Checking for errors in writing can be a tedious task, especially as more and more content gets written every day by every company. However, if you want your content to be considered among the “good stuff” that gets Retweets, Likes and +1s, you need to invest in a little proofreading. You don’t need a dedicated staffer for the job, just someone on your team with time, and typically not the person who wrote it – a second person catches things that the writer has glazed over in their mind.
As luck would have it, good copy and content lend themselves to better SEO results. Good copy, punctuation, structure, and readability can have a positive impact on SEO. Even if it doesn’t, good content and improved readability can make it easier on readers to engage with your content, which could lead to more likes, shares and links which ARE good for SEO. I linked to some good resources at the end of the post.
Anyone can do it, as long as they’re following the tips below:
1. Punch up the Punctuation
There’s a laundry list of little things to get to that your spell-checker won’t catch.
- Rampant comma abuse: Why, when there are so many direct, and easy to understand ways of writing available, especially in web content, do people feel like they can just use commas, whenever they want, in articles, blogs, and even marketing?
If the above sentence didn’t make you nuts, you probably shouldn’t be writing.
- Semi-thought-out semicolons: There is a practice among amateurs to just use a semicolon whenever it seems like there are too many commas. There is only one good case for a semicolon, which is to separate clauses to simulate spoken pauses between two different thoughts in one sentence. Example: “I can’t make tomorrow’s meeting; I’ll be hungover.” To avoid a hoity-toity air in your writing, use a “—“ instead.
You can also use a semicolon to separate items in lists where each item contains multiple clauses and commas. However, if you’re writing lists that complex, you should rethink what you’re doing, because they’re still difficult for your readers to follow.
- Asides that make you sigh: A way to quickly slap a conversational tone on a piece is to use constant asides, either through semicolons or parentheticals (pretty self-indulgent, eh?). If your writer is using these, make sure that there isn’t one on multiple sentences in a row, as it makes the piece extremely unfocused. Also, make sure every parenthetical is closed, lest you have an aside that lasts forever.
- Ellipses…: A linguistic tick many feel they should itch is to end sentences with ellipses AKA “dot dot dot.” There aren’t many places outside of an opinion blog where this should be done, as it conveys uncertainty, trailing off, and a very weak tone…
2. Make Sure You Keep Tense
Consistency will help any article read better.
- Time: Whether you are writing in past, present, or future tense, be sure to maintain it. All the verbs need to agree with one another.
- Amount: You also need to keep your singular or plural verbs in line with your objects.
- Perspective: Who’s talking? Are you in first, second, or third person? A lot of web content is written in second person, like the one you’re reading. Know how you can tell? It’s because it keeps speaking to “you.” This also shouldn’t change throughout your piece.
3. Don’t Use the Same Word Twice in a Paragraph
At first it seems excessive, but using the same word twice in a paragraph typically betrays a limited vocabulary. Articles, like “the” and “a” will reoccur, but generally nouns and adjectives should be limited to one use. Your reader’s brain will quickly notice a repeated phrase, and when considering the vast options for synonyms out there, they won’t be too impressed.
The exception (as English is wont to have) is repetition used purposefully, for effect. Repetition to drive a point. Repetition to instill a theme. Repetition to be chanted. That’s about it.
4. Read it Out Loud
All of the tips that precede this one are easier to follow if you read your piece out loud once it’s complete. When you do this, you can recognize gaps in logic, or a word flow that doesn’t make sense, or a run-on sentence that leaves your readers breathless. This can also save you when you’re writing for conversational pieces. It’s easy for something to seem alright on paper, but when spoken you realize, “Hold up – no human would ever say this.”
Yes, you’ll look like the crazy one at your office talking to yourself, but it will save your content.
5. Sleep on It
The most important thing you can do to effectively proofread is to put some distance between you and your work, especially if you’re checking your own stuff. When you’ve just put it on paper, you’ll automatically correct problems in your head because you know what you meant to write. When you come back with fresh eyes, those embarrassing mistakes will be obvious – now you can get some reps in on your backspace key.
Follow the above 5 tips, and you’re bound to improve your content whether you’re a pro or not!
Some Copywriting & Readability Resources
- AJ Kohn’s post on readability
- Search Engine Journal – post on the Flesch reading score, readability & SEO
- Moz – Visual Guide to Perfectly Optimized Page
- SEO copywriting tips – an old favorite