Some sites begin with content heaps. And then some start with shiny, blank slates. The one thing that these two states of web development share is that overwhelming sensation of not knowing where to start.
Don’t worry—the process is daunting, but it’s far from impossible. And once you get going, it’s pretty easy to keep the ball rolling. Especially when you have help. Here are seven of our unofficial (now official?) rules for checking, editing, and assessing content of all kinds.
Mind your audience.
Sometimes, we forget who we’re writing for, which makes it really easy to write for ourselves. When that self-indulgent writing takes the form of journaling or a poetic soul search, that’s exactly what you want to be doing—however, if you’re writing in hopes of attracting someone’s business, you need to cater to them a little.
That’s not to say “just tell them what they want to hear.” More like tell your potential clients what they’ll want (or need) to know about you and what you’re selling and tell them in a way they’ll understand. Even famous authors across the board write at fourth and fifth grade reading levels—using a readability test to score your copy may help you make your site more accessible to a wider audience.
Know your story. Tell it well.
No one knows you and your business better than you do. That’s just a fact. Which means that you’re also the only one who can properly tell your story.
It’s not just the story that counts though—the style matters, too. You likely wouldn’t want to read anything that sounds like a technical manual or a cliche five-paragraph essay unless you had to. Your site visitors will be the same way if not more impatient to get to the crux of what they want to discover in your content. What’s included in your “About Us” section and how it’s delivered more deeply defines your organization than you may realize at first—leave a great lasting impression.
Keep the copy brief and relevant.
Sometimes the meaning of what you’re trying to say comes across more fluidly and more clearly when you condense it—meaning that a brief explanation of the point you want to get across in a world of short attention spans isn’t a bad idea.
You’ll also want to make sure that brief explanation stays on the rails, so to speak—wandering off your point is easy and doing that not only blurs your purpose, it also tends to make your clear, condensed statement into a wordy jumble of semi-helpful stuff.
Talk it out.
I’m going to keep circling back to this language point until we hit home. Your voice and tone in your content and the way you present what you want to say is crucial—you can make the greatest argument for your product’s superiority the Internet has ever seen, but if you talk over your audience’s heads, they won’t buy in. Maybe not even because they don’t want to. They might just not know what they’re supposed to do with the information they’re given—and that’s on you, the content creator and orchestrator, to help them get it.
No need for slang or memes. Just talk to them like the curious person they are. Talk to them like we’re talking right now—have a conversation with the users who will eventually visit your site. It’ll feel one-sided to you in the moment, but once they read your content and complete the conversation circle, it won’t feel that way to them.
Basically, people love talking to people and it’s really easy to sound robotic when you get waist-deep in the technicalities you might be familiar with, but your potential client isn’t. That’s why you’re the professional, after all. You know your stuff and your client will appreciate that you know your stuff—they just want to know that you can speak their language, too.
A picture’s worth a thousand words—make it count.
Let’s get off words for a little while. Let’s talk images.
The age-old phrase, “a picture’s worth a thousand words,”—by the way, I was totally kidding and there’s no way around talking about words when you’re hashing out content—rings true. Especially when a picture is paired with actual words.
Your copy is saying one thing—most likely in a very deliberate way. Your image is doing the same thing, just with a different method. Aligned, words and images are powerful and complement each other in ways only content of different types can. When their messages clash, the result is weirdly uncomfortable because the overall message is jumbled.
The thing to remember is that your goal is to take those thousand words (the figurative ones your image comes with) and use them to your best ability.
Don’t kick visitors off your site.
You finally snagged the attention of whoever’s on your site—one of the last things you want to do is lead them away from it. Linking to other sites to back up your points is great, but the goal isn’t to line your copy with hyperlinks to get a message across. The goal is to demonstrate that you’re the expert on whatever you’re talking about and here are sources X, Y, and Z to prove it.
The bottom line? Linking internally (to other relevant pages or posts on your site) is smart. Linking externally is also smart. Relying on external links might cost you your reader.
Pro tip: Whenever we incorporate external (or even internal) links into copy we’re working with, we do it in such a way that the link opens in a new tab or window when it’s clicked. If you have a way to add that setting, do that! Then your site will stay open and your reader can still see what you want to share with them.
Grammar and spelling are low level—not low importance.
The copy-editing phases of checking for grammatical and spelling errors are often written off and referred to as “low-level concerns.” They’re definitely part of the nitty-gritty phase of editing—putting the polish on the product and whatnot—but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.
“Low-level” shouldn’t be a demeaning word to throw at grammar and spelling. In reality, low-level can (and often does) mean that you have to look closer to see these mistakes.
Try a mountain metaphor—when you’re at the top, looking out over the landscape as a whole, you’re looking at high-level material. Specks upon specks of what may or may not yet be attractive content. The editing process is the long walk down the mountainside and, by the time we reach the bottom, we can see the details of the environment that we would’ve never been able to make out from the peak.
The TL;DR? We’re working our way from the overall concerns with the content as a whole down to the technical details, like whether we’re using passive voice appropriately (and that’s a whole other post on writing for another day).
Now that you’re in the process of staring your content inventory in its virtual face, it’s time to get that ball rolling. Go get ‘em, Content Crafter.