Three great reasons to use an editor

You may already know that content marketing can help you attract and engage prospects. If so, you likely also know that high-quality content—be it articles, FAQs, blog posts, or other kinds of educational content—takes time and skill to produce.

Here are three key ways a good editor can help:

  1. Initial brainstorming and content development. Here’s where inviting in an objective outsider can be advantageous—someone to help you home in on your purpose and audience and hammer out some initial content for further consideration.
  2. Copyediting and proofreading. Once your basic content is in place, a copy edit and final check ensure that text is clear, concise, grammatically correct, and free from embarrassing errors. Unless it meets these standards, your content won’t deliver.
  3. SEO (search engine optimization). Writing is hugely important in SEO. That’s because it’s not just the keywords you select, but how skillfully they’re integrated into the text that makes the difference—both with search engines and the human readers you want to attract.

If you’re sold on the benefits of content marketing but short on time, consider the value editing services can bring—better, clearer, search-optimized content that wins customers and lets you focus on what you do best.

Content marketing basics

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First of all, what exactly is content marketing? There are many definitions out there, but essentially, content marketing means using targeted content to educate, inform, and entertain your readers as a way of attracting them to your products and services.

Blogs are a form of content marketing. For example, the blog post you’re currently reading is targeted at people who potentially need a writer/editor to help them create their own web content.

Great Content Marketing Resources

The content marketing movement has spawned a growing number of interesting books and websites. Here are two I particularly like:

  • Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher – How to Use Content to Market Online and in Social Media (Que Biz-Tech), by Rebecca Lieb. Website owners must now think of themselves as publishers, and Lieb explains why that is and what to do about it. Her book has chapters on what to publish, how to audit your existing content, how to find the proper voice, and more. I was especially intrigued by the chapter titled “Whose Job is Content?” I was happy to see that she included copy editors and copywriters in her list of people playing key roles.
  • The Content Marketing Institute website. If you’re just starting to explore content marketing, make sure to check out this website. It’s a treasure-trove of content-industry information, much of it perfect for beginners. Try the How-To Guides, including Getting Started, for a great overview of the field. You’ll also find a blog, a guide to content marketing events, a magazine for content managers, and books published by the Institute.

If content marketing is something you want to do for your own business—and I highly recommend that you give it serious thought—explore these resources for some ideas and inspiration.

Web marketing for small businesses

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If you run a small business, staying up-to-date with the latest trends on web marketing can seem daunting—if not downright impossible.

Recently I checked out the websites of two leading magazines targeted at small businesses, Inc. and Entrepreneur. Both have great content on web marketing.

(To find relevant articles, just type “web,” “web content,” “web marketing” or a similar phrase into each website’s search box.)

  • If you’ve got basic questions on developing, launching, or marketing a website, Inc.’s How to Start a Website feature is a great introduction. See the section on marketing for tips on using social media, email, and SEO to promote your site.
  • Entrepreneur has tons of good content, including an excellent section on SEO. Check out “10 Ways to Write Content that Ranks High on Google.” This up-to-date article includes a useful and colorful infographic called “SEO Copywriting: 10 tips for writing content that ranks in 2013.”

In my last post on information overload, I featured the book Content Critical: Gaining Competitive Advantage Through High-Quality Web Content, an older but still important book by Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton. The authors believe that in an information-overloaded world, quality written content is more important than ever, and that the quality of web content is just as critical as that of print.

Since Inc. and Entrepreneur both started as print magazines (Inc. in 1979 and Entrepreneur in 1973), they know something about quality content. So have a look at their websites when you have a moment.

Web content and information overload

One of my favorite books on web content writing is Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton’s Content Critical: Gaining Competitive Advantage Through High-Quality Web Content. Although it was published back in 2001, it’s still an excellent survey of some of the bigger issues facing the content development world.

Twelve years later, one of the key issues the authors address, information overload, is obviously worse than ever. And you might well wonder how more content can possibly help this situation.

Yet as the authors argue, “content is critical to the success of the modern organization and individual.”

People can’t stop reading just because there’s too much information.

Effective web content development

That’s why I consider this book must-reading for understanding effective content development. Some key points:

  •  The Web is above all a publishing medium—a place where people come to communicate and gather useful information. It’s not a place for geeks to lord it over the rest of us (although talented geeks remain critical to the Web, of course!).
  • The same high standards applied to quality print publication should be applied to web content. But because so much web content is poorly edited, web readers tend to have low expectations. When they do come across quality content, they notice!
  • Your site’s navigation—what the authors refer to as the “brain” of the website (content being its “heart”)—is critical, because if readers can’t find your content, all the work you’ve done developing quality content may be wasted.

There’s lots more in this intelligent book, including how to staff an effective web content team, how to plan your publishing strategy, how to promote your website, and more. Information overload at its best!

Want more insights on information overload? Here’s a post on classic books on writing that can help.

A top web writing resource

Scan the index of any good book on web writing and chances are you’ll find an entry for Jakob Nielsen, world-renowned expert on web usability. So it’s no surprise that Nielsen’s company, the Nielsen Norman Group, has a great website with lots of good content.

The website models usability (again, not surprising), with an understated masthead and three key resources—Reports, Training, and Consulting—displayed prominently. (The company is known for its expertise on eyetracking, the science of how people read on the Web.)

Three things I love about this site:

  • The Reports page, with links to reports on everything from content strategy to e-commerce to information architecture. While most reports are for sale, some are free.
  • The Articles page, with free articles on a variety of current web topics. You can also get articles delivered directly to your inbox by signing up for Nielsen’s Alertbox newsletter.
  • The Books page, featuring books by the principals on everything from mobile usability to user interface design. The list includes a 1969 book by Don Norman called Memory and Attention: An Introduction to Human Information Processing that’s been translated into five languages.

Sometimes just reading a good website is an education in itself. The Nielsen Norman Group website is a perfect example.

What is grammar, anyway?

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When most people think of grammar, they think of fussy rules English teachers and editors apply when reviewing written work—about what’s wrong with your writing instead of what’s right.

But grammar is so much more than picky rules.  Consider, for example, this definition from The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition:

Grammar consists of the rules governing how words are put together in sentences (5.1, page 203).

Yes, rules are mentioned here, but they’re not just about subject-verb agreement or dangling participles or knowing where the commas go.

These rules are about crafting words into sentences—the essence of what we do as writers. In other words, these rules also cover more advanced work on syntax, rhythm and flow.

Now that’s more exciting, in my view.

If the idea of “grammar as writing and not just rules” intrigues you, too, check out Roy Peter Clark’s The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English. It’s a great book that can help you become a better writer.

How to ask good questions

Have you ever felt guilty when asking questions about a project? Like you should already know the answers? Or maybe you don’t want to bother people when they have other things to do.

Then there’s the politics. Asking questions can dredge up sensitive issues or raise questions people know they should have the answers to, but don’t.

As a business and technical writing trainer and coach, Dr. Elizabeth (Bette) Frick understands that the ability to ask good questions is a key skill for all professionals—especially for writers and editors.

In Bette’s “That’s a Good Question!” workshop, clients learn (among many other things):

  • How following a strategic writing process helps you develop good questions
  • The right—and wrong—ways to approach subject-matter experts
  • Why it’s important to take your questioning skills seriously

Bette has studied her own questioning behavior for years and says, “Whenever I make a business or personal mistake, it’s usually because I didn’t ask the right questions and proceeded on inadequate or false information. I recently made one of these unasked-question mistakes when I opened a new business credit card. When it arrived, I activated it and tried to set up automatic downloading into Quicken but could not complete that process. I called the bank and they confirmed that their credit card couldn’t download into Quicken. I cancelled the card immediately and realized that I should have asked, “Can I download transactions into Quicken?” before I applied. That would have saved me the time I spent on filling out the application and producing profit-and-loss documents for the bank.”

This November, Bette will be presenting a version of her “good questions” workshop at the American Medical Writers Association’s annual conference.

If you’re interested in having her speak to your group, you can contact her at