5 Kinds of Bad Content (And How to Deal with Each)
You’ve hired a content marketing firm. You’re stoked about earning more organic traffic, arming your sales team with helpful content assets, and / or building out your thought leadership.
But then you get the first piece of content from the firm – and you hate it.
Obviously, this isn’t an ideal scenario. But it might not be as bad as it first looks. Here, I’ll outline the five kinds of bad content you’re likely to come across when working with an agency and how you can deal with each to get back on target with your marketing goals.
Bad Content Type 1: It Just Sucks
My mother doesn’t like me to use that word, but sometimes it’s necessary.
If you get a piece of content that’s just universally bad – poor grammar, no clear message, sloppy formatting – it’s probably best to cut your losses and end the relationship. Sure, give your point person a chance to explain themselves (oops! – we sent the wrong draft!), but don’t expect a miracle.
You’re most likely to come across this kind of content if you went the low-cost route. While “content mills” can produce a lot of content cheaply, it’s usually low-quality content that won’t do you a lot of good and won’t help boost your brand.
So cut your losses, end the contract, and understand that the kind of content that will yield positive results takes time and creativity to generate. That will be reflected in its price.
Bad Content Type 2: It Misses an Important Nuance
It’s easy to get a piece of content like this and think, “My gourd! Does this 'writer' have ANY idea what I do all day?!”
In reality, though, a missed nuance is a bumble that can be addressed easily in revision. Most often, a piece that’s slightly off target or that misses an important subtlety of what you’re trying to say (or whom you’re trying to say it to) comes early in your relationship with a content agency or when you’re covering new subject matter.
What to do: Don’t edit the piece. It may be tempting to try to fix everything yourself, but remember: that’s what you’re paying the agency to do. And unless you spend several hours every day writing and revising, you’ll probably be far less efficient at making updates.
Instead, send a note to the writer or hop on a quick call. Explain in a high-level way why the piece is off target and what it needs to do. Then let the writer revise the piece. My recommendation is to allow for up to two revisions at the start of the relationship. After that, the writer should be able to consistently nail the finer points of your tone, voice, and argument.
Bad Content Type 3: You Disagree with the Thesis
Uh-oh. You’re a hard-core Big Endian and your writer just sent a piece singing the praises of Little Endian theology. Not good. But fixable.
Again, don’t bother trying to rewrite this – it’s not worth your time.
Instead, request a rewrite, explaining the problem with the piece. To avoid this problem in the future, have writers send you an outline to approve before they write the actual piece. This saves everyone time and helps iron out wrinkles before they muss the entire outfit, so to speak.
Bad Content Type 4: It Has Nothing to Do with You
What happens if your writer sends a piece that’s well written, cohesive, thoughtful – but just not relevant to your business or what you want to talk about? That’s particularly annoying, as it means the writer did a bunch of work for something that’s more or less useless.
There’s no great way to request a rewrite here – just tell them you can’t use the piece and explain why. In an ideal world, they’ll realize they sent you something meant of another client (phew) and will then send along the piece you were supposed to receive.
To avoid this kind of bad content, work from a pre-approved editorial calendar. At Propllr, we create these monthly and we don’t write anything without client approval of the subject matter. An ed cal is like a pre-outline: it shows content ideas in their earliest stages so you can adjust or adapt them as needed.
Important caveat: The nature of content marketing is that you can’t always write about the exact thing you do or sell. That’s advertising. Content marketing is a much more back-door approach: it aims to cover topics already of interest to your target audience and use those topics to segue into topics important to you.
The classic example is the Michelin Travel Guide. That started as a way to sell tires to people who already loved to travel: by reviewing the best restaurants around Europe, Michelin gave its potential customers a reason to drive even more. It also provided a high-value resource and one that has forever associated the Michelin name with quality.
Bad Content Type 5: It Has a Few Typos
This is not bad content.
Sure, your agency should be sending you clean copy. But everyone makes mistakes. If the only problems with a piece can be resolved in five minutes or less, it’s not bad content.
Another consideration: maybe it doesn’t have typos. Maybe your writer is working from a different style guide than the one you’re accustomed to and they are actually following those style guidelines to a T.
Either way, typos must go. Mention them to the writer, but be understanding – unless it keeps happening. Then you’re within your rights to ask for more careful editing before pieces are sent your way.
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