Overlooked writing mistakes

To drive leads and conversion, your content marketing message needs to be actionable and it has to engage readers. But in content marketing, the messenger – your writing – is just as important as the message. If you’re making common, but often overlooked writing mistakes, you will lose or even anger you readers. Less readers = less conversions = low content marketing ROI.

While your marketing content doesn’t need to be flawless, it cannot be riddled with easy-to-avoid writing errors. So before you publish your next post, review your copy for these 5 commonly overlooked content writing mistakes.

1. Too Many (Invaluable) Words

Long-form content may drive more traffic, but stuffing your marketing content with unessecary, invaluable words actually drives readers away. Sentences with too many words are unclear, distracting, and lead a reader to lose interest. Take these two sentences as an example:

  • The volunteers were few in number, but she was very confident that they would be able to complete the task before the sun went down for the day.
  • She knew they’d get the job done by the end of the day, even though volunteer turnout was low.

The second sentence is significantly more clear and direct. You know what is going to happen right away without wading through a sea of words. Wordiness makes readers perform mental gymnastics. So keep it simple and your message will be clearly understood. As Leonardo da Vinci famouly said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Wordiness worsens your writing in more ways than one. When you pad out a blog post with words, you’re more likely to write in the passive voice. “The ball hit the athlete” requires fewer words than “The athlete was hit by the ball.”

While from a grammatical standpoint, there’s nothing technically wrong with passive voice, it can create confusion. A study published in 2010 found that much of the general, native English-speaking public had trouble understanding basic sentences when a writer or speaker used passive voice.

Passive voice isn’t just wordy. It can also be vague. Since the direct object becomes the subject of the sentence, it’s all to easy to leave off who’s doing the action. Instead of the active “We made changes,” you get the passive “changes were made” (by whom?). And when you’re creating marketing content, clarity is essential.

Less is more, quality over quantity, and KISS (keep it simple, stupid). Don’t sacrifice clarity for word count.

2. Unecessary Erudite Vernacular

A sure way to spot an amateur writer is to look for fancy and obscure words in his or her work. A study cheekily titled “Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly,” found a negative relationship between the perceived intelligence of an author and how complex his or her article was.

Complex language surprisingly leads the reader to assume the writer is less intelligent. Ouch.

So next time your searching for a word, don’t break out the thesaurus to find a more “interesting” synonym when a simple, easy-to-understand word will do. When choosing words to use in your marketing content, select the best word for the job not the word that you think will make you sound smart.

3. Too Little White Space

No one wants to stare at a chunk of text on a screen. Especailly as we move to mobile and our screens get smaller. As our content consumption devices shrink, our paragraphs need to get smaller, too.

Your middle school English teacher might hate to hear it, but the days when a one-sentence paragraph was against the rules are gone.

White space is comforting to a reader. When someone looks at an article and sees more white space than text, he or she thinks “OK, I can do this. This article is readable. It won’t take much time to get through and it looks approachable.”

White space is valuable from a design perspective as well. It is clean and communicates your message more elegantly. You can incorporate white space into your content “design” with elements like short paragraphs, subheaders, bulleted lists, and pull-out quotes.

So leave the long paragraphs to the academics and start using white space to your advantage.

4. Usage Errors

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes when someone said he “could care less,” you know how annoying usage errors can be. When they appear in a piece of marketing content, they not only annoy savvy readers, they also call your organization’s credibility into question.

Can you really know what you’re talking about if you don’t know the difference between affect and effect or if you think the phrase is “for all intensive purposes?”

Take a look some of the more common usage errors and make it a point not to make them:

  • “Could care less.” The correct phrase is “couldn’t care less.” Could care less means you can actually care less about something.
  • Impact used as a synonym for affect. As a verb, the word impact means to hit something with force. So, when you write something such as “his decision impacted the entire team,” you’re suggesting that his choice hit the entire team, when really, what it probably did was affect the team. “His decision affected the entire team” sounds just as good.
  • “Exact same.” You’re saying the same thing twice when you write “exact same.”
  • Accept for except. When you accept something, you are taking it or agreeing to it. When you except something, you’re leaving it out.
  • Lie vs lay. Use “lie” when you are doing the action to yourself – “I lie down.” Use lay when you’re doing the action to something else – “I lay the blanket down on the bed.”

5. Uninteresting, Unfocused Titles

You might think that you can slap any old title on a blog post or ebook and call it a day. It’s not the 60 characters at the top that matter, it’s the meat of the content, you tell yourself.

But it’s simply not so. More people will read the title than the content itself. It’s the title that convinces readers to continue on. So, if your title is boring as all get out, unclear, too long, or too short, readers may assume your content is, too.

What do readers expect of a title? They want specific information, which is why it’s a good idea to use a number (such as “5 Little Known Writing Mistakes”). They want the promise that the forthcoming content will be interesting, which is why you want to use strong, declarative words (such as “hate”). Check out these tips from Hubspot on how to create a catchy title your readers can’t ignore.


Do you want to know more about how to create marketing content people will actually love to read? Check out Content Marketing Conference 2016 in Las Vegas. Over the course of three days, you’ll master the five steps of content marketing including creation and leave with actionable strategies you can put to work the next day. Register today to secure your spot.

Kate Gwozdz is a nonprofitier-turned-marketer and a psychologist at heart. Events Manager for Content Marketing Conference and WriterAccess, she’s the brains behind the #WriteOn webinar series. Kate manages the CMC blog and writes occasionally at 5on1hand.com but can usually be found traveling.