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From the Trenches

Sloppy Content Structure Mistakes That Are Undermining Your Credibility

Right Source | April 24, 2018

By now, we all know the difference between they’re, their, and there — right?

It’s a relatively small mistake to make, but in marketing, that kind of error (along with so many of the other frequently broken grammar rules) can have a big impact on your relationship with prospective customers.

According to one survey, 59 percent of people said they would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling errors on its website or in its marketing materials. An NYU professor analyzed reviews on TripAdvisor and Amazon, and found that sales increased when reviews were free of grammar and spelling mistakes. And a Clemson University study revealed that quality, error-free copy has a profound impact on perceived author credibility.

But grammar isn’t the only thing that can make customers and prospects wonder if you are truly the thought leader you say you are. If your content confuses readers or doesn’t offer a strong takeaway despite some eloquent writing and buttoned-up grammar, then you still have not succeeded with your audience.

Sloppy content structure can undermine your credibility just as quickly as a spelling or syntax blunder. Here are some areas to focus on beyond grammar.

Only write about one thing at a time. In the introduction to this post, I talked about grammar rules being important, but then I told you I was going to really focus on the things beyond grammar that can kill your content. While some people might argue that I’m dipping my toe into the grammar pool on some of my points below, the point is I’m not going to talk about how to distribute your blog post, or how to optimize or repurpose your content. I’m going to stick to the subject. While you might have a ton of good information to give your readers, you can’t put everything and the kitchen sink into one piece of content. That will only cause people to get overwhelmed and confused.

Deliver on the takeaway. Similar to my first point about sticking to the subject, make sure you actually deliver on that one subject.  I’ve read plenty of pieces that tell me they are going to give me tips on how to do something, and then they just talk around the subject. The actual tips — the stuff that would be useful to me tomorrow at work — never materialize. Deliver on what you say you are going to deliver. In the end, perfect grammar won’t hide the fact that you haven’t really given the reader the useful information they were seeking.

Make sure subheads correspond with the main premise of your content. If I click on an article titled, “10 Rules for Writing Awesome Blog Posts,” I expect to read 10 actual rules. But here’s how that often goes: The first subhead reads something like, “Use bulleted lists to create scannable content.” Yes, great! That’s a rule. I can follow it. The next subhead: “Font size.” Wait a minute. That’s not a rule. What am I supposed to do with that?

Somehow, halfway through the blog post, the author seems to have forgotten what she was writing about and instead of listing rules, she’s now just listing general aspects of blog post concern. Sure, maybe the rule is buried somewhere within that section, but today’s readers want scannable content, and that means your subheads — you know, the lines essentially made for scanning — should directly relate to the main premise of your piece. That means if your title or introduction promises tips, your subheads should be tips. If you say you’re going to explore myths, the subheads should be those myths.

Otherwise, your piece is going to feel a little like clickbait. And your readers are going to get frustrated and leave.

Create bullet points that follow a parallel structure. You know what else is easy to scan in a piece of content? Bulleted or numbered lists. But you can’t just toss a couple of bullet points on some random phrases and call it a day. The bulleted list as a whole has to make sense structurally.

Say you’re writing a blog post on how to craft an engaging subject line and want to include a list of tips. You might write:

Ways to improve your subject line:

  • Shorten to 60 characters or less
  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • A special offer can encourage clicks
  • Personalization tokens

It sounds awkward, right? That’s because there’s no consistent structure for each bullet point. The first two are phrases, the third is a sentence, the last one is a noun, and the verb tense is all over the place.

Fixing this list isn’t hard — you just have to make sure each item of the list is written the same way. Here’s that same list in a correct format:

To improve your subject lines, you should:

  • Shorten to 60 characters or less
  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Add a special offer
  • Incorporate personalization tokens

Each item starts with the same, active verb structure: shorten, create, add, incorporate. Instantly, you’ve eliminated the awkwardness.

Don’t just settle for correct spelling. The overall structure of your piece will improve the readability of your content and establish your company as a credible source for trustworthy information. To learn more about taking your content from good to great, check out our interactive eBook, “How to Create Remarkable Content.”

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.