Gary and I are pretty psyched about the work we just tag-teamed for our client AutoSport. The job consisted of two parts: an SEO analysis performed by Gary, followed by SEO copywriting performed by yours truly. For the copywriting, my mission was to take AutoSport’s 25 most popular pages and implement 50 keywords from Gary’s SEO analysis.
I went into the project with a couple of objectives: 1) to keep the original text in tact, changing the copy only to leverage keywords, 2) to maximize the keywords without making the text seem forced or unnatural, and—probably most challenging—3) to keep the original form of the keywords. (Meaning that if a keyword was “rear view mirrors,” not only would I have to find a way to use the plural form, but I’d have to take every existing instance of the singular and find a way to make it plural.)
Here’s the process I used:
- I first took screenshots of the 25 pages I was to enhance.
- I then typed the text into a Word document so I could use Word’s “Track Changes” feature to show my changes.
- Next, before I really even dove into the text, I considered all of the keywords from the list of 50 that could possibly fit with every page. So, for example, if a page contained product descriptions of floor mats, I made note of all the keywords having to do with floor mats (12 in all).
- I then started to look for ways to make those related keywords fit – again, without forcing or losing the flow of the copy.
Here’s an example of a sentence before and after SEO copywriting (keywords highlighted in yellow, new text in red):
In this one sentence alone we were able to bump up the keyword count from 0 to 3!
At the end of the project I went back through and counted up the keywords. I found 135 occurrences of the keywords in the original copy on those 25 pages, but ultimately we were able to bump that number up to 286. Not too shabby!
Posted by Jessica Swope, web editor for Business Bullpen. You can follow Jessica on Tumblr.
In the market for an editor? If you’ve done any kind of shopping around you’ve probably seen estimates for different kinds of editorial services, which can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the terms. Here’s a quick run-down of different kinds of editing.
Proofreading is the most basic kind of editing and is typically done just prior to publication (on- or offline). When an editor is proofreading they’re just looking for blatant errors—a random period here, a lower-case proper noun there—really obvious mistakes that a user would probably notice at a glance.
Copyediting (light and heavy)
Copyediting is more involved than proofreading. To copyedit is to dig into the language and logic of a text and work some degree of editorial magic to make it as flawless as possible. The mistakes an editor catches at this level can be obvious, but many of them are subtle and require an understanding of English’s nuances to catch. They can also be matters of style—the AP Stylebook has a different rule for state abbreviations than the Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, so a copyeditor would be on the lookout for places where a text deviates from a given style and make it conform.
It’s all a matter of degree, though. In a “light” copyedit, an editor will proceed gently, looking mostly for surface issues and not interfering too much with tone or voice. In a “heavy” copyedit they’ll dive right in and move sentences or entire paragraphs to improve readability. They’ll also eliminate wordiness, improve the overall flow, check facts, and flag any ambiguous or misleading statements. For clients that are struggling to communicate their brand or really engage customers, we would recommend a heavy copyedit. For clients who just want to strengthen their text and make sure it’s correct, we’d recommend a light copyedit.
Content development (or “content editing” or “substantive editing”)
This is basically a super-heavy copyedit. At this level of editing, an editor is working with very rough, incomplete, or disorganized text and doing a complete overhaul, often rewriting much of the text and changing or elevating the tone in the process. Content development is mostly associated with traditional publishing, however (if a book is in rough shape, it needs content development, but if a website is rough, it needs to be rewritten). When we do work above-and-beyond a heavy edit, we consider it “copywriting” because we’re essentially rewriting the text.
Just a little tidbit: the terms “proofreading” and “copyediting” aren’t as arbitrary as they seem. “Proofreading” comes from the practice of doing a final check for errors on “page proofs,” i.e., images of book pages before they go to print. “Copyediting” comes from the term “copy.” Newspapers in particular call their text “copy,” which seems counterintuitive as en editor because you’re editing original text, not copied text, but in the print world it’s text that’s meant to be reproduced in print so they call it “copy.” The very idea of “copy” doesn’t really apply in web editing, but the word “copyediting” will likely stick around.
Posted by Jessica Swope, web editor for Business Bullpen. You can follow Jessica on Tumblr.
When writing papers in high school and college, my objective was always this: how can I say what I want to say in as many words as humanly possible? I considered a flowery, digressive, somewhat vague and elusive sentence to be the very height of literary achievement and could never understand why my professors didn’t seem to feel the same. “Too wordy” showed up in the margins of many a paper. And with good reason.
These days I’m all about economy: how can I say what I want or need to say in a way that’s succinct, to the point, and pithy? It’s a different way of approaching a sentence—seeing it as Miata for your thoughts instead of a steam train. As a general rule, whether it’s technical writing, creative writing, or business writing, it’s probably always good to be on the lookout for wordiness and be ready (and willing) to trim it when you spot it. Don’t know what to look for? This list, taken from The Yahoo! Style Guide might be a good place to start:
a few of the —> a few
a large number of —> many, most
a large part of —> many,most
a large proportion of —> many, most
a lot of —> many
a number of—> some, many
according to our data—> we find
accordingly —> therefore, so
after the conclusion —> after
ahead of schedule —> early
all of the —> all, all the
almost all —> most
along the lines of —> like, similar to
along with —> with
any of the —> any
arrive at a conclusion —> conclude
as a consequence of —> because (of)
as a result of —> because (of)
as long as —> if
at a time when —> when
at the moment —> now
“Copy (or text, or words) used in design is a very particular type of creative writing that requires the inspiration of an artist and the control of a craftsman or craftswoman.”
—Mark Shaw, Copywriting: Successful writing for design, advertising and marketing
We don’t really think of business writing as creative writing, in part because the aims of business writing—to sell a service or a product—seem so different than those of creative writing—to express one’s self, to move an audience, to make some kind of social commentary, and so on. But they do have similar challenges for writers, the most important of which is creating just the right tone.
What is tone?
Tone is huge in any kind of writing. Finding a tone is like finding something to wear to an event; your choice to wear jeans, a cocktail dress, or a suit depends on where you’re going. You wouldn’t wear a cocktail dress to a football game, and you wouldn’t wear jeans to a job interview. Hopefully.
The same goes for tone in writing. More than being about a command of language, writing copy for websites (or any kind of business marketing) is about having a command of tone.
Tired of looking up the same words in the AP Stylebook and the Yahoo! Style Guide, I recently put together a mini dictionary of technical terms. This not only has saved me some time, it’s helped me to establish a house style for Business Bullpen (although more commonly found in publishing houses, I highly recommend one of these bad boys to any company or organization that takes their written communications seriously).
I also learned a few things in the process, like, okay, did you know it’s not “upper-left-hand navigation” or “right-hand column”? It’s just “upper-left navigation” or “right column”—no hands! (I’m definitely guilty of this one.)
- add-on (n., adj.), add on (v.)
- backup (n., adj.), back up (v.)
- cell phone
- clickthrough (adj.), click through (v.)
- crowdsource (adj.), crowdsourcing (v.)
- data (takes singular verb)
- decision making (n.), decision-making (adj.)
- do’s and don’ts
- email (not e-mail)
- file name (not filename)
- Google (not okay to use as a verb)
- high speed (n.), high-speed (adj.)
- how-to (adj., n.), how-tos
- IM (n., adj., v.), IMs, IM’ed, IM’ing
- instant message (n.), instant-message (adj., v.)
- intranet (lowercase)
- ISP, ISPs
- keyword, key word (n.)
As an editor I’ve found myself fretting—like, literally losing sleep—over the subtle nuances of the English language that I used to never even think twice about. The serial comma, for example: apples, bananas and kiwi OR apples, bananas, and kiwi? (Clearly the latter. AP Stylebook, you’ve got some serious ‘splaining to do!) Another source of anxiety: the capitalization of job titles and academic degrees. Who knew it was wrong to do so? The Chicago Manual of Style, for one, the AP Stylebook for two, not to mention all the English teachers and editors out there who know better (or should know better) but have been looking the other way out of—I would venture—a sheer sense of futility. You see it everywhere, even in seemingly legitimate sources: “I got my BS in Economics,” “Dr. So-and-so received his PhD in Psychology,” “My experience as Sales and Marketing Manager at Company X.” etc.; it’s so pervasive that to opt for proper usage would seem to cheapen yourself and your accomplishment (or those of others). It’s one of those, If everyone else is doing it then why can’t I? kinda deals. Believe me, I get it: I for one would much prefer to be a very-important-sounding Editor than a run-of-the-mill, lowly editor. Unfortunately, I’m just an editor. And you’re just the lowercase version of whatever it is you do. (Sorry, but it’s true.)
Did you know you’re not supposed to lowercase job titles in running text? It’s true, really it is! Even though I’ve found validation on this in almost every style guide imaginable, there’s probably no single edit I feel more defensive of than this one. Why? Two reasons: 1) I see it wrong way, way more often than I see it right, and 2) I feel like the edit is essentially an insult—I’m somehow suggesting that someone’s job isn’t as important as they think it is. But the proof is in the pudding, folks—and here’s the pudding:
From AP Styleguide
Capitalize titles preceding and attached to a name, but use lower case if the title follows a name or stands by itself. Long titles should follow the name.
· President Karen Morse
· Karen Morse, president of Western Washington University
· Mayor Richard Stevens the mayor
· Presidents Bush and Clinton
From Chicago Manual of Style
8.21 Capitalization, the general rule. Civil, military, religious, and professional titles are capitalized when they immediately precede a personal name and are thus used as part of the name. Titles are normally lowercased when following a name or used in place of a name.
From Yahoo! Style Guide
Capitalize a person’s title only when it’s used directly before a name. This rule includes titles pertaining to government positions (like president, senator, mayor, ambassador, chief justice), religious positions, and other organizational positions (like chair, treasurer, general manager).
From Lapsing Into a Comma (Bill Walsh)
A basic tenet of journalistic style is that titles are capitalized only when they are used as a title directly before a name.
Did someone teach you that you should always put a comma before “too”? They taught me that, too. Or, rather, they taught me that too.
Comma. No comma. Whichever.
This is a tough one for me, because putting a comma before “too” is almost second nature at this point. Leaving it out feels like omitting bananas from my cereal in the morning: You can eat the stuff, sure, but it’s just not the same. Something feels like it’s missing.