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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A lousy content story...If you can't say anything nice, just don't mention names...

Horn Blowing.

I was doing my morning survey of new things content-related when I encountered a blog post from a freelance content writer that included a testimonial from a satisfied client. The post was straight-on, hammer-it-home self-promotion. It was one of those "I love my clients and my clients love me and my work" sort of things.

I don't have anything against tooting one's own horn from time to time. I have a "hype" page at the Content Done Better site and a few testimonials on the main page, too (please note that I know the hype page is "broken" and that the site is a little less than attractive--it is undergoing new design as you read this). Self-promotion is important and I don't begrudge the writer in question for spreading the "good news" about his/her operation.


Here's the catch. The post itself is two paragraphs long. The second paragraph consists of the client's kind words. The first reminds us of how much the writer in question cares about client opinion and doing a good job. It is written horribly.

It's so lousy that I was tempted to quote it here so others could read it and exclaim, "My, that is horrible." However, I try to subscribe to the "if you can't say anything nice..." school of thought (exception noted for crappy term paper mills, etc.). I almost decided to just let it go.

However, the post, the testimonial, and a few moments of research convinced me that it was worth mentioning--but to keep the parties involved anonymous. They combine to illustrate a point.

The writer's paragraph is two sentences long. Microsoft Word immediately finds two glaring errors with only a cursory check. A closer examination reveals many problems within the thirty-four word paragraph.

  • Spelling error / nonexistent word
  • Starting a sentence with "and" (not necessarily an error, but certainly questionable)
  • Incorrect punctuation
  • Redundancy
  • Poor verb choice
  • Unnecessary use of the article "a"
  • Awkward sentence construction
You may wonder why a client would leave a glowing review for someone who can't even self-promote effectively. I was. Does the writer do a better job for clients? Does the writer outsource jobs to people who can do a better job? How did the writer get that "thumbs up" from the client?


The testimonial included a link to the client's site. I followed that link to a content-rich site focusing on a high-competition theme. The site has clean design and looks professional. The content? It stinks.

The first paragraph of the first piece on the main page is just as bad as the preamble to the buyer's testimonial. It might even be worse.


We know that someone capable of producing a good-looking, smartly-designed site has purchased multiple articles of dubious quality from a writer who isn't capable of writing two sentences without inspiring a great deal of brow furrowing and head scratching. We also know that the buyer actually liked the content.

Frustrating, isn't it? The real issue is that the buyer can't distinguish garbage from quality. That might be due to a language issue or it might just be that the webmaster isn't much of a reader and doesn't have the tools to distinguish trash from treasure.

It's another example of one of the greatest challenges good content writers face--how do you sell quality to those who aren't discerning consumers of writing?

I don't know how well this guy's site converts with the lousy content he has, but I am willing to bet that the numbers would be much better if the text wasn't so lousy. Even if the difference in raw dollar terms wasn't significant, the buyer would at least have the satisfaction of knowing he wasn't infuriating readers or making them question his sanity.

  • Lousy writers can get work.
  • Lousy writers can keep clients.
  • Lousy writer and their clients can both be oblivious about the whole thing.
  • Good writers need to find a way to market quality in an environment that doesn't recognize it.

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