Top content mistakes and how to avoid them

Nothing turns your audience away from you quicker than egregious content mistakes. Look at any media outlet, be it online or print, and you'll find tons of them. Below are the top content mistakes that pepper the web on a daily basis. Try and avoid making them yourself.

Too many voices spoil the meal
That line about too many cooks was right. Nothing throws a reader off faster than being used to one voice, with one style, only to see it disappear the next day and be replaced by something completely different. It's one thing if you have multiple authors on a regular basis, all with their own style, as part of your mix, but it's usually unacceptable to drop in a new author out of the blue. Keep your style consistent and your voice the same. Anything else will scare your audience away.

"Write" isn't spelled "s-e-l-l"
Knowing the difference between writing and selling is a content producer's biggest ally. Yes, content on the majority of sites out there has some call to action to a buy -- whether it's an advertisement, a loyalty sell, or even an affiliate link. But the end result is clear: If you're focusing on selling before you're focusing on creating compelling content, your audience will go away. No one likes to be sold to, but people like to read compelling content that entices them to make a purchase, whatever that purchase may be. Create compelling content, and the sales will follow.

Brevity is to readers as endorphins are to marathon runners
We get hit, on any given day, with thousands of requests for our attention, whether it's the radio in the shower, the ad on the subway, or the email that pops up as we're trying to catch up on a blog. We no longer have the option to sit down and digest a 30-page well-written meal without interruption, no matter how exciting it might be to do so. Instead, we have to grab little bits of take-out articles from the local deli, and hope that if we eat enough over the course of the day, they'll satiate us. So feed your reader what they want: little bits of protein and nutrients, served in a quick, six-paragraph whole wheat wrap. Trying to give your audience more is like trying to serve a full filet mignon meal to the customer who has a 15-minute lunch break. Know how your audience eats, and serve them appropriately.

Cater to your audience -- not above or below it
Think about what you come back to read on a daily basis -- blogs, websites, etc. What do they all have in common? You like reading them. There's a comfort there. They know how you like to read, they serve you appropriate-sized meals, with just enough food inside to keep you happy until the next time. You need to be testing this on your audience all the time, until you find the perfect mix, and even then, constantly refining your content. Think A/B tests are just for sales? Incorrect. Use A/B tests on your content, as well. What do audiences respond to? Which headlines work better? There are so many little tweaks you can employ anytime you create content; it's all dependent on your audience members and what they like.

Use what's going on in the world as a springboard to keeping your audience happy and engaged
One of the easiest ways to not only get attention, but also improve your SEO and keep your audience happy, is simply to latch on to what's going on in the real world with your content. Personally, I love seeing articles that tie into what's going on in the real world. Some of the best articles I read in recent times included "How Not to Be A Weiner," a reference to the Anthony Weiner scandal, and "What we can learn from how the media covered Amy Winehouse," among others. Both of these articles focused on the present, involving a story with which I was already familiar. Not only are these timely and bring in a larger audience, but you're also giving your audience great fodder for them to look brilliant at tonight's cocktail party. And let's face it, that's a great gift to give. An audience that becomes smarter in public thanks to your content is an audience that'll come back to you, time and time again.

For God's sake, know how to write
Endgame: No matter how many of the above rules you follow, if you can't produce compelling, well-written content, none of the above will matter. School isn't just for kids anymore. Go and take a class -- The Learning Annex, a local community college, whatever -- but get in there and do it. You can never be too great of a writer. That's like having too many ripped and sculpted abs. Not possible. Learning how to write and offering quality content are signs of respect to your audience. Doing the opposite is a flip-off to them. And a flipped-off audience will never return.

Peter Shankman is the founder of HARO.

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Comments

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis August 22, 2011 at 10:27 AM

"Too many voices spoil the meal"

Great point, and one that most people don't think about. You want to keep your writing style consistent in order to avoid confusing your readers. I know that everyone wants to have a "voice" within their company, but one person has to be responsible for actually putting the words down.

Ellis Shuman
Ellis Shuman August 22, 2011 at 9:14 AM

I think you should add to your list of how to avoid common content mistakes: spell check