Content marketing is one of the dominant strategies in the modern digital marketing world. That’s partially due to its accessibility (since anyone can write and publish content on the web). But it’s also a testament to its effectiveness.
Of course, practicing content marketing isn’t a surefire way to generate traffic or even build your brand reputation — especially now. The truth is, marketers everywhere are suffering from the effects of “bad” content, whether they’re the ones writing it or not.
If content marketing is going to survive as a strategy, we need to collectively address it.
What is bad content?
Bad content is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s typically content produced for its own sake, rather than to serve a specific purpose. Instead of being written to inform the public or entertain a specific target audience, it’s written merely to generate traffic or improve the visibility of the brand.
That said, the intent of the piece isn’t the main problem. The main problem is that the content cuts corners, or otherwise adds little value to a given conversation. It doesn’t cover new ground. It doesn’t make strong points. It doesn’t offer new research. Sometimes, it’s not even well written, ending up riddled with typos and semantic errors.
The ongoing publication and syndication of bad content leads to a host of negative consequences for marketers, both on a first order (affecting the publisher directly) and a second order (affecting everyone, even those not publishing bad content).
First order effects
Writing and publishing bad content will negatively impact your brand, even if you see some marginal increases in traffic or brand recognition.
Reputational damage. When a person reads an empty or poorly researched piece of content, they often look to the author to see who’s responsible for it. If your brand is associated with bad content, it’s going to take a reputational hit, sooner or later. You don’t want to be known as the company that makes shoddy content.
SEO issues. In some cases, an influx of hastily written content can actually harm your positions in search engines. Google’s search ranking algorithm significantly considers content quality when evaluating trustworthiness and eventual positions; in other words, if you care about search engine optimization (SEO), bad content will do more harm than good.
ROI and cost issues. Writing a piece of bad content still takes time, money and effort. If the bulk of your content marketing strategy is centered on “bad” pieces, it’s going to ruin your return on investment (ROI).
Second order effects
Bad content in circulation also affects the entire marketing industry — even if you’re not immediately aware of these effects.
Consumer trust. Consumer trust in brands is already at an all-time low. It’s part of the reason why traditional advertising is met with such skepticism and cynicism in the modern era. The more the internet is flooded with bad content, engineered for marketing purposes only, the more consumer trust is going to fall; increasingly, companies will be seen as greedy manipulators that don’t care about quality.
The efficacy of content marketing. Content marketing originated as a way to build trust with consumers — that’s what made it powerful. But as bad content becomes the new norm, content marketing suffers reputational damage. Everyone’s strategy takes a hit.
Content pollution. Here’s the thing about bad content — it’s cheap and easy to produce. It’s therefore easy to flood the internet with bad content. This “content pollution” makes it harder and harder for good content to stand out and get the attention it deserves.
Is your content bad?
Generally speaking, you should have an intuition for whether or not your content is “bad.” If you only care about it as a tool for generating traffic, if you outsource the work to non-native speakers or if you rush through the content with no regard to its structure, research or writing, you probably have bad content on your hands.
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But if you’re in a gray area and you’re not sure whether your content meets a decent threshold of quality, there are some aspects you can check:
Research. Are your claims backed with evidence? Did you look up the counterarguments? Which sources do you cite?
Purpose. Are you genuinely trying to inform or help people? Or are you only interested in optimizing for a specific keyword?
Grammar, spelling, syntax, etc. Your finished content should be flawless after a few rounds of review and revision.
Feedback. How do your readers feel about this content? This is arguably the most important factor, so run surveys to collect more feedback.
There isn’t much you can do about other businesses and individuals writing and publishing bad content, but you can take control over your own approach. Take some time to audit your current content marketing strategy (if you have one) and re-prioritize the quality of your work.