WARNING: 7 Signs Your Content Sucks (and How to Fix It)

Reader beware... this could be you...

It hits you like a punch in the gut…

You’ve spent hours writing your post… then polished it lovingly until you thought it was perfect

Excited, you press “Publish” and wait…

… and wait…

… and wait.

No one leaves a comment.

Or shares it on Facebook.

Or Twitter.

And you can’t help but wonder: Are the gods against me? Or does my content really suck that bad?

The truth is… it might.

But with a few minor tweaks you can improve your content, entice in-depth comments and receive an avalanche of social media references and links.

In order to do this,  you must identify your content’s symptoms before you fix the problem.

The following are seven common “symptoms” of an unhealthy travel site. Each followed by a simple course of action to help remedy the problem.

#1. Your Headlines Suck.

Good headlines should not take long. This headline – a pretty good one if you ask me – includes several classic headline templates. (Note: you can grab 101 travel headline templates here).

To maximize click-throughs to your content, your headline must stop the reader in their tracks, then compel them to read further.

So what makes for a good headline?

John Caples, a legendary copywriter and avid tester, said a great headline must have at least one of three aspects:

Be newsworthy.

Everyone likes to “be in the know.” So let them know something is happening right NOW, with a news-style headline.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • “Southwest Airlines Announces New Frequent Flyer Program.” (“Announces” and “New” are commonly seen in headlines, and appear journalistic in nature).
  • “New Study Finds Airline Prices at Record Lows” (“New” is used again, and the words “Study” and “Finds” also lend credibility to the headline by alluding to a third-party source).

Now these two headlines are newsworthy… but they still suck.


Because while they may be newsworthy, it lacks a clear benefit to the reader. In other words, what will the reader gain by reading this?

So John Caples’ second element is to…

Provide a clear benefit.

Your reader decides almost instantly whether or not to read your article, based on the limited information in the headline.

You’ve got less than a second to let them know what’s in it for them.

Not you… them.

And the best way to do that is to include a specific benefit in your headline.

Let’s take our two earlier examples and see how adding a benefit can drastically improve them.

“Southwest Airlines Announces New Frequent Flyer Program: First Flight is Free.”

“New Study Finds Airline Prices at Record Lows (Plus: This Summer’s 7 Biggest Bargains).”

See  how each headline now conveys a very real benefit to the reader? In both cases, we understand the article will contain valuable information that may save us money on our next trip.

And who doesn’t like saving money on travel?

Not only do these headlines provide a clear benefit, they also…

Arouse curiosity.

John Caples said curiosity was a powerful element in effective headlines (though less than newsworthy or benefit-driven headlines). Gary Halbert – another legendary copywriter – said it was the best part of a headline.

Curiosity draws readers in by giving them a juicy detail, but leaving out the big picture.

For example:

“Why Travel Writers Have More Sex Abroad…”

Seriously, who wouldn’t click through to read  that? And the “…” at the end implies the answer is just around the corner, waiting for you at the end of the sentence.

Cool, huh?

Another way to arouse curiosity is by combining two seemingly opposite ideas and smashing them together.

For example:

“The Atheist’s Guide to Europe’s Top 10 Cathedrals”

You wouldn’t normally expect an atheist to write about cathedrals, right? But why not? The post could focus entirely on each cathedral’s architecture, and say nothing about the existence of a higher power.

Ask yourself: how much more original is that headline versus something bland like:

“My Personal Guide to Europe’s Top 10 Cathedrals”


Remedy:  Use proven headline templates – there are 101 of them here – and be sure to include news items, benefits and/or curiosity in EVERY headline you write.

In fact, write ten headlines and ask something else to choose their three favorites.  Then pick your favorite of those three. Chances are, it’ll be a winner.

#2. Your Relationships Suck.

This is a common problem among writers. We think that simply publishing killer content will result in hordes of traffic, wealth, fame and success.


The truth is: relationships are what make you a success.

I learned this the hard way. When I first started writing online I poured all my energy into writing content. “Networking” was not something I wanted to do… and it seemed like a waste of time.

Oh, how I was wrong.

When you create content – no matter how incredibly good it may be – it exists in a vacuum. It’s not until someone finds it and decides its worth sharing, mentioning, or linking to that it takes off.

Of course, who talks about your content matters.

For example, if Mike Richard from Vagabondish mentions your site on Twitter, you can receive dozens of retweets, gain new followers and see a spike in your traffic.

Your dad mentions you on Twitter? Unless it’s this guy, it probably won’t do much.

So how, pray tell, do you build relationships with major influencers?

Here’s a simple series which worked for me:

Comment on their blogs.  Make a valuable contribution to the conversation, not some generic “Hey nice post!” . Read their post, think about it, and add your own take on the matter. Do not include links back to your site in the comment unless it is PERFECT for the conversation.

Follow them on Twitter. Some people will automatically follow you back. Pick twenty bloggers you enjoy reading and follow them. Chancees are, at least a few will follow you back.

If they use Twitter often, send them a direct message (DM). Otherwise…

Email them. This method should be used last. Hopefully, you’ve already connected with them via the two previous methods. In your email you want to provide value, either by offering to write a guest post, interview them (or have them interview you)or help them out on their next project.

Remember: provide value throughout the entire process.

Remedy: Identify top influencers in your market and provide value in any possible way. Read this guide to help you get started with guest posting.

#3: Your Concept Sucks.

Your travel site needs an underlying theme to stand out.

Generally, there are two types of travel blogs:

Destination pieces like BootsnAll, Trekity or Lonely Planet. These sites focus on providing content by specific regions and/or activites. They strive to be encyclopedic in nature.

The other type of travel site is personality driven. Sites like Everywhereist are run by one writer who infuses every post with their personality. These sites don’t aim to cover everything, they aim to keep people entertained.

So which is better for you?

If you’re an exceedingly talented writer (like Geraldine) with a signature writing style, then a personality-driven site may be right for you.

Keep in mind, however, personality driven sites have a few disadvantages. First, they are difficult to sell at a premium (because with these sites the writer is the brand); and secondly, they tend to lack organization.

I’m sure you’ve seen this before.

A travel site will have three posts about Peru, one about Algeria, three about Minnesota… and absolutely nothing else on South America, the US or Africa.

Which makes the site look very thin.

On the other hand, a well thought-out and organized destination site can be scaled (i.e. you hire other writers) and easily sold for a premium down the line.

Of course, there is a third option which is…

The Hybrid Model

When we were developing Trekity, it was obvious we wanted a destination-based website. But we also wanted to inject more personality to attract links, stir up controversy and basically let me run my mouth like Carl Lewis on a coke binge.

So here’s what we did:

The main portion of the site is purely destination based. This makes the site extremely scalable, and very user-friendly. Then we created a blog – and linked to it throughout the site – which was personality driven.

The purpose of the blog was two-fold: build the Trekity brand by creating linkbait (e.g., the Dueling Destinations series) and secondly, to link to specific destination articles on the main site.

This hybrid approach is an excellent foundation to build your travel business on.

#4: Your Formatting Sucks

Try this out: take one of your favorite blog posts and remove all formatting. It should now look like one fearsome block of text.

Can you still read it?

Probably not.

Yet there are so many travel writers who believe an eight-line paragraph is perfectly acceptable, even though countless readability tests have shown it’s difficult to read.

One of the best things about writing online is: you have infinite space. It doesn’t matter how much space you use… no extra trees will die.

So instead of cramming your text together, space them out. Let the words breathe. And break up each paragraph so they’re all different lengths.

Throw in a few one liners, and you’re set.


But of course, it’s not just paragraphs. You also need to choose an easy-to-read font (Tahoma is my personal favorite)and make it large enough to read.

Not sure which font you want? Use this tool to instantly compare three different typographies. You can even change the spacing, size and lead until you find the perfect typography for you.

Use of Images/Video

Use images and video to break up your content, and add interesting sub-layers to the article. Images usually look best either immediately before or after subject headings, though an exception to this is when the image ties in literally with your writing.

For example, if your article is a narrative and you say: “Suddenly, the valley opened up below, blanketed in green grass…”  then a photo of that image could be placed shortly afterward.

Do not make a habit of this, as your words should move the reader along. Too many images in the middle of paragraphs can ultimately distract your reader.

Same with video.

Stopping to watch a video will really distract your reader… and the temptation to click-through to YouTube may be too much for some to resist.

Remedy: Free up your paragraphs. Include images and video to break up the flow of copy. If you can scroll down the page and see nothing but paragraphs, break it up with haeders, images, videos… anything that makes it easy to read!

#5: Your Opening Paragraph Sucks.

It’s like a one-two punch.

The headline stuns the visitor… while the opening paragraph hits them with the good stuff.

At least, that’s the idea.

Unfortunately, many opening paragraphs fall flatter than a soufflé in a snowstorm. And I think it’s because travel writers don’t know the true purpose of a first paragraph.

So what pray tell, is the purpose of the opening paragraph?

  • Is it to set the tone of your travel piece?
  • Is it to establish a character and/or situation that is core to your post?
  • Is it to grab the reader’s attention?

Yes, yes, and yes… but… the REAL purpose of your first paragraph is to…

Get Them to Read the SECOND Paragraph!

And once you do, get them to read the third, fourth and so on.

We could go on and on about this, but there’s enough good stuff online already written on the subject.

Remedy: Improve your opening paragraphs. Read this article from Copyblogger, and put it to good use.

#6: Your Tone Is More Dead Than An Orgy of Necrophiliacs

That’s a brutal image, right? But it sticks, doesn’t it? And frankly, that’s exactly what good writing is….


And nothing… absolutely nothing sticks better in your readers head than a conversational tone.

How do you sound conversational?

Simple, write your content for one person.

Just one.

So instead of using the editorial-but-distant “we”…

Use “I,”… “me” and “you.”

And when joining ideas, make sure to use a healthy dose of transitions.  Lead with a transition and force the reader to finish the sentence.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Look at it this way…”
  • “And according to…”
  • “Furthermore…”
  • “Studies have shown…”
  • “But it gets better…”

Remedy: here’s a list of over 100 transitions to make your writing more conversational.

#7. You’re Not Asking For It

Wanna know how to get more tweets/shares/comments? Ask for them! Studies have shown that by adding “RT” – which means “retweet” – dramatically improves your retweets.

Same with comments.

And – just to prove I practice what I preach – you should comment below about “sucky” content, and what we can do about it.

Join in below!

About adamcosta

Adam Costa is co-founder and Editor in Chief of both Trekity.com and TravelBloggerAcademy. He currently lives... um... somewhere.

Fill out this simple form and gain INSTANT access to Travelblogging 101: The Ultimate Guide to Building & Running a Profitable Travel Blog!


  1. Thank you - your content doesn’t suck! Frankly I really struggle with copywriting, and particularly with headlines. I tend to write them for SEO purposes and drag readers in that way - but every now and then I do try to do something that is “clickable” - with mixed success.

    One of the irritations I have with WordPress is that it often loses the white space between paragraphs - I then I have to go back and force it - or delete the unecessary div tags it added. Weird and they’ve never fixed it over the years

    I like your red subheadings - might steal that idea if I may!

    • Lissie,

      Headlines are the single most important element in copywriting. When I wrote copy professionally, I would often spend half my time writing just the headline.

      In fact, when I began this blog, I wrote 100 headlines and asked my wife to choose her top 20. Those became the first posts on this blog.

      I simply cannot overstress the importance of a strong headline. On average, for every ten people who see your headline, only two will read your entire post. A good headline can bring that number up considerably.

      There are 101 headline templates for travel bloggers here: http://travelbloggeracademy.com/101-headlines-travel-blogs/

      Feel free to use any of the 202 examples - along with the red sub-heads - I’ve included there 😉

  2. BTW could you please install a subscribe to comment plugin - it’s a pain trying to follow the conversation in blogs without it - feel free to delete this comment

  3. Great advice, like so many of the articles here! An FYI- many of the links do not seem active (for example the links to 101 good headlines and the article from Copyblogger. I have read the headlines article and quite enjoyed it- a link would be great!

  4. As the commenter above pointed out. the link to Copyblogger is not working, the other I didn’t click on - yet! Thank you for the very much needed article of yours!

  5. I had been writing travel articles for more than three years now but had never read tips like these. I can understand why my articles did not get much traffic. Am on into tweaking some of my posts now.

  6. Thanks for another great advice peice! I’ve had my browser open to your site for a few days, drinking all that advice like good whisky and I have to say, if you meant to keep people here a few days (albeit, I often get distracted, so maybe it’s more like a few hours accross several days) then you’ve acheived your aim.

    Also, you said:

    “#1. Your Headlines Suck.

    Good headlines should not take long. This headline – a pretty good one if you ask me – includes several classic headline templates. (Note: you can grab 101 travel headline templates here).”

    But there was no link. I feel there should have been one after note?


  7. Hi Adam,
    This was a really helpful post - wish I didn’t need to be constantly reminded about headlines but unfortunately I do!
    Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  8. Killer ideas bro.