Technology and the internet have ruined the English language. Regardless of whether you’re for or against the abbreviated words and slang which are replacing traditional writing rules, there’s no denying the fact that content marketing best practices are way different than what you learned in college English.
Blogging is about developing a voice as a company or personal brand online, and opening up conversations between consumers and companies. It’s hard to accomplish these lofty goals if your sole focus is perfect grammar, and writing in a removed, neutral tone observing all writing rules.
Conversational writing is in-demand these days, and treating your content marketing as a platform for dialogue will serve you well, even if you have to break a few time-tested writing rules along the way.
1. Have 5 Sentences per Paragraph
The rules of good writing dictate you should include 3-5 sentences per paragraph, and take care to ensure that each paragraph covers only one concept. If you’ve been online long enough, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking “as if.”
Not only are shorter paragraphs en vogue online, they’re likely the best practice for maintaining web readers’ attention. Neil Patel recommends grouping your thoughts into brief sections in order to combat the fact that most readers leave a web page in just 10-20 seconds. Make your writing scannable, even if that means some sections are limited to 1-2 sentences.
2. Write Formally
The purpose of content marketing is to give companies a voice, and it’s pretty tough to accomplish that if you’re solely focused on grammatically-correct, dry technical communications. Don’t get us wrong, it’s the best practice for some companies to employ formal writing and neglect traditional writing rules. However, for others, it’s bound to put your buyer personas to sleep.
The tradition of employing colloquialisms is actually far older than the web – Content Manager Renee DeCloskey points out that Mark Twain began using words to reflect human speech, as a tool for creating believable characters. Using informal words and expressions, like regional speak for geo-targeted organizations, can endear you to your audience.
3. Avoid Sentence Fragments
Sometimes, it’s in your best interest to forget the subject, verb, and object structure you surely studied in eighth grade, and focus on using words appropriately to convey a greater message. Short, powerful sentences can draw emphasis to important points in your content writing, and help you keep hold of short attention spans.
4. Use Your Conclusion to Recap
Think hard about the purpose of a conclusion. It’s to draw all of your thoughts and words into a neat close, so the reader can walk away satisfied and aware of your main point. Not only are traditional conclusions uncommon in great content marketing, there’s reason to believe they could be a terrible idea for your business blog.
Once your readers finish digesting your text, do you want them to bounce away from your website? Absolutely not. You want to inspire them to action, which could mean converting into leads, or continuing to engage with your content. Forget common writing rules and swap out traditional conclusions with questions or invitations to engage. For more insight on how to end your content marketing with a bang, check out Top Writing Tips to Infuse Your Blog with Stickiness.
5. Avoid Slang
Well, dang. Sometimes slang can lend just the right conversational bent to content marketing, which is why informal words and hip language are the best practice for many companies on the web.
Avoid being crass or using terms that could alienate your buyer personas, but feel free to break some writing rules and use fun language – especially when it allows you to infuse your writing with subtle humor and creativity.
To discover more tips on creating a standardized approach to using slang online, check out 14 Tools for Writing a Content Marketing Style Guide for Your Blog.
6. Never Begin a Sentence with a Conjunction
And what happens if you break this rule? Well, I’m here to tell you that while there are definitely grammar police on the web, few people will call you out for opening your sentences with conjunctions like “and,” “but”, and “or.” It’s still frowned upon in most academic sentences, but I challenge you to delve into the copywriting secrets of some of the web’s best content marketers, like Brian Clark and Darren Rowse. Both have been known to open sentences with conjunctions on many occasions.
7. Avoid Hyperbole
When I first started writing, it took me 10 million hours to complete a single blog post.
Exaggeration is actually a powerful tool for narrative, when utilized correctly. It can create an instant rapport with readers, by letting them know you understand their pain points. Besides, as content marketing expert Daniel Chico highlights, we live in a world where most content on the web is sensationalized, and many readers have even come to expect hyperbole in copywriting.
Don’t tell your readers that your product will help them save thousands of dollars instantly or lose 100 pounds overnight if you can’t back up your claim. However, using strong language and humorously inflated claims can capture the attention and hearts of your audience.
8. Avoid Ending Sentences with Prepositions
There are few hard-and-fast rules of content marketing best practices, and the debate over using prepositions at the end of sentences is active. DeCloskey advises readers to avoid putting words like “beside”, “for”, “through”, “until” and “up” at the end of sentences, unless it benefits the flow and narrative of your content. It’s up to your best judgment to determine when to break this writing rule, and when to stick to what you learned in class.
9. Don’t Use First Person
I can’t even remember the last time I used third person in content marketing.
See what I did there? Conveying experiences, concepts, and thoughts through your own eyes as an individual or organization is one of the hallmarks of blogging. Third person statements can feel impersonal and removed in many content marketing situations, and create an unnecessary barrier between yourself and your readers.
There are certainly types of content which demand an outsider’s view – anytime you’re trying to be objective or convey a situation impartially, such as case studies, are often best told in third person. Some highly technical whitepapers and audiences prefer a more formal voice. However, the vast majority of bloggers should feel free to convey content conversationally, using plenty of “I” and “me” statements along the way.
10. Don’t Use Second Person
You don’t mind it when I speak directly to you, do I?
If you’re anything like most blog readers, second person is yet another expected element of creative content marketing. DeCloskey writes that “blogging is a chance for real conversation. Address your readers as people.” Unless you’re blogging to an audience of robots, or writing one of the highly-technical forms of content marketing mentioned in the previous paragraph, feel free to write directly to your audience.
11. Include Formal Citations
The thought of including a list of properly-formatted citations, in MLA or APA format, is enough to make most people shudder. The great news is, there’s no need for it on the internet. Give credit where credit is due, but feel free to follow the emerging rules of citations for content marketing:
- Use Hyperlinks in-Text to Point to Sources
- Always Link to the Original Source When Possible
- Give Credit, Even if You’re Paraphrasing or Referencing a Concept
12. Always Have a Clear Thesis Statement
In case you haven’t noticed already, your next piece of content is not your standard five paragraph essay. Therefore, you can pretty much forget everything you learned about thesis statements, and how to use them correctly.
Simply put, a thesis statement is the primary thought behind your writing distilled into a short sentence or two. Should your ideas be clear and focused enough to be summarized in a single sentence, whether you’re taking a stand or relaying a new concept? Absolutely. But there’s no law online that says you need to formally state your thesis, support it in the body of your blog post, and reiterate it in the conclusion.
13. Avoid Contractions
If you’ve spent much time in academia, you’ve probably heard once or twice a writing rule telling you to avoid contractions. Words like “don’t,” “can’t” and “won’t” are contractions of “do not”, “cannot” and “will not”, and can be considered sloppy in certain situations. However, they’re an accurate reflection of how we speak, and a sprinkling of “don’ts” can take your writing from boring to relatable.
However, there is one caveat to using contractions: the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications advises against the use of contractions because they can be confusing to non-native speakers. If your audience is global, your writing may need to be more clear than conversational.
Is there anything you would add to this list? How do you break the rules of proper English in your content marketing and business blog?