6 Questions to Ask When Editing Website Content

Old Typewriter

Perfecting website content is often one of the hardest parts of overhauling or totally remaking a site.  It feels good when you’ve developed a website structure you’re excited about and have written plenty of words for each page.  But are they the right words that will appeal to your website visitors and convey what you’d like?  That can be a tough question to answer.

Fret not, woeful writer of web content (yeah, that’s you).  Here are a few question you can ask yourself to help polish up that website content.

Can I Cut This?

Instead of approaching everything from the standpoint of “do I need this?” try reframing your thinking to favor cutting out anything that’s not essential.  If you think in terms of “do I need this?” the answer will often be a resounding affirmative.  But if you instead focus on removal of any unessential information, you’ll be left with only the best.

Every additional piece of information you include demands some amount of attention.  Make sure you’re not risking something extraneous distracting from what’s essential.

Can I Break This Section Up?

Whenever possible, break pages into sections.  Break sections into paragraphs.  Break paragraphs into sentences separated by explanatory headings and subheadings.

Strive to use headings wherever you can reasonably do so.  You and the most cooperative of your colleagues may read your content in full.  Most readers will skim at most.  Keep sections short and make sure everything in each section matches the corresponding heading.

Can I Create a List?

Skimmers love lists.  They’re easy to read and make content readily digestible.  If your list has a specific order or quantity to it, use a numbered list.  If it doesn’t, go with a bulleted list.  Doing so will help make your content easier to scan and force you to use a certain amount of brevity.

Will Everyone Know This Word?

If you use any words that require you to ponder whether someone outside of your industry will know it, change the word right away.  Chances are high you’re using jargon without even being aware of it.  We do this everyday, especially when explaining what it is we do for a living.  People are not going to look up words they don’t know.  They’re either going to guess what it means or leave.

It can be helpful to have an outsider read your content at this point.  Pick someone honest enough to tell you words they don’t know or sections that are confusing.  And remind them you’re looking for their honesty.  It doesn’t do you any good if they tell you your content is perfect (outside of that short term ego boost from being crowned the unofficial poet laureate of the web world).  A little critical feedback can be the difference between entirely mediocre and very strong website content.

Will Search Engines Know What This Page Is About?

Search engines aren’t great at reading between the lines.  They crawl throughout your pages, looking for information to tip them off as to what the page is about.  Make it easy on them by using keywords repeatedly throughout your page content.  Think of what someone would type into Google to find your page and use that phrase a few times.

As a general rule, try to use your keyword phrases at least three times on the page.  Not only is it better for search, it’s also better for your readers.  Some of them may not read between the lines all that well either.

Does This Sound Like I’m Talking?

We write in bizarre ways.  We often use long sentences with complex structure and shiny words to showcase our smarts.  Such tactics are great in a term paper.  They’re far less effective when it comes to web copy.

Read all of your content, slowly and aloud.  If you’re worried about the judgment of others (as I often am at this point in the process), go somewhere private.  This is an incredibly valuable step in the editing process and is worth doing right.

See if your content sounds natural.  It should sound just like you’re talking to someone.  Keep it conversational.  Use simple sentences that are easy to understand without the help of inflection or further explanation.  You know what you mean.  But you need to make sure your visitors will as well.

And don’t worry – you can still be professional while making your content accessible. There’s a time and a place for formality.  Web content is generally not such an occasion.  If you’re trying to establish a connection with your visitors, being overly formal likely isn’t the best route to take.

Do What Feels Right

Ultimately, the goal of your website content is to genuinely convey your organization and help you connect with visitors in some way.  Write honest copy and do what feels right to you. If you want more tips on planning and writing content, don’t miss out on the advice and free resources in our beginner’s content guide.

Do you find you prefer a certain type of web copy?  Or care to share your experience with writing your own web copy?  Think we left out any other essential questions?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Image courtesy of etharooni, Flickr