Website Content: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly

bad website content

There is little more frustrating than clicking on a website, expecting to learn something about a new topic, to find broken English, a list of links with no real information, unreadable fonts or pictures jutting across text. Rivalled, perhaps, by clicking on a website to find an amalgamation of copy and pasting of other materials in an obvious manner or just plain, boring text used as filler.

For all the wonderfully written and amazing web content out there, there is other material that makes the viewer scratch their head and say, “Huh?” The question is: how bad does content get across the Internet? Well, the good news is there is no good news. There is a lot of junk out there. As long as there is tripod.com and the like, you are going to find badly sourced, confusing and simply awful content on the web.

For those of you with a curious eye and the courage to witness train wrecks; we will help you sort through the good, the bad, and the downright ugly when it comes to online material.  We humbly offer six rules that will infallibly stop you from writing bad website content. Hopefully, along the way it will become clearer what not to do, when starting a website or writing a blog post.  On a positive note, although there is a lot of bad content out there, it creates a contrast against the good material, making it stand out even more.

Rule 1: Take the Time to Do a Spelling and Grammar Check

Whether you are writing in the Queen’s English or in a more laid back manner, it’s important to at least try to complete full sentences, complete with punctuation. Thoughts should be completed; you begin to read a blog post that has a wonderfully interesting premise. As you read further, sentences run on for what seems like paragraphs and words are so poorly spelled that you can’t even use context clues. It is just like your English teacher said; it makes the writer seem unintelligent.

It’s not about writing at the collegiate level either.  Basic grammar rules exist to make language easier to understand. The following sentence is an example of where grammar can go very wrong: With a dead bird in his mouth, my brother found the cat. Well that’s weird, why did my brother eat a dead bird, while looking for the cat? A better sentence: My brother found the cat with a dead bird in his mouth.

 Example: Run on Sentences and Endless Commas

Here is an example of where bad grammar can make your blog seem laughable, as opposed to informative.

This site called, “The Mother of All Excuses Place” or http://madtbone.tripod.com/ claims to be the go-to source for excuses to get out of work, school and even sex.  The home page offers up a very confusing introduction.

The second sentence is what we call a run on, and is screaming out for some heavy editing, not least to get rid of some of the repetitiveness. It goes as follows: Over the years, everyone where I work has always thought that we should write down all the excuses everyone there has given for not going to work that day. Now that sentence can be deciphered, but to be clearer it needs to be two sentences or have five or six words deleted.  However, the second paragraph takes the cake, as that has to be the most use of commas in one sentence ever. We counted 25.

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Rule 2: Avoid long lists of Links with No Context

When someone clicks on a website or blog post to learn about something, the last thing they want to see is barely any copy and 40 to 50 links, even if those links go to somewhere within the website. It is laziness, and people will find it offensive. Many readers go to websites to learn more about a specific topic, under one roof. They can find links to other sites through any search engine like Google or Yahoo – they don’t necessarily want, or need, you to do it for them.

If you are linking to your own content, throw up a few pictures and a brief description of where the link goes. Don’t leave it up to a website visitor to figure out what your blog or website is about. Below you will find a screenshot that shows how linking with no context can go too far.

Example: The Mile Long List of Links

Ironically, we found this on a website dedicated to seeking out bad web content, called http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/ .    This ‘Center for Advanced Visual Studies’ website looks as though it was copy and pasted in to excel…which is not a good thing when you are a site for advanced visual studies.

The site, which can be found in full at http://cavs.mit.edu/, is a perfect example of linking without context.

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Rule 3: Images and Words Shouldn’t Compete

We won’t need to focus on this rule very long, because it’s a no-brainer. If your photos, links or art are covering up words on your blog post, you are doing it wrong. People shouldn’t have to guess whether they are reading the beginning of a sentence, when the words are a hairline away from a picture, or a link. If you want an audience to read your blog, they need to see the words.

Example: The Mysterious Beginning of the Sentence

Here is another gem from Webpagesthatsuck.com.  This is a JFK Assassination conspiracy site , Who Killed JFK. Net. Which can be found at http://www.whokilledjfk.net/.

While one could say the assassination of JFK is shrouded in mystery, that doesn’t mean the words on your site should follow suit.

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Rule Four: Don’t Ruin Blogging by Being Dishonest

Good website content does not necessarily have to be flashy with embedding, widgets and all the bells and whistles. Blogs are meant to say something new or offer a different view on an old idea.  Because of how easily ideas can be Googled and copied and pasted, as well as the frequency of anonymous blogging, plagiarism is becoming commonplace. Information can be copied and pasted across numerous blogs, to the point where the original author is almost untraceable.

Write from your heart and mind, because there is no joy in regurgitating others’ ideas and it is an insult to freedom of speech. You have a voice, now use it.

Often, it is an education issue: people just don’t know what they can reuse without giving credit. A good rule of thumb is; if it is a fact you can use it in your own words, but if it is an opinion, then even writing it another way, with a different sentence structure can be risky.  Bloggers can look at other sites for research or ideas, but in the end there should be no use of copy and paste.

Example: Thesaurus.com Does Not Make it Different

Ipadyoupad, or  http://ipadyoupad.wordpress.com is a blog written by a school librarian who discusses ways to adjust to new technology.  It’s a good example of how no-frills blogging, with original content, can work. It is a basic WordPress site, but she has an excellent post about the grey areas of plagiarism. She uses a student’s “rewrite” of an encyclopaedia excerpt on Einstein.

Plagiarism 101: you can’t just rewrite someone’s ideas with a thesaurus on hand. She even sourced where the original screenshot came from. That is some solid blogging.

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Rule 5: Website Content is Not Just Filler

Many websites make the mistake of thinking that content, no matter how boring or pointless, will be enough to draw traffic. The reality is that, in the competitive world of blogging, content requires that you are more interesting than other run-of-the-mill posts that are available. Competition in the blogosphere is heavy, and it is hard to grasp the average internet user’s attention with so many options readily available. So, if you are thinking about writing a post about what you had for dinner—and it’s ramen noodles—then you’re going to need to dig a little deeper.

The blog used for this example is actually a successful satire on the “boring blog”, called “The Dullest Blog in the World” or http://www.dullestblog.com/. This means, technically, it is not an example of unintentional dullness, but it still fits the bill.

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Rule 6: Try

Blogging is about being creative and expressing ideas. Companies and businesses, who hire people to write content for them, expect a semblance of effort. Those who cut corners and are lazy when creating web content are not just hurting themselves, they are hurting one of the biggest emerging professions in the internet age. Bloggers and content writers don’t always have to source everything in the same fashion as traditional journalism or academic writing, but there needs to be some sense that the content is unique and has something unique to offer.

Blogs are meant to be streamlined and easy to read, so junking them up with link after link of source material will just bog them down. People perusing the internet want information quickly, which can sometimes lead bloggers to think it’s acceptable to borrow some content.

In a world with Google and Wikipedia on hand, it seems that people are forgetting to put in any effort. Writing will always be best when it is concise, natural and has a distinct voice. For example, people may Google a new movie or book to see what the plot synopsis is, but they depend on bloggers and reviewers to give them perspective.

The best web content is material that is backed up by a writer with enough integrity to put in the effort and try!