The undead are white hot these days. From the “Walking Dead” to “World War Z,” zombies have hit the mainstream—they’re everywhere. Some talk about a Zombie Apocalypse as if it’s a forgone conclusion. A friend recently told me he’s shopping for a new vehicle, and it needs to be a four-wheel drive SUV so he can outrun the zombies.
The recent growth of the non-living community includes what I call “Content Zombies”—online content that’s had the life and meaning sucked out of it, but continues to shamble along on corporate Websites and blogs. Content zombies will relentlessly pursue you, groaning their dead messages in your ear. Then they will try to eat your brains.
Technology companies seem to have a penchant for creating content zombies. Here are just a couple of examples from some tech sites. (Note: I’ve inserted the word “Foo” instead of the actual company or product name).
“Tomorrow starts here. Explore what happens when we wake up the world … Each day, more and more people, process, data and things join what we call the Internet of Foo things. And as we wake up the world, amazing things will happen.”
You don’t have to tell me twice: you’re gonna wake up the world! With Internet things!
“Foo Corporation is focused on enabling health systems and payers to drive continuous improvements in care. Foo software helps healthcare professionals across care settings to use data to gain critical insights, collaborate with each other and with patients, and to develop and implement innovative care solutions.”
No idea what that really means, but I’m glad the insights are critical and the improvements continuous.
Confession: in my past, I’ve unleashed a few content zombies. Not by choice. It pains me to think of how the carefully crafted prose I (or another writer) created was often tortured into empty phrases without real story or utility, all so it could “snap to messaging.” Many times, content zombies are born out of ambiguous, bureaucratic approval processes. We’ll talk about how to battle that horror another day. Today, I want to share three tips to help you fight content zombification:
1. Start with your audience
And not only start with them, stay with and end with them, too. Arm yourself with data about your audience so you craft content based on what they want and need.
Website tools such as Google Analytics, Webtrends, or Site Catalyst can provide metrics about your site’s audience, including geographies, referring traffic sources (direct, organic search, paid search, etc.), the time spent on specific pages of your site, and in some cases, social activities.
If you have a product or marketing team, awesome! See if they have customer profiles, audience segmentation data, or personas they can share with you. Your content’s substance, tone, and structure should all reflect your audience at the center.
2. Stop selling
Stay focused on what will be most helpful to your readers, not what your organization feels it absolutely must say to sell its products and services, the company, its executives and culture, or its point of view.
Too often, online content gets worked over by marketers or executives, resulting in marketing or corporate speak that isn’t clear, and thus sounds as fake and foreign as it really is. You want your content to be so clear, useful, and entertaining that your audience will not only stay on your site or blog to read it, they’ll bookmark it, comment on it, and share it with their social networks—in other words, they’ll engage.
You’re not going to see someone sharing content that sounds like corporate decay: “Dude, check out the synergistic innovation on this ‘About Us’ page!”
3. Make your content compellingly readable
You have just a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention online. This means you need to be catchy yet precise—tell people upfront what they’ll get in exchange for their time. There are a few ways to help you make sure your content is scanable and readable. Our content team advocates these best practices:
- Start with the unexpected. Need a unique title or content idea? Check out our Content Idea Generator.
- Avoid the “Wall of Words”—an off-putting, dense Web page of words without imagery, sidebars or other visual breaks for the reader. If your content is several paragraphs long, break up the text using full-width images, but also sub-headlines, bulleted or nested lists, pull quotes, and sidebars.
- Keep sentences to 13-14 words in length and paragraphs to six or seven lines. Use the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests or similar tools to help you measure how readable your content is by complexity and grade level.
I hope you find these tips useful—let me know what you think. Please share your own content zombie stories. I also hope you have your “bug-out bag” ready to go for the coming global zombie plague. Be careful out there, content creators.