Three drivers of bad content – and how to overcome them

Do you know what a bad piece of content looks like? Of course you do! Annoying CTAs all over the page, sleazy sales pitches, and excessive self-promotion are just a few of the mistakes that turn readers off. And then there’s the more subtle elements like vague language or filler content which can make an article hard to read.

In this article we’ll take a look at the three key drivers of bad content – and what you need to do to eliminate them. Read on to discover how you can improve the quality of your content to delight your audience instead of turning them off.

1) Excessive self-promotion

ontent marketing is a delicate balancing act of driving profitable customer action without resorting to outright sales pitches. It can be hard to create truly valuable content that also points the reader in the direction of your products or services. All too often writers fall back on overt calls-to-action or sales-oriented language which disengages the reader.

Here are the three most common mistakes to avoid when it comes to self-promotion:

  • Abstract product descriptions: Most marketers understand that simply writing about your product or service won’t cut it. Instead, some try to show off the benefits and features of their offering without directly referring to it. The mistaken belief here is that the reader will be hooked by this mystery product and won’t even notice the sales pitch.

  • Repetitive CTAs: We’ve all seen articles that are liberally peppered with CTAs from the title to the page footer. It’s the ultimate turn-off, even if your reader was initially interested in learning more about your products, and makes you seem desperate for the sale rather than genuinely concerned about your customers.

  • The product sales pitch: Another common error is slotting in a standard product sales pitch at a random point in the article. It’s often done at the end with a standalone box that jars with the rest of the article and doesn’t add any real value to the reader.

How to overcome it: Solve, don’t sell

In the 1960s Bruce Henderson was just beginning to attract clients to his new company. The problem? He didn’t have any of the contacts, credibility or relationships that his competitors took for granted. Yet today his company, Boston Consulting Group, is one of the largest strategy consulting firms in the world. 

So, how did he do it? At the time Bruce’s only real asset were his strategic ideas. Fortunately, he realized just how valuable they would be to his prospective clients.

Bruce decided to write them up in short, thought-provoking essays to send to executives in a user-friendly brochure. The idea was to show these companies he was aware of their challenges and aims, and that he had the solutions they needed.

Bruce’s value-first, solve-don’t sell strategy proved to be a winning formula. Publishing valuable, relevant, and practical content is the only way to gain your target audience’s trust. Pure self-promotion is hollow, uninspiring, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Especially at a time when consumer trust is especially tricky to achieve

2) Filler or fluff

We’ve all read blog posts that manage to run into thousands of words without actually saying anything useful. 

Sometimes this vagueness creeps in when the writer isn’t a subject matter expert. Or they may be tackling big ideas that actually go far beyond the scope of a short blog post. Either way, here are some key mistakes to look out for:

  • Jargon: Overusing jargon is a common error writers make when they want to try to show they know the topic inside out. Technical terms and abbreviations should be used where appropriate, but too much can make the article hard to read and confuse the core messages.
  • Evasive phrases: It’s common for writers to use vague language when they’re covering topics that they lack deep knowledge about. This can be a real problem especially with very complex technical topics. It can be tempting to unpack this content in an overly simplified way that doesn’t really say anything. 
  • Data or quotes: Using data to back up your content is a good basic principle. Yet sometimes this can actually work against you if you’re just cherry picking information instead of building out your argument. It’s all too easy to scare readers away with outdated statistics, questionable resources from the 2000s, or misplaced quotes from subject matter experts that lack context.

How to overcome it: Focus on the language your audience uses

When you feel tempted to fill your article with fluff, the best way to overcome this tendency is to focus on your audience. Think about your audience data and client conversations. What do these tell you about the language your audience uses? The language they use is the type of language you should be aiming for. Stick to clear, direct terms that are easy to understand, and practical takeaways that they can implement immediately.

3) Unoriginality

No expertise, experience, or real research is required to write a blog post. Anyone can open up a page of search engine results, read half a dozen articles, and publish their own collage interpretation of the topic.

In the rush to conquer Google’s search algorithm and write articles prescribing the exact medicine for doing so, many companies are simply leaving originality and creativity behind.

Compounding this issue are SEO agencies who deliver content briefs that are basically a formula for ranking content. When followed blindly these don’t encourage originality, opinion, or anything that would result in a unique piece of content. 

This is why many posts that rank highly for a particular keyword all make the same points. Their writers have simply read and regurgitated each other’s work.

But even if these articles manage to rank for their target keyword (which is no sure thing in today’s ultra-competitive search environment), they’ll never manage to achieve the one thing that really matters: convincing the reader that real experts wrote them. 

How to overcome it: Conduct interviews with your subject matter experts

The best way to create genuine, original content is to conduct interviews with experts in that particular field. For example, if you’re a tech company you could speak to the CTO about what they see as the major challenges for their industry for the next year.

Interviewing these types of experts allows you to pick their brains and uncover unique insights based on their own extensive experience and knowledge of that subject area.

When conducting interviews, it’s important to capture the content that’s going to really interest and intrigue your readers. The best way to do this is to:

  • Allow your expert to guide the discussion: Interviews work best when the discussion is driven by your subject matter expert who knows the topic you’re discussing inside out. Remember to ask about any controversial or interesting ideas, useful examples, or frameworks that could feed into your article. 
  • Prepare but stay flexible: While it’s a good idea to have some pre-prepared questions to help you stay on track, you want to have the flexibility to pursue different angles when necessary. Ask yourself if a particular tack is adding to the core topic when deciding if it’s worth pursuing that angle further or moving on to another question.
  • Be thorough and efficient with your interview notes: When it comes to reviewing the material from your interview, exclude everything that’s not directly related to your central thesis. You may want to keep some ideas for future articles, but avoid filling your article with irrelevant information which dilutes your core message.

Final thoughts

Creating great content that actually interests and engages your audience doesn’t have to be hard. It all starts with focusing on your target audience and understanding exactly what they want. Combine this with original insights from your subject matter experts and a simple, practical writing style  and you’ll be well on your way to producing quality content that drives leads, revenue, and brand authority.

Niels van Melick

Niels van Melick

Niels is the founder of LeadWave, a specialist content agency for B2B tech brands.

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