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How to Break Bad Writing Habits for a Content Marketing Win

By Martha Mueller NeffApr 1, 2016

content-marketing-writingAs Kuno Creative’s copy editor, I see a lot of words every day, from blogs to emails, flowcharts to e-books and agendas for strategy sessions with clients. It’s a lot of marketing content, and every word counts.

So in the interest of helping you achieve sparkling content marketing, attract readers and even convert a few into customers or brand advocates, here are some no-nos and easy writing tips for an inbound marketing win. If you don’t see any familiar infractions, bully for you! You’re on the road to marketing Zen, pleasing yourself and your clients. If you look at the list and think, “Whoa, now, I do that a lot and no one’s complained” … Don’t worry. Consider this your intervention.

Where There’s Room for Improvement

We all have our writing foibles, blind spots or lazy habits. Here are a few I see every day.

  • Action speaks louder than passive. Which is better? Blogs are created by writers. Or: Writers crush those blogs. You bet. Verbs are your friends. When verbs work with a subject, it’s magic. When you look at a sentence you’ve written, imagine the best verb possible for what you’re trying to convey. Then use it.
  • Weak words where stronger words will work. Utilize, or use? Incentivize, or inspire? That’s a no-brainer. Here are a bunch of “fluffy” words you probably use every day, but shouldn’t.
  • Capitalization. Just because a client capitalizes Manufacturer (or Smart Devices, or Portfolio) doesn’t necessarily mean you have to. Everyday words you might use talking to your co-workers or buddies shouldn’t be capitalized. 
  • Bloated sentences and bad constructions. If you have to read a sentence more than twice, it’s probably too complicated and should be trimmed or broken up—even if it’s technical. If it’s a mouthful in your head as you’re reading it, it will be too much for your readers, as well.
  • Cliches. All editors agree that if we never see another ’Tis the Season, it’ll be too soon. Likewise for other seasonal favorites Ring in the New Year, Hop to it (Easter) or Scary good (Halloween). But clichés slip into everyday marketing writing as well. Avoid them if you can.
  • Too many exclamation points! You look like you’re trying too hard when you use more than one exclamation point. Rein it in, eager beaver. One per piece ought to do it.
  • Failure to proof, and proof again. NEVER read a piece of writing just once. Twice should be your new minimum, with spellcheck, regardless of the content.

Hitting the Content Bull’s-eye

Now that we’ve set up a primer on what NOT to do in your writing, what do you do to make your marketing content sing? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Use powerful words. My watch list of weak words (incentivize, very, variety, impactful, utilize, additionally) are real words, but should not be used in any story, blog, email, call-to-action or document going to a client. Some are there because they’re lazy excuses for better words; some are there because they’re fakes and sound highfalutin. Use Merriam-Webster and synonym finders every day if you can.
  • Make an outline. Remember sixth grade, when your teacher made you outline your report on The Importance of the Magna Carta? It’s still a good idea because it forces you to form something cohesive: Introduction, body, conclusion. Other ideas in between. Making an outline could mean the difference between five people viewing your blog, and 25,000.  
  • Write like you’d speak. Flowery language with $5 words doesn’t fly in our Snapchat, short-attention-span world. But that doesn’t mean your masterpiece should be loaded with colloquialisms and clipped language that your 13-year-old nephew uses. Your challenge is finding a balance.
  • Make it engaging. Here’s the Uncle Joe challenge: Make even the driest copy from your most niche or technical client appeal to your Uncle Joe. Ask yourself: Would Uncle Joe read this blog? Would Uncle Joe open this email? Would Uncle Joe want to download this eBook? If it doesn’t pass the Uncle Joe challenge, you should review it, or start over.writing-at-computer
  • Keywords make the world go round. Like an outline, knowing the keywords to help improve your SEO score will also help improve your writing by giving you a foundation, a signal to bring your topic into focus throughout the piece. Use keyword tools like HubSpot’s or Google’s to research what your audience is searching for online before you start writing. Put those keywords at the top of your piece to keep you on track. But don’t overdo keyword use in the text; let them flow naturally.
  • Read it out loud. Really. Who cares if your cubicle mate thinks you’ve gone off the deep end? Reading aloud what you’ve written helps you catch mistakes. It also helps you mold boring copy into something intriguing because you can hear where it lags and where it soars.

The best marketing content I see each day is copy the writer has obviously taken time to discuss with her client, research keywords, outline and make relevant for her target audience. If it speaks to me and makes me want to read on, that content certainly will attract qualified readers because it has strong and accurate words and a message that resonates.   

Achieving a well-formed, intriguing, highly shareable piece of content won’t happen overnight. But by taking a little extra time as you put fingers to keyboard now, you’ll save yourself frustration later and take your copy from pretty good to amazing.

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The Author

Martha Mueller Neff

Martha puts into play her skills and experience as an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor, helping to craft bright, clean communications that get results.
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