Ah, the internet. It’s become such an integral part of our society that I rarely, if ever, sit back and reflect upon its marvels: the speed, the ease, and the accessibility first come to mind, but the thing that most astounds me is the sheer amount of content. Every 24 hours, two million blog posts are written (that’s enough to fill Time magazine for 770 years). Because of this rapid (and sometimes frenetic) creation of content, free resources, valuable tips, and sage advice abounds.
The flip side to this digital content-creation coin: there are a lot of free resources out there that appear reputable and purport to be helpful through the advice they offer, but in fact miss the mark. The problem is that, according to my own assessments like the type of comments a blog post receives, the number of social shares it garners, and the sentiments voiced about the post through Twitter, people readily and unhesitatingly devour written pieces that are either simply generic or contain no real value.
The internet is inundated with beautifully-written, brilliantly-crafted blog posts. But the internet is also often quite unreliable, and yet some people still trust it blindly. I can’t help but think of this tendency that’s dramatized and mocked in this commercial from State Farm:
Such blind faith is overstated and comically exaggerated, sure, but State Farm wouldn’t incorporate the idea into a commercial if there wasn’t a slight amount of truth to it. I’ll admit that I sometimes read advice and tips and accept them without examining the advice, the research, or the author.
HubSpot says it? It must be true! It must be a treasure created by the gods of inbound marketing and bestowed upon lowly content-writing commoners like me! Social Media Examiner wrote it? It’s been tweeted 881 times? Well, I’ve got to put these pearls of wisdom into play immediately!
Part of my daily work routine involves reading blog posts that discuss social media, inbound marketing, and advertising. Through all my reading, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few content-marketing practices that either must go or must be replaced with something better, something that’s more informative and more beneficial. Some of these practices are just plain wrong, and others are just plain less-than-helpful. Whenever I come across these, my critical eye instinctually opens and my inner scrutinizer/sleuth immediately awakens.
Here are four practices I frequently find in blogs, in white papers, and on social media that deserve a cease and desist order:
1. The Use of Cliches and Buzz Phrases, Without Any Specific Guidelines
The use of cliches and buzz phrases doesn’t irk me as much as the use of cliches and buzz phrases without precise, explicit guidelines.
One of the most frequently used phrases in the content-marketing world: Create Killer Content.
This phrase actually generates over 38 million Google results.
This is overused because the basic idea is true. But, the problem is that these three words are incredibly vague and ambiguous. How do I go about creating killer content? And isn’t killer content to some degree subjective? I’ve seen trending blog posts and blog posts that receive thousands of social shares that I think are really not all that stellar.
How beneficial is it to someone to tell them to write inspiring stuff, to be original, and to be an amazing, kung-fu, kick ass, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, rock star marketer? This advice very little value unless it includes concrete tips that people can implement into their marketing strategies. Yes, these tips are sometimes very individualized, which might be why writers shy away from giving them, but there are some common elements:
- Figure out your ideal audience
- Poll your current audience to see what type of information they would like to read (through a blog post, tweets, or Facebook posts)
- Develop an editorial calendar
- Monitor social media for hot topics related to your industry
- Set up Google Alerts for industry-related keywords
- Keep track of your most popular posts with Google Analytics
- Promote your content: make contacts by participating in Twitter chats, reach out to industry leaders (my coworker Pat DePuy gives great specific tips on how to spread content through Twitter)
Isn’t the inclusion of just one of these steps far superior to merely articulating generic advice that we’ve all already heard before?
2. Failing to Align Titles and Content
I recently came across a blog post that was entitled “Six Reasons Why I Won’t Look at Your Infographic.” The problem: the “reasons” given in the post weren’t actually reasons at all. They were tips on how to create a compelling infographic. Number one was “Create a Strong Intro”; two was “Use an Attractive Color Scheme.” To match the format set out by the title of the post, number one should have been something like “It Lacks a Strong Intro.”
Brian Clark of Copyblogger says “the headline is the promise that your content fulfills.” When I clicked on this post, the headline promised me six reasons why this person won’t look at my infographic, but what it really gave me was tips on creating a good infographic. This is still valuable content, but this misalignment between title and content is either an oversight or a poor writing practice.
3. The Use of Bad Stock Photos
(Along with this goes the use of unnecessary/irrelevant images.)
Embracing visual content is a savvy marketing move. Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text. Forty percent of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. Yet, I often question why some blog posts incorporate tacky or cheesy stock photos. Bad stock photos are inherently fake and obviously orchestrated; they seem to me to cheapen the value of a site. When a stock photo is laughable in its preposterousness, it detracts from the content. (One of my favorite websites, xojane.com actually commits itself to never using stock photography. Some of its pictures are eccentric and odd, but they are all real and free of manipulations, which lends an authenticity to the site.)
And sometimes it’s painfully obvious that writers sprinkle a post with photos just for the sake of having a visual. Is including irrelevant visuals or visuals that offer little value better than no visuals at all?
Visuals can do a lot for a post: they grab people’s attention; they condense information into easily digestible bite-sized nuggets of takeaway knowledge. And a long blog post that consists of solid blocks of text can be far more intimidating than a post of equal length that’s peppered with visuals. However, I usually arrive at blog posts by clicking on links through Twitter or by seeing a headline on a website. I arrive at that post not knowing whether or not it contains visuals. If the first few paragraphs hook me, I will read that post start to finish whether or not it contains pictures.
One of the best posts I’ve read recently is a post from Copyblogger on how to apply the findings of social psychology studies to conversion. It contained zero visuals, but I read it and shared it because of the incredible content.
I think the point I’m trying to make is this: visuals can help a post, but if the content is not compelling, interesting, or intriguing, can they really save a post?
Eye-tracking studies reveal a wide gap in the way people approach website images.
People ignore big, feel-good images that function purely as decoration. They treat photos of products and real people, as opposed to the models in stock photos, as important content and scrutinize these photos.
One study tracked the way in which people looked at the website FreshBooks.com, which presents photos of real team members. These photos are placed alongside a short biography. Users spent 10% more time viewing the pictures, even though the biographies occupied 316% more space.
Contrastingly, when people looked at a webpage that featured a generic photo serving as pure filler, they completely ignored the photo and focused solely on the text.
4. Telling People That Social Media Marketing Is Free
Contrary to the social-media-marketing myth that’s out there infiltrating blogs and content-hungry people’s minds, social media marketing is not free. Joining Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest is free, but executing a marketing campaign on these channels takes: time, monitoring, tracking and measuring, content creation (this involves brainstorming, creating the content, and then promoting the content), and the time of the employees who run the marketing campaigns (not to mention paid advertising).
Social media marketing is many things. It’s increasingly relevant: the number of marketers who say Facebook is critical or important to their business has increased 75% in three years. It’s effective: 77% of B2C companies surveyed by HubSpot acquired a customer through Facebook, and 55% acquired a customer through Twitter. But, a well-developed and well-executed campaign requires time, collaboration, and resources.