How to Quit Publishing Bad Content

image of Jillian Michaels with a kettlebell

2012 was the year that mainstream businesses started to get it. They realized that content marketing is where they should be putting their time and energy.

And inevitably, when a particular term gets a lot of coverage, you’ll see a backlash. I’d start watching for “Content Marketing is Dead” posts around the first of next year, if not earlier.

And what will those misguided posts be pointing to?

They’ll point out that an awful lot of content is … how can I put this delicately?

It’s really, really bad.

The more “fashionable” content marketing becomes, the more bad content we’re going to see.

So today I want to talk about what makes bad content … and how you can turn that around and start creating something worth reading.

Let’s start with one of the biggest reasons so much content just doesn’t work …

You’re making the shape, you’re not doing the move

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a kettlebell freak enthusiast. My trainer recorded a video about the kettlebell swing — and why so many people get it wrong.

You can go see the video here: Do the Move! Don’t Just Make the Shape

Basically, the problem is that people see a swing on television or in a YouTube video, and they try to “make the shape.” They bend their knees, then they swing the kettlebell up with their arms.

That’s not a kettlebell swing. And it won’t get the results you want.

You need to understand the move, and all of its intricate little components, before you can really make the move. Swinging a bell around like you saw a celebrity trainer do it will just get somebody hurt.

In the same way, aspiring content publishers look at sites like Copyblogger or Content Marketing Institute and they see things like:

All well and good. All smart tactics.

And then our hopeful marketer publishes a poorly written, thinly researched piece called “Dental and Gum Health: 12 Things Gangnam Style Can Teach You,” and they think that’s content marketing.

Yeah, well … not so much.

It still has to be good

Your post can have the most irresistible headline in the history of advertising. Your site design can be luscious. Your keywords can be masterfully researched.

If the actual content isn’t worth reading, none of this will help you.

There’s an important rule of thumb called Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of (nearly) everything sucks.

90% of fiction. 90% of advertising. 90% of apps. 90% of web content.

Guess what? You don’t have to be Malcolm Gladwell. You don’t have to be brilliant or perfect or a genius the world has never seen before.

You just have to not suck. You can handle that.

How to fix content that sucks

If you’re convinced that you need to start taking content marketing seriously, but this post is making you a little worried, you need to do one thing first and foremost.

Start with a writer. Start with a human being who’s already a little wacko about putting words together in a way that other humans find pleasing.

That writer might be you, or it might be another person. Only you know the answer to that.

Once you have a piece of writing (a post, an editorial, a video, a podcast, etc.) that someone wants to actually read, watch, or listen to, you’re ready for the marketing part.

Then you work your network to get the word out. Then you improve your social sharing strategy. Then you intelligently optimize for search engines.

Don’t try to cheap out or take shortcuts around this. Don’t fall for dumb tactics like “spinning” content. Don’t outsource your writing to people who can’t write well. That’s just a short cut to content that’s uglier than Bob Harper trying to do a Turkish Get-Up.

And don’t repeat silly statements like “content marketing is over” or “list posts don’t work.”

Bad content marketing and lame list posts never worked.

Understand the move — which means understanding what your audience gives a damn about. Turn a good writer loose on that. Then optimize.

It’s not particularly easy, but it’s also not rocket science.

And if you’re a writer, for the love of pete, learn about all of this optimization stuff. (You can start here.) Businesses are drowning in a sea of crap content out there.

Go forth and make something better. Your people need you.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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Comments

  1. Favourite phrase: “It still has to be good”.

    I’ve got a picture in my head now of you patiently repeating this to someone who’s moaning that they’ve ticked this box and that box, but still aren’t getting any traffic.

    Getting all of the other stuff right but forgetting that the content _still has to be good_ is like a bad movie with great marketing. It might get some attention at first but drops out of sight faster than a sweaty kettlebell during a turkish get-up. :-)

    P.S. I feel you when it comes to the kettlebell swing. Only yesterday morning (outside, in the dark and freezing cold I might add!) my trainer said: “If your arms aren’t floppy, you’re doing it wrong.” I’ll be sure to pass on: “do the move, don’t make the shape”.

  2. Shortcut-itis is a killer Sonia! Spot on post here.

    If you practice you become a better writer. Post, after post after post. Your writing skills improve, as you practice and expose yourself to well written posts.

    Almost all truly rough to read content is the product of a hurried mind. Slow down, calm down, and just write, and do this on a daily basis.

    As your content improves begin networking aggressively. People will not find you; you need to find them first. Part of the game.

    Thanks!

  3. Sonia,
    The irony is, “Content Marketing is Dead” will be communicated through… wait for it… content marketing. Would you agree it’ll be a band-wagon phenomenon?
    I always enjoy your insight and take away a lot of value from your posts. Thanks.

  4. Content is king and I’m improving mine everyday.

  5. Love the kettlebell analogies!

    I cringe at videos that show what not to do though. The swing is basic, but people injure themselves even by showing things incorrectly. As a trainer, I try to avoid showing what not to do. Just like you guys at Copyblogger.

    I try not to suck every day, and you guys help show me the way :)

  6. Love the picture! And I appreciate your mild slap-in-the-face style. I needed that. Keep swingin’ that bell, girl.

    Jim H.

  7. I write web content for a living and while I can’t say that every piece I publish is a work of genius, one thing that’s made a difference for me is asking, “Has anybody said this before?”

    If the answer is yes and I’m just rehashing things I’ve read or written before, there’s no way my content can be called “good.” It just doesn’t contribute to the content world in any meaningful way.

    Not that we can’t have repetition on certain topics – obviously, all subjects can be approached from different ways through different lenses of experience. However, if I’m going to write on a subject that other people have covered before, I need to bring something new to the table to create value that goes above and beyond what’s already been published.

    Again, I’m not great at doing this 100% of the time, but it’s a helpful thought for me to keep in mind :)

    • Sarah I’m total in agreement with you. It’s not easy but it’s important to have in mind writing about new things or contributing with new ideas, and if we are helping with new fresh content and quality, people will share our work, contributing with our success :)

  8. It happens with any “big” marketing tactic—everyone does it and most people do it really, really bad (there’s Sturgeon’s law for you). Writing is hard. Writing well is even after. And writing something that people want to read AND share sometimes feels impossible. But you have to mean every word you put down and actually think about what you are trying to say.

    • But there’s also a flip side — if you bring a real writer onto your team, writing is much less hard for that person. I see so many ‘content strategists’ trying to make do with outsourced .50/page writers or spinning good content from a site that works. Start with a writer.

      Now a lot of the writers need to get their act together as well, and be willing to learn the business practicalities. But things like benefits vs. features and good headlines are teachable. “Write something people want to read” is much harder to teach.

  9. Fixing bad content can take a lot of time but is worth it. Some posts may need to be rewritten. Others are better off the site, so they should be deleted permanently. One can install WordPress on their local computer, pull all their posts from their site in an XML file, import it to their fresh install and begin editing. Later on they can copy and paste the updated content back to their site – replacing the bad content with new, good and fresh content.

  10. I particularly like your call to action: “Go forth and make something better. Your people need you.”

    Sometimes I wish that all the bad stuff out there would disappear so that the good stuff (like mine 8=) would be easier to find. But I guess that is the way of the world we live in. We need to strive to remain in the 10% and learn how to stand out amongst the crowd.

  11. Just a few weeks ago, I encouraged my small team of blog authors to connect “trending topics” in pop culture to our industry. “Dental and Gum Health: What Gangam Style Could Teach You” is exactly the kind of thing I was suggesting, so I feel like this post is speaking to me! I like to think our posts were done well, though; the assignment definitely helped our authors find some new fonts of creativity and approach writing in a fun and different way.

    • You just have to make sure your analogies are 1) appropriate for the audience, and 2) logically consistent with the point you’re trying to make. We see too many people making clever references that just don’t hold up on either of those two things, which results in content that hurts worse than publishing nothing at all.

    • Sometimes it’s a fine line between finding a fresh take and just making a hot mess. A good writer can help figure out where that line is — or if nothing else, make sure the hot mess is entertaining and readable.

  12. DIY is a common theme now that blogging and tweeting are both the rage. Whatever can be written will be written by everyone, and somehow that makes everybody a writer. Right? Uhmmm…. no. Self-medicating doesn’t make me a doctor either. Thanks for “…if you bring a real writer onto your team, writing is much less hard for that person.” Yes! And you should know, Sonia… Thanks for your ruthless, relentless inspiration.

  13. “a human being who’s already a little wacko about putting words together in a way that other humans find pleasing”
    This should be in the dictionary under my name. :) I’m crazy about this sort of thing! And, to add to what you said, the content not only has to be put together “in a way that other humans find pleasing” but it has to be compelling too. People can spend all day reading about stuff, but if they don’t ultimately take action on it, it’s still just a flicker of momentary happiness.

  14. My favorite phrase, “Start with a writer.” Yes, it all begins there. . .

  15. “That writer might be you, or it might be another person. Only you know the answer to that.” Not sure I agree with the last part. Through over 30 years of writing and editing, I’ve come across a lot of people who think anyone, including themselves, can write and good writing is easy. I also think good, even great writers can use a once over by an editor…it doesn’t have to be someone who’s paid to be an editor, just someone to give the copy a close look with an eye on details.

  16. “A human being who is a little wacko” is a great way to describe anybody who is passionate about their craft. Get any expert in an y industry to start talking and your head will start spinning.

    “90 percent of everything sucks” reminds me of something that I learned when I was working on a degree in music. “There is always room at the top.” Very few people are willing to put in the time and effort to get into that upper 1%.

    Enjoyed the post. Thanks for the advice.

  17. Great article with a nice featured image. Glad you touched the issue on spinning content. I believe that spinning content takes away the writer’s unique style and personality in writing. But some training communities still use it, which makes me wonder if they are successful in it.

  18. Great Article. Spinning content it’s for a very poor SEO. I like fresh content.

  19. I use to take short cuts. It was hard to stop taking short cuts especially when you see results from it. Not only do I get better results now but I’m proud of my work.

  20. Geez. I decided to try and do this lately. To really think about what I’m publishing online…its a scary thought. Time consuming, hard work, that isn’t fast. I hope its worth it, but I won’t know for months. Well, off I go…

  21. That’s not to say you need to hire a writer just because you don’t know how to write very well. How about invest in your education and actually learn how to write? Maybe you just need to focus more on the writing portion. An internet marketer isn’t and can’t just be a marketer, they have to have a wide spectrum of skills.

  22. Really enjoyed this post Sonia.
    It is scary thinking that there will be so many people doing content marketing since it is catching on pretty quick, and it could be interpreted as competition being insanely fierce, but if you write top notch content, then that’s nothing to worry about then is it?

    Keep the posts coming I always read every post you guys write.

  23. Sometimes, bloggers might be too busy, and when they write an article, they want to get through with it, post it, and then do other things. This is not the right way to write articles. This is the right way to write articles that are not interesting, in a poor language and with typos.

    I have come across the following two tips, which I am going to adopt:

    1) After writing an article, leave it for a few hours or a day, and then read it again and make corrections.

    2) Read the article aloud, and see if it makes sense.

  24. You are so right, there is so much washed over content…”like I have heard it before many times”. Some people just can’t seem to write from the heart. Are they also that boring in person?

    The more you read, the more you should be able to write better or if nothing else KNOW that you can’t write worth a darn and give it to someone else to do. I hate wasting my precious time on bad content or some watered down version of a truly good piece of content simulated by a would be writer because they can’t come with their own ideas or perspective on the subject.

    Mary

  25. One challenge is the need to hire a good writer when the budget may not allow it. Oh, yes, you can get everybody and her brother for $5 per post, but, honestly, how good are most of them? You really do get what you pay for, with labor as with everything else. With nowhere near the budget, I’m self-published for now, so my laser-focus is on learning to do it better.

  26. I think good writing just takes more time than most people realize. If a too-heavy workload doesn’t allow a writer to put in the time, then even understanding what good writing entails is not going to make a difference. And, it might be useful to define the role of writing. I’ve recently learned that coming up with an interesting blog topic and thoroughly outlining it during the research phase is what makes the writing and editing phase that much easier.

  27. Simple rule – if you do not have something to write about, don’t. I know this is all ‘content marketing’, ‘keep putting it out’, but at the end of the day, you can market yourself with mediocre content and it’ll all be worthless when they land on your site.

    … I’ve let my blogging slip. I’m making excuses for myself!

  28. I know I have volume to hit on my client sites, but when it comes to my personal blogging it’s all about quality over quantity. I find that when I write about topics that matter to ME, and write in such a way that pleases ME and that I would want to read, then they seem to matter to and please others as well. In this scenario, my blogs are more successful than when I am just trying to hit some numbers. It seems obvious, but it really isn’t because people are still putting out garbage by the truckload. I have to agree with the “90%” saying – but perhaps wading through the 90% of suckitude makes that 10% that earn our attention totally worth it? Just trying to see the glass half full.

  29. Many people really don’t understand that you have to put in a lot of work to get half-way decent at something. They either give up when things get tough, or they didn’t really have their heart in the game in the first place.

  30. This is one reason I miss working in corporate America, there were other people responsible or able to help. Well, here it is almost midnight and I am still working on content and marketing my content. I thought taking this month off from appointments would relieve me of some work but the more time off the more I find I have not done or has been done poorly.

  31. My favorite line in this post: “don’t take shortcuts.”

    It says a lot about how most content creators do business. They try to find the fastest ways to get more traffic and engagement they fail to realize that they need a solid foundation for their business. And that is content that is actually worth readers’ time.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  32. I agree totally with the 90:10 rule on providing great content to your audience; however what’s the best way to overcome bloggers block? I am fairly new to this and heard that you should write at least a paragraph even if you can’t think of anything good because search engines like Google will stop following your website otherwise. Is it better not to blog every single day to prevent posting bad quality content and therefore avoid the reducing numbers of returning visitors?

    • One of the biggest things to remember is always focus on quality content whenever you get the chance. If you have one or two bad posts, this can really effect people taking your website seriously. If all they see is premium content, they are more likely to subscribe or follow you and your progress.

      I recently started a new website, so that I can start from scratch and focus on taking my time on posts. I used to write a lot of posts in the past thinking that this was a good tactic. For 2013 I’m going to try and change my approach.

  33. To be honest, I don’t know if I write well. No one complement on my writing. In the beginning, my grammar was being corrected by friends who read my blog. Now they don’t do it anymore. Not sure if it’s because I’ve improve or they simple given up.