty promises. You’ll see plenty of tips articles telling you to do something that you can’t actually do, at least not actionably. I’m sure you can be awesome, but unless you’re getting cues from Barney Stinson, it’s not really a tip.
William Harris, VP of Marketing and Growth at DollarHobbyz.com, feels the same: “the thing that annoys me the most about the content marketing blog posts I read these days, is their general lack of actionable advice. There are definitely some very great actionable articles out there – but a huge bulk of them just seem to run thin on details that can help someone accomplish exactly what the author did.”
Stick to things that are doable, like “check your analytics traffic every week to see how your content performed”– the more specific, the better.
It’s super generic
Content marketing is like the Cosmopolitan magazine of the online world– the same set of tips, tricks, advice, and lists, regurgitated and repurposed in subtly different ways to look unique or interesting. If you were to add up all of the content marketing tips being promised by all the different content marketing blogs out there, you’d probably have tens of thousands of tips. If you were to compare those tips to one another, you’d probably have 10 total. And I get it – it can be hard to come up with new tips that haven’t already been done. The key is deciding if they’re worth repeating yet again, and why.
Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz, has the same issue, especially when it comes to posts based solely off of industry influencers: “I think my biggest complaint is the overuse of amalgamation-centric posts that simply collect a few lines of input from various “influencers” in the marketing world with the hopes that each of them will share the post. The tactic has been so overused that even when the content is valuable and the input high-quality, I find myself skipping it because I’ve seen so many iterations of this same technique.”
It has too many (or too few) words
500, or 5000 words? Short blog posts often have the habit of, you guessed it, falling short, or coming off as very shallow. Blog posts that are too long can be all filler, get boring and lead people to quit halfway through. It’s been said that people (and Google) prefer longer blog posts averaging roughly 2000 words, but don’t reach for a word count if all you’re doing is putting in filler.
An article is worthy of 2000 words if it’s well researched and well-written with a lot of useful information.
It’s too technical (or not technical enough)
VP of Marketing at When I Work, Sujan Patel added another pet peeve to our list, something he admits he himself does when it comes to content marketing blog posts. “Most are too high level (I’m guilty of this too) and talk about B2B marketing companies. Content marketing for Hubspot and Kissmetrics aren’t good examples as a lot of the tips don’t apply to different industries.”
It’s easy to get carried away in your own industry and get super granular with a topic that you’re excited about. This can be okay, as long as you know your audience, but if they’re not as advanced as you (which should be the case, if you’re the expert), then remember to tone it down a few notches.
But not too much. The other end of the stick is being too patronizing. You have to give your readers some credit – they’re probably not as clueless as you think.
The future of content marketing
The state of content marketing is at a tipping point. The general consensus is becoming quality over quantity, but it’s a matter of finding out what ‘quality’ means. At the risk of annoying Rand with the following roundup, here’s what the experts want to see for the future of content marketing.
Sujan Patel, VP of Marketing at When I Work
“I’d like to see more real world examples and data. Also, prerequisites needed to repeat the ideas mentioned in the article.”
Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz
“I’d love to see more content focused on data, on in-depth journalism, and on strong perspectives that run counter to conventional wisdom. Those things are few and far between in content production these days, though the few pieces that engage in them often outperform the rest.”
William Harris, VP of Marketing and Growth at DollarHobbyz.com
“I want to see content marketing continue to push towards longer, more authoritative content. Yes, technically that’s not a change in direction– just a subtle nudge to not become complacent. After writing a post about how long it will take Google to reach web pages, I’ve realized that eventually there will only be so many ways to arrange a finite number of words. The lasting power (and the link backs, social shares, time on page, etc.) will come from better content– not simply from more content.”
Content marketers and their audience agree that content marketing can suck. But it doesn’t have to, and it’s our job as content marketers to move beyond a semi-successful formula to produce content that sadly fits the cliche: goes outside the box and stirs the pot.
But hey, this is still a content marketing post, so here’s a link to our ranking of the top 25 content marketing apps.