When good content goes bad

Did you know that we humans have a shorter attention span than a goldfish? We’ve long mocked the aquatic family pet but it seems the joke’s on us.

This startling fact is old news, too. It was a finding from research conducted by Microsoft back in 2015. The tech giant discovered that our attention spans have shrunk to eight seconds. And our fishy friends beat us with a full second more of brain power.

Further (sobering) food for thought? Our attention spans were recorded at 12 seconds in 2000. We’re on a downward spiral, folks. For all of its positives, the digital revolution seems to be scrambling our brains.

But if you’re still reading this, our cunning plan has worked. We’ve hooked you in with an engaging theme. And that’s half the battle when creating copy that people want to read.

We’re also (mostly) employing the short paragraph/short sentences rule. That’s no paragraphs over four sentences, each containing no more than 12 words. Count ‘em! Bulleted lists are also a good bet: break up the information wherever you can. Flimsy ‘listicals’ won’t cut it, however. We all know click bait when we see it.

Of course, the technology industry doesn’t always naturally lend itself to an entertaining yarn. Context has represented over 100 companies and brands in the sector; trust us. You won’t always be able to find a human angle to hook your exciting news on. But you can make sure your copy is match-fit. Here are our five pointers to give it a fighting chance out there**:

1 – Content cannot be king if it’s not fit to reign

Content may be king but, as Charles I found out, even the King must adhere to some rules or he could be for the chop. Content riddled with grammar and spelling errors shows a distinct lack of care. It’s a big turn off for potential customers. Your heavenwards-bound bounce rate will tell you that.

If you can’t get the basics right, what does it say about the brand? With spellcheck and Grammarly at your fingertips, there’s no excuse. Though, even some of the major brands are surprisingly guilty of sloppy content. We’ve spotted a few corkers.

2 – Keep it simple.

Tempted to describe a banana (or, musa sapientum fixa) as a ‘yellow, curved fruit’? Don’t. Similarly, try not to repeat words and don’t presume anything. If you have to use an acronym, make sure it’s spelt out the first time. For example, PPC can be an abbreviation for Pay Per Click or Prescription Prepayment Certificate. Keep confusion to a minimum. Also, no one likes a clever clogs, so don’t alienate the reader by using overblown language.

And do use the active voice. An example: ‘Peter threw the ball’. Compare that to the passive voice: ‘The ball was thrown by Peter’. Active voice is simply more ‘up’ and motivating. The subject is in control. Also, you can get away with fewer words!

However – *warning klaxon* – avoid using tired old metaphors and puns. This is a murky area because they are subjective. One man’s pun is another woman’s cringe. Maybe throw it out into the office and gauge the groans or giggles?

3 – SEO overkill? We’re so over it.

We understand you’re keen to steer traffic to your site, but SEO (search engine optimisation) is a complicated business and you should write first and foremost to convey information. Shoehorning key words into copy can zap the very life out of your content. A clever sprinkling is far better than blanket saturation. Web crawlers can sniff out keyword stuffing in micro-seconds. And savvy readers won’t be far behind. Give them authentic, engaging content and watch it be shared and liked.

4 – Step away…

When you’ve spent hours crafting content, you develop a kind of blindness. *Cliché incoming* – you’ll stop seeing the woods for the trees. That’s to say, you’ll stop seeing errors, repetition, and clunky phrases. Take time out so you can come back with fresh eyes. Even better – ask someone else to have a read. Your ego might take a hit if they have suggestions for improvement, but you’ll get over it.

5 – All fur coat and no knickers?

There we go again; getting your undivided attention! There’s no point in making ridiculous claims if you can’t get back them up. Aim for copy of substance. Source experts for quotes and use quality surveys from reputable companies like YouGov. Sure, it might take longer, but it will reap rewards. It all helps in building trust between you and your target audience. Now that’s the real holy-grail.

**And if all else fails? Upload a Vimeo of a cute kitten on a skateboard, plastered with your logo. Scientists say that feel-good content like this goes viral because we’re hardwired to amplify our own pleasure. ‘Liking’ or ‘sharing’ with others achieves the dopamine hit our brains crave.

Guest article by Rachel Roberts, freelance journalist