14 Signs That You Have Hired the Wrong Content Writer

content writer

Quality content has become the best way for brands to stand out and that content has to come from somewhere. As an SEO professional your job is to establish the strategy – and then hire writers to create the right content for your clients.

Recent changes in SEO have made it clear that great writing trumps keyword fodder every time so why settle for mediocrity when you could choose excellence?

Before you hire any writers, check out their work. Look at their portfolio site, visit their blog, or have them do a copywriting test.

While it’s true that every writer can have an off day, if a writer you’re thinking of hiring makes the errors listed below, then it’s time to find a replacement.

6 Mistakes Poor Writers Make

1. Confusing common homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings. There are some common ones that you’ll want your writers to avoid. For example, if writers can’t tell the difference between its (meaning ‘belonging to it’) and it’s (meaning ‘it is’) they haven’t conquered the basics. And if you’re paying an alleged professional (see the next example), they need to know the fundamentals.

Another common mistake is confusing your (belonging to you) with you’re (you are). And then there are the writers who can’t distinguish among their (belonging to them), there (indicating a place) and they’re (they are) or to (a preposition identifying a direction, person or thing), too (also) and two (the number).

2. Poor tense control. Some writers move freely between the past and present in their writing. If you see a sentence like “I was attending SXSW when I meet John Smith”, run! (It should be met, of course.) Even people who aren’t word nerds will notice that something is wrong and then your copy won’t have the intended effect.

3. Being too general. Sweeping generalizations are a sign of lazy writing. When you hire a writer, go for one with research skills, because that writer will fact-check and deliver accurate copy. For example, instead of “A lot of Americans smoke.” your writer should provide facts and statistics, such as: “Over 42 million American adults (18%) smoke cigarettes.” Of course, the source of any supporting information should always be cited. (That stat is from the CDC, if you’re interested.)

4. Overusing jargon. Every profession has its jargon – SEO professionals certainly do. The trouble is that people outside the profession often don’t understand it, so writers should leave it out of copy for public consumption. Brief your writer to write simply and clearly instead. Brad Shorr has an excellent three-part series on avoiding business jargon to help writers with this. Net-net, the takeaway is: writers shouldn’t use phrases like “net-net” and “the takeaway.” πŸ˜€

5. Too many keywords. Want to spot a poor SEO writer? Look for copy that’s riddled with keyword phrases. Any writer who’s still focusing on keywords over quality isn’t right for you. It’s easy to spot, as keyword-stuffed content is virtually unreadable. Check out Google’s own example to see what writers should avoid.

6. Redundant phrases. In order to is exactly the same as to, for the purpose of is exactly the same as for and utilize is the same as use. If your writer is using longer words and phrases to meet a word or character count, that writer is doing you a disservice.

8 Words and Phrases Good Writers Won’t Use (unless they’re appropriate)

Getting your writers to avoid the errors above isn’t enough. As an SEO professional, you want to deliver copy that thrills your client. To do this, make sure your writers omit the following words and phrases from their vocabulary. (There are exceptions. If you’re writing about someone who naturally uses these expressions, it may be appropriate to include them. That also applies if a particular phrase is widely used in a local market.) Here in the US, though, cut them out.

1. Nice. My high school English teacher told us that nice originates from the Latin for I don’t know. Writers who use it show that they don’t know what to say. Advise your writer to replace the word with a creative, interesting adjective that adds value for readers.

2. Amazing/awesome/fabulous/fantastic. Hyperbole and puffery are usually not appropriate. Again, the use of such words typically signals a lazy approach to writing, which clearly does not bode well for your project. There are thousands of adjectives writers can use instead. Here are a few of them.

3. Quite. This is an interjection that often means nothing. If that’s the case, there’s no point in using it. If it means almost, completely or a bit then use one of those phrases to avoid confusion. The same applies to other interjections such as literally.

4. Really, very and other weak words. These verbal interjections have little place in good writing unless you are quoting someone. Leave them out to make writing stronger. If your writers are stuck, here are 45 alternatives to get them started.

5. Maybe/perhaps. These make writers sound like they don’t know what they are talking about. Vague content will diminish your clients’ view of you as an authority, so have your writers leave these words out.

6. Thing. I’m going to let you into a little secret. My parents are both language buffs. When my sister and I were kids, they insisted that we avoid slang and use English properly at all times. One of the words that was beyond the pale was thing. My parents’ point was that every item had a name and therefore we should use it. It’s good advice for writers who are creating SEO content for you.

7. Kind of, sort of and like. These are more meaningless interjections that writers should avoid. If something is kind of annoying then it’s probably annoying and if it’s sort of beautiful then it’s probably beautiful and, for goodness’ sake, avoid using like unless you are actually comparing two items.

8. Used to. If you used to do something, then you probably did it. While there’s a place for this expression, many people use it incorrectly where a simple past tense would do.

Get your writers to cut these words and phrases out and the copy you deliver to clients will improve immediately. Your best option? Use some of your SEO budget to hire excellent writers who know when to follow the rules – and when to break them!

Creative commons image by Travis / Flickr