Mindless zombies are wandering the Internet, writing blog posts. (I know, I know! “Boo! Zombies are everyone’s metaphor for everything now!” Don’t care. Zombies rule.). They’re clumsily marching out hordes of Top 5 articles, an avalanche of How-to posts and a veritable sea of bulleted lists. No one will read these zombie blogs, and they wouldn't get anything out of them if they did. Are you one of these zombie writers?
We’ve all read bad writing. And even as spun articles and content farms have begun to stumble under the onslaught of Google updates, we keep running into it everywhere. All of this content has one thing in common: there’s no life in it. In the rush to create as much content and spread it as far as possible, on as many blogs as will swallow it, marketers all too often fall into the trap of skipping the most important part of writing, the thinking part. Here's a look at how not to be a zombie writer:
The Time Crunch Problem
What we’re bumping up against here is the age-old problem of quantity over quality, but it’s not as simple as you think. While there are good arguments for investing in long-form content, the majority of writing for blog posts and articles (which make up a huge portion of the content online) doesn't crack 1,000 words. A lot of organizations are just having trouble justifying having their writers spend an entire day, or even half a day, researching and writing amazing blog posts. As a result, the writing that does get done only scratches the surface of a topic (if it has any substance at all), and the paragraphs miss out on keyword-rich sentences that result from deeper discussions on the subject. In effect, these shallow articles have no brains!
That reluctance to cultivate better content sends writers to the other extreme of on this sliding scale of quality and depth, toward the copycat article black hole that so many content creators keep slipping into, despite the punishing updates that Google keeps throwing out to stem the spammy tide (And even though they’re not perfect, these changes are starting to help a bit, rewarding people who earn links through natural, high-quality content.).
Sure, some prolific bloggers can crank out a near-thousand-word, free-form blog post with some useful links if it’s on a subject that they know well. It takes time to build up the knowledge base you need to be relevant when writing about any topic, and probably even longer to develop a voice of your own that people will want to read. So, we’re being squeezed by the traditional resource problem on the one hand and Google’s crusade to be the world’s relevancy filter on the other.
We’re running out of places to hide, and the hordes of zombie writers just keep stalking the online landscape, unwilling or unable to produce the smart, living content that it takes to live in a post-apocalyptic landscape of Pandas and Penguins out to get them. What’s warm-blooded keyboard jockey to do?
A Zombie Article Case Study
Here’s an example. I found this article on a prominent site (which I won’t name) that is known for having a mixture of content, but whose links I avoid in search results due to the shallow nature of many of their articles—I just don’t usually find what I’m looking for in them. The following is from a paragraph in a how-to article on buying a cell phone:
Once you have narrowed down your list of phones, read some reviews on the phones. Find out if each phone has any common manufacture's defects. This is especially important on phones that are newer versions.”
A few things (aside from the obvious spelling error):
- First, these types of “How to buy X” articles are notoriously broad, so it’s not uncommon to see them make vague statements in an article that’s less than 400 words.
- The only other step before this one in the numbered list of the article was one telling the reader to pick a wireless carrier. And now, less than 100 words into an article supposedly about narrowing down your cell phone choices, the reader is told that they should read some reviews after they’ve already “narrowed down your list of phones”. Why are we reading this article if not to get some basis for doing that in the first place?
- Also, the reader should find out (how, we don’t know) if the phone’s their considering have any known problems. The writer apparently couldn’t be bothered to read a few cell phone reviews and tell us what common problems to watch out for.
- The only connection these sentences have to cell phones is that they contain the word “phones”; there are not real concepts about cell phones, how they operate, or ideas for helping you find good ones, in either of these sentences or the article as a whole, really.
This is a failing strategy for content going forward; users don’t want articles like this, so they’re on the relevancy hit-list. Reading something like this, I would have hit the back button on my browser in a hurry. Google is looking for ways to wash this thoughtless garbage out of their search results, and they already have some of the signals (like Author Rank) to do an even better job of filtering that stuff out. And what’s really sad about this kind of content, lacking deep ideas for the reader to chew on, is that it’s painful and exhausting to write. The author could write something better in almost the same amount of time with just a little more effort. I’d like to be less blunt about it, but it’s hard for me. As a writer who is frustrated at being outranked by such shoddy writing, I can’t wait for Google to put a bullet in zombie content like this.
The Root of Good Content
What’s the key to writing deep, informative content that people will want to read and share, even in a short amount of time? Ideas. That might sound abstract and wishy-washy, but the truth is that I see writing every day in which the writer is trying very hard to appear as if they’ve said something, when they’ve said almost nothing at all. This is the epitome of bad content, something created just to exist, not necessarily having a reason to exists, other than for linking purposes, that is.
When you’re surrounded by zombie writers like those, you might feel yourself want to give up the fight, put down your copywriting machete and just join the ranks of the undead content creators. But you have to resist to survive, and the only real tool you have to fight back anymore is to think. Simply brushing the surface of a topic is not enough. The fundamental concepts at the root of the topic are what the reader wants you to bring to them. Digest those concepts, and then think of something relevant to say about them. That’s what writers do. All other writing tips, recommendations and techniques flow from the principle that you are going to think (hard) about the topic, and that you have something to say about it.
Only politicians like writing stuff that says nothing of substance whatsoever. And you’re not running for office; you’re struggling to be relevant to people and the search engines they use to find the information they want. Have an opinion! Write like you care, like you have some life in you when it comes to the topic you’re writing on, no matter how much time you have to spend on it.
Do you ever catch yourself writing a zombie blog post or article? What are you doing to make sure you don’t fall into that trap?