It’s one of those classic content marketing mistakes: putting out content because you have to.
While it’s true that sticking to a content calendar has its merits, publishing content just so you can push the Publish button as planned doesn’t really sound like a plan.
Recently, I got an email from a client whose business is in the small business software space:
“Can you help me improve six articles? No internal linking, no bucket brigades … not good.”
I agreed without so much as a cursory glance at the articles he attached.
I’ve already done a lot of internal linking and SEO formatting for the same client, and I expected to be done in a couple of hours with all six.
As it turned out, internal linking and bucket brigades were the least of my worries.
The skyscraper technique
Because original content takes time to put together, what some content writers do is enter www.buzzsumo.com in their address bar, type up some relevant keywords, and voila, you have a list of trending articles on a topic.
Other times, requesting parties include article links to a job brief to illustrate the type of content they want written.
This is the first of three steps in a technique called the skyscraper technique, which, in a nutshell, is building on articles or topics that have been proven to perform well and making them even better.
- Look for well-performing industry content.
- Identify and fill in the content’s gaps. Include case studies, offer research negating the original content’s premise, add better videos and images, and so on.
- Promote your content. Reach out to people who are already linking to the trending content your article is based on.
Content creation fails
That was the client’s plan – create highly shareable content using the skyscraper technique.
Skyscraper step #1. Check.
Step #2 is where several problems cropped up:
Mistake #1: Thinking that rewritten content is original content
The writer mostly only reworded the articles, didn’t fact-check, and several times, got the concept all wrong.
It was obvious she didn’t visit most, if not all, of the websites she was talking about.
One of the articles she was asked to emulate was a list of websites for entrepreneurs. It mentioned one site where images can be obtained for a minimal fee.
In the rewritten piece, the writer seemed to think that was all the site was for, a site selling stock images, when the site was actually a design crowdsourcing site.
All it took was a quick glance at the website to know what it was about.
After all those algorithm changes to penalize low-quality content, you’d think content creators and marketers have already learned their lesson.
Rewriting a popular article to meet content demand, without offering a new perspective or digging deeper into the topic, can do your brand more harm than good.
The article may pass Copyscape or some other plagiarism checker you have up your sleeve, but keep in mind, web content is for people first, the search engines second.
You can argue that about 90% (I made that number up) of everything on the Internet is a rehash, a regurgitation of some form.
I get that, and the challenge is how not to annoy readers who hate reading the same thing over and over, particularly if you’re after their business.
Mistake #2: Stuffing your content with fluff to meet length requirements
The writer rambled on and on about things that can be summarized in a few sentences, or stuff that only increased the article’s length but not necessarily the value.
This is because she was required to write a certain number of words per article.
When I was done editing a 2,000-word article, the total number of words left was approximately 1,200.
Here’s a tip for writers required to write a certain number of words:
When done with your draft and you’re still a few hundred words short, rather than inserting words or sentences here and there:
- Add a few more items to your list (if you’re writing a listicle)
- Supplement your assertions with examples, data-driven research, or case studies
Mistake #3: Writing what you don’t know
First, the writer simply reworded the article the client gave her as reference.
Second, she made no effort to validate the points raised.
Which brings us to the next point: The writer used the words “probably” and “perhaps” so often it was apparent she didn’t know what she was talking about.
Not the type of copy you’d like to read if you’re looking for advice.
I attribute this to:
- Not enough research
Some writers I know started not knowing much about the niche they’re now writing about.
How did they get there?
Through reading and research.
Mistake #4: Not knowing whom you’re writing for
In a few of the articles, the writer forgot who her target audience was: small business owners or solopreneurs looking for software solutions to help them in their operations, not people with a vague sense of what software is.
Knowing your audience is critical. Otherwise, your copy won’t be as targeted or impactful.
Some questions to think about:
- Won’t the tone of your email to business colleagues be different from an email to your family or friends?
- Do you address a teenager who goes crazy over One Direction the same way you address somebody with a PhD in quantum physics?
Mistake #5: Disparaging your competitors just because you can
One article compared several similar products, touching on points like website layout, blog, unique selling proposition, and so on.
The problem was that every item in the list except for the client’s product was depicted in a bad light. One way or another, the writer managed to disparage each one of them to make the client’s product look good.
This is hardly an effective strategy. It reeks of insecurity, to say the least.
When comparing your product with your competitors’, be objective. Present the touch points in a balanced way and let the reader decide.
What other content writing mistakes can you add to the list?