With more than 92,000 new articles published online each day, your content is perpetually engaged in a fierce battle. You’re trying to stand out from the pack—especially when it comes to search engine rankings.
In its guidelines, Google makes the following recommendations to ensure that you’re posting quality content that will perform well within its algorithms:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. What about explaining it to a Google employee? Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Posting anything less than top-quality content won’t just fail to earn your brand the attention you seek. It can actually damage your credibility, shrink brand awareness and stunt search engine performance.
Publishing high-quality, high-ranking content is a process that extends well beyond the initial development phase. Once it’s written, you should be putting your content through a rigorous editing process. This is designed to refine and improve it in five key areas: substance, style, accuracy, technical precision and SEO. Below, we’ll review these five aspects of content editing. We will break down the editing process and share valuable resources to help grow your editing expertise.
Content Marketing Editing Categories
There are several schools of thought related to content editing. When developing online content, the best way to approach this critical process is by breaking it down into five distinct categories.
There are various formulas for breaking down editing tasks. For business content, it helps to think about editing as having five specialties.
Substantive editing evaluates content based on how cohesively, clearly and effectively it communicates the intended message. Editors in this category work to weed out weak or confusing arguments. They also deal with logical inconsistencies and unproven statements. Basically, anything that doesn’t help to advance the piece’s strategic purpose.
When most people refer to editing, they typically have copy editing in mind. Copy editing is the process of reviewing and revising an article for style. Copy editors ensure a clear and consistent tone throughout a piece. It does this by eliminating technical jargon and poor word choices. Copy editing checks each sentence for correct grammar and punctuation.
Nothing depletes your credibility like inaccurate or false statements within an article. Fact-checking helps to prevent this type of misstep. It does this by confirming that statistics and other factual claims are true and accurate. This often entails conducting additional research beyond what should have been done at the content development stage.
Editing for search engine optimization ensures that content meets SEO guidelines. It includes critical keywords, tags, and other SEO components. If you don’t have much experience with SEO practices, it may be a good idea to outsource this task to a consultant well-versed in the SEO universe. They can help incorporate SEO elements without diminishing the readability or authenticity of your content.
Proofreading is the final failsafe in the editing process. A proofreader ensures that content is free from any grammatical, spelling or typographical errors. This person also checks to be sure that graphics, photos, and captions are correct.
When done properly, these steps in the editing process almost guarantee top-quality content that will perform well with both readers and search engines. The editing process is typically completed in the order listed, from substantive editing to proofreading. However, it’s not unusual to go back and forth between categories until a piece is perfected.
Streamlining the Process
Effective editing requires more than just technical knowledge. It also depends on good organization, communication, and workflow. It is possible for one editor to adequately cover the five primary areas discussed earlier. However, it’s more likely that several team members or subject matter experts will be involved in the editing and revision process.
Typically, one person—a substantive editor or project manager—should be responsible for coordinating the various editorial functions and making all final decisions. This person should have an in-depth understanding of the subject matter, industry and audience for which the content is being published.
A clear timeline and step-by-step process should be established at the outset to prevent errors and redundancy. If you’re working in a Word document, make sure everyone involved uses the Track Changes and Comments features. This helps to preserve older versions of the copy and track the evolution of the document.
Many content developers err on the side of not editing their content sufficiently. However, there is such a thing as too much editing. So, try to set a firm deadline for each phase of the process. Over-editing can make your piece sound choppy or artificial. With this, your content could end up being outdated by the time it’s approved for publication. It’s up to the substantive editor to guard against crippling perfectionism to get the piece out the door.
Common Content Pitfalls
While the editing required for any given piece will vary based on the subject matter and skill of the writer, some issues and errors crop up more frequently than others. The following examples will help you identify and address common problems in the five major editing components.
First and foremost, the goal of substantive editing is to ensure the content fulfills its editorial mission. Every piece you publish should align with the responses to the following questions:
- Who is your target audience?
- What does your target audience need from you?
- How does your content help meet your target audience’s needs?
If a blog post or article doesn’t meet those guidelines, send it back to the author for a massive overhaul.
Substantive editing should also ensure that content stays on-point and avoids “content creep.” Quality content is direct and concise, conveying its main points in as few words as possible.
Substantive editors need to review content for maintaining consistency. The piece’s style and tone must clearly communicate the brand strategy and position and value proposition of the company, organization or author while also speaking to the nature of the target audience.
Copy editors police the written word for effectiveness, accuracy, and style. These are some of their hot-button areas of focus:
- Headlines: A piece’s title or headline should be powerful, descriptive and persuasive. It will also need to incorporate critical keywords for SEO, which will require coordination with the editor responsible for SEO review.
- Voice: Active voice carries greater impact than passive voice and is nearly always the better choice. For example, the sentence “Bob rebuilt an antique car” is preferable to “An antique car was rebuilt by Bob.” Occasionally, passive voice is preferable; a good copy editor will be able to identify these rare situations.
- Pronouns: Copy editors ensure consistency when it comes to pronouns, since writers tend to drift from using “he,” “she” or “it” to “they,” especially when referring to companies or other organizations.
- Word choice: Using a word incorrectly or confusing two similar words can send the wrong message and chip away at a writer’s credibility. This list of commonly misused words and phrases is a helpful reference for anyone responsible for editing content.
- Punctuation: Use exclamation points sparingly—overuse can cause reader fatigue and make the author sound silly. Never use quotation marks for emphasis, and guard carefully against comma splices.
- Readability: Copy editors transform long, rambling paragraphs into easily-scanned chunks of text through the use of bullet points, subheadings and brief (three- to five-sentence) paragraphs.
As we have seen in recent years, the internet is a breeding ground for inaccurate, misleading or blatantly false information. For example, an article might claim that 75 percent of executives use a certain product, but if the reader checks the source (assuming the author even provides one) he or she will discover that this “fact” is based on a survey of 30 anonymous online respondents. Fact checkers follow up on any questionable claims and make sure that every statement in a piece has solid research to back it up.
Fact checkers also review basic information about companies and people to ensure that names, addresses, titles, product specifications, and other items are accurate, up-to-date and spelled correctly.
SEO editors are trained to identify not only missed opportunities for search engine optimization but also places where SEO efforts come across as forced, artificial or awkward. For example, packing too many similar keyword phrases into a single piece of content is both hard to read and counterproductive. Using a variety of keywords boosts SEO performance and makes content more enjoyable for its human audience as well. SEO editors may also incorporate links to other relevant content from the blog or website, which can enhance its authority when being assessed by search engines.
Proofreaders check content for accuracy and consistency in style and typography, making sure it follows generally accepted guidelines such as:
- Using one space (not two) after a period
- Consistent capitalization in headlines and headings
- Standardized font sizes and style throughout the piece, including headlines and subheads
Final Thoughts: When is the Editing Process Complete?
Several factors influence how thorough the editing process should be. This includes:
- Content type
- Characteristics of the target audience
- Publishing deadlines
- Editorial availability
In general, editing standards for a basic blog post are a bit more relaxed than those for a business white paper. However, a blog post targeting an academic audience may require greater editing resources than an article aimed at more casual readers.
Visual content like infographics, videos and slide presentations tends to have a greater impact on audiences than the printed word. Fact-checking these elements of your content is especially critical. Errors or unsupported facts in this area can cause significant harm to credibility if the information isn’t carefully vetted.
SEO editing is most important if your blog or website already incorporates a strategic SEO marketing program. Concerned this won’t happen? Optimizing single pieces likely will not have a strong impact on search engine performance. However, one should truly consider SEO as a foundation for content marketing strategies as soon as possible.
Most importantly, the editing process needs to ensure that content marketing is:
Additionally, it needs to address specific needs of target audiences. Maybe you have an editing team of one. If so, get multiple sets of eyes on every piece before publishing. Ensure messages are communicated clearly. Also, remember that less is more. If you’re not sure about a word, sentence or paragraph, leave it out.
The following style and content guides are excellent resources for both new and experienced editors:
- AP Stylebook: The Associated Press (AP) style manual is the go-to guide for news editors and journalists as well as millions of marketers and public relations professionals.
- The Chicago Manual of Style: Published by the University of Chicago, the CMS is the backbone of formatting and citation in many humanities fields. It also offers deep insight into the evolution and basis for its guidelines on grammar and word usage.
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers: The Modern Language Association (MLA) guide is primarily used for academic content.
- Purdue OWL: The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a comprehensive online resource for questions of CMS and MLA style.
- AMA Manual of Style: The American Medical Association’s style book is the primary guide for medical and scientific publishing.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: Academic and professional writers in the social and behavioral sciences rely on this manual for style and formatting guidelines.