That’s what we need to do, right? Content Marketing is the new black, and we need to be bloody good at it if we want our sites to rank.
Sean recently proposed that some SEO folk are waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers that Google’s next update will reward quality content that deserves to rank. I sincerely hope that people don’t actually believe such garbage, and would like to dig into why it could never actually happen.
For the purpose of this discussion we’ll consider only the content medium of copy, since that is the most basic form of content, and most easily digestible by our spidery friends.
It could run through various checks and comparisons:
Hmmm, so Google knows how to tell if content is duplicate, poorly structured or incoherent. Of course, we know this – it’s exactly what Panda has been hammering sites for over the last couple of years. Google attempts to surface better quality sites simply by removing the lower quality ones.
But can Google look at two unique blog posts written on the same subject and determine which is of the higher quality? I sincerely doubt it.
A more pertinent question might be: ‘can humans do it?’
The best selling books of all time, according to Wikipedia, contain amongst their top 10 writers such as Tolkien, Dickens and Lewis. A fair shout, many would argue. Yet nestling in at the number 9 spot is none other than The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. Those familiar with Mr Brown’s work will know that his use of language is…clumsy, at best. His writing is painful to read, and he is not without criticism, evidenced by this collection of his ‘worst sentences‘.
Other works that have achieved massive commercial success yet are notoriously badly written include 50 Shades of Grey and the Harry Potter series. I must admit to enjoying the travails of Master Potter, although the prose can’t half make you wince at times.
The thing is, having discussed my distaste for such poorly written works with quite a few people over the years, some people simply don’t notice that the writing is bad. Others don’t give a shit. Well educated, highly intelligent people no less. I know this makes me sound pompous and arrogant, but hopefully is getting my point across – everybody has a different definition of quality.
Content is made to communicate meanings, and communication is an exchange of information. Content is only effective if it is successful in communicating its meanings to its audience. But the audience is not a robot.
Since every person has fundamentally different experiences, opinions and ideologies, it follows that they should disagree on ‘what is good.’
The notion that content can, in itself, deserve to rank is flawed.
If people can’t agree on content quality, then Google certainly can’t make that call algorithmically. And we’ve only considered text! Imagine Google trying to grade images qualitatively, never mind animation, music or videos. This is art not science.
Google must rely on good old external factors, such as links, social shares and author associations. And at the end of the day, Google doesn’t give a shit that a Dan Brown book reads like a soap opera on steroids – if their users want it then Google will give it to them.
(waits turn and stands)
Hello, my name is Anthony Pensabene (sometimes Content Muse because I celebrate using an alias despite being an adult, but I digress with your attention.)
I love to write.
I’ve been doing it for some time now and won’t cease. Don’t try to stop me.
Writer haters get away, or my lead will spray.
Once upon a time, I helped younger people write. I still do. I’m creating an army.
Today, I would like to review composition. Not everyone is a true writer. However, a lot of us write online as a form of communication.
Communication is grand. It makes the world go round. Great communication bonds us closer as people.
If you stutter, mispronounce words, make shit up, and commit other verbal errors, most people dismiss it.
The writing manual addresses usage and composition. For our purposes here, I would like to focus on a few points of composition.
We have the manual, but we need a subject to properly undergo the experiment.
I am willing to sacrifice myself for the people. I have the beard going and everything.
Sometimes, you just gotta say, “What the …,” and make your move.
Back in February of 2012, I wrote a post on gamification.
It didn’t get a lot of reads, but perhaps now as I throw poo at it…
To start, the Elements suggest making each paragraph address a topic, and the main idea or thesis of the paragraph be the topic sentence.
As an English teacher, I certainly adhere; but, as a blogger and frequent web reader, I have to counsel you otherwise. You may notice in this post (and if you keep up with Content Muse) I’ve been liberal with white space.
But I wasn’t always.
Let’s review. Here is the opening of my gamification post.
It’s not horrific. Readers won’t immediately leave (due to a lack of space). However, let’s contrast this with Copyblogger’s post on improved writing.
Take a look at that use of white space, like it ain’t a thing.
It makes for a better read. It lessens the anxiety of reading. It’s why we like pictures, nifty infographics, and memes. It breaks the monotony of text.
It relaxes the readers.
It lets them know things will be okay. Reading isn’t so bad.
I’ve observed a number of you not using a lot of white space. You’re losing reader interest, possibly before they even begin.
Stop doing that. Go back to some of your posts, and see how much white space you’re providing.
Use Your Confident Big Girl/Boy Voice
Let’s address using an active voice. Be assertive. Be direct with the reader. Write with authority. Let them know you’re in control of your thoughts and words.
Otherwise, it will seem as if you are unsure. If you are being unsure of your words than your words lose authority.
Be confident. You own your words. It’s not the other way around. Don’t feel trapped and feeble in your writing cell.
Get outta there!
It may take a few reviews to catch yourself. Admittedly, I’ve struggled in my younger years with the passive voice, and still observe myself regressing at times. It’s why self and peer review is important.
See how she makes the sentence about Charlie active rather than passive, where the “was” is present?
I start with a passive voice here:
Command words. “Minding brand awareness gets desired attention.” That’s active.
Secondly, I describe Roger passively (or is it Roger’s described passively?). “Roger doesn’t lead Whos or Mozzers astray.” That’s active.
That’s being assertive, controlling your words.
Will people hate you for being passive? No. Does the active voice (most times) relay thoughts and meaning better? Yes. Do strong writers observe the difference between active/passive voice? They do.
You have great thoughts. Make readers realize. Don’t be passive. Work on your active writing voice. Command your words. Attract reader attention.
There’s a difference. Go back and read posts. Do you abuse the passive voice? Can you make your words, and hence your communication, stronger and more active?
Don’t Not Be Positive
Next, let’s discuss phrasing in positive form. No, it’s not a call for Bob Ross composition.
But I always liked the dude’s hair and attitude.
Let’s return to Elements to understand phrasing in positive form.
When describing something, state what it is rather than what it’s not. See above: “Use the word, not, …never as a means of evasion.” Here, evasion means escaping the description of what you’re actually trying to communicate.
“Positive” in this regard, like the active voice above, means being in better control, commanding words rather than letting them weaken conveyed thoughts.
Maintain thought’s strength and thunder when writing. Achieve goals of written communication.
Let’s tear another little hole in my writing’s hiney, shall we?
Take a look at how I convey meaning here:
“…his intentions are not completely genuine? That’s not ethical”
I’m negatively phrasing. Rather, “…his intentions are tarnished. It’s unethical” would have worked better.
Does it change the meaning of the sentence? No. Will it make the reader bounce from the page. It’s
not unlikely. However, does repetitive abuse weaken writing? It does. It’s noticeable, especially when reading a strong writer against a weaker one’s words.
Many of us write in didactic fashion, instructing others. Writing well helps learners. Writing well makes for better instruction.
Think of confident speakers. Now, think of observed nervous speakers. Who makes the bigger impact on listeners?
Readers are the same.
Observe these writers. Though you may know them as thought leaders, marketers, best-looking people in the world (Joel was referenced above), and so on, they are strong writers.
It’s likely you’ve read and revered them for their thoughts, but isolate their command of written communication.
You Had Me at Hello
Next, let’s discuss needless words.
“Anthony, I like your thoughts, but your papers are often prolix.”
Admittedly, I marched up to my professor’s office, asking him the meaning of “prolix.” Being transparent, I didn’t know the meaning of the word, but was being a smartass in asking. To my secretive delight, my English professor, who I’ll assume was also a bit of a smartass, busted out the dictionary, looking it up in front of me.
Well played, sir… Well played…
Prolix means using too many words, using needless words as Elements puts it.
I also (obviously) had a problem with such as a younger man. I still do. But, I work toward constant improvement. We all can.
Let’s snoop on my words being all wordy and
not succinct prolix:
Let’s take my first paragraph, where rather than being succinct, I like to pet my creativity in attempts to impress some reader who likely does not exist.
I’m a fan of my writing, but I can improve that opening paragraph. Rather than tight walk highfalutin language and tumble acrobatic use of prose for ya, I could come direct.
Sure, I want you to laugh. I want you to think I’m witty. I want to walk in the bar tonight, flashing my blog around, getting all the fine ladies in the house due to my presence on the interwebz.
However, and thanks to peers who have mentioned revising my writing before, my writing is about teaching and communicating to you, and not satisfying my writer ego. Moreover, succinct words make more of an impact.
Aside from the jesting and stuntman wordplay above, all I really said was this:
“I read an article in the New York Times on gamification, the process of enticing consumers with a number of online entities such as games.”
Seriously, that’s what I get out of the first paragraph as far as useful information.
Sure, I may have made a person or two laugh, but there’s a time and place. Needless language weakens thoughts conveyed through writing.
Don’t be weak. Command attention and respect with your words.
Take a look at how easy it is to make your words and meanings tighter:
“I immensely enjoy reading Sean Revell’s blog.”
It’s true; I do, but I could leave the “immensely” out (that goes for most adverbs). Besides, Sean gets enough compliments. 🙂
Holy scribbler britches, Batman. The bell’s about to ring, and I must be going.
Don’t be sad. I know you, writer, gonna miss me when I’m gone, but I’ll be back.
Pop Quiz! JK – Just a Review…this time
– Though we were traditionally taught to write in paragraphs with topic sentences, break this tradition on the web. It makes for better reading. Use a lot of white space.
– Use an active voice. You don’t want to be the kind of person who uses passive all the time. It weakens your writing and conveyed thought.
– Watch your phrasing. Be direct and not indirect (see what I did..) with description. If you’re phrasing something as not something else, you are not being as clear and succinct as you can be.
– Which leads to the last point. Put your words on a diet. Shed text weight wherever possible, while maintaining meaning. Less words does not mean a weaker prose. In most cases, the strongest writers are the most succinct.
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