They say that if you read all of Wikipedia’s English web pages, it would take 17 years. If you’re part of a content marketing team, you are competing with infinite content in a world of shrinking attention spans.
But you already know that struggle, because you likely obsess about bounce rate, time spent on page, and similar metrics like the rest of us.
Is my reader getting what they want from this article? You wonder. Should I have used that other verb in my headline instead? You second-guess yourself while folding laundry.
So, what’s a content marketer to do? Throw in the towel because the internet is already saturated? Or perhaps you keep pecking away because, in the words of Stanley Kubrick, “Every story has been told, every scene has been shot. It’s our job to do it one better.”
Copy Editing Tip #1: Identify Your Reader and Your Why
“Know your audience” is cliché, but for a good reason: it’s a valid point that gets chronically overlooked. If you know what you want to write about, you should also know who, precisely, you want to read it. It may sound overly simplistic but start with the basic “5 Ws” like a journalist. Once you know who you’re writing for and what you’re writing about, identify yours why. This might be your motivation for writing or the next action you want your reader to take. If your goal is to drive more web visits, maybe you’re looking for social shares. If you're going to generate business leads, perhaps you’re asking them to download something in exchange for an email address.
The last two W’s are just logistics of course — when and where you publish.
Some argue that search intent matters more than keywords. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore keywords completely.
Why do keywords matter? Here’s a perfect example. When I started writing this post, I thought my keyword might be something like “writing checkpoints” or “blog checkpoints.” But a quick Google Trends check shows there’s not much search volume around those terms. “Copyediting,” on the other hand, is more typically sought out.
If you’re writing good content, but you’re not using natural language that people commonly use, it’s a missed opportunity. Think about it: are you more likely to do a Google search for “primary motivators” or “top reasons”? As more and more searches are voice-based (think Siri and Alexa), this train’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Writing in plain English helps with your Google rankings, but more importantly, your readers will thank you. If you get too fancy with your word choices, you may be trying too hard — and your readers will sense that. You’re like a teenager wearing high heels for the first time, and everyone looks on with a bit of second-hand anxiety.
When I first landed in the world of content marketing, I’d write a phrase like “primary motivators” because it sounded, well, professional. But the more years I’ve spent in the professional world, the more I realize that more professionalism isn’t what we need in business writing. What we need is simplicity. Fewer semicolons. Shorter sentences. My motto has become, “Keep it simple, keep it searchable.”
If anything makes me want to stand on my desk (à la Dead Poets Society), it’s this tip.
For the love of puppies and kittens — do. Not. Let. Your. Headline. Be. An. Afterthought. (I've thrown grammar rules to the wind for emphasis.)
In the words of Ann Handley, “A headline isn’t a final flourish, just something to tack on after the writing or video production is done. It’s your critical first impression: 80 percent of visitors will read your headline, but only 20 percent will go on to read the piece itself...”
Write for Skimmers
For all you skimmers out there (yes, you) — subheadlines are for you. Subheaders are weapons in the battle against reader distraction. They are hooks in an ocean of words. Use them.
Does your content pass this test — can you read only headlines and still have a pretty good idea of the main points? If so, you pass. Unless you're writing a murder mystery, don't worry about giving too much away with call-outs and subheads.
Even if your blog doesn’t have the technical capabilities of social click-to-share icons, you can still use free online tools to make your content easier to share on social. It takes an extra few minutes on your end but removes some of the effort needed on your readers’ part to share your blog post.
One way to do this is by creating a “click to tweet” link. How does it work? A click to tweet link means that if your reader clicks an inline hyperlink, they’ll see a new window that’s prepopulated with the message you’ve suggested they post to Twitter. Here’s an example:
If Twitter isn’t your cup of tea, Share Link Generator does the same thing but for Facebook, LinkedIn Google Plus, and even Pinterest.
Pro tip: Make sure you test your links before you publish. Sometimes link generators like these can turn a symbol like an apostrophe into something illegible (like “'”).
You could be the world's most brilliant thinker or writer, but that doesn't always equate to being a hawk on details. If chart-topping bestsellers like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King rely on editors before publishing, maybe we all should. Even if you lack resources for professional editors, you can still ask for help from those around you. Sometimes having just one extra set of eyes before you press can help catch a fatal flaw.
Similarly, if you're in marketing but writing something for a customer service audience, reach out to a contact in your organization’s customer service team to give it a quick read. You can't know everything — but you can know when it's time to ask for help.