When it comes to “quality” in content marketing, few things are purely objective. A tone that reads as pleasant and inviting to one reader might register as unprofessional and disorganized to another. What constitutes “strong research” for one critical reviewer may constitute an obvious, unimportant fact to another.
There are objective gauges you can use to make your content the best it can be, but there are few measures that work across the board, due to the impressive diversities of both readers and brands. However, there are a handful of common words that almost invariably weaken the power of your content, and they’re painfully common (at least, if you read blogs as often as I do).
If you’re active in the content world, do what you can to eliminate these seven painful words from your lexicon:
Really and very are two different words, but because they’re used in nearly identical contexts, I’m counting them as one word. Really and very have no inherent meaning, other than to exaggerate a word that follows. It might seem like this type of exaggeration is meaningful, but in practical use, these words serve to slow your reader down more than anything else. Consider the following sentences: “It’s cloudy today.” “It’s really cloudy today.” “It’s very cloudy today.” The second and third sentences are indistinguishable in meaning, and all three sentences convey an identical idea. These vague exaggerators are completely unnecessary and should be eliminated from your written vocabulary.
The word “think” is used to imply that something is your opinion, or that it isn’t yet verified. For example, you might say, “I think content marketing is more valuable than pay-per-click advertising.” This is an opinionated claim, and you might assume that including the word “think” presents a more accurate image. In fact, it can actually weaken your position. People know that your article is based on your opinion; it’s a natural element of writing. Including the “think” implies that you aren’t confident in what you’re writing about, which causes more damage to your reputation than anything else.
“A lot” is another vague phrase, like really and very, that seems to imply something but doesn’t in reality. Imagine a lot of elephants. Now imagine a lot of marbles. Now imagine a lot of motorcycles. How many is that? Did you imagine a dozen elephants, a few thousand marbles, and a few hundred bikes? Or did you imagine hundreds of elephants, a few dozen marbles, and thousands of bikes? All “a lot” implies is a number greater than two. It does nothing to convey an accurate image, or even a ballpark of quantity. Even if you don’t know the exact quality, you can use more aesthetically pleasing or specific language to describe the quantity, like more marbles than a grocery bag could hold, or enough motorcycles to fill a Walmart parking lot.
Just is acceptable in one particular usage: when it’s used to imply that something was fair. Other than that, just is an unnecessary, unacceptable filler word that compromises the integrity of your sentences. For example, “Using just three articles” is the same as “Using three articles,” and coming up “just shy of the goal” is the same as coming up “shy of the goal.” If you find yourself writing the word just, eliminate it. Chances are, the sentence will retain its meaning.
Try not to deal in absolutes. You’re not a Sith Lord. Using one of these words immediately forces you into a position, and any insightful (or smart-assed) reader will almost immediately be able to contradict your position. For example, look at the previous paragraph. I said “chances are, the sentence will retain its meeting.” If I had said “The sentence will always retain its meeting,” it would only be a matter of time before someone comes up with a contradictory example. Protect yourself and stay open minded. Your readers will appreciate it.
Thing and stuff are non-words that can literally describe anything. If you put your mind to it, you’ll be able to come up with better words as substitutes. For example, imagine “5 things that make a better landing page” as “5 qualities that make a better landing page.” One simple substitution instantly takes it to a higher level. Even vague words like “qualities,” “objects,” and “items” can have a better impact than “thing” and “stuff.”
Technically, this isn’t a word. It’s a phrase, but it’s still overused and short enough that it almost qualifies as a word. “In order to” is a filler phrase that serves only to lengthen sentences in the majority of cases. Open any document you have on your computer, and do a Ctrl + F to find the phrase—if it’s a sufficiently long document, chances are you’ll find at least one. Take the phrase out of the sentence entirely, and you’ll likely find that the content of the sentence more or less remains the same. The next time you feel tempted to use this phrase, simply write the sentence without it. It will probably turn out fine.
Eliminating these seven words will objectively make your content better, for almost any conceivable reader. They may not notice the improvement, as their effects are subtle, but ultimately, your readers will be left with stronger impressions of your brand and a deeper appreciation for your content overall.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.