Marketing Writing/Content

25 Worst Online Content Mistakes

Photo Credit: Adikos via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

You know them. I know them. We all know them. The ghosts of the search engine results, lurking in every corner, impossible to weed out entirely from results. These are the worst written pages of the Web.

Still not entirely discovered by the ever-growing intelligence of the worlds’ top search engines, these poorly written, poorly formatted, and sometimes just-plain-awful Web pages continue to horrify many readers who could be simply searching for a good article on beehive honey. These pages may contain too much ad content; too many keywords; and worst of all, horrible, hideous, unspeakable writing. The type of writing you never, ever wanted to show your English teacher in class, even if you were just a naive five-year-old kid.

Now that we’ve addressed what we’re going to talk about, let’s look at the worst of the worst — so you (and I) know exactly what to avoid in our content campaigns, which should be nothing short of the best. We all want to rack in more readers, sharing, engagement, etc. from our content, right?

Time to read on…and ensure you’re protected from the evil grips of BAD CONTENT.

1. Bad Optimization

Since a proper search engine optimization plan is the key to bringing your website to page 1 of Google, Yahoo and Bing, you may want to start speaking SEO fluently as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean that you should be in a hurry to get more familiar with shady optimization practices like unorthodox link building, hidden text or keyword stuffing. Bad optimization techniques will annoy your readers and expose you to search engine penalties.

2. Bad Formatting

If your website layout makes your readers think they need new glasses, chances are that you are caught in the middle of a bad formatting situation. Organize and prioritize your ideas based on the inverted pyramid formula: what’s really important goes first and less prominent elements as well as background info are provided toward the end of the article. Use bullet points to organize your ideas more effectively. Transform large chunks of text into smaller paragraphs. Like Caesar and Napoleon once said: Divide and rule.

3. Bad Audience Tone

Do you know who you’re talking to? Who would you expect to find at the other end of the line? Come on, this is not a guessing contest. You should conduct proper research to analyze the particularities of your targeted audience (age, gender, shopping behavior, preferences and concerns and so on). Knowledge is power. A bad audience tone could make your readers raise an eyebrow and bounce off your page faster than you could say, “I’m sorry.”

4. Too Much Ad Content

Messing up a sales page by being WAY too hard hitting is never a good idea. An increased focus on your mercantile goals will only get you in trouble by compromising your relationship with search engines. When AdSense says yes, Panda actually says penalty. This hypothesis is also supported by Moz. Creating “salesy” content is a counterproductive approach. It will deter your visitors and make you seem money-hungry.

5. Bad Scheduling

Here’s another deadly mistake: forgetting to blog at least every week and getting penalized by Google simply because you DON’T produce content. In case you didn’t know, Google hates an on/off schedule but will eat up a regular content flow.

6. Yawn-Inspiring Content

Is your content putting your readers to sleep on a regular basis? If so, perhaps you may want to expand your knowledge database, explore new hot topics and count on various other sources of inspiration. A fresh perspective on things and a greater variety of food for thought offered to your visitors could increase your popularity and ultimately your revenues.

7. Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is the forbidden fruit that you should leave in the tree. It will attract penalties from search engines, make you lose the trust of your readers (most of them are savvy and can recognize acts of plagiarism at a first glance) and impact your level of credibility. At the end of the day, would all this be worth it? Wouldn’t you rather create your own hard-hitting, original content?

8. Irrelevant, Useless Web Writing

If your content doesn’t improve the lives of your readers at least on one level, think twice before crafting or distributing it.

9. Web Writing Services Provided by a Friend of a Friend…Who’s Still in College

Rumor has it that you’re buying content from your 16-year old neighbor for 10 cents per piece. Is it true? If so, don’t expect any miracles. Content crafted by rookies will seldom inform, educate and entertain your audience and help you achieve your marketing goals. You may not get a refund for those misused 10 cents, but this doesn’t mean that all is lost. Pay the right price for professional Web writing services and stop cutting corners when it comes to promoting your business.

10. Expert Advice Provided by a Clueless Person

Are you uninformed, but bold enough to walk and talk like an expert? Keep in mind that most of your readers land on your page to look for facts, not fiction. To avoid public embarrassment and credibility issues, do your homework before writing your articles. Or better yet, let an experienced copywriter do the heavy lifting.

11. The Dangerous “Me Too” Approach

If you can’t separate yourself from your main competitors, buyers won’t have a legitimate reason to respond to your calls to action. In this case, your products will most likely gather dust on the shelves. Use original, personalized content pieces to make your voice heard and increase brand awareness.

12. Empty Content

Empty content is wrong on so many levels. To begin with, it doesn’t send a message. Webpages like the ones published by, whose sole purpose is to link to various other pages, will bring you nothing but trouble, coming in the form of Panda penalties.

13. Redundant, Overlapping Content

A content piece that is nothing other than a set of keyword phrase variations will bore your readers to death and will also make search engines hit your page hard and make it sink into oblivion. Clean your act and start delivering user-oriented, information-rich, SEO-friendly content that can be digested by your readers.

14. Content Without Calls-to-Action

Don’t leave your readers wandering in the dark. Tell them what to do! Ask them to read the rest of your articles, subscribe to your newsletter or try your new product. A little expert guidance never hurt anybody.

15. Auto Generated Content

Letting a machine generate your content is like writing your own death sentence. Google will devalue you in a split second; not to mention that you will also be judged harshly by your readers.

16. Grammatically Incorrect Content

Not all readers are fervent grammar Nazis, but most of them will still manage to spot your mistakes and inconsistencies. If you know you have some problems in the grammar department, use one of the many online tools and apps available online, like Grammarly for instance, to correct your work.

17. Offensive Content

Learn how to form and support an opinion without upsetting, frustrating or insulting your readers. Good judgment, common sense and politeness will never go out of fashion, so make sure you filter all your information and present it in an engaging manner, but from a neutral point of view that won’t raise unnecessary controversy around your topic of choice.

18. Unorganized Content

Users won’t waste a minute of their precious time trying to organize and prioritize your information. This is YOUR job, not THEIRS. Create different categories for your posts and avoid messy, cluttered layouts that will confuse your readers.

19. Ancient-Looking Content

Content based solely on text is aging at a fast pace. Add hot content elements, such as podcasts, infographics, charts and audio intros to bring your website or blog back to life.

20. De-Humanized Content

Does your content give out the impression that it was crafted by a poorly programmed robot? De-humanized content is a major turn-off for most readers. Make the most of your empathetic thinking, try to bond with your readers and go the extra mile to provide valuable answers to their most pressing questions through your Web writing.

21. Un-shareable Content

Business 2 Community tells us that an undefined brand is unshareable. If your content doesn’t let the reader find out who you are, why you are talking to him and what YOU can do for HIM, then your web writing is a mere waste of money.

22. A Bossy Approach

You can suggest different courses of action, but you should never tell your readers what to do. Remember Nestle’s memorable Facebook mishap? The company’s social media marketing representatives broke this unspoken rule by urging readers to stop using the old version of the Nestle logo as their profile picture. They even threatened to delete the comments of people who did not comply with this odd request. Naturally, their bossy approach attracted tons of negative comments written by angry, appalled users.

23. Taboo-Focused Topics

Unless you want to bury your content marketing strategy six feet under, don’t expand on taboo topics such as religion, racism and politics, especially if your business has absolutely no connection with these elements.

24. Negativity Everywhere

Your company is excellent. Your products are flawless. Your customers are happy. Negativity doesn’t fit in. It’s as simple as that. Make sure your content sends out a positive vibe and gives people at least one good reason to smile, remember you and spread the word about your business.

25. Last But Not Least…Proofread!

It can be as simple as taking five minutes to re-read your newsletter header, that 200-word blog entry, or your website’s new home page. Take that time to ensure you’re double-checking those important words that resonate with your brand and image. It’ll be worth it.

About the author


Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.