What does it take to succeed at writing for a small business website? It might take a little work to pry the answer out of a seasoned content writer—but not a lot of work, because we really, really like to talk about ourselves.
After a while, we’ll admit that it all boils down to just three things: the stuff that’s posted online must be...
- Meaningful, in the sense that it provides useful information to the reader
- Written clearly enough to be understood
That’s it. That’s the ultimate secret of content writing, in a nutshell. Everything else is mere details.
The Legs of a Three-Legged Stool
Like the legs of a three-legged stool, these three factors are mutually reinforcing. If any one component is missing, the whole endeavor fails. Write something meaningful, but incomprehensible? Potential readers will run off in frustration. Write something well-expressed and true, but useless? Readers will soon recognize you have nothing to say except clichés.
As part of my job, I get to compare our clients’ and in-house writers’ work with the content that competitors produce. Last week, I found a startling website for a bankruptcy law firm, and I extracted these snippets:
I know it’s mean-spirited to mock someone for writing ineptly, but in this case I just can’t help but point my finger and laugh.
When it All Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong
Let’s check this author’s work against our three-part test for good writing.
- Is it MEANINGFUL? Not so much. If you visit these pages for workable information about bankruptcy, you’re going to leave empty-handed.
- Is it TRUE? Here’s the big shocker: no. The definition of a foreclosure as “which department is handling your loan” is wildly off the mark, and anyone who relies on it will soon be in deep trouble.
- Is it WELL-EXRESSED? It’s barely English. The writer demonstrates such incompetence with grammar and usage that the style reminds us of an email scam. It’s certainly not vernacular American English. This work doesn’t communicate clearly; instead, it creates barriers to understanding.
Three wrongs don’t make a right. By failing all three tests of adequacy in content writing, these excerpts show what may be the worst way to produce content that earns high placement by the search engines.
The actual writing process can be surprisingly hard; there’s nothing as intimidating as a blank “New Document” screen. But the goals are easy to understand, whether you’re writing for a law firm, a medical clinic, or other small business. Say something useful. Say something true. Say it in a way that your audience will understand.
Everything else, as they say, is gravy.