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15 Digital Content Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Brand



15 Digital Content Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Brand

Just as content can help your brand, it can hurt it, too.

Publishing the wrong content can take many forms, but the end results are similar. At worst, it could seriously damage your brand. At best, your content will be ignored.

I’ve rounded up most of the biggest suspects when it comes to content that does more harm than good, so you can avoid them and only create content that really helps your brand.

1. Too much promotional content

Ever been stuck in a conversation with a serial bragger? Yawn.

People who go on about how great they are get boring fast – the same goes for brands. After all, your relationship with your customers should be about them, not you. If you ignore their needs, they’ll assume you’ve got nothing for them and head elsewhere.

The 80/20 rule has been cited as the effective social media content ratio. Focus 80% of your posts on informing and entertaining your followers, while just 20% should be about your business. Similarly, the five-three-two rule says for every 10 posts published, five should be curated from others’ content, three should be original to your brand, and two should be personal and fun to humanize your brand.

But do these rules still hold true? In general, yes. While the ratio may vary, always put your audience first when choosing what to publish.

Always put your audience first when choosing what to publish, says @IrwinHau via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

TIP: Not sure if your brand is dominating the conversation? Review your past month of posts and identify how many are related to what’s important to your brand and how many are related to what’s important to your audience. (Some may address both audiences.) If the number for your brand is higher than for your audience, you’re talking too much about the brand.

2. Email inundation

Consider these two eye-opening statistics: 76% of customers expect consistent interaction with a brand regardless of department. Yet only 54% say it seems sales, service, and marketing teams are siloed and don’t share information.

That disconnect often shows up in the customers’ inboxes. For example, a promotional email is sent. Within minutes, a newsletter shows up in an inbox, followed two hours later with a feedback request from customer service.

That lack of cohesive distribution can prompt your audience to be frustrated with the quantity and disparate connection of your brand’s communication. They are likely to unsubscribe from all your brand’s emails – even the ones they found some value.

Work across silos to coordinate your email outreach with your audience. If that’s not feasible, update your “unsubscribe” form to give them choices on what content they would like to receive (and not receive.)

Word across silos to coordinate #email outreach with your audience so you don’t inundate them, says @IrwinHau via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet


3. Overly negative content

Doomscrolling is a thing, but it shouldn’t be something your brand leans into. Though negative content is shared more than positive content, the publisher of that negative content is not necessarily regarded more highly.

I don’t see talking about a customer’s pain points as the same as negative content. If you offer a solution, that’s good marketing. But if you start and end on a negative note, your brand is just being a downer.

4. Talk about potentially controversial topics

Since the 1800s, some form of the saying, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company,” has been around. And the same holds true for brands when talking to their audiences.

Bring up highly polarizing and emotional topics only if they are part of your brand’s mission and approach to business. If they are, do so in a measured and well-researched way.

5. Bad writing and design

If your words are riddled with poor grammar, your message won’t sit right and may not even be understood. The same goes for poor design of your content. Good writing and design have the power to build your brand’s personality, weave stories, and inspire.

6. Inconsistent voice

Along with bad copy and bad design, content that seems to have a personality crisis is another major turnoff.

#Content that seems to have a personality crisis is another major turnoff, says @IrwinHau via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

One minute, your brand posts cat memes related to your topic. The next post is a deep think piece. You end up with a puzzled audience who don’t have a clue as to what your brand’s voice is.

Always keep your brand voice and style in mind as you create and publish content.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 5 Steps to Find Your Brand Voice

7. Boring subject lines

Sixty-four percent say they decide to open emails based on subject lines, according to a 2021 Barilliance survey. And still, subject lines like “read me” or “check this out” are a dime a dozen. While they may directly invite someone to open the email, they don’t really speak to the recipient. They also don’t help the readers understand what they might get if they open it.

Craft engaging subject lines and personalize them whenever possible.

8. Same content on every platform

A lot of brands cross-distribute the same content on all their social media channels. But that possible time-saving technique could have a negative effect because the platforms are not interchangeable.

Each social platform has a distinct style, tone, and format. They also attract different demographics. LinkedIn is professional, text heavy, and formal. Instagram is visual and image heavy, whereas Twitter is good for bite-sized bits of information and images.

As you create the content, think about your platform and your audience on that platform, and tailor your content accordingly. If you don’t, it’ll feel out of place, and your audience won’t respond as readily.

Think about your platform and your audience and tailor your #content accordingly, says @IrwinHau via @CMIContent. #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

9. Unaccredited content

Using someone else’s content and passing it off as your own is not a good look. The same is true for incorporating images, quotes, videos, survey results and not giving proper credit to the original source.

If you want to republish or excerpt content significantly, get permission and credit accordingly. If you don’t get the OK, look for an alternative source. If you use information from another source in your content, cite and link to the original source.

10. Hashtag-stuffed content

Hashtags have a place: They help people find your content and join the conversation. But add too many, and you just look a bit desperate. Too many hashtags can also make the content difficult to read and dilute the impact of the most relevant ones.

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, but it recommends using only three to five for the best results. While Twitter allows as many hashtags that fit in its 280 characters, it recommends no more than two as a best practice. That’s another reason to tailor your content for each platform, not automatically cross-publishing.

11. Unreviewed user-generated content

When you share user-generated content indiscriminately, you could end up in trouble. It could include incorrect assertions, images or content that weren’t theirs to share, or come from someone who publicly doesn’t align with your brand’s voice and mission.

To minimize the risk, make sure your brand does a little research before they share the content on your channels. Review the creator’s profile, double-check any facts cited in the content, etc.

12. Writing that doesn’t reflect your audience

You can create content about topics relevant to your audience, but you won’t attract your target audience if you don’t write with that audience in mind.

For example, writing on a topic so the general public would understand wouldn’t be appropriate if your target audience are already well-informed on the topic. As you create, ask: Is this content appropriate for my readership? Will they find value in the information? What reading level should I target?

13. Outdated or unsubstantiated material

You publish factually correct content, but what happens if the facts change over time? What if new information is learned that makes your older content out of date? When in doubt? Take down the potentially outdated content. Delete the page. Or, if the page has a good search ranking, update the page to reflect the most accurate or recently available information.

Whether old or new, avoid claiming something to be true unless you have proof. If you don’t, you could face legal complications, or at least your audience will see your content as less trustworthy.

14. Non-EAT content

Gaming your content to attract search rankings in Google doesn’t bode well. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and content published only in hopes of ranking higher. Google is focused on content that its users find valuable.

That’s why Google adopted the E-A-T guidelines – expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. While you can keep up to date on the latest SEO rules, tips, and tricks, the most important thing to keep in mind for search, your brand, and your audience is EAT content.

15. Jumping on trends that aren’t on-brand

Hopping on viral content can be a great way to generate traffic. But, if what you’re posting isn’t on-brand with the rest of your content, it’s confusing to your audience and builds little brand equity.

If you’re unsure about whether something is on-brand for your company, ask a non-marketing person in the organization for a second opinion. They’ll have both an outside and inside perspective, so they can point out inconsistencies or confusion between departments.

Help your brand

As much as we’d all love for this to be true, everyone has seen examples of each kind of bad content mentioned above at least once in their internet life. Now that you know what types of content hurt brands, make sure you steer clear of these common mistakes when creating pieces for your own company’s blog or social media page.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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The Complete Guide to Becoming an Authentic Thought Leader



The Complete Guide to Becoming an Authentic Thought Leader

Introduce your processes: If you’ve streamlined a particular process, share it. It could be the solution someone else is looking for.

Jump on trends and news: If there’s a hot topic or emerging trend, offer your unique perspective.

Share industry insights: Attended a webinar or podcast that offered valuable insights. Summarize the key takeaways and how they can be applied.

Share your successes: Write about strategies that have worked exceptionally well for you. Your audience will appreciate the proven advice. For example, I shared the process I used to help a former client rank for a keyword with over 2.2 million monthly searches.

Question outdated strategies: If you see a strategy that’s losing steam, suggest alternatives based on your experience and data.

5. Establish communication channels (How)

Once you know who your audience is and what they want to hear, the next step is figuring out how to reach them. Here’s how:

Choose the right platforms: You don’t need to have a presence on every social media platform. Pick two platforms where your audience hangs out and create content for that platform. For example, I’m active on LinkedIn and X because my target audience (SEOs, B2B SaaS, and marketers) is active on these platforms.

Repurpose content: Don’t limit yourself to just one type of content. Consider repurposing your content on Quora, Reddit, or even in webinars and podcasts. This increases your reach and reinforces your message.

Follow Your audience: Go where your audience goes. If they’re active on X, that’s where you should be posting. If they frequent industry webinars, consider becoming a guest on these webinars.

Daily vs. In-depth content: Balance is key. Use social media for daily tips and insights, and reserve your blog for more comprehensive guides and articles.

Network with influencers: Your audience is likely following other experts in the field. Engaging with these influencers puts your content in front of a like-minded audience. I try to spend 30 minutes to an hour daily engaging with content on X and LinkedIn. This is the best way to build a relationship so you’re not a complete stranger when you DM privately.

6. Think of thought leadership as part of your content marketing efforts

As with other content efforts, thought leadership doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It thrives when woven into a cohesive content marketing strategy. By aligning individual authority with your brand, you amplify the credibility of both.

Think of it as top-of-the-funnel content to:

  • Build awareness about your brand

  • Highlight the problems you solve

  • Demonstrate expertise by platforming experts within the company who deliver solutions

Consider the user journey. An individual enters at the top through a social media post, podcast, or blog post. Intrigued, they want to learn more about you and either search your name on Google or social media. If they like what they see, they might visit your website, and if the information fits their needs, they move from passive readers to active prospects in your sales pipeline.

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How to Increase Survey Completion Rate With 5 Top Tips



How to Increase Survey Completion Rate With 5 Top Tips

Collecting high-quality data is crucial to making strategic observations about your customers. Researchers have to consider the best ways to design their surveys and then how to increase survey completion, because it makes the data more reliable.

→ Free Download: 5 Customer Survey Templates [Access Now]

I’m going to explain how survey completion plays into the reliability of data. Then, we’ll get into how to calculate your survey completion rate versus the number of questions you ask. Finally, I’ll offer some tips to help you increase survey completion rates.

My goal is to make your data-driven decisions more accurate and effective. And just for fun, I’ll use cats in the examples because mine won’t stop walking across my keyboard.

Why Measure Survey Completion

Let’s set the scene: We’re inside a laboratory with a group of cat researchers. They’re wearing little white coats and goggles — and they desperately want to know what other cats think of various fish.

They’ve written up a 10-question survey and invited 100 cats from all socioeconomic rungs — rough and hungry alley cats all the way up to the ones that thrice daily enjoy their Fancy Feast from a crystal dish.

Now, survey completion rates are measured with two metrics: response rate and completion rate. Combining those metrics determines what percentage, out of all 100 cats, finished the entire survey. If all 100 give their full report on how delicious fish is, you’d achieve 100% survey completion and know that your information is as accurate as possible.

But the truth is, nobody achieves 100% survey completion, not even golden retrievers.

With this in mind, here’s how it plays out:

  • Let’s say 10 cats never show up for the survey because they were sleeping.
  • Of the 90 cats that started the survey, only 25 got through a few questions. Then, they wandered off to knock over drinks.
  • Thus, 90 cats gave some level of response, and 65 completed the survey (90 – 25 = 65).
  • Unfortunately, those 25 cats who only partially completed the survey had important opinions — they like salmon way more than any other fish.

The cat researchers achieved 72% survey completion (65 divided by 90), but their survey will not reflect the 25% of cats — a full quarter! — that vastly prefer salmon. (The other 65 cats had no statistically significant preference, by the way. They just wanted to eat whatever fish they saw.)

Now, the Kitty Committee reviews the research and decides, well, if they like any old fish they see, then offer the least expensive ones so they get the highest profit margin.

CatCorp, their competitors, ran the same survey; however, they offered all 100 participants their own glass of water to knock over — with a fish inside, even!

Only 10 of their 100 cats started, but did not finish the survey. And the same 10 lazy cats from the other survey didn’t show up to this one, either.

So, there were 90 respondents and 80 completed surveys. CatCorp achieved an 88% completion rate (80 divided by 90), which recorded that most cats don’t care, but some really want salmon. CatCorp made salmon available and enjoyed higher profits than the Kitty Committee.

So you see, the higher your survey completion rates, the more reliable your data is. From there, you can make solid, data-driven decisions that are more accurate and effective. That’s the goal.

We measure the completion rates to be able to say, “Here’s how sure we can feel that this information is accurate.”

And if there’s a Maine Coon tycoon looking to invest, will they be more likely to do business with a cat food company whose decision-making metrics are 72% accurate or 88%? I suppose it could depend on who’s serving salmon.

While math was not my strongest subject in school, I had the great opportunity to take several college-level research and statistics classes, and the software we used did the math for us. That’s why I used 100 cats — to keep the math easy so we could focus on the importance of building reliable data.

Now, we’re going to talk equations and use more realistic numbers. Here’s the formula:

Completion rate equals the # of completed surveys divided by the # of survey respondents.

So, we need to take the number of completed surveys and divide that by the number of people who responded to at least one of your survey questions. Even just one question answered qualifies them as a respondent (versus nonrespondent, i.e., the 10 lazy cats who never show up).

Now, you’re running an email survey for, let’s say, Patton Avenue Pet Company. We’ll guess that the email list has 5,000 unique addresses to contact. You send out your survey to all of them.

Your analytics data reports that 3,000 people responded to one or more of your survey questions. Then, 1,200 of those respondents actually completed the entire survey.

3,000/5000 = 0.6 = 60% — that’s your pool of survey respondents who answered at least one question. That sounds pretty good! But some of them didn’t finish the survey. You need to know the percentage of people who completed the entire survey. So here we go:

Completion rate equals the # of completed surveys divided by the # of survey respondents.

Completion rate = (1,200/3,000) = 0.40 = 40%

Voila, 40% of your respondents did the entire survey.

Response Rate vs. Completion Rate

Okay, so we know why the completion rate matters and how we find the right number. But did you also hear the term response rate? They are completely different figures based on separate equations, and I’ll show them side by side to highlight the differences.

  • Completion Rate = # of Completed Surveys divided by # of Respondents
  • Response Rate = # of Respondents divided by Total # of surveys sent out

Here are examples using the same numbers from above:

Completion Rate = (1200/3,000) = 0.40 = 40%

Response Rate = (3,000/5000) = 0.60 = 60%

So, they are different figures that describe different things:

  • Completion rate: The percentage of your respondents that completed the entire survey. As a result, it indicates how sure we are that the information we have is accurate.
  • Response rate: The percentage of people who responded in any way to our survey questions.

The follow-up question is: How can we make this number as high as possible in order to be closer to a truer and more complete data set from the population we surveyed?

There’s more to learn about response rates and how to bump them up as high as you can, but we’re going to keep trucking with completion rates!

What’s a good survey completion rate?

That is a heavily loaded question. People in our industry have to say, “It depends,” far more than anybody wants to hear it, but it depends. Sorry about that.

There are lots of factors at play, such as what kind of survey you’re doing, what industry you’re doing it in, if it’s an internal or external survey, the population or sample size, the confidence level you’d like to hit, the margin of error you’re willing to accept, etc.

But you can’t really get a high completion rate unless you increase response rates first.

So instead of focusing on what’s a good completion rate, I think it’s more important to understand what makes a good response rate. Aim high enough, and survey completions should follow.

I checked in with the Qualtrics community and found this discussion about survey response rates:

“Just wondering what are the average response rates we see for online B2B CX surveys? […]

Current response rates: 6%–8%… We are looking at boosting the response rates but would first like to understand what is the average.”

The best answer came from a government service provider that works with businesses. The poster notes that their service is free to use, so they get very high response rates.

“I would say around 30–40% response rates to transactional surveys,” they write. “Our annual pulse survey usually sits closer to 12%. I think the type of survey and how long it has been since you rendered services is a huge factor.”

Since this conversation, “Delighted” (the Qualtrics blog) reported some fresher data:

survey completion rate vs number of questions new data, qualtrics data

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The takeaway here is that response rates vary widely depending on the channel you use to reach respondents. On the upper end, the Qualtrics blog reports that customers had 85% response rates for employee email NPS surveys and 33% for email NPS surveys.

A good response rate, the blog writes, “ranges between 5% and 30%. An excellent response rate is 50% or higher.”

This echoes reports from Customer Thermometer, which marks a response rate of 50% or higher as excellent. Response rates between 5%-30% are much more typical, the report notes. High response rates are driven by a strong motivation to complete the survey or a personal relationship between the brand and the customer.

If your business does little person-to-person contact, you’re out of luck. Customer Thermometer says you should expect responses on the lower end of the scale. The same goes for surveys distributed from unknown senders, which typically yield the lowest level of responses.

According to SurveyMonkey, surveys where the sender has no prior relationship have response rates of 20% to 30% on the high end.

Whatever numbers you do get, keep making those efforts to bring response rates up. That way, you have a better chance of increasing your survey completion rate. How, you ask?

Tips to Increase Survey Completion

If you want to boost survey completions among your customers, try the following tips.

1. Keep your survey brief.

We shouldn’t cram lots of questions into one survey, even if it’s tempting. Sure, it’d be nice to have more data points, but random people will probably not hunker down for 100 questions when we catch them during their half-hour lunch break.

Keep it short. Pare it down in any way you can.

Survey completion rate versus number of questions is a correlative relationship — the more questions you ask, the fewer people will answer them all. If you have the budget to pay the respondents, it’s a different story — to a degree.

“If you’re paying for survey responses, you’re more likely to get completions of a decently-sized survey. You’ll just want to avoid survey lengths that might tire, confuse, or frustrate the user. You’ll want to aim for quality over quantity,” says Pamela Bump, Head of Content Growth at HubSpot.

2. Give your customers an incentive.

For instance, if they’re cats, you could give them a glass of water with a fish inside.

Offer incentives that make sense for your target audience. If they feel like they are being rewarded for giving their time, they will have more motivation to complete the survey.

This can even accomplish two things at once — if you offer promo codes, discounts on products, or free shipping, it encourages them to shop with you again.

3. Keep it smooth and easy.

Keep your survey easy to read. Simplifying your questions has at least two benefits: People will understand the question better and give you the information you need, and people won’t get confused or frustrated and just leave the survey.

4. Know your customers and how to meet them where they are.

Here’s an anecdote about understanding your customers and learning how best to meet them where they are.

Early on in her role, Pamela Bump, HubSpot’s Head of Content Growth, conducted a survey of HubSpot Blog readers to learn more about their expertise levels, interests, challenges, and opportunities. Once published, she shared the survey with the blog’s email subscribers and a top reader list she had developed, aiming to receive 150+ responses.

“When the 20-question survey was getting a low response rate, I realized that blog readers were on the blog to read — not to give feedback. I removed questions that wouldn’t serve actionable insights. When I reshared a shorter, 10-question survey, it passed 200 responses in one week,” Bump shares.

Tip 5. Gamify your survey.

Make it fun! Brands have started turning surveys into eye candy with entertaining interfaces so they’re enjoyable to interact with.

Your respondents could unlock micro incentives as they answer more questions. You can word your questions in a fun and exciting way so it feels more like a BuzzFeed quiz. Someone saw the opportunity to make surveys into entertainment, and your imagination — well, and your budget — is the limit!

Your Turn to Boost Survey Completion Rates

Now, it’s time to start surveying. Remember to keep your user at the heart of the experience. Value your respondents’ time, and they’re more likely to give you compelling information. Creating short, fun-to-take surveys can also boost your completion rates.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2010 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Take back your ROI by owning your data



Treasure Data 800x450

Treasure Data 800x450

Other brands can copy your style, tone and strategy — but they can’t copy your data.

Your data is your competitive advantage in an environment where enterprises are working to grab market share by designing can’t-miss, always-on customer experiences. Your marketing tech stack enables those experiences. 

Join ActionIQ and Snowplow to learn the value of composing your stack – decoupling the data collection and activation layers to drive more intelligent targeting.

Register and attend “Maximizing Marketing ROI With a Composable Stack: Separating Reality from Fallacy,” presented by Snowplow and ActionIQ.

Click here to view more MarTech webinars.

About the author

Cynthia RamsaranCynthia Ramsaran

Cynthia Ramsaran is director of custom content at Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land and MarTech. A multi-channel storyteller with over two decades of editorial/content marketing experience, Cynthia’s expertise spans the marketing, technology, finance, manufacturing and gaming industries. She was a writer/producer for and produced thought leadership for KPMG. Cynthia hails from Queens, NY and earned her Bachelor’s and MBA from St. John’s University.

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