As I point out in my general article on creating effective blog content, editing new blog content is time consuming.
On average, I estimate that I spend at least twice as much total time editing a new piece of blog content as I do creating it in the first place.
That’s partly because of my writing style, which is highly inclusive and messy, and partly because editing is just hard and has lots of steps.
In general, my editing work flow looks like this:
- Refine the content by pulling out everything that isn’t the main idea
- Look at what I’ve pulled out to see if it can be expanded into its own content
- Run through the remaining text and clean it up
- Check the cleaned up text for readability
- Build a link strategy
- Put it away for a while before coming back and checking it once more
- Post it
STEP 1: REFINING
Sometimes I’ll start writing an article that’s supposed to be about one thing, but after spending some time writing, I figure out that I’m actually writing about something else. I don’t know if that’s good, bad, common, or rare among other authors, but it happens to me on a not-infrequent basis.
I recently wrote a piece for another blog that was supposed to be about opportunity cost. Money stuff. About half way through, I realized that I’d actually ended up writing more about compounding interest. I don’t always realize, mid-stream, when these topic changes happen. But when I do, I just kind of go with it.
My first editing step is to go back through what I’ve written and figure out if the main topic I started stayed the same. In the content I’ve written so far, I’d estimate that I successfully stay on-topic about 70% of the time. The other 30% of the time I wander into some other topic space.
When I do wander, I have to figure out how to handle it afterwards.
An approach that’s been working well for me is to figure out which of the topics is covered more completely and to cut the other one completely, dumping it into it’s own container for later exploration.
On average…I spend at least twice as much total time editing a piece of content as I Do creating it in the first place.
What I’m left with after this first step is still messy, and now it’s kind of patched together – because I’ve pulled out big chunks of text – but it’s messy and patched together in a way that’s only about one main topic.
STEP 2: CHILDREN
During Step 1, I can sometimes pull out two or three sub-topics that diverge main idea I’m trying to target. In Step 2 I stop and look at what I pulled out. In this step I’m trying to figure out if any of those pulled ideas are strong enough to be their own content.
To be honest, they mostly aren’t. To be double plus honest, I sort of thought they would be.
I would say that for every 3000 words I write on a given topic, I’ll end up with one or maaaaaybe two sub-topics that are good enough to be their own, stand-alone content. That’s lower than I thought it would be, but I guess if I look at it objectively, it still means that for every one article I set out to write I actually end up with about two complete pieces of content.
I can live with that
STEP THREE: READING TIME
After I’ve pulled out everything that doesn’t belong, I go back and read the piece again. This is where I fix all the broken transitions, flesh out the dangling thoughts, and generally smooth everything over.
A vital part of this process is to read the whole piece – out loud.
After I’ve read through the piece silently, and changed everything should be changed, I go back and read it again, out loud. And it’s crazy many more things pop out. It’s rare for me to make large or structural changes at this point, but I’ve found that reading things out loud helps a ton in finding awkward sentence constructions and places where things just don’t flow correctly.
I think this is because hearing something uses a different set of processing centers in our brain. I can read things a bunch of times, and refine and refine, and then, when I read it out loud, it’s really obvious that what I’ve written doesn’t work – despite the effort I’ve done to try and refine it.
Hearing what you’ve written spoken aloud is a critical part of creating readable text that flows naturally from section to section.
STEP FOUR: LINKING
The entire internet is built around the concept of linking – the idea that you can read an article about Topic A and the article will link to more information about related topics and deeper slices of information. Hyperlinking is a concept that revolutionized the world, and it’s worth your time to go through each piece of content to make sure that it’s linked – in a worthwhile way – to other pieces of content that help expand and enrich what you’re trying to say.
“Worthwhile” is an important brain filter for creating links. It’s easy to go crazy and toss in tons of links to every piece of content you’ve ever written. This is a bad idea.
And I don’t even mean “bad idea” from some complicated point of view like search engine optimization or triggering Google’s army of bots to come and re-crawl your site. I don’t know much about that stuff yet beyond a few scattered pieces here and there.
No, it’s a bad idea because it creates the navigational equivalent of word salad. A mishmash of barely connected pages that have been linked together just because they CAN be linked together.
Overall, you want a link structure that carefully does the work of picking and choosing which pieces of your content are complimentary to what your visitor is reading right now. Yeah, you could link from an article about image optimization to an article about choosing a hosting provider – and those things probably are actually related – but my best first guess is that making that link might not provide a lot of value to the person reading about optimizing images. Linking to something about using photoshop, though, that might be just what they’re looking for. The relationship between those two topics is much stronger.
A well constructed linking system builds an internal web of content that leads visitors back and forth between highly related and useful information. A bad linking structure gets your visitors lost in details or discussions that are only tenuously related to the reason they visited your site in the first place.
Unfortunately, Google has been less than helpful for me so far in understanding which linking practices are actually good and which practices don’t really matter. Every search I’ve tried to run on blog linking strategies has led to pages that are mainly aimed at optimizing for search engine results. And we’ll get to that point, eventually, but right now I’m keeping two important points in mind:
- I’m not trying to build a blog for Google, I’m trying to build a blog for humans who want to learn stuff, so a lot of this search engine optimization stuff rubs me the wrong way. Yeah, yeah, I know, Google runs the world and I want the best chance to spread my amazing ideas and all that. But, come on, you know what I’m trying to say here. I’m not going to live and die – or rather, my blogs aren’t going to live and die – based solely on what Google happens to like this week. Because, if history is any guide, what Google likes this week is probably going to be what it doesn’t like next week. I’m not going to chase my tail forever trying to appease our mighty overlords in Silicon Valley.
- I AM trying to build a consistent narrative structure that helps people understand the points I’m making in as much detail as I’m able to cover and they’re willing to learn.
Neil Patel, who knows the blog game inside out, and who (usually) seems to focus on the “right” stuff, has a little to say about this. But, even in his article, there’s still a lot of discussion about search engine optimizing, and I’m just not there yet.
I’m not philosophically on board, and I’m too new to be sure I really understand what the heck he’s talking about, anyway.
I did, however, borrow an image from him that helps to illustrate how the process of internal linking can hand-hold your visitors on a journey to discovering more of your content that they might find useful. It’s posted up above.
STEP 5: TIGHTEN UP YOUR READABILITY
Readability is a topic I’ve been learning a lot about. It makes intuitive sense that different types of writing have different audiences and, accordingly, are written to different levels of difficulty. Duh.
But, did you know that these things can actually be scored and assessed by real math? That’s there’s actual academic research telling us how approachable different pieces of content are for different audiences? That, my friends, is pretty darn cool.
Because a lot of this analysis is based on math, and because computers are really good at doing math, there are a number of free, instant text analyzers available online. You can copy/paste your text into a box, press a button, and presto! The site will score your text according to several different readability metrics.
If you’re not too keen on plugging your text into an online system, some of this functionality is actually baked right into Microsoft Office. Of course, to use it you’d have to own Microsoft Office.
But, assuming all of your hats are not made of tinfoil, a quick Google search for “check text readability” will give a number of free results to choose from. I’ve tried several, and like this one the best. It gives a good overview of the big, broad-based metrics, and also allows you dig deeper into some specifics about word choice and phrasing. It’s like your high school English class all over again, but with fewer weird, drunk teachers.
Here are some metrics to pay attention to, along with a good target score:
- Flesch Reading Ease: 60-70
- Gunning Fog Scale: Around 9
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 8-10
- Dale-Chall Score: 6.5-7
- Fry Readability Level: 8-10
Each one of these metrics works a little differently, and I’m not going to pretend that I understand the ins and outs of the math behind them. What I do understand is that their usefulness has been validated by evidence, and lots of big, fancy firms who write a ton of copy use them.
The consensus I’ve found is that web copy should target the levels I’ve listed above.
I don’t always hit these targets on the nose, but I do run my longer articles through the checker I’ve linked. If things are really out of wack with my numbers, I go back through and try to simplify dense sentences, split compound ideas out into different sentences, or eliminate confusing structures.
STEP 6: COOL OFF
Alright, so now I’ve done all of that editing, which has probably taken me a couple of hours. As a next step, I put the new article away. I hit save and stop thinking about it. This cooling off period lets my brain purge itself and reset to a place from which I can once again approach the text almost as if it were new.
Because I generally don’t feel any time pressure to pump out content, I’m comfortable waiting three or four days before I pull the content piece back out and give it another read. If your own time constraints are higher, this can be shortened. I’d still try to give it a full day or two, though, to let your brain reset a little bit so you can see things with a fresh eye.
STEP 7: MARK AS DONE
So after all of this is done, our bright and shiny new content is officially marked as done and moved to the “POST IT!” folder. From here it’s out into the world to win over the hearts and minds of my visitors.
Editing new blog content is a complex and time consuming practice. It’s hard enough, in fact, that hiring a real copy editor is something that’s high on my list of to-dos should either of my blogs ever make any kind of real money. Until then, I’m following the routine above to make sure that I’m publishing quality content that’s as polished as my non-copy-editor set of skills can make it.