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November 21, 2010

Avoiding the Trap of Crap Content

People are a notoriously self-interested lot. They avoid activities that don’t benefit them, skip events that bore them, and reject content that doesn’t interest them in some way. They aren’t going to go out of their way to read up on an article simply because it has all the information the author thinks is vital and important if they personally feel that article is a waste of their time. Indeed, nothing is a surer waste of someone’s time than a crappy, poorly assembled article. A piece of copy could have the very recipe for successful nuclear fusion buried on page 14, but if it bored readers away on page 9, no one will ever dig deep enough to find it and society will continue to churn out dirty coal and uranium waste.

This raises the natural question: What exactly is “crappy” content? The short and almost tautological answer is “content that people don’t like,” but simply saying that doesn’t get a writer anywhere. There are many kinds of crappy content, each with its own unique reasons for being a dull and uninteresting lump rather than a well-polished gem of online commentary.

Type 1 – SEO Smash

First, let it be said that there are few techniques as important to online brand marketing at this time as Search Engine Optimization. Google rightly can claim to rule the web by means of its indexing power. A recent merger between Microsoft’s software and the Yahoo! search engine was described in terms of its ability to challenge the reigning king, Google, not on its own merits. So, the ability to get content noticed by search engines through the use of keywords, meta tags, and proper formatting is all a vital portion of the content process.

However, any article first approached from the angle of creating an SEO-perfect piece, rather than with a focus on presenting an existing idea through the lens of an SEO effort, is going to get called out as crap. SEO-centric writing leads to articles that are little more than keyword phrases badly hashed together with poor grammar and unusual contortions of the English language, and people notice this kind of writing. They might pop by for a look, but they won’t stick around. First have something to say, then learn the best way to say it.

Type 2 – Humor Bludgeon

There’s a trend on the web for articles to be entertaining, funny and even to an extent snarky or sarcastic. This trend can be seen in the success of biting commentary sites such as Something Awful or the new Rifftrax DVDs (a series dedicated entirely to making fun of poorly-made movies).

Everyone wants to imagine they’re a clever, witty genius who can turn a fairly dull piece of writing into biting social commentary and satire. Most of these people are not such paragons of humor, however. Instead, their writing comes across as forced and scraping for obvious jokes that seem tired and strained. As a rule of thumb, if a funny turn of phrase comes to mind on its own, a writer should feel free to give it a try. If the writer has to consciously think about how to make something sound funny, it probably doesn’t need to sound funny – and doesn’t belong in the article.

Type 3 – The Meme Beam

A variation on the topic of humor and witty banter above, memetics is a theory of social information transmission. Memes are ideas that are passed and replicated between people, and on the web they tend to take the form of popular sayings or pictures that catch on and go viral. Caturday is a meme, being the tendency of people to post funny pictures about cats on Saturdays. Other memes reference an imagined rivalry between pirates and ninjas, zombie apocalypses and other esoteric topics of web discussion.

A well-referenced meme can make an article more entertaining. A forced meme gets nothing more than rolled eyes and a disparaging snort in most cases, and quickly-spread criticism in the worst instances. Unless there’s a compelling reason to include a meme – such as a particular target audience, or the fact that your brand focuses on a specific meme – don’t try.

Type 4 – Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Few things are more irritating than wasting someone’s time. The above examples are bad, and each one can lead to an article being dismissed, but they are also forgivable and won’t produce as virulent a reaction as presenting someone a piece of content that does them no good at all. Avoid this trap with all possible effort and ingenuity, because the moment it gets out that a brand has nothing to contribute, that brand is finished.

Instead, make sure every piece of content put up as part of a brand contributes something to the lives of the readers or viewers absorbing the content in question. Provide a tip about acquiring the product, a handy maintenance routine for keeping it running or even a story explaining how the brand has learned from its mistakes in its latest ad campaign and that it’s listening to the audience. Do something to contribute to the conversation. If the brainstorming meeting can’t say in less than 2 minutes why a particular piece of content is going up, don’t put it up.

Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. It makes sites more findable and brands more recognizable. For the free Brandcasting Report go to or visit our blog at

10 Responses to “Avoiding the Trap of Crap Content

    A very enlightening and thought provoking aricle, with suggestions well worth taking on board.

    Content in queen!

    It’s important for the writer to have a strong command of English and more importantly be able to work from a design brief.

    As a uk marketing company we can sell a concept through sharp, witty, jargon free and engaging copy for a UK target audience.

    We put our critical information at the top of the page. The visitor to our landing pages won’t have to
    scroll down in order to know exactly what we’re promoting.

    The entire gist of our page appears within the top 300 pixels of the page.

    We use the F-shaped eye-tracking principal, as recommended by Jacob Nielson who discovered that visitors on websites view information in the F pattern — they’re therefore most focused on the upper left portion of our website and their focus begins to diminish as they move downwards.

    The length of content depends on the kind of information our customers need before they can decide to buy from you. So we keep the language and text simple.

    Our landing page isn’t the good place to prove our writing prowess. It addresses an issue and that’s it. Using very simple, but decent language to convey ‘the

    avatar David West says:

    Great article Enzo, some really good points. I get annoyed when I find a blog that is full of self serving crap. I enjoy a good read at several blogs in our community that are well written and I admit that one of my guilty pleasures to reviewing a series of very poorly written blogs also. Why? Well, these poorly written blogs have to a degree become entertaining. I honestly can not believe what some people will put into writing on the internet.

    David West

    avatar Jim Alseth says:

    One of the best articles I’ve read of late on the subject of web content. Totally agree.

    What I find a bit of a contradiction is right above the article (on the host website) is an advertisement for PR9 link service.

    On my website I aim at great content, and in so doing, want people to link to me because of it. Why would I try to artificially alter the process by subscribing to such a service?

    avatar John Park says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Bing does a much better job bringing together relevant sites with good content than Google does. I do my searches using Bing when I need some info.

    Hello Enzo, Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing.

    David, I, also, can’t believe some of the content I read on the Internet. It totally amazes me and sometimes I just have to laugh. And the grammar!

    avatar David Nguyen says:

    Ha ha, good article. You are correct in saying that people won’t read far if its ‘crappy’. So much of what is on the web now is obviously aimed at SEO and not at any potential customer or a person interested in the actual subject that is written about. However there is a marketing war going on and it is only natural for those with an interest to want to get ahead of the others. They are convinced that writing keyword/phrase heavy articles is the way to go. True content which happens to include good seo is far better and far more likely to be successful. My suggestion would be, write the article first make sure its good, then look at changing a few things to make it good for seo. Don’t write it for SEO first.



    avatar Free SEO says:

    Being able to write compelling content is an essential skill for anyone maintaining a site I think.

    avatar Sheila @ Avaguide says:

    I totally agree with David, there are a lot of sites that are self-serving. In order to share what we know we must also take others into consideration.

    avatar JJ says:

    Brandsplat sounds awful for a brand name and this pompous writer needs to get a decent homepage instead of his boring website he is trying to advertise here.

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