15 horrible mistakes even professional online writers make


Writing. Everyone thinks they can do it, no one wants to do it, and it’s never perfect.

We love writing because it stimulates the mind, informs us of something new, and teaches us new ways to think about important topics in our lives. 

However, writing can be a difficult skill to master. Even when you think you have, you’ll keep making the same mistakes as when you started. 

Likewise, writing requires intense discipline and is not for the wandering or distracted mind. 

So the next time you make a mistake or find yourself procrastinating content for a client, don’t sweat it. Even professional writers make some of these common mistakes. 

1. Not knowing your target audience 

Content requires focus and purpose. 

Unfortunately, even as a seasoned veteran in the digital marketing industry, it’s easy to write broad content based on a few high-volume keywords with little relevance. 

Writing content without understanding your audience is like throwing money at the wall and hoping it sticks. 

Solution

Meet your audience where they surf. Use social listening tools like Hootsuite, examine Reddit forums, and look at other popular blogs/publications in your industry to examine what keywords users use to discuss and research topics in your industry. 

In addition, keyword and topic research will uncover various subtopics that users are searching for and want answers to enrich your content. 

Bonus tip: If you’re creating content for a client or business and want to excite them, focus on their top ROI products and services first. Find those money keywords with high relevance and low competition to create content that speaks to their audience and gains them traffic quickly. 

2. Thinking too narrow

Writing quick blog posts around a single keyword may fulfill your client’s needs, but it most likely won’t net them much return on their investment. If your content thinks too narrow or fails to provide any unique perspective or educational value, it’s just as valuable if you never wrote it in the first place. 

Solution

If you’re calling yourself a professional writer, you need to produce high-quality content. Research high-ranking content in your field and find new ways to provide additional insight or personal tips to enrich content. 

It’s easy to regurgitate the same content as everyone else, but if you want to move the needle with your content, you’ll need to think outside the box. 

3. Having a boring headline

There’s nothing more frustrating than failing to gain any traction on a piece of content you worked incredibly hard and long on. 

Often, the problem isn’t your content; it’s your headline. 

Solution 

To garner clicks on your content, you’ll need to first research what keywords drive clicks and traffic. From there, I follow a simple formula for most of my headlines:

  • Keep titles to an appropriate length (55-60 characters).
  • Insert relevant keyword toward the front of the title.
  • Provide a solution or reason for reading (e.g., Become a Better Writer Today).
  • Use power words to entice clicks.

4. Not having a strong hook

The two most common reasons people click on content are for quick answers and stories. So, ideally, your headers should provide quick answers to subtopics and your opening has a strong hook to pull the reader into your piece. 

Like a headline, your hook will determine whether or not you get clicks for content. 

Solution

Make an impression on the reader. Easier said than done, right? But the point is to avoid going straight into a story or description. You need to give the reader a reason to read your post

While there is no hard and fast rule for writing hooks, here are a few general tips:

  • Cite a wild statistic. (e.g., Did you know that 50% of writers don’t even know how to write hooks?)
  • Make a surprising or controversial statement.
  • Ask a thought-provoking question.
  • Start a story in medias res.
  • Use an insightful quote.

Bonus tip: Use your first one or two paragraphs to lead people into a story. In certain cases, you might not dive into the details of your content until the first body paragraph. 

I often come across several articles on highly reputable publications with unoptimized header tags or one-word lists that provide minimal context. Optimizing header tags allow readers to scan your article and find the right subtopics they’re researching. 

Furthermore, optimizing header tags allows Google to direct users from an answer box to the highlighted portion of your webpage. 

Solution

Find a seed keyword and then add question phrases to answer specific subtopic questions on Google SERPs. 

Additionally, create subtopics for any related long-tail keywords. For example, if you write about motorcycles, listing out specs, like the suspension and motor, in specific sections with optimized keywords will give users the exact information they’re looking for and tell them where to find it. 

Bonus tip: Take a note from the pyramid writing style of journalism. Start with the main topic at the top of your article, then write specific sections of your article with subtopics that relate to the main topic. 

6. Not making content scannable  

Good content should be easily scannable and consumable. 

Most people will bounce right off a page that contains large run-on paragraphs and scrolls for a mile. 

Solution

Make content less intimidating by breaking paragraphs up with images, videos, infographics, spaces and well-optimized headers.

Experiment with multimedia where it would make more sense to tell a story or explain a specific topic. 

People are typically visual and kinesthetic learners, so find ways to appeal to those learning styles without inundating them with large paragraphs. 

7. Failing to invest enough in editing

According to Stephen King, about 10% of writing is editing, but I’ve heard some authors say it’s a lot more. Realistically, any error you make in writing should be attributed to your editing. For this reason, writers need to master the editing process. 

Solution

Ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder?” When I say invest more time in editing, I’m not talking about devoting more time or spending more money; I mean optimizing the process. 

Pass your editing to another team member and get some fresh eyes on a piece. 

Bonus tip: Wait a day or two and then quickly edit a draft so that you have an entirely fresh perspective on a topic. This strategy will make the editing process more efficient and less cumbersome. 


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8. Using complex jargon and words

This point relates to not knowing your audience, but it’s a mistake that we’re all guilty of making as writers and SEO professionals. 

Using overly complex jargon and language can be difficult for readers to interpret and follow along with your content. If readers need to constantly Google every other word or phrase you’re saying, they’ll quickly grow bored and irritated. 

Solution

Always substitute complex words with simple language. Ideally, you should be writing for an audience with the vocabulary of a 5th or 6th grader to make content easy to consume and retain. 

Bonus tip: If you’re forced to use jargon, explain it, link it to another page on your site, and spell out any acronyms. 

9. Making content too long

One of the hardest habits for long-time writers to kick is creating lengthy sentences and paragraphs. Unfortunately, we all have a natural impulse to say as much as possible or over-explain our points at the risk of overwhelming our audience. 

I always recommend limiting the wording of online content to its medium. For example, blog posts don’t need to be over 2,500 words – save that content for an ebook!

Solution

Depending on the medium, paragraphs in blog posts should only be one to three sentences at most. Additionally, if you’re not writing an evergreen guide, keep subtopics short and sweet, saving content for each subtopic on a separate post!

Bonus tip: Take some inspiration from Hemmingway and his infamous iceberg theory. In some cases, your content can be simple and doesn’t need to explain every argument. For example, most readers understand why “content is king” and don’t need a paragraph reinforcing this point. 

10. Not providing a clear call to action 

Realistically, your content should provide solutions or next steps to motivate your readers toward a desired action. However, if you don’t include a clear call to action (CTA) or related content on your website, you could risk losing website visitors forever. 

Solution 

Give readers a reason to stay on your site or interact with your writing more. Offer a newsletter signup link at the end of an article or provide a CTA button that leads to a sale or consultation if you’re writing for a business. 

Bonus tip: Create a drip campaign for readers who sign up for your newsletter using related content that eventually leads them to purchase something from your website. 

You should always provide relevant links throughout your content to build authority on your website. Additionally, interlinking also increases website time on page and increases your website’s likelihood of a conversion. 

Solution 

Use your favorite organic research tool like Semrush to find your top-performing/highest ROI pages and insert links in your content relevant that reinforce the main topic of the article.

Bonus tip: Form content clusters around main topics and provide supporting links to subtopics on separate pages that interlink with each other. For example, suppose you have a top-navigation page for content marketing and a supporting page on link building. In this case, insert links in both pages of content to link between each other. 

12. Forgetting to promote your content 

On the flip side, most professional writers are often lazy when it comes to promoting their content. Unless you have an established audience on social media or your blog, your content’s reach won’t go far without links and shares.

Solution

Build links to your content by reaching out to other authors who have written about similar topics and asking for a link. In addition, there are several ways to build links to your site and specific content pages, such as guest posting, content syndication, reaching out to influencers, etc. 

The goal is exposure, which will drive relevant metrics to your site and help it rank for various keywords. 

Bonus tip: Advertise your content on sites like Facebook and Twitter to help put your content directly in front of your targeted audience. Sure, many people are skeptical of ads on social media, but if your content is good, it will drive engagement. 

13. Not reviewing content

If we’re not tracking the performance of our content after it’s written, we’re not gaining any insight into what we’re doing wrong. 

Solution

Use Google Search Console, Google Analytics, or your favorite organic research tool to see which content is driving traffic to your site and which is not generating clicks. Compare this data to its keyword ranking and identify areas where meta tag optimizations, different keywords, or adding multimedia could give your content an edge over the competition.

Content is a serious investment, so track its performance to get the best return out of your investment. 

Bonus tip: Consider repurposing content by updating it to modern standards or adding video or infographics to content to help it rank organically again. 

14. Spending too much time on one piece

Time management is one of the hardest skills for a writer to master. Depending on the length and topic of a piece, you could spend hours working on a single piece. 

As a writer, your living is based on your work output. So how do you improve your output and spend less time on each piece without sacrificing quality?

Solution 

Optimize your process with a few helpful hints:

  • Block off a specific time in your day for writing.
  • Set a goal for each piece of content, along with times to hit.
  • Create a separate space in your home office for writing.
  • Hone your craft by constantly writing (not when you’re in the mood).
  • Create a template and then go in and fill in the blanks.
  • Eliminate any distractions in your workspace.

Bonus tip: Find your flow state. Everyone has a way to enter a flow state of total concentration and focus. Meditate or listen to music if it helps you get into that flow state. 

15. Not reading enough

I find that very few professional writers don’t read, but it’s still a helpful reminder that you’re not reading enough. 

Reading is like weight lifting for a writer; it helps strengthen those brain muscles and form new neural pathways. 

In addition, reading more about your industry and the topics you’re writing about will make you a topical authority and increase your credibility. 

Solution 

Set aside time each day or every other day for reading. I often block off some time during my lunch hour to read from my favorite publications, like Search Engine Land, so I’m always informed of the latest news in the SEO industry.

Bonus tip: Practice different forms of writing to improve your writing. For example, try writing about new topics, writing fiction, or writing for different formats like newsletters or press releases. This helps keep the mind fresh, and you’ll never get bored of writing. 

All professionals make mistakes, but most of them are not published online for the whole world to see. However, your work will only improve if you go back to basics from time to time and refresh your writing knowledge.

This is why I read William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” almost annually to hone my writing skills and get back to the basics. 

However, the best way to overcome these mistakes is to keep writing. Never feel discouraged because even the most seasoned writers make mistakes constantly.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Ron Lieback is the founder/CEO of ContentMender, an SEO-driven content marketing agency based in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the author of “365 to Vision: Modern Writer’s Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).” While working in digital marketing for the past decade, Lieback has ghostwritten nearly 500 articles for C-level executives across various industries. He also contributes content to leading motorcycle magazines, including Cycle World.



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