Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Writers need businesses backing them up!

There are really only two reasons why professional writers write crappy web copy: they’re either not the right person for the job, or they don’t have the business support that they need. If you’re a business decision-maker, this is good news—both of these things are in your control. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about hiring the right writer. Today I’m going to show you how to provide the support that writers need to do their job really well.

Just follow these 5 tips for success:

1. Develop and use a writing style guide
Having an effective, usable, corporate style guide is critical when you want a consistent tone and voice, consistent terminology and phrasing, and brand-focused content. A style guide raises quality and reduces costs by eliminating the constant changes and choices around specific wording and phrasing details. It enhances creativity by focusing the writer on creating compelling content within brand and usability constraints. It also makes it possible to have a team of writers, or multiple consecutive writers, write for one product or one company with one voice. I’ll write more about what makes a great style guide later.

2. Engage the writer early and often
Please, please, please, don’t leave the writer out of the loop until all of the research, design, and preliminary testing is done! A writer cannot contribute their expertise in information design, customer focus, or almost anything beyond grammar if you provide them with a fill-in-the blanks activity two seconds before release. Grammar is important, but it’s seriously not enough to compete in today’s online world. Find a writer who has great ideas about content that go beyond basic web writing. What can they contribute to content design, research, testing, marketing, or usability? Find that person, and then engage them early and often.

3. Make sure that content is a recognized part of all project stages and processes
This is similar to the item above, but reflects the need for content requirements and contributions to be a recognized part of every project stage. There should be someone with specialized content knowledge who ensures that the product is being designed and developed in a way that allows for the most useful and usable content possible.

4. Invest time and money in content
Sure, free content is readily available. You could write it, or the product manager, or designer, or your receptionist. You could leave it to the end, and then quickly fill in those content gaps. But its worth will be equal to your investment—pretty much zero. Good content costs money and it takes time. It needs drafting, revising, editing, and testing. And then more of the same. Good content means paying a professional writer who has specific expertise. The good news is that your investment in content will pay off. In increased sales, customer conversions, customer engagement, customer loyalty, improved branding, competitive positioning... you get the picture.

5. Let go, and trust in your processes and people
This is sometimes the toughest thing for business people to do. Everybody has an opinion about writing, because everybody writes. But if you have the right writers, and the right processes to support them, you need to let go and trust in their expertise. You still need to pay attention to content, just be sure that your personal opinion isn’t responsible for major changes in the direction of the content. In fact, nobody’s personal opinion should be responsible for major changes. Pay attention to your writer, use personas as a tool to stay focused, and continually confirm or adjust the effectiveness of content through customer testing and analytics.

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