Just like SEO, content marketing can be classified as white, gray, and black-hat.
If you’re reading this, you likely wear the white one on most days. Maybe you wear a light shade of gray on bad days.
But have you ever tried on the black one, perhaps by mistake?
You see, the best part about content marketing is how it helps your brand build trust with your audience, in a way no other method can. It is subtly persuasive without being intrusive or disruptive.
Words are powerful, and wrong advice can hurt both, the reader and your brand’s reputation. So, whatever you do, never wear that intriguing black hat, even by mistake.
Now, as a content marketer, strategizing and executing the creation of compelling and evocative content for your (or your client’s) business blog is your chief responsibility.
This often translates into you taking up the role of a content writer. So, to ensure you’re always on the right track, here are seven traits of an ethical content writer.
1. Includes Only Reliable & Recent Data
As you know, including relevant data and statistics makes for a strong piece.
Facts and figures promptly convince the most skeptical of readers and drive the point home. It proves you have done your research and homework, and know what you’re talking about.
Including statistics in blog posts improves consumer trust and makes the post more link-worthy.
But it’s not easy ― you must only cite relevant data from reliable sources. Bonus points for finding and citing the original source of data, something that’s often quite challenging.
Nevertheless, as a writer, it is your duty to dig deeper and uncover the true source in order to ascertain if the data is authentic or bogus.
Furthermore, any data or research you cite shouldn’t be a decade old. Old data would likely misguide the reader instead of being helpful.
Thus, see to it that you always cite recent data no more than two years old, and from authoritative sources, to add credibility to your piece.
2. Gives Credit Where It’s Due
While on the subject of citing data, make sure you credit the original source with clear mention and if possible, a link.
Not only does it facilitate further reading and added value for the reader, but this simple practice helps quality content creators gain the recognition they deserve and stand out in a sea of mediocrity.
3. Writes for Human Readers First
Of course, you want your content to rank on the first page of Google. Who doesn’t?
And sure, keyword research and optimization for search engines is important. But your number one priority must always be to provide stellar user experience for your website visitors.
When it comes to written content, user experience boils down to readability.
Today, keyword stuffing is evident and annoying not just for human readers but also for search engine crawlers. So, don’t even think about stuffing keywords in your copy.
Moreover, try to incorporate your (or your brand’s) own unique voice in the copy.
Don’t write in a robotic, lifeless tone. Make it conversational, with a generous dab of humor.
Keep the language simple and avoid jargon. And when explaining something rather tricky, keep this famous quote by Einstein in mind: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
4. Doesn’t Extend an Article for the Sake of Word Count
Yes, long-form content generally performs better than shorter articles in terms of backlink acquisition, social shares, and search rankings ─ all the good stuff you want from your content efforts.
But this doesn’t mean you churn out thousands of words of fluff that renders no extra value to the readers. Focus on quality over quantity.
If you write content that comprehensively covers the topic, you wouldn’t need to worry about the word count. After all, the purpose of your content is to impart valuable knowledge and help your readers solve a problem, isn’t it?
If you deliver the meat of the matter without beating around the bush, your readers will love you for it.
They’ll likely show their appreciation by sharing the article, subscribing to your newsletter, and improving other key metrics that matter to you.
5. Doesn’t Regurgitate Content
It won’t be an overstatement to say there’s already far too much unnecessary and regurgitated content out there.
If you plan to parrot or plagiarize, stop right there. Not only is it highly unethical to steal content, but sooner or later, you’ll destroy your website’s reputation and rankings.
Even if you somehow don’t get penalized by Google for copied content, your audience will figure out the dismal quality and you’ll eventually lose your readership.
Simply put, regurgitating content is a waste of time and resources, and will slowly but surely bite back in the long run.
6. Takes Accountability
Content writers are human too, at least for now. What are humans best at? Making mistakes and learning from them.
So, if you haven’t already, it won’t be long before you publish a piece that causes a bit of controversy (unintentionally).
That’s because content can be subjective and you can’t always please everyone. It’s what you do after making a blunder that matters.
Remember, your content is meant to drive engagement, which means a healthy (albeit heated) debate is actually good.
But if you know you made a mistake, such as inadvertently offending your readers or presenting incorrect information, make sure to explicitly claim full responsibility for it.
Always be courteous and do everything in your power to correct it. Above all, as is the case with every profession, ensure you learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them.
7. Makes Genuine Product/Service Recommendations
Ultimately, your content is meant not just to educate, inform, or entertain your audience but also to achieve certain marketing goals and improve a business’s bottom line.
This often means making product or service recommendations in the form of sponsored reviews, guest articles, affiliate marketing, and so on.
While doing all that is okay, it is imperative to be completely transparent about it. So, if you’re posting affiliate links on your blog, have a crystal clear disclosure stating your affiliation.
Not only is this an ethical and sensible thing to do, but also mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Similarly, if you allow sponsored or guest posts on your blog, label them accordingly such that it’s plainly apparent to your readers.
The last thing you want is your audience to feel cheated or duped, which will shatter the trust you are striving to build with great efforts.
Content may be subjective, but the phrase “quality content” is not. If your content is truly high-quality, it shares these common characteristics:
- Comprehensive: The article is so exhaustive that readers don’t feel the need to refer to any other resource after going through it from top to bottom.
- Provides actionable takeaways: Your readers are here to learn how to solve a problem or gain new knowledge. Your post should provide that solution so they can immediately take action after reading, or make them feel they’ve got what they were looking for.
- Original: Would you ever classify a copied piece of content as “high-quality”? Of course not. It has to be original.
- Factually accurate: The article backs every claim with recent and relevant data from reliable sources.
- Personable and honest: The post resonates with your audience. They are able to easily relate to what you’re saying and feel a connection with you, the author. This, in turn, makes it shareable, which is another important hallmark of a quality piece.
- Grammatically accurate: Poor grammar and spelling mistakes form a bad impression and reduce your content’s credibility. A high-quality piece, however, has impeccable grammar.
- Readable: A post full of technical lingo and convoluted sentences won’t read easy and consequently, be of poor quality.
- Evergreen: The post stands the test of time and remains relevant for years to come. If not, it is regularly updated to retain relevance and thus, the quality.
- Optimized and result-driven: Last but not least, your content achieves the intended business results. It is optimized for search engines and ranks high for the desired keywords. It drives traffic, engagement, and links. All this being a consequence of the above-mentioned points.
As you can see, there is a perfect overlap between ethical content writing and producing a high-quality result-driving piece of content.
It is a win-win for your business and the audience if you, as a writer, swear by these content writing ethics when crafting your future masterpieces.