Posts in Category: Writing

#15 – Great Content Can’t DESERVE To Rank

David Brent Meme

“Produce great content”

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.

How can Google go about detecting quality content?

It could run through various checks and comparisons:

  • Is this copy identical to another page?
  • Are there chunks of copy that are largely similar to other places online?
  • How is the text positioned on the page?
  • Does this copy occupy a central theme or does it contain semantic oddities?
  • Is this copy sound in terms of grammar, spelling and syntax?

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 literary world

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.

50 shades of shit

50 Shades of Shit – a Tumblr ‘fan’ blog

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.

dwight schrute gay meme

Google MUST rely on external factors

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.

#10 – Most Memorable Posts of 2012

One of the most inspiring posts for me last year was a piece about content recall by AJ Kohn, where he argued that we should strive to produce content that is memorable, rather than simply ‘great’. This post led me to change the way I think about content so much so that I changed our in-house guidelines for content production (at my real job, I mean).

AJ Kohn Content Recall

Here at The Saloon we like to challenge convention, and we also like to challenge ourselves. Convention dictates that these annual round-up posts offer a wide range of carefully curated blog posts that have been heavily researched and lovingly presented. We challenged ourselves to discard these shackles and simply remember.

Without using Google, bookmarks or Twitter to inspire us, we each had to come up with three titles that had such an impact on us that the content recall was almost immediate. AJ’s post is a given, so Anthony, Sean and myself will each give you 3 more. What we are sharing, in this short but hopefully sweet collection, is our experience. As this is so subjective, it is likely that many of you may have different opinions about the ‘most memorable’ posts of the year. This is great, ney, inevitable. We implore you to share yours in the comments below, and garnish them with your thoughts on why you found them so memorable and how they influenced you.

Patrick’s Memorable Posts of 2012

1 – The Secret Diary of an Inbound Marketer by Sean Revell
My first one is an easy one, and so much more than a simple hat tip to my colleague Mr Revell. More than helping me discover this wonderfully gifted writer and friend, this post opened my eyes to a world of new opportunities online. It gave me a sense of freedom and made me question my actions. When I first read this post I’d been in internet marketing for around 8 months, and though I’d been blown away by the sharing nature of the community, I had also become swept up in this ‘inbound marketing bubble’. I had become a bit of a sheep, and this post really helped me step away from the flock and embrace my individuality. Thank you Sean.

2 – Are Your Titles Irresistibly Click Worthy & Viral?! by Dan Shure
What a wonderful title for a post. And what a truly outstanding collection of advice on title-writing. This is probably the blog post I have revisited most in my career – whenever I need some help with a title, i just fire this bad boy up. If you have read it and it didn’t add a shitload of value then you must not have eyes. Seriously, this post is Ogilvy-like in its brilliance and will be a valuable resource for years to come.

3 – Forum Participation Rubric for Ecommerce Link Building by Don Rhoades
Among a host of great posts about content marketing and link building for convertible traffic rather than rankings, this one really stood out for me. Don delves into the untapped value that niche forums can offer ecommerce sites – where that value relates to direct sales – and outlines a rubric to qualify prospects and determine actions. It is subtle, yet extremely powerful, and quite clearly demonstrates that Mr Rhoades is a highly intelligent marketer.

The only thing bad about this post is it’s title (Don, see #2 above…)

Sean’s Memorable Posts of 2012

1 – How to Create a Link Strategy (For Real) by Michael Martinez
Michael at SEO Theory has been one of the biggest influences on my ‘career’ and how I look to define a service. This post in particular discusses link building and strategy far beyond what you would see on your average SEO blog. At the end of the day take everything you read with a pinch of salt but there are some I believe more than others. Michael is one of those chosen few.

2 – Crowdfunding – The Overlooked SEO Link Building Strategy by Chris Gilchrist
Easily the most underrated post of 2012. An SEO technique that I think could really be useful in terms of developing future relationships and obviously gaining links. Chris has written some smart posts over the last year but this one definitely deserved a better readership. Want to create relevant links that your competitors aren’t getting for a relatively small price? Look no further.

3 – Authority Bloat: An SEO Industry Problem by Ross Hudgens
Unsurprisingly this is one of my favourite posts, Ross is one of the smartest and most professional SEO’s out there. This post puts across how important it is to create something of true value that is non replicable by your competitors. This to me is the truth and the future of online marketing. Read it, digest it and improve your campaigns in 2013. I also advise you read, listen and watch these.

Anthony’s Memorable Posts of 2012

1 – Creating relations and a buzz about your business takes strategy and delicate care. 92 Ways to Get (and Maximize) Press Coverage by Chris Winfield is a solid how-to pr piece, which is rooted in classic methods, yet the delivery and maxims hold true in the digital age.

2 – This is a presentation, and if/when I get a hold of a live video, I’ll change it out. The name says it all – How to Build a Large, Passionate Audience from Scratch (by Rob Woods). It takes you from conception, to identifying consumers/personas, to segmenting/differentiating channels/approach, to application and measurement.

3 – Time for some action – The Templates You Need to Create Actionable SEO Audit Reports by Aleyda Solis. It’s not about ‘how’ to conduct an audit, though resources are within. It visually maps out an overall assess/address management system, that if followed, will make progress.

#3 – I Know You, Writer

(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.

Be afraid.

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.

However, if you misplace a modifier or dangle a participle while writing, people secretly judge and laugh at you for all eternity (or until Google unplugs us from the Matrix).

If you don’t care about writing better, you insult me; you may not buy me a Johnnie Walker Black rocks; and, upon sourer mood, I’d ask Jed to remove you from the saloon, but we cool.

We’ll use The Elements of Style to review a number of writing tips.  (Huge hat tip to Garrett French <— for reminding me to always be a writer in progression.)

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…

Writing for the Reader

Outta Space

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.

For many reasons, I like Copyblogger’s style, but I must thank Brian Clark and the team at BlueGlass for giving me the inspiration to break prose apart, even if I’m writing one line at a time.

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.

We promise.

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.

Command Your Written Word

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.

Amanda Milligan reminds us of writing better copy and avoiding the passive voice in her homage to 6th-grade teachers.

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?

Write Positively to Better Promote the Message

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.

–  Danny Sullivan

–  Michelle Lowery

–  Geraldine Deruiter

Jon Morrow

It’s likely you’ve read and revered them for their thoughts, but isolate their command of written communication.

Write Concisely, Choosing Words Well

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.


Readers, if you received two cents from the post, please spread awareness about this charity effort.  Every centiment makes a difference 🙂