5 ways to write less and craft better content

Marketers are well aware of the value of content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute states that while content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, it generates approximately three times as many leads.

So it’s hardly surprising 71% of B2B marketers plan to increase their content production in 2017 (Smart Insights). There’s no shortage of articles advising how to write more content, faster. There’s a hysteria to create more. More web pages, more blogs, more e-books, more words.

But what we need is not more online content, but less.

In 2015, The Washington Post estimated that it would take 305.5 billion pages to print the entire internet. That is 74.6 million copies of the entire Harry Potter series!

There is a low perceived cost to adding more words to a website. At SilverStripe, we pride ourselves in making this process easy with SilverStripe CMS! Adding a new page, or a new content piece, takes only little bit more time but doesn’t incur extra financial costs.

But there is a cost to each word we add to a web page. And in each page we add to our site, it takes longer for visitors to understand what we’re saying and reach their goal.

In our enthusiasm to create more, we make life harder for the people that matter the most — our readers.

Here’s my advice for writing less:

1. Edit ruthlessly

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead ~ Mark Twain

It’s easier to write longer content than short. When we allow ourselves to be waffly, flowery or verbose, we pass this burden to the reader. We expect them to sift through the words to locate the meaning hidden within.

Take on the work of editing yourself:

  • Cut everything you write in half, and then ideally in half again
  • Read your content out loud to help spot words to cull.

2. Add value, not noise

Content marketing recognises that providing value drives trust and build relationships. The golden rule is “Serve thy audience — provide value”. As marketers, we eagerly apply this thinking to gated content in order to compel downloads and email gathering.

But we should also use with rigour on every word we publish.

Words should be helpful, entertaining or informative.

It should feel like nothing more than a person, talking to another person. Human to human ~ Anna Pickard, Creative Director — Voice and Tone, Slack

Before writing a single word, be clear on the person that it is intended for. At SilverStripe, we use personas to help us build empathy. Personas help create user stories that explain the value we are trying to create.

A user story helps understand the context of why a feature is being built or why a piece of content is being written. It’s phrased as:

As a (persona), I want (action), so that I can (desired outcome).

AB Testing on ww.silverstripe.org showed a 30% increase in click-through when changing from “try the CMS” to “try the demo”.

3. Create a “Definition of Done”

We often race towards deadlines without imposing checks and measures to ensure the quality of our writing. Agile development teams at SilverStripe use a Definition of Done (DoD) to get group consensus on when code is ready to be shipped. A development DoD will often include testing and documentation — steps that ensure the quality of the feature.

Creating a “Definition of Done” for written content can help improve quality in the same way. It may include:

  • Reviewing against your Brand Style/Tone guide
  • Reviewing against personas
  • Peer review — blog posts for SilverStripe that speak to developers are reviewed by a developer, especially if they’re written by marketers
  • Ruthless editing — have we removed as many words as possible?

4. Invest into lowering content debt

Balancing technical debt is a constant battle between releasing new features quickly and the long-term cost of doing things the “easy” way. Content debt is no different.

Content debt occurs when we focus solely on output, not impact. Simply adding a new web page is not a success. Measuring and understanding whether this has helped overcome an issue or answer a question is the key. And when we add a new web page, can we remove another to ensure it’s still easy to navigate our site?

As with technical debt, it’s often hard to measure the impact of work to lower content debt but it’s critical for the long-term health of your website.

5. Create content in parallel to design

When creating a new web page, we’ve found it’s best to start with a wireframe (often sketched on a whiteboard during a team planning session). This wireframe ensures that the design and content are aligned before either is started. This avoids pages of written content for a banner where 1–2 sentences would work better.

How this works at SilverStripe

Honestly, writing less is a work in progress here at SilverStripe. With a complex, technical product, it’s easy to lean too heavily on jargon. We have a small team responsible for our company and community sites (currently four people across 10 separate sites, and all other marketing activities).

As we look to upgrade our sites to SilverStripe 4 in the coming months, we’ll also be looking to reduce our content debt and address content-heavy pages on our sites. Writing great web content takes time, practice and commitment.

We look forward to sharing our journey towards writing less, and better!


Originally published at www.silverstripe.org.