10 phrases that mean your blog post is worthless

Ian Lurie

I’m guilty of these myself. But I’m starting to see them show up more and more, on big sites (you know who you are) that are supposed to know better.

Inevitably, these phrases are followed by a stock photo and 250+ words that basically repeat the same phrase, again and again. Then the writer gets a nice bio block and the label expert. Everyone wins except the readers, who get served the same vomit-inducing crap day after day:

Be authentic

If you’re writing about internet marketing, it’s safe to assume we already know how to be authentic, for God’s sake. When we all started talking about authenticity, back in, I dunno, 2000, it was already old news. Now it’s just a sign that either:

  • Your teeny little pinhead brain can’t handle talk about stuff like voice, tone and the importance of honesty; or
  • You’re being paid by the word.

Get buy-in from your team

Really? I never thought of that! I figured if I hid out in a closet, working for months in secrecy, and then leapt out yelling “Surprise Motherf——rs I just launched a social media campaign HAHAHAHAH” I’d win praise from my boss.

Everyone knows you need buy in. Everyone also knows that, in the average big company, getting buy-in on things like social media or SEO is like removing a barbed hook from under your own toenail: Painful, lengthy, and sometimes requiring amputation.

Be adaptable

Ian makes a strangled noise, choking on the obviousness of it all.

Listen to your audience




Did someone seriously get paid to say that?

“Listen” is something I tell clients who have never touched internet marketing before. I mean never. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume your readers understand the value of not ignoring their entire customer base.

Write great content

Sadly, I find myself having to tell this to people. So I guess I understand it.

But I would hope that we all understand, by now, that you shouldn’t write crappy content. Hiring 50 people who’ve been speaking English for 5 years to write articles for you at $1 a pop isn’t going to get you much.

Write with feeling

Oh, man, you mean I shouldn’t write like Mr. Spock? Do you have something against Vulcans? I’m filing suit.

Build relationships

No, I thought I’d slap people instead. Strictly speaking, that is relationship building.

But I think this one sends the obvious-o-meter off the scale, yes?

Be personal

It’s true. Being personal when you write is always better than adopting the tone of a block of wood.

Instead of writing ‘Be Personal’, ‘Make it personal’ or ‘Write casual’ and following it with 4 sentences, consider writing an entire post about how to turn impersonal writing into a more personal style?

In fact. that’s my blog post for tomorrow. Wow. Sometimes ranting has its upside.

Communicate clearly

No kidding?! So using lots of really big words and being ambiguous isn’t the right way to go? Damn. I have to go back to marketing school. I’ll just make sure you’re not my professor, because if you are, I’m freaking doomed.

Focus on your niche

I don’t even know what the hell that means. Is a ‘core niche’ different from a ‘perimeter niche’? If How do I know if I’m writing outside my niche? For that matter, if I don’t write to my niche, what will happen?

Also, that painfully obvious thing again.

Write diverse content

Yeah, this is the opposite of the last bit of mealy-mouthed marketing stupidity. Sadly, I saw this line in the same article as the last one. Think about that. Someone told me to ‘focus on my niche’ but also told me to diversify as much as possible. My brain just split into two more hemispheres.

Instead of spouting the obvious…

…consider explaining it.

I’m making fun in this post. But the truth is I and all the marketers I learn from resort to these marketing bingo winners. We can all do a lot better.

Don’t list 10 different patently obvious suggestions. Write a post explaining how to successfully implement one of them. You’ll end up with more ideas, a better web site and readers who really learn from you.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Nice post, I’m really liking the site!
    I’m getting very bored of headlines like…
    X things to master the art of
    The things are all so generic they could be applied to any buzz word, marketing in general, or even just life in general… shouldn’t I be authentic in every aspect of my life, not just when I’m blogging, tweeting or on Facebook???

  2. Hey Ian,
    I’m really glad to see that I’m not the only one who is sick of those same obvious advices which are everywhere around.
    You can as well give the following suggestions:
    -Write the same language as your target audience speaks (don’t write for Americans in Chineese);
    -Make sure the font size is large enough to be readable;
    -Double check that your post is not posted privately;
    -Turn on comments, as there’s a chance that someone will write them after all.

  3. Hahahahaha – this quote just made my morning:
    “Surprise Motherf——rs I just launched a social media campaign HAHAHAHAH”
    Now I’ve got to find a way to incorporate that into either my websites or my day job…
    Thanks for the great post 🙂

  4. I agree whole-heartedly with most of your rants, Ian. But this one I’m not so sure on. If people were universally embracing the same tactics you call cliche, there would be a whole lot less bad Internet marketing out there an no need for these types of cliches.
    But alas, there are still droves and droves of companies/people that are inauthentically writing bad content for no niche at all. I’ll be charitable and assume many of the “echo chamber” posts you refer to are simply people “getting it” for the first time and wanting to share that light bulb moment with the world.
    Of course, I will also agree with you that much of it is guest-post-for-a-link drivel.
    So how can be something be so cliche when so many people have yet to embrace/understand the tenants of online marketing?

  5. Ian,
    You’ve been writing with feeling lately… but I think the feeling is *angry*.
    Are you feeling OK? Is it time to escape to an island for a few days? Cut back on the caffeine?
    As James Taylor said “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time” (Secret O’ Life)

  6. @Bob I grew up in a nice jewish family in New Jersey. For us, culturally, a good day is when the world doesn’t explode. This IS my happy face 🙂
    OK, not totally. But I’m doing well, thanks, yes.

  7. @Josh You’re totally correct. I actually think ANY of the statements I’ve listed in this post are fine, IF YOU EXPLAIN THEM. The problem I usually see is blog posts that say “Get buy in” and then have 150 words that say the same thing again and again.
    If you want me to get buy in, tell me how.

  8. I wanted to say “amen” to everything in this post, then I read Josh’s response: “If people were universally embracing the same tactics you call cliche, there would be a whole lot less bad Internet marketing out there an no need for these types of cliches.” That reminded me of the realities of independent writing vs writing for clients (especially corporate clients). I think talented writers often create material that could be described with adjectives such as multi-faceted, provocative, bold, humorous, spicy, argumentative and even sinful. When submitted to client, however, the “nails that stick up are beaten down.”

  9. I really didn’t agree with this post until the last point: “Instead of spouting the obvious…consider explaining it”.
    The explanation is usually the part that’s missing! Same complaint with so many posts on what NOT to do – I’d love to see more specifics on what TO do.

  10. Ha. This describes my last three posts in PRWeek. Where were you two weeks ago with this post? If you want to pull this post out again in mid-March, it also describes most community and social media panels during SXSW.

  11. My personal favorite (and by favorite, I mean drives me absolutely crazy) is when biz/mktg bloggers write:
    “It’s easy to be successful. Just be amazing!”
    This is about as stupid as telling someone “It’s easy to find a date, just be gorgeous and charming.” Oh, that’s all?

  12. This has got to be the best post I’ve read with any of those phrases in it. I get so tired of the catch phrases of this industry. I agree. Don’t just say it; explain it. Then maybe readers would know what the hell you’re talking about and the plethora of bad internet marketing would decline.

  13. I would like to explain the difference between “buy-in” and “commitment.” Buy-in: “Wow, that’s a great idea, I’m behind it 100%.” Commitment: “Wow, that’s a great idea, I’m behind it 100%. What can I do to make it happen?” There’s lot of buy-in in organizations. Great brainstorming session, everyone leaves the room and nothing happens. Folks, buy-in is not the same thing as committing to do something about whatever it is you think is so great.

  14. Sad as it is, there are a lot of people out there who I have to give the “write good content” speech to because they can’t even figure out what writing good content consists of, and not only that, they don’t even know how to write well enough for people to think they graduated high school and didn’t barely pass English. As a PR firm, I find myself having to preach the obvious a lot more than I’d like to, but as long as clients follow the advice then it’s worth it!!

  15. Love this! There are so many online marketing “gurus” with throngs of followers who write like this. I’ll never understand the popularity of that sort of thing. Makes me feel stabby.

  16. I really shouldn’t open your blog any more: I always get stuck here for a loooong time … browsing from one unexpected, great article to the next one!!
    Great work!!!

  17. I for one dig this style of writing. I enjoy attitude and a sense of “hey, hellllo McFly, anyone home?” and yes any day that the world does not explode is a good day, lol I am so going to use that “this IS my happy face” on the wife.
    I can see where your coming from, I totally understand both sides of the coin though too. Writers, I would say, want to unleash the inner creativity on the work, however I do believe at times they want to eat also and if the client doesn’t like that creative streak well I my guess is no tofu for the writer 🙁
    Perhaps those other writers should spend some more time reading eh? Maybe here 🙂

  18. I have no idea why I am so late in reading this article, but I have to ask – were you a fan of Chapelle’s Show? This line “Surprise Motherf——rs I just launched a social media campaign HAHAHAHAH” not only almost made me spew coffee from my nose, but conjures up images of a Chapelle skit for some unknown reason 😉

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