Your six-step checklist to content perfection

Business Writing That Sells. Part 14

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to make sure your marketing content is ready for its audience. Don’t press ‘Publish’ until you’ve read this…

Congratulations on finishing that press release/blog/article* (*delete as appropriate). You’ve made the word count, squeezed everything in and that’s a good job done. Not so fast. Just when you think you’re done, you aren’t.

You’re probably not even close. If you’ve followed this series of articles then you should at least have a killer headline, a persuasive intro and body copy that walks it like you talk it. But now ask yourself; is it all a bit staged? A bit… formulaic?

When writing is actually reading

There’s nothing worse than content that sounds contrived when you know it’s meant to be conversational. Read back through your words – even better, read it aloud. Pay attention to your breaths and what feels natural. Where you breathe or pause for effect, that’s where a comma should live.

Your prose might be persuasive, but don’t forget that the devil is in the details. And in content marketing, that means making sure that every sentence has a subject, a verb and an object; every word means what you think it does; and every letter ‘i’ has its dot. Of course, it’s OK if you decide to break the rules; just make it obvious you know what you’re doing. Even if your audience can’t tell a split infinitive from a split end, they will know when something doesn’t seem right and that may be enough to put them off a purchase.

Your six-step checklist to content perfection

Luckily, some common sense quality assurance will save you:

1) Spellcheck

The bare minimum you should do before publishing – and I’m continually amazed how many professional businesses don’t even do this simple step… and then wonder why their marketing fails! Assuming you write in Microsoft Word, or similar software, then spellcheck is there – and it’s free. Use it! If you write directly into a Content Management System at the moment, don’t. Just don’t.

2) Sense check

Imagine you have no knowledge of your specific business or the subject matter in general. Would you understand what’s being said? Does it make sense? You don’t stand a chance of securing a sale if the reader can’t even comprehend your copy.

3) Fact check

Get it right. Why would a potential customer part with their cash if you can’t even get the facts right? If you’re not sure, check.

4) Go with the flow

Look at the parts of your content and how they fit together. Your brain as a writer will follow a different path to your customer as a reader. Follow your instinct when you’re writing, but go back over your words as an editor and make sure they lay a trail that your reader can easily follow. Simply swapping paragraphs around can make a big difference to the sense and the experience.

5) Read it aloud

Simply reading your words aloud will soon highlight any problems – even if nobody’s listening! It will help you to externalise the train of thought, phrases, and the voice of your content and experience it anew. You’ll notice awkward structures and clumsy wording that seemed fine before.

6) Get some feedback

Even better than reading your work aloud is reading it aloud to someone else. And if you can’t – or don’t want to – do that, then the next best thing is getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over your words. Content professionals often say that you can’t edit your own work – and they’re right.

Of course you knew what you meant when you wrote it, but would anyone else when they read it? Professional content teams and creative agencies employ sub-editors or proofreaders like me to check this, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to that, then just asking a friend or colleague to read your work is the next best thing. Don’t brief them, don’t explain the piece and don’t set the scene. It’s crucial that your sounding board encounters your words as a consumer would – alone, naked and vulnerable. That’s when your words are at their weakest and that’s when they need your support most.

Next: Why writing isn’t all about… writing!

 If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

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