So your website has been in operation for a few years, the number of pages has been growing all that time. The writing, messaging and “voice” across the site is inconsistent to say the least, and not all pages are relevant or even current. Time for a content refresh perhaps?
Imagine this: it’s nearly the end of the day, you’re finalising the copy for the new web pages. With high hopes you open the latest email from the subject matter expert (SME), it’s their latest copy. You’ve been looking forward to this all day as it’s the last piece of the puzzle needed before that whole section can go live. Then when the Word doc opens – ohh nooo, it’s way, way too long and convoluted, key messages are buried, no-one’s going to read all that! You now realise you’re looking down the barrel of a long night ahead picking out the salient parts and rewriting the whole thing so the site can still launch on time and the brochures can go to print.
The really good news is that there is a simple technique to take the pressure off and make sure the content is right the first time.
What is pair writing?
Pair writing means paring the Content owner / Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) with writing for the web specialists who bring the additional layer of specialised writing techniques to the party. The SME’s have the knowledge the website visitors come for, however may not have the very specific skills around writing for the web and online scan reading behaviours, integration SEO etc.
Origin: pair programming
The idea that two heads are better is not new, however pair writing techniques have recent IT references. The Agile software development methodology is designed for fast-tracked, iterative software development. Pair programming is an Agile development technique in which two programmers work side by side on the same code. Research shows pair programming results in fast-tracked, more effective code (less bugs).
Pair writing is inspired by pair programming. There is a core difference though, pair programming describes a combination of two programmers of equal or similar programming skills. However for pair writing the combination differs in that the pairing is of people bringing two different expertise sets together, that of the SME with their full knowledge working in combination with the professional writer who is bringing specialised writing techniques to write for the online interactive environment. You can expect the same kind of positive outcomes from pair writing – that of fast-tracked, accurate content that is written for scan reading behaviours and increased engagement for the reader.
The best of both worlds
An SME and a professional writer working together combine the advantage of accurate source knowledge with advance writing skills, that’s the part about bringing together the best of both worlds. The benefits are both short and long term. Typically, in the short term this leads to high-quality content, produced in a shorter timeframe, if there is an eye on ways to save time it is very likely the teams will come up with ways to do so on their way through their first few pages (did someone say ‘template’), there are always tasks that can streamlined. If you can keep the focus on the best way to do things then, over time and editorial cycles you will start to see even more cost advantage. Pair writing can result in faster page completion times, which is where the cost savings start, streamlining techniques only add to that.
Long term benefit: trust building
From the bigger picture view, pair writing typically results in consistent content across the website. From a brand building perspective, building trust with your customer or reading communities comes when content is useful, knowledgeable and consistent. All of which pair writing delivers.
Real world value: Getting content under control
Imagine the perfect storm; a large organisation perhaps with two or three websites and over say, 500 employees, 300 of whom have publishing rights on the CMS. You have 300 people struggling to deliver high quality content in a consistent voice, all aligned with the brand. The marketing and communications team has their work cut out, especially over time as the sites grow. Whilst this is disconcerting, this is where pair writing can really help bring consistency. Additionally, the real benefit is the writer is teaching the content owners professional writing techniques over time. There are also several other options to dissipate of the amount of crazy, inconsistent content on any site. The first step is usually to audit the site content and create an editorial style guide to go along with the brand visual style guide. Integrate some pair writing techniques today, engage professional web writers (plural if needed) and get the team going in the right direction, sooner rather than later. Here at The Walk we have a number of content tools that can get you up and running, give us a call and we can get you going.
Professional web writing techniques: secret writer business
If you are not a professional writer and you’re just planning on muddling through, after all you write all the time, please reconsider. Professional writing expertise will result in high quality content. We need more – not less of that. Writing for online scan reading behaviours is of the foundational expertise the professional writer brings to the editorial process, this means writing to:
- Engage within 5 seconds:
Start the page with two short front-loaded sentences. Hello pyramid style writing, we like you a lot.
- Your target:
You are writing to three key messages for the reader. Focus on the what the website user is coming to read as your goal is create meaningful, useful content that people will stay to read.
- Keep it short:
800 words is best practice; many readers will flee if confronted by a long passage of text when just looking for one piece of information. Typically, on a website people don’t want to invest a whole lot of time reading full passages of text to finally drill down to their key piece of information or goal content. People will however, scan read down a page to find the trigger word (engagement trigger) that they are looking for and read on from there.
- Create engagement triggers:
Short meaningful headings (otherwise known as engagement triggers) so the reader can scan down the page and both get the ‘story’ of the page and/or locate the key information they came for, and read the paragraph, thereby making that specific heading their ‘engagement trigger’. See how that works?
- Make that page findable:
Thread priority one and two keywords or key phrases into headings and summary texts, so search engines can find the content.
We’ll stop here. We’ve spilled enough secrets. There are a lot more criteria, we haven’t even started on plain language and F-shaped reading patterns or readability ratings. We recommend consulting a professional writer, or naturally talk with us at The Walk.
Conclusion: Why you should try pair writing
In the end, pair writing is a fairly simple technique that is easy to roll out. The end results tend to be ‘quiet’, as the team is creating content in partnership the outcomes and results are simply higher quality, consistent content with typically faster turn around times. This can be rolled out for smaller (100 + page) websites through to the larger corporate internet and intranet sites with thousands of pages. Not just for online content, there is value in using pair writing for the ‘passive’ content realm as well, including Annual Report development or product brochures as scan reading happens online and offline really.
The value proposition tends to have a long tail. Beneficial outcomes tend to be long term, especially when the page numbers are high, and will deliver a website replete with consistent content in the brand voice. The other long-term value is the inevitably improved skills of the content owners/SME’s, particularly valuable if you have hundreds of people with CMS publishing access.
You can have the best of both worlds. If you need help getting started on creating a viable pair writing process and a content toolset, here at the Walk we can help you get a jump on things.