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Copywriting: 7 more copy editing tactics to improve your content

January 24th, 2014 2 comments

In copy editing, there’s always something new to learn.

In the past few months since writing my first post on editing, “Content Marketing: 7 copy editing tips to improve any content piece,” I’ve had the chance to sit down with members of the Content Team at MECLABS and develop an updated company style guide.

Also, I was given the opportunity to move into the role of editorial analyst and have had the privilege of reviewing candidates for a new copy editor (we’re still looking if you’re interested).

All of these changes in my current role have made me reflect on practices and techniques I naturally developed over the past year. I’ve taken lessons learned from mistakes, tips from colleagues and from my own experiences in editing and found that you never really stop learning when it comes to perfecting your content.

 

Tip #1. Make a checklist

Sometimes, editing can seem overwhelming when there are so many things to check for accuracy:

  • Individual names
  • Company names
  • Job titles
  • Headlines
  • Links
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Bulleted lists
  • Images

Ultimately, anything used to create content needs to be vetted in the editing process.

To help keep your mind focused on the things you need to be looking out for, make checklists for yourself to ensure your editing covers all of the key elements in the piece.

Write them down and pin them to your cubicle wall or set reminders to refer back to while you’re editing, especially if you’re editing content that is particularly lengthy.

Checklists are also helpful when you’re implementing something new in your process. This can help you start remembering to include it in your daily routine.

 

Tip #2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As an editor, you have the power to change content as you see fit. The tone, context, word choices and everything else is in your hands.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

You should respect and consider two different groups of needs in order to improve your editing beyond simple grammar and punctuation changes:

  • The author’s need for a distinct voice.
  • The audience’s need for content that’s relevant to their interests and useful to their needs.

Respecting the author’s voice involves keeping it intact throughout. Good editors can spot who wrote an article without looking at a byline. Everyone has their own style of writing in the same way everyone has their own way of speaking.

While there may be changes for clarity or if something is just plain incorrect, editors should not go out of their way to remove the author’s unique voice from a piece.

This could mean removing an opinion if the article is not a subjective piece, but their style of writing should not be completely muted if it is not interfering with your editorial guidelines.

The second group you must respect is your audience, and the way to do this is to know them.

One way to do this is by reading the feedback you receive in your comments section. If people are expressing confusion or want to know more about a topic, address their needs by working those concerns into your next article or blog post.

As I’ve learned, one of the fastest ways to lose an audience is when using jargon. You may have a cozy understanding of it, but your audience doesn’t.

Do not include acronyms, terms or phrases that readers could be unfamiliar with. Instead, use a brief explanation and hyperlink to content that will help them gain a deeper understanding of the concepts.

 

Tip #3. Search engines are your best friend

Run into terms not in your stylebook?

Author using a phrase you’re not familiar with? Don’t just guess – search!

In marketing, there are quite a number of terms that don’t have standard spelling or punctuation.

Words like e-commerce, website, webpage, e-book and other Web terms (even the word “Web” itself) have different ways of being referenced.

You can set style standards for these, however, once in a blue moon, you will encounter something new that you need to make a decision on.

To help keep our decisions consistent, my team just wrapped up a revised version of our company style guide. In its 32 pages, we attempted to cover our usage of words that differ from how other companies typically use them.

We added some things and threw some things out.

For anything not covered in our style guide, we default to the Associated Press Stylebook to cover our bases.

My point here is instead of just picking guidelines at random, think of how your company uses certain words or phrases and search for those terms online to see how others are using them.

 

Tip #4. Make your bulleted lists consistent

Bulleted lists are great when you have a list of items too long for a sentence, or just need to separate thoughts to get your point across.

When making lists, be sure to keep your style in those lists consistent. This could mean choosing whether to make your lists complete sentences or not, ending them in punctuation or not, or maybe choosing a tense to stay in.

For example, I wanted to start by showing you one way not to do a list:

The top four goals our team has this year are:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Making sure the website is updated
  • We should be holding conference calls every week.
  • Email marketing

Here’s a way I would edit this list to be more uniform in style, grammar and punctuation:

The top four goals our team has this year are to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Update the website as needed
  • Hold conference calls every week
  • Improve our email marketing efforts

Read more…

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Do You Make These 5 Mistakes in Content Marketing?

January 21st, 2014 3 comments

It’s the start of a new year. We’ve made resolutions to fix mistakes we make in our diet, in our exercise frequency and in our relationships – put content marketing on your list as well.

 

Mistake #1. Toeing the company line

Sure, your company is engaged in content marketing because it has a message to get out in the world.

But nobody, except maybe your agency and brand police, cares about that message.

They care about themselves. Content marketing is inherently permission-based and inbound. Your content marketing needs to focus on what the customer really cares about.

The headline for this blog post was (lovingly) ripped off a legendary, high-performing ad for Sherwin Cody’s English course.

Sherwin explained, “There is but one sane, salesmanlike way to begin a selling letter, and that is with the customer and his needs, his troubles, his fight for life and success.”

That rings even more true in content marketing.

Overcome Mistake #1. How to use social media to help discover why customers buy from you

 

Mistake #2. Teasing

Local TV news promo commercials are the worst. They always hint at something of value, but only deliver if you tune in to the newscast.

Content marketing should, in and of itself, deliver value. It should help fulfill a customer need. It should help solve a customer’s trouble.

Overcome Mistake #2. Focus on value, not length

 

Mistake #3. Lonely content

No content is an island.

How does the content you’re creating tie into every other way your company is communicating?

Ideally, you would have an overall structure for your content with logical paths for the reader to follow. Those paths aren’t always linear since human decision making in a data-rich world is not linear.

However, they offer logical progressions and opportunities for further engagement through channels that your audience already uses.

Overcome Mistake #3. A process for evaluating content channels

 

Mistake #4. Telling customers how brilliant your company is

The people in your company are likely brilliant at something. Your software engineers are brilliant at de-bugging Java. Your project managers are brilliant at scheduling. Your audio engineers are brilliant at sound mixing.

They’re just not brilliant at creating content.

Because of this, your company’s brilliance is hidden. By using content marketing to pull back the curtain and shine a little light while not being overly concerned with corporate secrecy, you show the world how the brilliant people in your company can help members of your audience overcome their challenges.

Overcome Mistake #4. How to get your subject matter experts on your corporate blog

  Read more…

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Content Marketing: 7 copy editing tips to improve any content piece

October 22nd, 2013 5 comments

Creating intriguing and relevant content is key to successful content marketing.

Webinars, webpages and ebooks were all cited in the 2013 MarketingSherpa SEO Marketing Benchmark Survey as “the most effective places to create content for meeting marketing objectives.”

Creating content is one thing, improving it through copy editing, however, is another step in the process.

I say this because content becomes less effective with each glaring error. Depending on the circumstances, those mistakes are perhaps even costing your organization revenue as customers look elsewhere to shop.

 

Think about it …

Do you want to spend your time deciphering information riddled with grammar and spelling errors?

Well, your readers certainly don’t and why should they? Why should they take their time to untangle a web of errors and inconsistencies in a content piece in order to understand the message?

They will simply move on to something else that is polished, clear and professionally written. Luckily in the digital realm, minor mistakes can be caught after a blog post, article or social media post is published online and can be seamlessly fixed.

However, some diligent eyes can spot errors before critics take to social media and immortalize a glaring typo.

For example, the Mankato Free Press was not immune to criticism when a creative, but poorly designed page slipped past copy editors and startled readers while enjoying their breakfast.

As the copy editor at MECLABS, my job revolves around editing everything from blog posts, articles, landing page copy, marketing materials and many other essential pieces of content for MarketingSherpa and MarketingExperiments.

The insights in this post revolve strictly around copy editing to help you focus on improving the accuracy of your text, not editing, which is designed to help you improve the organization of your content.

Read on for seven copy editing tips you can use to improve the quality of your content.

 

Tip #1. Stick with a style

When copy editing, consistency is very important – so pick a style and stick with it.

Establishing style standards early on will help keep all the content you produce uniform across different formats.

At MECLABS, we devised a Stylebook that incorporates elements of AP style and stylistic preferences unique to our company.

For instance, some of the most common words and phrases utilized in our content appear in the Stylebook reflecting MECLABS’ usage.

Words like clickthrough, call-to-action, homepage, e-commerce, Web (always capitalized) and others have a specific way of being spelled or capitalized preferable to us that may not be used the same grammatically or contextually elsewhere.

Not everything can be covered in a company style guide, so having a secondary resource such as the AP Stylebook on hand is essential for finding those words and phrases you may not know how to utilize correctly in a piece.

For other aspects of writing, such as headlines, consistency is also extremely important.

Editors tend to decide what words are used in a headline, so your stylebook should include style preferences for headlines, to help editors keep those copy decisions consistent.

Also, try to make considerations in your Stylebook for any additional content you may have that will need formatting guidelines and make sure your content team understands and adheres to those standards.

 

Tip #2. Read aloud

The very first step of copy editing is reading through content to make changes.

Reading silently to yourself is a good way to start, but taking it to the next level and reading a piece aloud will help you catch more errors and hear how the words and sentences flow together.

It may also seem like common sense, but reading it aloud conversationally is not enough to catch mistakes. By reading slowly and articulating each word, you are more likely to spot grammar and spelling mistakes that your word processor might have missed.

 

Tip #3. Keep it concise

Attention spans are shorter than ever, so keeping length in mind while editing is also extremely important. By keeping sentences concise, you will captivate readers by making every word count.

When possible, delete extraneous words from sentences unless they impact the integrity of the overall meaning.

For example, the word “that” is often used as a crutch word and can be eliminated in most cases.

 

Tip #4. Do a final proofread after publishing 

Hitting the “publish” button is not the end of a copy editor’s work day. Even after a vigorous round of editing, mistakes can still fall through the cracks.

This is why taking one more look at your content after it’s published is a great idea.

As I mentioned earlier, digital publishing in most instances is a lot more forgiving than print. Once you publish content in a print medium, the words and any mistakes you may have missed are stamped onto the pages of your publication and into history.

One example I can think of recently was the misspelling of the word “Marketing” as “Makreting” on the spine of a printed publication. Luckily, the error was caught before a large pressing of the misprints was ordered.

Consequently, although something may already be published, some minor changes can still likely be made if needed before the majority of your audience engages the content.

 

Tip #5. Avoid proofing your own work whenever possible

(Most) copy editors love to write, but reviewing your own content can be problematic, and should be avoided unless there is absolutely no other option.

Therefore, having another set of eyes on your piece can catch errors you would probably miss as the writer.

If others proofing your work is not an option, putting the finished product aside for a few days can help you get out of “writer” mode and into “proofing” mode.

Also, the content isn’t nearly as fresh in your mind, so you’re more likely to catch mistakes.

 

Tip #6. Read through backwards

This may seem a little strange, but the best tips usually are.

From my experience, going through content one sentence at a time backwards is a surprisingly great way to catch problems in the copy.

Incorrect punctuation, extra or double words and other issues that might have been skimmed over normally, can be singled out quickly by reading it backwards.

Read more…

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Content Marketing: 5 tips for WordPress blogging

May 28th, 2013 14 comments

When I joined the MECLABS team in January, I was fully aware I would soon become best friends with WordPress. I truly believe WordPress is one of the most efficient ways to put out great content that not only looks polished, but is very simple to use.

Clarity is extremely important when it comes to content, so producing blog posts a reader can understand relies heavily on how it is displayed.

A blog post with photos in random places, sections without a subhead and discussing a process without the use of photos to accompany text are just a few of the millions of ways a reader can get lost in your message.

However, these are all elements you can control.

Here are five tips and tricks I’ve learned to improve a WordPress blog …

 

Tip #1: Use invisible tables for side-by-side comparisons

Sometimes, if you have just one image in a blog post, you can get away with setting it on the left, right or even in the center of text. This works great especially if your image can stand alone. However, if you have two images (a before and after example, etc.), it is definitely worth taking the extra time to craft an invisible table and place your photos into the code.

Here is an example from the MarketingSherpa blog post in which I placed two examples of an email side by side for easier comparison.

 

As you can see, placing the two images next to each other works well in this case. If they were placed one on top of the other, the reader would lose the before and after effect of the email. I would also recommend adding a caption to the photo, if the meaning without it is not very clear.

Coding an invisible table in HTML is an easy process that takes just a few tweaks. You want to start by uploading your images into the WordPress Media Library. Then, within the actual post, switch from the visual editor to the HTML editor. Next, paste the below code where you want your table to be:

<table style=”border: none;” cellspacing=”10″>
<tbody>
<tr style=”border: none;”>
<td style=”border: none; vertical-align: middle;”><a href=”FILE URL 1“><img class=” wp-image-11378 ” title=”IMAGE TITLE 1” src=”FILE URL” alt=”” width=”xxx” height=”xxx” /></a>CAPTION</td>
<td style=”border: none; vertical-align: middle;”><a href=”FILE URL 2“><img class=” wp-image-11379 ” title=”IMAGE  TITLE 2” src=”FILE URL 2” alt=”” width=”xxx” height=”xxx” /></a>CAPTION</td>
<td style=”border: none; vertical-align: middle;”></td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>

 

Now for the important part. Go back to the Media Library, select “edit” for the image you uploaded, and copy the File URL provided. Paste that URL into your first table box, and return to the upload gallery to grab the image title.

Be mindful if what you’re putting into the table does not match the upload information, it will not work.

Once you put the image title in, you will once again need to put in the same image URL. Finally, include the dimensions of the image, indicated by “xxx” in the example above. There is no need to change “wp-image” number.

Repeat this process for other photos you want to put into the table. It is also easy to make a third or fourth photo in the table: simply copy one of the table boxes, which is the code in between “<td style… and </td>,” and paste it into the code.

 

Tip #2: Use padding around images to separate from text

When using smaller images, a design that works well is to nestle the photo to the right or left of text. For example, this blog post used a small image placed to the left of the text.

Sometimes, if you put in an image, it may be too close to the text, or might cause strange separation of the text. For example, you might have a lost bullet point separated from the list, or maybe a few words orphaned from the rest of the sentence it belongs to tucked away under an image. To fix this problem, play with the vertical and horizontal space of the image to place the text into a desirable format.

In this MarketingExperiments blog entry, the original design plan was to have images larger in size, centered and acting as separators between paragraphs.

However, with multiple images, it is easier on the eyes and for the reader to have them neatly in the margins, sized smaller, but with the ability to be viewed larger once clicked.

 

Plus, for a post containing steps, having smaller images adds a level of clarity as the reader can fully see the steps in the subheader and the steps of testing, all without having to scroll all over the page.

For the first image, it was necessary to add a horizontal space to the right of the photo so the bullet points would not overlap over the image. This was done after the photo was uploaded and set into the appropriate spot to the left of the bullet points.

Vertical spacing is also a great and easy way to make sure there is enough space above and below the image.

One important tip to note is moderation is key – you don’t want to have an image on the left and an image on the right back to back in the body of your content. Try keeping a series of images or photos all on the same side of the page if they are in close proximity of each other.

Then, by selecting the image in the visual editor and selecting Advanced Settings, you can add any amount of space into the options. Here is what I used:

 

Read more…

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Content Marketing: Misstakes arr Bad

November 9th, 2012 3 comments

Content marketing is hot right now, but unfortunately won  very important stage in the process is often an afterthought, or even overlooked completely.

If “won” word in the opening paragraph didn’t totally give it away, that stage is editing the content before it goes out to the rest of the world.

And, although the tips in this blog post are geared toward written word content pieces such as whitepapers or blog posts, it’s just as important to edit slides in presentations or webinars, audio/visual content like video and podcasts, and other types of content in your overall strategic mix.

In my career, both here at MECLABS and as a freelance writer, I’ve been on both sides of the coin – edited by a variety of people when creating journalism pieces and writing for corporate clients, and I’ve worn the editor hat at other times.

To provide some insight into the importance of editing, and to offer tips on incorporating an editing stage in your content creation process, I reached out to two of the best I’ve worked with over my career.

During my freelance writing days, Amber Jones Barry, now a freelance editor, had the opportunity to wrestle with my monthly copy for a consumer magazine, and Brad Bortone, Senior Research Editor, MECLABS, gets his fingerprints on a lot of the MarketingSherpa and MarketingExperiments content you read, making all of us sound a little better in the process.

In fact, we have an excellent editorial staff here at MECLABS, with more than one person poring over every bit of content we publish.

  Read more…

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Copywriting: How to improve headlines on landing pages and blog posts

April 5th, 2012 12 comments

Headlines are tricky little devils. Whether you’re writing them for an article or a PPC landing page, they can carry your campaign to glory or bury it forever.

We gathered some theory on writing great headlines from our sister company, MarketingExperiments, and capped it off with five tips from our editors and a useful process for improving results.

Before we get to all that, keep this in mind:

  • The goal of a headline is to seize readers’ attention and convince them to continue

 

Headline Theory

There is no arguing it — people are busy. You need to write a headline that convinces them to ignore distractions and pay attention. When people see a headline, their minds want to know:

“Why should I read this instead of doing one of the other 50 tasks on my list?”

The key question is “what do I get?” A good headline answers this in one word, “value.”

 

4 attributes of value

Picture your ideal customer deciding where to spend his time and energy. He wants something good for his investment. A headline that emphasizes something “valuable” to him gets his attention. He’ll invest a click and continue reading.

Your headline is “selling” your next paragraph and you need to make a good offer (also known as a proposition). Researchers at MECLABS, our parent company, evaluate the power of a value proposition through four attributes. You can use these same attributes to create and evaluate headlines. Read more…

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Content Marketing: Case studies are stories — so be a storyteller

December 13th, 2011 4 comments

Have you ever watched a movie that was happy from beginning to end? Just sunshine and roses and everyone was happy and lovely the whole time? Probably not, but if you have, I’m sorry because it must have been terrible. Every good story needs struggle.

In a good story, no one is happy for more than a few seconds (usually at the end). Cinderella and Snow White struggle. Odysseus struggles. Snooki struggles. What engages us is our connection to the character’s feelings. We relate to them and we want the character to win.

This is why customer testimonials are powerful. People see the quote and think, “This is a real person, just like me! And look, they love this thing!” A good testimonial wonderfully illustrates why someone should buy your product, and it resonates because people relate to the customer.

Read more…

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Content Marketing: Should you lure a journalist over to the “dark side?”

February 24th, 2011 4 comments

As a longtime writer of both journalism and corporate communications, the idea of brand journalism is very interesting to me. I’ve worn both hats — media and marketing — and sometimes both at the same time. The two are very different, and require somewhat different skill sets and definitely different approaches. (Side note: I also sometimes do fiction, so in a way I’ve hit the content trifecta.)

Defining “brand journalism”

The idea is for companies to hire actual J-school trained journalists and give them free-reign to cover stories that involve topics of interest to the company’s customers and the general space of the business, but not exert any control over the story creation process, and certainly to not require — or even ask — the brand journalist to cover the company’s “story.” The brand journalist is to act as, well, a journalist.

Of course many veterans of copy desks, editorial rooms, city beats and magazine mastheads think of marketing as the “dark side,” and see going to work for a company as joining forces with Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the rest of the gang at the Death Star.

On the other hand, many journalists are in search of work in this tough media economy so there’s a lot of talented people out there to wheezily reach out to with an offer of doing real journalism, just doing it in a different setting.

Last week I had the chance to speak with one company that has taken the plunge into making brand journalism part of its marketing efforts.

Brand journalism in the real world

Nils Johnson is a co-founder of Beautylish, an online destination for trends and products in the beauty market. Nils just hired Ning Chao, former senior beauty editor at Marie Claire and InStyle, as the resident brand journalist for Beautylish.

From a marketing standpoint why did you decide to hire a brand journalist?

Nils Johnson: As a trusted expert in beauty, Ning [Chao] brings tremendous industry credibility to Beautylish which helps establish trust with brands and members. She also brings a strong editorial point of view to Beautylish. Having her provide expert insight to our users is integral in engaging our users in a long-term, meaningful way.

Will you exert any editorial control — either in assigning topics, editing or even killing pieces — over your brand journalist? If not, how does this content fit into your overall marketing strategy?

NJ: No, we will not assign any topics to her or edit any of her pieces. We may talk about topics to cover, but ultimately she makes the call on what she is going to cover. Ning [Chao] was the senior beauty editor for Marie Claire and InStyle, and writing for other top magazines for over a decade. We absolutely trust her judgment on what to write about.

In terms of how it fits into our marketing strategy, our site is focused on helping women discover new beauty trends and techniques. As an expert in the beauty industry, Ning [Chao] is responsible for helping to keep our readers up-to-date on what’s hot in beauty. Additionally we believe readers are more likely to follow and share high-quality editorial driven stories as compared to low-value SEO content that many sites are focused on producing.

It sounds like this is a relatively new effort so you probably don’t have any results to talk about right now. What sort of results are you looking for with this marketing effort? Do you have metrics you are going to watch, and if not how do you plan on tracking this initiative in brand journalism?

NJ: Our main metric is engagement. We want women to share and return to the content Ning [Chao] is directing. We’ll be monitoring engagement across social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, direct user interaction, and traffic numbers. Although Ning [Chao] only recently joined us we’ve already seen an increase in content sharing, brands engaging with our content via Twitter, and positive feedback from women that visit our site.

Related resources

Example of Ning Chao’s work at Beautylish, Hair Care Time-Saver: Cleansing Conditioner

Brand Journalism

User-Generated Video Contest: 6 Steps to Promote Brand and Generate New Marketing Content (Members’ library)

Brand Journalism: A Field Day for Web Marketers

Brand Journalism?

photo by: RogueSun Media

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Brands Gone Wild

November 19th, 2008 No comments

Am I the only sports fan to notice how more and more TV analysts in the niche are talking about individual athletes’ and sports teams’ as “brands”? Of course, they have always been, quote-and-unquote, brands. That’s real-world talk among marketing professionals.

But to protect the fans (or “customers”) from the game of marketing, this stuff was not supposed to be discussed in public. At least, that is the way it used to be. Yet, times have changed. Read more…

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Treat Halloween Like a Shopping Mini-Season in Email

September 23rd, 2008 No comments

Last year, numerous email marketers used Halloween to spike their open and clickthrough rates and drive sales. But the most important thing that industry observers saw in their inboxes was that this mini-season isn’t just for seasonal marketers with tight product niches. Read more…

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