Content is a good word with a lot of meanings. It means significance, substantive information, topics. Depending on the use, it also means agreeing, satisfied or gratified. Put into a single definition, content could be, “Topics that provide a large amount of significant information and satisfy the needs of the reader.” Ooo – we like the sound of that!

There is Hope

Unfortunately, much of the content available on the Web falls far short of this definition. Does yours? The information offered in this particular blog post doesn’t cover what you’ll commonly read. You can find articles on common copywriting mistakes, all over the Web. We’ve even written one over at Search Engine People: 4 Common Copywriting Mistakes Everyone Makes.

Instead, we’re going to tear our definition of content (above), and your content offerings, apart and answer the question: are you making these mistakes with your content?

Off-Topic Content

It happens to the best of us…

Bob has a home improvement site. His wife is a Mary Kay seller. Bob has a blog with a high readership, but he’s not a writer; his wife writes well, but doesn’t know much about home improvement.

Bob needs a blog post. It’s due tomorrow, and his writer has disappeared. He goes to his wife, who agrees to write a post for him. Unfortunately, they don’t clarify what the topic should be.

His wife turns in the post two hours before it’s time to publish. It’s well written. It’s grammatically beautiful. It’s about lipstick.

Bob thinks about not posting the piece, but his wife obviously worked hard on it. In fact, she handed it over to him with a proud grin. Bob posts the article, even though it has nothing to do with home improvement.

His readers, many of which have signed up by email and have never once thought about wearing lipstick under their moustaches, are surprised to see a lipstick article in their email from Bob the Home Improvement Guy. Bob gets a whole bunch of joke responses that he would rather do without.

Because we’re using an example instead of reality, we’re going to have mercy on Bob. His readers find it funny, crack a lot of jokes, and everything eventually smoothes out for him. – But what about you? What’s the reality?

The reality is that off-topic content, while sometimes acceptable, should never become a common occurrence by accident. Planning a day to write anything that comes to mind and share it with your readers is one thing; throwing any old topic up because you’re in a deadline panic is another.

Moral:It’s better to write a short blog post on a topic relevant to your site than to write a long one on much ado about nothing.

It Has to be Relevant

Why? Because…

It Doesn’t Satisfy the Needs of the Reader

In some instances, you can’t help but have people visiting your site and then leaving without reading. Sometimes they click the wrong link. Sometimes the title is promising although the search results are off, and they don’t find out until they click through to your content. However, the more precise, concise and all those other “ises” your headlines are, the less likely you are to have these things happen.

Potential visitors gain insight into the topic of a post, article or other content through the headline, which (generally) becomes the title tag in the SERPs. They become readers because the headline promises satisfaction. They have a need for information; the headline indicates your content will provide information gratification.

You want this. Your visitors want this. You want your visitors to like what they find on your site, be gratified and satisfied by what’s available, and come back.

Bob’s post didn’t satisfy his readers’ needs. Not that all his readers are men (women like home improvement, too, you know), but they aren’t following Bob to read about lipstick. They’re following Bob to read about improving their homes.

Moral: Make sure your content applies to your readership, and that your headlines correctly advertise what the article is about.

It Offers Little Information

Volkaswagen Ad "You're missing a lot when you own a Volkswagen"You’d be amazed at how much information can be provided in a few short paragraphs. Case in point, the amazing brand building ads of Volkswagen. The ad to the left says:

You’re missing a lot when you own a Volkswagen.

A VW has fewer major parts than most other cars because it needs fewer major parts. It doesn’t need a long drive shaft to transfer power to the rear wheels. Because our engine’s in the rear. For better traction. It doesn’t need a radiator. Or a water pump, or hoses or antifreeze. Because the engine’s air-cooled.

The parts a VW doesn’t use, it doesn’t have to haul and waste gas on. Which is one reason it gets about 26 mpg. And the parts you don’t buy, you’ll never repair. So you can’t waste money on that.

Of course, what you do get with a new VW makes up for what you don’t get. You get a new, longer-lasting engine that’s stronger than any other beetle engine. You get an electric rear window defogger. And double-jointed rear axles for a smoother ride.

You get four free VW Diagnosis checkups. With each checkup, your VW gets an X-Ray like examination by incredibly fast and thorough diagnostic equipment. It can actually detect little problems before they become big problems.

You get a – well, you get the point.

You’re missing a lot when you don’t own a Volkswagen.

It’s only 203 words all together, yet the ad writers gave tons of important information to the reader. Sure, it’s sales, but the same thing applies to your average content.

Moral: Your content doesn’t have to be long to make every word count.

It’s Insignificant to the Reader

One of the hardest things to learn is what your readers really want to read when it comes to your topic. We’ve had this problem ourselves, in fact, because you can’t just write about what you think they want to read.

  • You can’t visit other blogs to find out, because the other blogs may be missing the target as well.
  • You can offer a “suggestion box”, but you have to have a very active readership for it to do any good.
  • You can use your keyword traffic, but you’ll miss a whole bunch of ideas that way – and besides, you’ve probably already written about the topic if someone is coming in from search.

You Get The Picture

So how do you find out what your readers really want to read? How do you find something significant? The answer is one word. Social.

Now, by “social”, we don’t necessarily mean Twitter and Facebook. Google has a handy “discussions” search in the sidebar (for now) that can help you gain insight into what people are asking. Start with something simple, like, “how do I, [topic]“.

For SEO, just on the front page alone, we see:

  • How do I SEO my Google Places listing?
  • How do Drupal tokens affect SEO?
  • How can I tell if someone’s an expert SEO?
  • How do I SEO my WordPress hosted blog?

You can bet, if one person is asking these questions, others are, too. Because one of our topics is SEO (and we want readers interested in optimizing their site), these are relevant, significant questions to answer.

Moral: You can’t guess at what’s significant. Find out what your target readers are asking, and then answer them with your posts.

Conclusion – Cleaning Up Your Act

Going back to fix issues that you find in your content offerings can be done, but should it? It can definitely be time consuming. Read why a content audit should be done to answer this question, and then how to repurpose your content if need be.

However, what you can do right now, if you find that you’re making these content mistakes, is take a new direction. From here on out, test your posts and articles against our definition of content before you post. Stay on topic, provide more information than filler, make it significant, and satisfy the headline’s promise to the reader!