9 Tips for Editing Website Content
What’s the secret to writing excellent website content? You may be surprised by the answer, because it doesn’t involve writing.
There’s a reason why professional copywriters never send unedited content to clients. Embarrassment. The initial draft is an unpolished, rambling stream of consciousness with (if we’re lucky) the odd nugget of sparkling brilliance.
To strike pure gold, editing is crucial. So here are 9 editing techniques to consider before you hit `publish’.
1. Walk away from it
The first step in the editing process is… not editing. Clean the house, weed the garden, go to the pub, clean the cat. Do anything apart from editing.
Walk away and ignore it.
Leave your writing to marinade overnight. You’ll have a clearer perspective in the morning. It will also be less painful to hack into all that hard work. Well, a bit. Maybe.
Actually, this is a good tip: Try and pretend that someone else wrote your content – preferably a person you don’t like. Editing your own work can be pretty brutal. This makes it easier to chop bits off it.
2. Don’t skim read
OK, I know I know. You want to skim it, you just have to. Every nerve in your body is crying out to scan through your blog post with the attention span of a baboon.
Fine, indulge yourself. Skim it once. Then go back through your post in meticulous detail.
Print it out. At this stage, you’re looking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, and they’re easier to see on paper. Why is this?
I honestly have no idea.
Want another good editing tip? Read it backwards. It forces you to concentrate on each word.
3. Watch out for common cock-ups
These are my own personal gems when it comes to typos:
`It’ instead of `if’, `though’ instead of `through’ – and I’m really good at leaving out the word `the’.
For some reason, `loose’ and `lose’ seem to confuse lots of well-educated, intelligent people. And while I’m on the subject, beware rogue apostrophes. They do an excellent job of wrecking credibility, particularly when it comes to confusing `it’s’ (a contracted form of `it is’) with `its’ (belonging to).
If in doubt, get someone to proofread it for you. Seriously, it’s worth it. Spelling and grammar mistakes are the perfect way to look dumb.
4. Cut out ALL unnecessary details
For each sentence, ask yourself whether it’s adding something useful, memorable or relevant. How does it help the reader? If it isn’t necessary, delete it.
Yes, I know. It’s easier said than done. You just lurve the sentence about that time you got stuck in a lift with the CEO. But the fact is, every additional piece of information demands effort from your reader.
Most readers won’t make the effort.
It always helps to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Are you expressing yourself clearly enough? You know what you mean, but someone outside your industry may not. If the reader struggles to understand they’ll be off quicker than you can say `back button’.
5. Break it into short sections
Only one person reads every word of your content. It’s your mum. Everyone else skims – and believe me, they’re looking for any excuse to leave.
Let’s take this next paragraph as an example… Or skip to the next one. I won’t cry or anything.
Nobody (and I mean nobody) will stick around for more than a nanosecond if your post contains block paragraphs like this one – a huge great chunk of text that witters on like Great Aunt Agnes complaining that things were better in the olden days. This paragraph is already too long (and no amount of bold formatting will save it). I’m writing it this way to make a point. Don’t worry, I’ll stop now. Your brain may explode.
See what I mean? This one-sentence paragraph is like a cool shower on a hot day.
All online copy has to battle with short attention spans so as you’re editing, break up the page with…
6. Sub-headings and images
Sub-headings and images provide `pit-stops’. Add them every 200 words or so and your readers will thank you. They will share… and add nice comments (that’s a blatant hint, by the way).
Divide each sub-headed section into paragraphs of no more than 3-4 lines, with the odd 1-line paragraph thrown in. But not too many. That would be annoying.
|Sprinkle in nicely coloured boxes, like this one. And don’t forget bullet points. What’s that you say? Bullet points?|
Bullet points are important when it comes to any form of online content. There are several reasons for this:
• On-screen readers like them.
• They appeal to our irresistible urge to scan.
• Use a maximum of 5 and keep them really short.
• Otherwise, it looks like a long paragraph with dots.
After that, add some images. Then cut most of your sentences in half. This is important. Why?
I’m glad you asked. I’ll explain:
• Long sentences are difficult to process visually.
• For a screen reader, that makes them difficult to understand.
• We all sub-vocalise when we read (a posh way of saying that we read aloud in our heads).
• Endless sentences will make your reader run out of breath. And patience.
Ideally, you’re looking at a maximum of 20 words. Try replacing commas with full stops. I’ll give you an example.
Here’s a 31-word sentence:
|Wordy website copy puts readers off, and ultimately loses you potential customers, yet many business owners concentrate on the visual impact of their website while ignoring the importance of excellent content.|
Blah blah yada yada… You probably stopped concentrating somewhere around `visual impact’. Here’s a better one:
|Wordy website copy puts readers off. This loses you potential customers. Yet many business owners concentrate on the visual impact of their website while ignoring the importance of excellent content.|
7. Does your writing sound like your speaking voice?
Read your post aloud. Yes, I know. You’ll feel like a plonker. But it’s the only way to discover whether your writing is conversational.
Does it sound like a natural speaking voice? Are you talking directly to the reader? And be honest, are you using jargon in an attempt to sound `professional’?
Industry and business jargon isn’t professional. It’s impenetrable hogwash. The relaxed, conversational flow gets silted up in a sea of waffle.
Seriously, who would say this in real life?
“The fish and chips plus vinegar combination has real synergy. We will utilise this to leverage our upcoming client-based lunch solutions.”
8. Kill the adjectives (well, most of them)
Adjectives weaken your copy. While it’s OK to drop in strong (or even surprisingly delicious) adjectives, the most common `-ly’ words are vague and at worst, boring.
Try replacing your weak adjectives with stronger nouns. Look, I’ll show you:
The man quickly ran away = The man fled
The door closed loudly = The door slammed
We offer complete IT solutions = We solve all your IT problems
Adjective habits aren’t new, they’ve been around for a while. Mark Twain wrote this back in 1880:
“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable… An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
Most of us have a wordy, diffuse, flowery adjective habit. Try reading through some old blog posts. You’ll spot them immediately.
9. Beware! Punctuation danger
Punctuation puts speed bumps into your content. Slowing down the reader isn’t always a bad thing but over-punctuation forces their attention away from what you want to say.
Here’s how it works:
• Every time your reader comes across a comma, they take a mental breath.
• That’s useful sometimes…
• But try not to make your audience hyperventilate before they finish the sentence.
You may have noticed the ellipses. I use them occasionally for dramatic effect but please be aware that they consist of 3 dots. That’s three… dots… Not hundreds of the damn things. It’s a short pause, not a 20 minute interval…………… (Ice cream, anyone?)
Sorry about that. Let’s move on to capital letters.
Each Capital Letter brings the Reader to a Halt. See what I mean? They’re difficult to read. Most of the time, you don’t need them.
While I’m on the subject, a quick word (OK, it’s a rant) about exclamation marks. They’re used for exclamations. Gosh! Wow!
Like upper-case words, they SHOUT at your reader. You’re trying too hard. At worst, you’re laughing at your own joke.
Exclamation marks have absolutely no place at all in B2B website content, and should be used sparingly in B2C copy – unless you are BARRY SCOTT!!!
Which editing techniques do you use? Do you have punctuation pet hates? Use the comments to let me know.