The growing importance of editing in content marketing
By Tracey Wallace
As AI becomes more and more popular (and better!), I see editing becoming an even more crucial skillset. And this is a welcome shift!
Editing, in my experience, has never been a big part of content marketing. In journalism, editors are prized. They are the ones that make things come together, that put the finishing touch on a story, and that ultimately build the skill and expertise of a writer overtime.
I once got coffee with Lauren Indvik in New York City. We were both working at Mashable at the time. I greatly admired her writing––and rightfully so! She’s an incredibly talented storyteller and has gone on to become the Editor in Chief for Fashionista, launched Vogue Business, and today, works at the Financial Times.
I asked her, then, what she aspired to and she said, “To become a world-class editor.” Why, I asked, not just do that right now? Mashable had a ton of editor jobs open, and it would have been easy for her to move into that role. I didn’t understand why she didn’t just take it. It was right there.
“You have to be a writer before you can be an editor. You have to be edited by the best editors you can find before you can learn to be an editor yourself,” she said. It’s a conversation that’s stuck with me, and reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” commentary.
In other words, you have to have skin in the game in order to become the best of the best.
This wasn’t a mentality I ever found in the content marketing world. Content marketing, as many of you know, is typically underfunded and misunderstood by executives. Content influences a large portion of revenue for businesses, but it can be difficult to track (and other teams usually take credit for it). Content-driven revenue is far lower, making it appear as though the content marketing ROI is low, when it really isn’t.
It is rare to find a company or executives that fundamentally know this (I feel incredibly grateful for our CFO at Klaviyo).
But, underfunded and misunderstood often means that content marketing teams are teams of only 1 or 2 people churning out hundreds of blogs, podcasts, webinars, one-pagers, and white papers a year. The final product is what is deemed valuable, not so much the process by which it gets created.
This is flawed logic, of course, because a good process creates higher quality more consistently, and the status of “thought leader” comes from high quality at a consistent pace.
Nonetheless, editors are rare full-time folks on content marketing teams, but two things will change that in the near future:
- Increased usage of AI to produce content:
AI tools like ChatGPT are great––and scarily so, even. And they will only become better.
As writing speeds up thanks to AI content tools like ChatGPT, editors will become more and more crucial. That’s because AI tools aren’t always accurate (fact-checking is required), and often don’t pull in the proper POV you need for your company or a piece of content.
Editors can shape this, should shape this, and will become more and more valuable on content marketing teams––maybe even more so than writers themselves.
- Google’s EEAT algorithm updates:
As Google puts more and more importance on “expertise” in writers as part of their algorithm updates for what is ranked as quality content, guest posting and outsourced authorship will become more important.
Brands will need the experts to write for them––but not just any expert (like your CEO who might have absolutely no social presence).
No, you’ll need an expert by the standards of Google––which is to say that they have written decently extensively on the topic at hand before, likely have a decent sized social media presence, and other factors that Google hasn’t exactly told us, but that we can all begin to guess at.
Anything that logically makes someone on the internet appear to be an expert to you on a given topic is likely what Google will use to rank that same person as the expert.
As more “experts” write for you, you’ll quickly learn that a lot of people aren’t very good writers. BigCommerce’s entire content marketing strategy for nearly 4 years was partner content––and I can tell you with the distance of time that I rewrote nearly 80% of all the content that was submitted to me. There are people out there today who promote on their sites that they write content that “ranks #1” on Google, and that content was completely rewritten by me with their names on it––because it was just faster to do it this way.
Editing is crucial here. And, knowing when to edit something versus just rewriting it entirely. When is something scraped and when can it be saved? How can it be saved? And how can you give the feedback to “experts” without making them not want to work with you again (folks feel very emotionally attached to what they write, which makes editing a hard job from a psychological perspective as well).
The more outside experts write for you, or just the more anyone who isn’t a professional writer writes for you, the more you will need to edit.
So, below, I list out the 3 types of edits I use on all my pieces and teach my teams to use. I’ll also link out to some editing resources that I think can help if you’re looking to get better in this area. Trust me, editing is hard work. It’s an art. It’s a social skill. It’s a very precise science, too. I’m only half decent at it––but have learned that the more I read, the better I am at identifying what works, what doesn’t, and how to rearrange without losing the author’s voice.
Let’s dive in.
The 3 types of edits
I perform 3 types of edits on every single piece of content that comes my way. The first is the biggest and most extensive. The final one takes into account how people read on the internet, and makes sure that our content can still stand up to those standards.
I break it out into these three types of edits because doing all of them at the same time is both impossible, I’ve found, and doesn’t get you the quality you need. Your brain needs to be focused on a type of edit––looking for specific problems––to really hone a piece properly.
1. Context edit:
Question(s) to ask: Does this make sense? Have we connected the right dots to present a new, strong case?
This is your biggest edit, and it starts by you diving in and reading the piece. You’ll likely find that with most articles, you can’t even get past the intro. And trust yourself here, if you can’t read through the introduction without getting confused, bored, or distracted, then your readers won’t be able to either.
This is where the editing starts.
More questions to ask (just in the introduction alone!):
- How is the argument presented? Could it be better?
- Is the argument even accurate?
- Does it convince me that this article (which is likely at least 1,500 words) worth my time?
- Does it convince me that this is something I should care about right now?
- Does it connect dots for me that I previously didn’t see properly connected, but now that I do, feel like I can trust the article and better understand a topic for having read it?
One thing I’ve needed to teach my content marketers again and again over the years is to read through the lines. Take the Apple iOS update a couple years ago. Apple was telling folks that it was for consumer privacy. And a lot of content marketing teams at tech companies parroted that storyline––cheering Apple on.
But the iOS updates were never about consumer privacy. That was Apple marketing. It was instead about building a walled garden to keep Facebook and other large tech companies out of Apple’s honey pot of consumers and revenue. It was about making things harder for other companies. It was about a competitive advantage.
That’s the thing about Apple and Facebook and Google and whoever else. They have built these tools that so many of us have come to rely on, but they are public companies that must grow quarter-over-quarter or at least year-over-year to sustain investors and help keep the global economy on pace.
They will do what they need to, specifically wall out competition, change their algorithms, and lobby politicians, in order to make that growth easier.
That was the real story of what Apple was doing––and they wouldn’t be the last. It was a turning point within the Big Tech industry, where innovation was no longer the growth lever, but walling out competition and building walled gardens was.
What does that mean for ecommerce brands and small businesses? Well, it wasn’t a great story––nor will it be a great story if and when the US government bans TikTok. That’s the story content marketers needed to tell, and to advise properly from that vantage point (which I’d argue is to invest in your owned marketing channels as much as if not more than your paid ones, if you can afford it, to build your email and SMS lists ASAP).
Anyway, the point here is that this context edit needs to tell a unique point of view on the topic––something other people aren’t catching, dots they aren’t connecting. Otherwise, you’re publishing content just for the sake of publishing. That’s content pollution, and now, with AI, algorithms like Google will get even more savvy toward regurgitation, and derank it.
Worse than the future SEO issues, though, is that when you don’t provide a take on a topic, you aren’t building your thought leadership status. You become just another brand or just another blog in a sea of sameness.
This edit should change that.
2. Line edit:
Question(s) to ask: Is this consistent with our guidelines?
Line edits are easier than context edits, and the revisions can even be done by an editor themselves (though you often want to leave them or mark them for the writer if they write for you often so they can reduce these errors).
In this, you are checking for:
- Grammar usage
- Sentence structure
- Overall clarity
- Spelling in alignment with your brand standards (ecommerce, Ecommerce, eCommerce, e-commerce…which do you use? Or, do you spell out percent, or just write %?)
- Proper citations (seriously, click through the link and find where they got the info. Make sure it isn’t more than 5 years old).
- Linking to the brands mentioned, the people mentioned, etc.
- Interlinking to relevant, existing content on your own site (like case studies!)
- Making sure the brands mentioned / included are customers (if you follow that rule, and my teams do)
- Headline and subhead editing and the offering of alternatives
3. Scan edit:
Question(s) to ask: Can I scan this & still really like it, get what it is saying & have a takeaway?
Finally, you want to do a scan edit. A scan edit needs to look for/at:
- Headline: Is this compelling enough to make me want to read it?
- Subheads: Are these compelling enough to make me want to read them, and do they tell a story throughout the piece (your subheads should tell a story so that when a reader sees them in the table of contents, they can scan and get a sense of the larger article. It should also persuade them to read it!)
- Line breaks: Do you have a lot of big paragraphs? Break them up into smaller ones – ideally no more than two sentences. It’s easier to read them on screens this way.
- Text breaks: Photos, bullet points, subhead and pull quotes all help pull a scanner further into the story, but if you don’t have one of these elements in nearly every section of your content (i.e. if on a particular part of the desktop screen, it is a wall of text), you are likely to lose the reader there. So, because subheads, photos and bullet points are usually there as part of the story, I like to use pull quotes strategically to break up text and help readers with scannability.
- Bullet points in general: Do you have a written out list of three or more? Make those bullet points for scannability.
- Images: Are the images interesting? Are they beautiful? Do they tell a story? Are they blurry? You want to make sure that the in-line photos support the story for the reader, but also entice the scanner to click or pause (longer time on site, woohoo!)––maybe even to begin reading.
All right, that’s all I got for this week. Oh, and if you want a great resource for editing, Tommy Walker’s YouTube channel and The Cutting Room series here is a goldmine!