Erin Hogg

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

October 22nd, 2013

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.


Tip #7. Look at the big picture

Finally, taking a step back and looking at the piece as a whole is critically important.

Does your article say, “Read below for five tactics,” and there are six listed?

Are the images in the right place?

Do all of the links work?

Looking at the mechanics of your publishing is one of the most important aspects of copy editing because those images and links are how your readers will view and interact your content.


And don’t forget about the critics …

They will always scan content for tiny mistakes, but they will more likely be looking at the entire piece for their next big gaffe to tweet.

With a little copy editing diligence, however, that’s a laugh they will have to find somewhere else.


Related Resources:

Now Hiring: MECLABS Copy editor position plus nine other roles in Jacksonville, Fla.

Content Marketing: Misstakes arr Bad

Content Marketing: 3 tips for producing engaging email content

Content Marketing How-to: 7 steps for creating and optimizing content in any size organization

Categories: Copywriting Tags: , , , , , ,

  1. October 23rd, 2013 at 10:15 | #1

    I do a lot of copy editing for my company, and these tips are great; I can’t wait to try them. Thanks, Erin!

  2. October 28th, 2013 at 10:43 | #2

    Very good suggestions.

    Never happened to me, but I’ve heard stories about how #2 has saved many a marketer’s butt. Words don’t always sound the way they read, so I practice #2 anyway.

    #6 has been recommended to me for years – the first time was when I was on Law Review (a very, very long time ago). Reading backward removes a sentence from its context, and in isolation it’s harder to use context to “paper over” a copy editing mistake.

  3. October 28th, 2013 at 15:03 | #3

    Enjoyed this piece, but in the spirit of being error-free, I believe there is an extra space between “critics” and “take”:

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

    Intentional? 🙂

  4. Erin Hogg
    Erin Hogg
    October 28th, 2013 at 15:10 | #4

    Hi Melissa!

    Glad you liked the post. I have noticed that happens sometimes when I copy/paste from Word to WordPress. Just another reason to double and triple check your work! Thank you for the comment!


  5. Helen Strong
    October 29th, 2013 at 09:01 | #5

    And it’s not just the proof readers who should look at important copy.

    I was working in an advertising agency in the days of litho separations and the incident was thankfully before printing. A secretary walked passed the material and innocently asked “Are there supposed to be two “the’s” in the headline? …. signed off by the creative department, the client, the client director etc. The famous “end of line / beginning of next line duplication”.

    An expensive error.

  6. Frank Green
    March 4th, 2016 at 09:45 | #6

    “Copy Editor /Punctual Perfectionist’ not only would need a space after the slash but the slash, since it means “or” is wrong. A hyphen or ampersand would serve better.

    Tip 4 drops off my screen after “One example I can think of recently was the misspelling of the word ‘Marketing’ as ‘Makreting’ on . . .” Plus, when I try to reload the page it comes up totally blank. Subsequent copy editing tips are inaccessible.

    The AP Stylebook is not the best stylebook. A balance of the Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Style Manual with your style book would be preferable.

    “For instance, some of the most common words and phrases utilized (read “used”) in our content appear in the Stylebook (read “our stylebook”) reflecting MECLABS’ usage.” NEVER use “utilize” where “use” will do.

    Also, try to make considerations in your Stylebook for any (read “decide what” instead of “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. Never use such locutions as “made the decision” (read “decided”) or “make considerations” (read “consider”). In the above example another possibility might be “Also, keep in mind . . .” Other ways to make the sentence more clear and concise exist.

    Ellipses are three spaced dots.

    The first rule in proofreading is that you can’t proof your own stuff. Copy should be passed around until no one can find anything to change.

  7. Shelby Dorsey
    Shelby Dorsey
    March 10th, 2016 at 11:26 | #7

    @Frank Green, we appreciate the time you took to leave us your thoughts.

    As to the above comment, thank you so much for reading the post so diligently and for taking the time to note adjustments you would have made. We have found that the AP style book fits our publishing needs best so we tend to stay exclusively in that style, with few exceptions made for our MECLABS house style. Thanks for reading!

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