5 Writing Habits that are Killing Your Content Marketing

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5 Writing Habits that are Killing Your Content Marketing

Content marketing is certainly the golden child of 2014. Google has been slamming thin content for the last several years, but they cracked down even harder in 2014. Today, you need better content, some times longer content, and definitely more useful content.

Digital marketers are getting into the groove of producing higher quality content with real value. It is a beautiful thing – except when your content marketing strategy isn’t working. If you are following the top content marketing best practices and still not seeing results, the problem might actually be your writing.


Just because Google decided it wanted better content doesn’t mean we are all magically great writers. Take a look at these five writing habits and see if they might just be the culprits behind your lagging content marketing strategy.

1. The Double Space

Should you place one space or two at the end of a sentence? The writing community remains divided, so let’s look at where this practice started.

Before computers, all letters took up the same amount of space when typing – for example, a thin I and a much wider M were allotted the same space. Thus, the additional space was needed at the end of a sentence to show the difference between the space between words and the end of a sentence.

Then, the word processor arrived with all its fancy fonts – and the ability to group letters together based upon width. Today, nothing says outdated like two spaces at the end of a sentence.

2. Not Using The Oxford Comma

To use or not to use the Oxford comma? Like the double space, Oxford comma usage is hotly debated. I would argue for the purposes of content marketing, using the Oxford comma is a must.

The point of content marketing is to provide readers with useful, concise information that helps build your reputation as an industry leader. The Oxford comma helps clarify meaning, making your content easier to read and understand. Which, again, is the entire point of content marketing.

3. Listening to Your English 101 Professorenglish book

High school and college were likely formative times for your writing style. Remember the old “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” format? Toss it. What about using “one” instead of “you” or “I”? Toss it. You should not be using the academic research paper format when writing for your online audience.

Jason Brewer offers a good starting point for building your content marketing strategy:

“When considering a content strategy for your business, think about the reasons why people choose to interact with you online in the first place.”

I’ll bet your readers aren’t looking to read a research paper. (If they are, then by all means, stick to your research paper format!)

Instead of following your college professor’s outdated style guidelines, write in a way that positions you as approachable, informative, and entertaining. Your content strategy will be better for it.

4. Not Citing Sources

So, Twitter is the fastest growing social media platform, and Google+ is in second place. That is fascinating, but where did you get that information? Did you guess based on anecdotal evidence, make it up, or is your statement backed by solid research?

Show your reader they can trust the information you provide – so when you recommend that really awesome social media tool you have been loving they will actually believe you. Linking to your sources allows your readers to follow up and ensure the information you provide is correct, which in turn builds trust and credibility. And those are worth gold.

5. Not Rereading Before You Publish shutterstock_163383425

As the copy editor for SEJ, I am a stickler for grammar and punctuation. But, for online writing purposes you really don’t need to stress out about the finer points of grammar. You DO need to make sure you reread your writing before you post it. Did you trail off in the middle of a sentence? Does your title say you’ll cover five points, but you only listed four? Rereading your writing helps ensure you publish the type of high quality content that will get you noticed.

The Takeaway

Content marketing should be the cornerstone of your online marketing practices. But using outdated formats and poor grammar can turn readers off.

Are there other mistakes you see writers making? Share your grammar and online content pet peeves in the comments below!

Danielle Antosz

Danielle Antosz

Features Editor at Search Engine Journal
Danielle is the Features Editor for Search Engine Journal and the producer of SEJ Marketing Nerds podcast. She lives in Chicago, where she spends her... Read Full Bio
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  • Norton Loomer

    Glad to see the Oxford comma on here. I’m a big fan. I do notice one inconsistency with this article though. The title is “5 Writing Habits that are Killing Your Content Marketing,” and 4 of the 5 subheadings are things you shouldn’t be doing. If someone just read through the subheadings, that person would think he or she should not use the Oxford comma (as in the Oxford comma is killing your content marketing, just like the double space is). Seems like that subheading should be “Not Using the Oxford Comma.”

    • Kelsey Jones

      Hey Norton. Great point. I made the edit.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Not proofing your work is a huge no-no. Always go back and re-read before posting. For business writing, simple spelling and grammar errors make the piece (and company by association) look unprofessional.

    • tony

      I agree. Point #5 seems to directly compliment the last sentence of #1.

  • Mustafa Gaziani

    Hi Danielle,
    That was awesome. I really inspire from the habits you’ve shared. It just come to my knowledge from this post that citing sources also help to increase confidence of user’s in that post. Such a great kinda post.

    Gotta say thanks for sharing 🙂


    • Kelsey Jones

      Thanks for reading SEJ!

    • Danielle Antosz

      Glad you enjoyed it! My background is in academia, so citing sources is kinda hardwired into my writing. I am excited to see it become more popular for writers on the web. I think it makes it for better discussions!

  • Brett Chesney

    I will never. Not ever. Stop double spacing after a period. But joking aside, I don’t really see how double spacing after a period could be an instrumental player in the downfall of your content marketing strategy. I wouldn’t view that content as any less informative or credible, I think it is just simply a reflection on the era in which the author learned to use word processing.

    • Kelsey Jones

      “I think it is just simply a reflection on the era in which the author learned to use word processing.” I agree— but in this day and age you are judged for how “current” you are. If your spelling is terrible, you are judged for not being educated. I would argue that some may also judge when it comes to double spacing, as it could be a sign of being out-of-date. I don’t mean this as an attack or anything, but people do genuinely notice double spacing. Anything that people notice that is not a point you want them to notice does take away from the actual words (e.g. content) that you are writing.

    • Norton Loomer

      Hey Brett, you are aware that the comment section automatically removes the double space after a period, right? 🙂

      • Brett Chesney

        @Norton, argh! Foiled by technology. Perhaps it’s time I concede and usher in a new era of single spacing. 😀

  • Dheeraj


    Nice and Informative Post!

    Proof reading is the most important task to complete before publishing any content. This is not only bad from a content marketing perspective, but it’s also important for the reputation of the site. In short, avoid small and avoidable spelling and grammar mistakes.


  • Ethan

    I’m a huge fan of grammarly. I always plug what I’m writing into Microsoft Word (with the Grammarly plugin) to check everything. It uses the Oxford comma and is great for finding overused words and misspellings. You can even get the Grammarly extension for Chrome (probably Firefox too) and it will check your grammar and spelling everywhere else. (Like for this comment!)

    • Danielle Antosz

      I am familiar with Grammarly, but I didn’t know there was a plug in for Chrome. Thanks for sharing that info!

  • Ken Lane

    It seems that many writers are substituting the dash for the semicolon. It seems to be a little less proper, but helps the flow the piece. I’d still like to see how much significance search engines give to this change. I will admit that whenever I see a semicolon misused, it makes me also want to abandon using them altogether. Nobody wants to be that guy.

    • Danielle Antosz

      I would much rather see a dash than a misused semicolon! I agree, I like the look of dashes better.

  • anonymous

    Just a correction.

    “Twitter is the “fasted” growing social media platform”. Please read point # 5 and apply it to point # 4.

    • Danielle Antosz

      Good catch!

  • Greg Strandberg

    Can you explain to me what an Oxford comma is?

    Can you then explain to me why you didn’t include that in the post?


    • Danielle Antosz

      The Oxford comma is also known as the serial comma – it is the comma before the final item in a list, usually before “and” or “or”. The link included in that section gives more information about the Oxford comma and the arguments for and against.

  • Josh Squires

    While I’m a serious proponent of the Oxford comma, many sites use AP or APA style for their content. This makes perfect sense because brevity is a key factor and space, while not exactly limited, is definitely constrained in the name of user experience. This same reasoning is why #3 applies. In content writing, brevity needs to be top of mind. Readers don’t tend to devote a lot of time to online content. To make sure we get our point across we need our pieces to be brief and potent.

    Also, Hallelujah and Amen to proofing, editing, and citing sources! Links aren’t just for sending readers to your contact page!

    • Danielle Antosz

      I agree that brevity is vitally important. Fluff isn’t going to get you anywhere. And, as polarized as the Oxford comma argument is, I am surprised by your willingness to understand why someone might not use it! Most people feel really strongly one way or the other.

  • Maria ali

    Danielle Antosz your post is so helpful this Tips I will use my Self Thnks For Sharing 🙂 Keep it up

    • Danielle Antosz

      Glad you enjoyed it and thank you!

  • Jimmy Xemenez

    I loved your article 🙂

  • Vijendra

    The article is enlightening and thanks for that!

    You’re a stickler when it comes to grammar and punctuation, but I see you’ve missed out on letter ‘r’ in the word ‘your’ (talking about the readers), in 2nd paragraph above point “4. Not Citing Sources”.

    A good article nonetheless 👍

    • Kelsey Jones

      Our worst fears come true! I am fixing it right now, thank you!

    • Danielle Antosz

      Sometimes rereading and rereading again still aren’t enough!

  • Nitin

    In context to small business – occasional spelling mistakes make content look realistic. Readers are looking for honest & useful content. If readers understand the point, they don’t mind mistakes, in fact it makes you look more real.

  • Ste Oren

    Instead of rereading (5) your content, why not copy and paste into Microsoft MS Word, it will show any spelling & grammar errors so you can correct on your HTML and then submit to your server, a simple tool already installed on your computer.

    • Danielle Antosz

      Word does not catch all errors. I also use a spell check WP plugin – but again, it doesn’t catch em all. However, if you don’t have a spell check plugin, using Word is a good way to catch most spelling mistakes.

  • Virginia Nicols

    Danielle writes, “Don’t stress about the finer points of grammar.” The trick is figuring out what’s BASIC and what’s FINER! Some grammar mistakes leap out and cause the whole piece to stumble or even crash. So, in addition to re-reading yourself, find a good friend who can read from a grammar standpoint. (Those of us who love grammar really like finding errors . . .!)

    • Danielle Antosz

      Fair – and that line will be different for every grammar lover!

  • Erick

    Good writing is good writing, regardless of the genre or commercial use. Yes, there are space limitations, industry pot holes and stylistic whims, but the good writing of hundred years ago (think Red Badge of Courage, 1919 and more) are still good. By the time any writer hits 30 he or she
    Must read Orwell ‘ s Politics of the English Language. Written when he was at the peak of his writing powers, it takes on the cliche and promotes really seeing and writing clearly. Also do avoid the passive. Go with the active. It energizes your copy. Read everything. But unless the New Content is your end game read books by your generation, but focus on the writers of 20 years past. Finally, unless your ultimate goal is to be a department head of a pr or advertising agency, please get over this crap of the supposed new science of content. Yes there are some specifics related to space and the emerging illiteracy that comes from too much screen sucking, but 50 years from now 20 somethings will laugh at your foibles. Each generation produces it’s own tonage…of self-congratulating BS. In my view the new science of content is are new way to market your wares. After sell ing v words and strategy to 71 CEOS and 100 plus organisations, I’m always looking for a new edge. The New Science of Content is not at the top of my list.

    • Danielle Antosz

      The points here were intended to be useful for content marketers specifically. Good writing for a novel is different than good writing for a washing machine manual. Technology is constantly shifting, and yes these will likely be outdated in 20 years. However, I find them to be useful in today’s online marketing world.

  • Saba Uamr

    Good Points discussed ! Rereading of content is very important. In-fact some time its not enough to read the content by your own self so must have home one to critically proof read the content to make it higher quality content.

    • Danielle Antosz

      Very true. I have also found it helps to reread it backwards, starting with the last sentence. It keeps your brain from “skimming” (seeing what it expects to see) the content and missing errors.

      • Kelsey Jones

        That’s a good tip, I’ll have to try that!

  • Terri Z

    Good post. When I first started writing content, I had the hardest time breaking myself of the double space habit. Despite learning to type on a computer, I had had it ingrained in me by many teachers over the years. My favorite line was: “You should not be using the academic research paper format when writing for your online audience.”

    • Danielle Antosz

      Oh, I did too!! I spent a lot of time using CTRL F to find double spaces before I finally changed my habit.

  • Ethan Mellor

    Thank you Danielle!
    I think the most common mistake is point #5.