Last week, ClickZ contributor Susan Solomon kicked off a regular series of articles about developing web content. This past Tuesday, Susan wrote a great piece about the key to producing copy that’ll keep your readers coming back for more. Susan is articulate, knowledgeable, and a kick to read. So, of course, I have the highest regard for her advice.
For the handful of you who missed Susan’s piece (ahem!), here’s what she said: Do it yourself. Forget the syndicators, the wire services, the third-party content providers. Pablum, all of it.
Only YOU can speak to your audience with the knowledge and understanding that will nurture the kind of relationship you need to develop with them.
In Susan’s words:
“The best copy comes from you, the organization posting the site. It’s just not that hard to generate great copy. In fact, with a little imagination, you can have a site chock full of ‘sticky, great reads’ without shelling out to a hit-or-miss content provider.”
Hear, hear, Susan! In fact, I couldn’t agree more, since that has been exactly our approach at ClickZ. For the most part, we steer clear of syndicators and third-party content providers. Our contributors are in the trenches of the business and have plenty of skin in the online game.
But a flock of writers does not a web content site make. There’s a second critical factor to publishing compelling copy: a kick-ass editor.
It’s one thing to get solidly behind the concept of soliciting guest or in-house experts to pen firsthand accounts, case studies, or testimonials. Or write a local take on a national news story. Or relay a travelogue of the best day you ever spent in Paris or the time you flew cross-country next to Lyle Lovett.
It’s quite another thing to edit the account into concise prose that is fun to read, grammatically correct, and error-free. And topped by a compelling headline, to boot. Take it back a step, in fact: It’s quite another thing to actually unearth the cast of characters able to write any of it.
So what should a publisher look for in a site editor?
- A winning personality. I’m only half-joking, here. The individual in charge of your content sets the tone for your site. It’s his or her editorial voice, for the most part, that will speak the loudest to your readers. Hire someone with little discernable personality and, chances are, their writing voice will be equally flat. Hire someone with a little edge, however, and your site takes on a whole new color and disposition.
- Business acumen. Developing editorial product requires more than an ability to write and edit. It also requires some sense of the market and an ability to know what kind of content will help sell your product. What you are actually selling doesn’t matter it could be physical product, consulting services, or ad space on the site. What matters most is that the content attracts the audience you need to attract to accomplish your business goals.
- Sales ability. If your editor is developing or rehabbing your content from the studs, chances are that your editor will need to work a bit to develop the necessary contributor contacts. It’s one thing to develop the editorial at a site like Salon.com. It’s quite another to schmooze contributors to write for a little-known site with only a trickle of traffic and no cash flow.
In the early days of ClickZ, most of my workday was spent finding potential writers and then convincing them that the sheer glory of having their mug on the clickz.com site was payment enough. ClickZ editor Chris Bielaszka-DuVernay says that the practical application of this skill is also expressed in “the ability to nag with tact to wheedle, cajole, and otherwise coerce recalcitrant writers into coughing up content on deadline.” (Chris is obviously quite good at it.)
- Knowledge of the industry… or not. This is a tricky one. While knowledge of the industry you work in can certainly help, it’s not going to make an editor sink or swim. A bright editor who’s a quick study can swim buoyed by little more than a floatie or two with no immediate knowledge of a specific industry. I’d rather have a crack writer with sound business skills who’s new to an industry (and can possibly lend a fresh perspective) far more than an insider who’s intimately familiar with the subject at hand.
- Editorial skills. Oh yes, and then there’s the small matter of airtight editorial skills. Look for the ability to write circles around your competitors, an attention to detail, and sound editorial judgment. It’s a tall order to find an individual who excels on all editorial counts, so also look for a willingness to admit where the weaknesses may be, and plan to hire accordingly. True confession: Those of you long-time subscribers who read ClickZ back when I was the only editorial person on staff could likely tell from the (gulp!) too-frequent typos that copyediting is not my own strong suit.
By the way, it’s not by chance that editorial skills appear as the last item on the list. Someone who is both a good writer and editor sure is a find. But the other characteristics listed here are typically overlooked in an editorial context.
And those skills, in my mind, are equally critical. Don’t you think?