Nobody likes buggy software. At its worst, it’s been known to cause death and substantial loss of capital. Even in its most benign form, buggy software costs time and productivity. So in today’s article I offer tips for combating bugs that can infiltrate your content marketing software.
You should know, though, that I’m not referring to the type of software that’s written in ones and zeroes, in equal signs, underscores, if/else statements, and the like.
Today’s article offers tips on debugging content marketing software of a different sort. Namely, the words, phrases, and sentences that constitute your marketing content. Just like buggy computer software, buggy content software can be costly to your business. Because buggy content software can reduce the amount of time people spend with your marketing content, thereby lowering its productivity and effectiveness.
So before you publish the latest version of your content marketing software, make your best effort to remove all bugs.
To that end, here are two sets of content debugging tips that will help you exterminate a good many of these meddlesome maligners—in this case, 12 often misused words and phrases.
1. Squash common bugs that spellcheck allows to roam free
You’re objective hear (yes, that was intentional) is to engage an alert brain and sharp eyes to eradicate everyday writing errors that are made every day by writers everywhere.
Common bugs of this type include the following (unless otherwise noted, all examples are via Google search; italics are mine, nonstandard capitalization is per the original source).
You’re for your. As in this, from a marketer of CRM and project management software: “Job management software can do a lot for you, but if you’re software doesn’t have these three features (or if you don’t have any software at all), then it’s time….” Or this, from, of all entities, a marketing communications agency: “If you’re marketing campaign is in need of an audit, get in touch with us today.”
Your for you’re. From a realtor in Charleston, SC: “It makes no difference if your selling your first home or your fifth, it’s always a good idea….”
Then for than. As in these three examples from a blog post positing that marketing is a science as well as an art: “Since the entire demand generation process has become more complicated it is more important then ever…. But marketing is much more then just the content/materials produced…. Marketing has become more scientific then ever.” Methinks this writer could use some help with the science of linguistics.
Its for it’s. “Whether its a tech start-up taking their first leap into a new country, or a Fortune 500 powerhouse with a presence on every continent, Cloudwords for Salesforce Marketing Cloud helps marketers….”
It’s for its. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, no less a luminary than Thomas Jefferson frequently let this bug creep into his writing. For contemporary misusage I turn to a blog post titled “Digital Disruption. It’s here to stay”: “An example how a digital innovation could disrupt a traditional business model is WhatsApp, with it’s overwhelming impact on….”
There for their. From a company announcing a new version of its software: “We have made great strides and improvements to better enable our customers to streamline there business through our software.” And this webpage headline from a business consulting entity: “Smaller Manufacturers Need Software that fits there business model.”
Their for there. Another software company: “In other words, their is only one Inventory File, that one file holds all inventory items.”
They’re for their. I’ve been a subscriber to Forbes Magazine for many years and have always found the print edition to be meticulously edited. Apparently, the company has lower standards for forbes.com, as evidenced by these lines from an article about software giant Oracle: “Ironically, AWS is looking to be more like Oracle. At AWS recent confab #ReInvent they launched they’re own mega-database called Aurora to compete with Oracle.”
And then there’s this homepage copy: “Bestan ultimately incorporated they’re own tooling and a few overseas manufacturing lines until one day APTOS Technology evolved into its own.”
I daresay we’ve all given birth to one or more of the above critters in our personal emails. I know I have. But personal email is one thing, marketing content is another. Good writers, good marketing managers and content marketing managers will take care to keep the above-referenced bugs out of their company’s marketing content.
2. Avoid misuse that turns useful words into content software bugs
The adage* “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear” comes to mind as I hone in on examples to illustrate this category of bugs.
That’s because certain words are misused so frequently the misuse is widely accepted as correct. (For example, I purposely misused one such word in the preceding paragraph.)
Although these gaffes may go unnoticed by many, a sizable contingent will see these goofs for what they are: mistakes that tarnish the quality of your content.
I’ll start with bugs possessing such amazing reproductive powers that they epitomize the above “see, hear” quote.
Hone in. Be honest, did you catch my deliberate misuse? If you didn’t, rest assured you had plenty of reputable company.
For example, a prolific author and B2B marketing expert writes the following in a recent magazine article: “PDF e-books can be short and hone in on very narrow topics.” And no less a company than IBM misfires with this online copy: “StoredIQ Data Cleanup provides advanced visualizations and reports to help users better understand their data, hone in on policy issues, and quickly take action.”
No matter how many times you read and hear it, know this: “Hone in” is buggy content. Simply put, you read MarketingProfs to hone (i.e., sharpen) your marketing skills, and you may want to hone your steak knives before you host the big summertime family cookout. But you don’t hone in. On anything. The correct phrase is home in. As in homing pigeon. As in a heat-seeking missile homing in on its target. As in when you gather your marketing team in the conference room in order to home in on a solution to your latest marketing challenge.
Comprise. One of the most prevalent misuses of this verb, nearly 60 million Google results and counting, is the all-too-familiar comprised of. Please, people, for the sake of humanity—or at least those of us who care about careful wording—resolve now not to contribute to the comprised of pandemic.
Heed what Charles Harrington Elster writes in his highly readable book, The Accidents of Style; Good Advice on How to Not Write Badly: “[U]sage guides are sticklers on this point, cautioning that it is an unpardonable accident of style to use comprise to mean ‘to make up, constitute, compose.'”
To avoid turning this distinctive and useful word into a content bug, simply remember this premise: The whole comprises—consists of, incorporates—all the parts. For example, the following Web copy misses the mark: “Members comprise more than 9,000 commercial real estate professionals in more than 70 chapters across North America.” Revising this sentence, though, is as easy as adding a total of five letters to the first two words: “Member[ship] comprises[s] more than 9,000 commercial real estate professionals in more than 70 chapters across North America.”
Anxious. We all have moments in our lives when we experience feelings of uneasiness and anxiety. In these moments we are anxious. Correspondingly, those times are (one hopes) far outweighed by the enthusiasm and energy—the eagerness and optimism—we bring to our day-to-day lives. For instance, you may be a tad anxious about how well your big sales presentation is going to go over; but, because you’ve put in substantial prep time, you’re primed and ready and eager to get in front of your prospect and make the pitch.
It’s not a stretch to say that anxious and eager are antonyms.
Yet, if you search “anxious to” (a clear sign of probable misuse), you’ll get more than 23 million results, with 240,000 of those in Google news results.
Some of the most egregious examples of anxious misuse can be found in press releases: “‘Our space flight customers are anxious to replace their point-to-point data transmission solutions with space-qualified, radiation tolerant CAN transceivers,’ said Philip Chesley, senior vice president of Precision Products at Intersil.” (So, your customers have some trepidation about making the switch, do they? Don’t know if I’d be publicizing that fact.)
OK, go ahead and comment that I’m being snarky, because I suppose I am. But Intersil is a $ 1.6B (market cap) public company, and to let buggy content like that go out in a press release is inexcusable. It has an obligation to its shareholders to get it right.
Here’s another example, this one from the privately held $ 6B (sales) WinCo Foods announcing the opening of its 105th store: “The management team feels confident that the store will open with an excited and motivated crew of new employees and veterans who are anxious to meet and to begin serving their customers in Grants Pass.”
By all accounts, WinCo Foods is a highly successful company with a reputation for being an outstanding employer. All the more reason to get the wording of its press releases—all the wording—correct. To do otherwise is to tarnish, however slightly, its brand. Now in all fairness it’s obvious from the context of Winco’s copy that the intended meaning the writer meant to convey with anxious was, indeed, eager. Then why not just use eager?
The hone, comprise, anxious trio is merely representative of a much larger lineup of words that careless writers turn into buggy content every day. (For a PDF file of a more extensive listing email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject line: More debugging tips.)
Strive for a satisfying user experience with your content
In a blog post titled “The Seven Qualities of Wildly Desirable Software,” Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri lists user experience as the No. 1 quality, stating that “if you get the user experience wrong, nothing else matters.” The same holds true for your content marketing.
Taking persistent and consistent action on these two tips for debugging your content marketing software will help ensure that your readers have a satisfying experience with your marketing content. As a result, you’ll make your content more productive and effective for your business.
*According to “Did Poe Really Say That?“: “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear”…is a Poe quote, just not as he stated it. Found in his short story ‘The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,’ in the November 1845 issue of Graham’s Magazine, the statement is, ‘Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.'”