Learn to create better content by identifying bad examples

© Jenny Lucas Copywriting

How it works

The bingo card above shows 24 things amateur content creators do when creating content. These things can:

  • Be bad for their Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Disappoint their audience or leave them hanging
  • Make their content difficult to consume
  • Harm their reputation and credibility
  • Make them look unprofessional.

You can use it in two ways:

Play the game by identifying the different mistakes on other websites as you travel around the internet.

Or use the card as a checklist, so you can avoid doing similar things when you’re creating content yourself.

Understanding the colours

Each square colour represents a different category.

The categories are as follows:

🌕 Empty words and phrases
🌸 Quality of content
🔮 User experience
🍊 Formatting and presentation
🎾 Tone and language
🔵 Writing errors

Let’s have a look at each category in a little more detail.

🌕 Empty words and phrases

“We are passionate about…”

Professional content writers don’t tell their audience they’re passionate — they show them.

You can do it too, when you write knowledgeably and enthusiastically about your subject.

Any words followed by “Solutions”

If your audience has questions, they will never be answered by the words “solution” or “solutions”. These words won’t tell them anything.

When you’re talking about your product or service, be specific about what it is and what it does in a practical sense.

“Here at <Company Name>…”

Your audience knows where they are and who you are, so this sentence introduction is unnecessary.

“We understand that…”

This is another one of those show, don’t tell phrases. You’re still showing you understand if you remove these three words and your copy will be much stronger without them.

🌸 Quality of content

Too much waffle and not enough substance

To be valuable, content needs substance, such as facts, figures, insight and information. Amateur content that doesn’t have enough substance is often filled out with a lot of waffle that doesn’t really say anything.

Avoid waffling when you’re creating content by making every sentence count and keeping it concise.

Doesn’t deliver what the headline promises

Imagine watching a 30-minute how-to video then finding, right at the end, that it doesn’t show you how to do anything and you’ve just wasted half an hour.

Or reading a long piece of content that starts with a question and doesn’t answer it.

When your content doesn’t deliver, it leaves your audience feeling cheated and disappointed. And you lose some of your credibility and trustworthiness.

Tired or dated content

You might find content that talks about the way things are, but then see it was actually written several years ago. Or you might find current content that was written recently but is citing dated statistics.

All content can date over time, so you either need to update it and keep it fresh, or remove it. If you’re creating content, you need to support it with the most up to date facts and figures available.

Opinions presented as facts

This is what happens when the writer wants to make insightful points but hasn’t done any research to back them up.

For example: “Leicester is a fantastic place for millennials to start a business” may well be true but, without any credible sources, it’s just my opinion.

If I had done my research, however, I could have said: “The latest survey by Instantprint showed that Leicester is the best place for millennials to start a business.”

🔮 User experience

Broken links

If a piece of content links to a web page that has since been taken down, that link will become broken and won’t go anywhere. This is bad for the content and for the referring site’s SEO.

There are several link checkers online that you can use to check your site for broken links and fix them.

Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is when a writer finds the SEO keyword or phrase they want the content to rank for, then uses it repeatedly in the content. The repetition is often so frequent that the content doesn’t read naturally.

Too many links in the copy

Some hyperlinks to outside sources are good and show the writer has done their research. But some writers link to other articles every time they need to explain an idea or piece of terminology.

When they do it too often, it just becomes confusing and overwhelming.

No call to action at the end

The call to action gives the audience somewhere else to go when they get to the end of the piece. So if they enjoyed the content or want more information, they can follow up by sharing it, following the author or getting in touch.

It might be something like ‘About the Author’, ‘Contact us for more information’, or ‘Do you need some help?’ followed by a phone number, web or email address.

🍊 Formatting and presentation

Long unbroken paragraphs

There’s nothing more off-putting to an audience than a huge wall of text with no breaks in it. Breaking the text into paragraphs and adding section headings makes the content easier to read, or skim through.

Font issues

If the content creator has used too many fonts, or fonts that don’t complement each other, the piece can be an eyesore. Likewise if the font is too small or too fancy and difficult to read.

All the text is centred

Text that is centre-aligned is always more difficult to read than when it’s left-aligned or justified. This is because the start point of each line is variable and isn’t always in the same place.

Confusing layout

Some content includes different elements, such as video, visuals and text that don’t seem to be connected or work together very well. It may also include advertising, which makes it difficult to determine what’s part of the content and what isn’t.

To avoid problems, make sure your content flows well and introduce different media in the text as it appears.

🎾 Tone and language

Passive voice rather than active voice

Passive voice sounds detached and distant. Active voice is much stronger and speaks directly to the audience. Here’s an example:

Passive voice: The products are available to order from our online shop.
Active voice: Order your products from our online shop.

Pretentious business speak

Most good content has a conversational tone that’s easy to read and understand. But some companies don’t think that sounds professional enough.

When the writer tries too hard to make it sound ‘professional’, using big words and complicated sentence structures, it can come across as pretentious, pompous and out of touch.

Unexplained industry acronyms or jargon

Some industry terms can be long and convoluted, so we tend to reduce them down to an acronym or shorten them to something easier.

Take Search-Engine Optimisation, for example. You wouldn’t want to keep writing, or reading, it out in full, so we shorten it to SEO.

This is perfectly okay, so long as you explain the term and write it out in full the first time you use it.

Tone of voice keeps changing

All writers refer to other websites to get their information. But amateurs sometimes lift content directly from those other sites, or only rewrite it slightly before copying it into their own work.

This is fine if it’s separated and used as a quote with the original source underneath, but if it’s mixed in with their own writing, it can sound like two or more people have written it.

For example, it might go from informal and conversational to formal and stuffy. Or from dull and flat to excitable and humorous.

🔵 Writing errors

Typos and spelling mistakes

Proofreading your work before you publish it is important and will help to catch any errant typos or mistakes.

Grammatical errors

Good grammar sounds intelligent and credible. Bad grammar doesn’t.

Sentences that are too long

Rambling sentences that go on and on are difficult to read.

Plain English experts recommend a maximum of 20 words per sentence, but that’s a limit, not a target.

For the best results, you should vary the length of your sentences.

Uses the wrong words or phrases

Some amateurs use the wrong word because they don’t know what the right one should be.

Like writing ‘pacifically’ when they really mean ‘specifically’, or ‘are’ when it should be ‘our’.

The same with phrases, like ‘to all intensive purposes’ instead of ‘intents and purposes’. And ‘it’s a doggy dog world’ when it’s really ‘dog eat dog’.

Eyes down for a full house!

Now you know what to look for, you can start to play the game.

Best of luck. I hope it helps you to create more engaging and professional content.

Need help with your content?

Maybe you know you need quality content for your website, but don’t have the time or inclination to write it yourself.

Or you’ve tried creating content and have decided it’s not for you.

This is where hiring a professional content writer can help.

I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Leicester, UK.

Follow the links to read about my content writing service or to get in touch.