How to Give Good Content Writing Feedback

We’ve all had the experience before – someone says words in a way that makes it clear that they think you’ll know exactlygood content writing feedback what they mean, but you’re stumped. You are just not following what they’re saying to you at all.

This is one of the quirks of communication that everyone deals with at some point. Something can be so clear and obvious in your own head that you think expressing that to the person in front of you (or on the other side of that email) is easy, but what’s clear to you is confusing and muddy to them.

Writers know the feeling of being on the other end of that email well. Most of us have had multiple experiences of hearing feedback from clients that just doesn’t tell us what we need to hear in order to understand what the client means. It’s tricky providing feedback well, but having a good relationship with any writer you hire depends on it. And giving good feedback early on in the relationship will usually help them learn what you’re looking for, so you won’t have to do as much work later on.

To help you more effectively get what you’re wanting from a content writer’s work and keep the relationship positive between you, here are some tips on how to give good content writing feedback.

Read the whole thing.

To start, you want to make sure your feedback is accurate and that means taking the time to read over the entire piece of content they’ve submitted. And really read here – don’t skim.

It’s embarrassing for you and awkward for the writer if they have to point out that you’ve asked them to add a section that actually already exists further down the page or with a heading you didn’t recognize. On top of being awkward, it wastes everyone’s time and you both have better things to do.

Get to it quickly.

I know you’re busy, but if you sit on a blog post or white paper for weeks, or worse, months before sending your feedback, that particular piece won’t be fresh in you content writer’s memory. It’s both harder and less efficient to make good updates if they barely remember the piece by that point and the research they did for it. And some freelance content writers (this one included) will even put feedback deadlines in the contract, so you may miss your chance to get updates altogether if you wait too long.

So give yourself a deadline. Commit to reading over the piece and sending your feedback within a week of receiving it, and get it on your to do list even sooner if possible.

Be specific.

While it’s so obvious to you why the wording in that third paragraph just doesn’t sound right or the overall tone of the piece doesn’t work – your content writer can’t see into your head. You have to explain what you’re seeing to them in terms that make it clear to them how to make the changes you want.

Avoid general language.

Feedback like “this section doesn’t really work” or “this just isn’t clicking” only tells someone that you don’t like what you’re looking at. It doesn’t tell them why. Sure, your writer could re-write that section to be all new wording, but if they don’t understand what you don’t like about it, there’s a good chance they’ll end up just repeating the problem you didn’t like about it the first time.

Saying instead something like “the tone in this section is too formal” or “this sentence is too long, which makes it hard to follow” actually gives us something to work with when making changes.

Make notes and changes in the text itself.

This makes it possible for you to comment directly on specific wording or sections that demonstrate the issue you’re addressing. If you think some of the wording is muddy or confusing, point out specifically where you see that happening rather than expecting the writer to be able to figure it out. If you think there are claims in the piece that need to be better backed up with sources, point out which ones.

Being able to match your feedback with the particular parts of the content piece you’re talking about will help the writer see clearly what you mean so they know both the sort of changes you’re looking for now and how to avoid making those same mistakes in the future.

Provide examples of what you’re looking for.

Particularly when it comes to issues of tone and style, it can be hard to communicate exactly what you want with descriptive terms. If you can point to other blog posts or content pieces – either on your own website or elsewhere – that have the kind of style you’re looking for (or even better, if you have a style guide), it can go a long way to help a writer figure out the right approach to take.

Be respectful.

Clarity is a big part of the good feedback equation, but respect is just as important. When you hire a professional content writer, you need to treat them with professionalism.

Negative feedback is ok, but tone matters.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to provide criticisms. Anyone working in a creative field should have enough of a thick skin to take (respectful) criticism of their work. The line between constructive criticism and being insulting or mean should be clear to you. If it’s not, let someone else in your company be in charge of providing feedback and maybe consider therapy or communication classes to learn the difference, because it’s a pretty important life skill to have. I don’t mean that as shade, but as genuine advice.

Saying “this writing is awful” or “don’t you know anything?” isn’t helpful, but saying “this piece could really use some more work, could you take some time to do a little more research and find some data or case studies to back up your points?” is perfectly reasonable.

Keep things professional.

This relates to tone, but is worth saying on its own. Don’t yell at a content writer because you don’t like their work. Don’t insult their intelligence or use vulgar language to describe what you think of it. For the love of all that matters in this world, do NOT use racial, sexist, or ableist slurs in your response.

Every content writer you hire, whether they’re a freelancer or employee, is someone with a career and their own professional contacts. Know that if you’re the client or boss from hell, their other contacts will hear about it and it will come back to haunt you.

Remember: writing is subjective.

One of the really cool things about language is that there are a lot of right ways to say the same thing. Someone can have a writing style that doesn’t work for you, but it still perfectly good writing. Remember that your opinion on this subject is not the objectively correct opinion.

When you’re paying for someone to write for you, you’re allowed to have an opinion on the writing – of course you are. But don’t frame your feedback as though you know the right way to say things and your writer is clearly wrong for not choosing the wording you would have. If you do, you’ll come off as arrogant and patronizing.

Instead, approach your feedback as an exercise in helping your writer understand how to come around to your preferences for style and tone – or better yet, the preferences you believe your audience has for style and tone. After all, you may be the client, but they’re not actually writing for you.

 

A good working relationship with a freelance content writer can be extremely beneficial to your company and your content marketing program. Good feedback is an important part of being able to keep the writers you hire for the long term and get them to a place where they know how to deliver the kind of content you’re looking for. It’s worth spending a little bit of time, especially early in your relationship, to provide specific and respectful feedback to any writer you work with.

 

6 Great Content Writing Examples

Anyone who works in content marketing is used to encountering bad examples. You get better at noticing the stuff that doesn’t work when it’s your job to make stuff that does. Because we’re so used to seeing bad examples, it feels really good to encounter examples of content writing done right.

It can give is some inspiration in our work and, if we’re the target audience, be directly useful to us as well. To provide some of you with that feeling today, I’ve collected a few examples of great content writing I’ve encountered. Enjoy.

Great Business Blogging Examples

For most companies that do content marketing, blogging is the biggest part of the job. Blogs give you the opportunity to provide fresh, useful content to your audience on a regular basis and they’re one of the best tools you’ve got for SEO.

But they’re also hungry beasts that demand lots of work and never let you take a break. That’s caused far too many businesses to try to settle for lazy, cheap content on their blogs – or give up on them entirely within a few months of not seeing immediate results.

The brands that stick with it and provide consistently helpful and high-quality content are therefore in the minority.

HomeAdvisor

Homeowners tend to have a lot of ideas for projects they want to try and questions about how to handle everyday fixes. The Home Advisor blog HomeSource is packed full of answers and tips. The blog is a mix of practical tips like how to hire a good contractor or pack for a move, along with more fun topics like decorating your home and yard.

Probably the most common questions homeowners have are those about cost. Many people – especially new homeowners – simply don’t know what’s normal to expect a home repair or update to cost. In addition to the blog itself, HomeAdvisor therefore offers a True Cost guide to give you an idea of what your budget should be before you start a project, and help you rule out any contractors that charge outside of the norm. And since the company’s business model is based on matching homeowners with the people who do those sorts of projects, they of course offer a handy CTA on the same page to help you find relevant professionals in your area.

content marketing example

Rover

Rover’s got a bit of advantage over most businesses when it comes to their content. The company is all about pets (mostly dogs) – and we all know pet pictures are one of the most popular things on the internet. But in addition to taking advantage of the love people have for pictures of cute animals, the Rover blog Daily Treat also provides a lot of useful information on topics important to pet owners, such as training and safety tips and answers to pressing questions like “do dogs recognize us on a phone screen?” (if you have a dog, you’ve probably wondered).

blogging example
They’re one of the companies that can most successfully get me to click on a link in an email, because they do a great job of figuring out the things pet owners really do want to know.

Ehrlich

If you’re thinking “sure, their content’s good, but Rover has it so much easier than those of us doing marketing in areas less compelling than the cute dog industry,” here’s an example for you. The pest control company Ehrlich has a great blog, deBugged that provides lots of useful information about bugs and other creepy crawly-adjacent subjects.

Bugs aren’t a subject most of us go out of our way to do some reading on each day, but when you need to know how concerned you should really be about Zika virus or what to do about bed bugs, those posts will come in handy. And the rest of the time, you may find posts on topics like how long wasps live to be interesting as well. Like Home Advisor, they include CTAs at the end of their content where relevant so that person trying to figure out what to do about bed bugs knows who to call to help.

blogging example

 Great Examples of Longform Content

As content marketing is adopted by more and more businesses in all sorts of industries, finding a way to stand out is a challenge. One route many businesses are taking is creating content that goes more in depth. It takes more work, but if you can pack more of the information your prospects need into one longform piece rather than spreading it over a number of shorter pieces, many people will find that more helpful.

Freshbooks

Freshbooks’ target audience for their accounting software is small businesses and freelancers. That’s a group of people that thinks a lot about pricing – figuring out how to charge for your services in a way that works for you and your customers is a fraught subject.

In order to provide them information so useful it could stand out in the marketing crowd, they put together an ebook that tackled the subject of how to switch from charging hourly to project-based pricing. The 70-page book is structured like a conversation between two relatable professionals and lays out the case for a different approach to pricing that can help service-based small business owners make more.

The book got reviewed around the web and collected positive testimonials from a number of key influencers. Not bad in our world of content saturation.

longform content writing example

Moz

I mentioned content saturation before, but arguably the industry that has it the worst is marketing. Many of the earliest adopters of content marketing were marketing agencies and marketing software companies. Producing content about marketing that doesn’t repeat what’s been said before and manages to provide something truly useful is a huge challenge businesses face. But Moz is consistently good at it.

Any time I encounter someone looking to learn the basics of SEO, I send them over to the The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz. It’s thorough, but manageable. It’s written in a way to be accessible to people new to the concept and it’s organized to make it easy to focus in on specific sections when you just need a refresher on, say, keyword research.

The guide was produced several years ago, but is updated regularly to make sure the information stays accurate. It’s been read over 3 million times and continues to generate new traffic for the site.

longform content writing example

Rodale’s

For people just getting started, gardening is both exciting and overwhelming. There’s a lot you need to know and figuring out both the answers to your questions and even what questions you should have can be challenging.

In addition to their usual helpful blog content, Rodale’s also provides some longform guides that help the people in their target audience – gardeners that care about the environment – learn all the most important basics to start out with.

Their Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening covers using seeds, using transplants, weeds, pest control, and basic gardening vocabulary. It ensures readers can go into their local nursery with all the 101-information covered.

longform content writing example

Content marketing is hard to do well, but seeing how other brands are pulling it off can help you to revisit your own strategy to consider ways to do better. Hopefully these examples will provide some inspiration for your own content . And if you could use some extra help with content writing for your business, that’s what I do. Get in touch to see if we might be a good fit.

8 Ways to Lose a Link

Content marketing means creating content with a purpose. For every piece of how to lose linkscontent you create, you should have a specific goal (or usually, several) in mind that you want it to achieve.

If you care at all about SEO – and I’m not sure I’ve met a content marketer that doesn’t – then one important goal you should have for blog posts is earning links. While the factors Google uses to determine search rankings are complicated, backlinks (quality ones, in particular) are still arguably the most important factor.

And one of the biggest factors involved in earning links is appealing to writers. We’re the ones who do most of that linking.

Let me assure you that we’re not spending our days considering whether or not we’ll make or break brands in our decisions about what to link to in our articles. We’re just trying to write the best, most useful content for our clients and their readers.

We’re not thinking about you, but you can benefit from thinking about us and understanding what goes through our heads when we decide whether or not a piece of content we come across is worthy of that link.

Just like anyone, we have our standards and pet peeves – sins that will make us immediately click off a page and refuse to consider it a worthy authority for our readers. To help you avoid inadvertently losing out on a link, I surveyed a few colleagues to better understand what makes all of us tick and decide a link is not worthy of our love.

8 Sins to Avoid if You Care About Building Links

1.    A bad website design

If your website looks like it was built in 1999 and hasn’t had an update since, it won’t look authoritative to me (or any of your other visitors). I’m not the only one who feels this way, Content Strategist and Author Leah Levy told me “I wouldn’t link to a piece if the site looks spammy — that is, it has an outdated design.”

“Spammy” is about the last word you want people to use to describe your website or content. The quality of the content itself won’t matter much if it lives on a website that looks so cheap and old that no one can get past the design.

As Linda Dessau, the founder of Content Mastery Guide, put it “Since a link is an endorsement, I steer clear of sites that look outdated or unprofessional. I want to be associated with people and businesses that have a polished and professional image.”

2.    Sloppy writing

Part of our job is paying attention to things like spelling, word choice, and sentence structure. When we encounter something that’s sloppily written or riddled with typos, you can bet we notice.

Linking to something that clearly no one bothered to proofread would make me look bad. If you can’t be bothered to take the time to read over your blog posts (or hire someone to do so) to make sure they make sense and don’t include any embarrassing errors, then writers won’t bother to share or link to them.

And it’s not just about writers nitpicking, sloppy writing makes you look untrustworthy. Leah agrees, she told me, “I wouldn’t link to anything with clear spelling or grammatical errors (nor would I trust it).”

3.    Bad UX

A good website design isn’t just about making sure you don’t look stuck in the 90’s, you also want to make sure people find your site easy to navigate and pleasant to be on.

Unfortunately, many businesses are callously sacrificing good UX in attempts to get more email sign ups and clicks. Pretty much anyone you talk to will have their opinions on what makes for bad UX (although not everyone would know to call it that).

For me it includes pop ups that block out the text and blog posts split needlessly between several pages when they could all be on one (slideshow posts are notorious offenders). I’ll put up with a certain amount of that on sites that are established enough or if the content is really useful. Normally though, I click away and find something else.

Freelance writer Susan Johnston Taylor has her own list of UX dislikes: ““If a site is littered with Google ads, broken links or typos, it doesn’t seem very credible.

As does writer and editor Christine Moline of Jane Doe Ink, who told me, “I wouldn’t link to a poorly organized post or any pages cluttered with ads.”

Linda added a couple more issues to the list: “I screen for overly aggressive or annoying pop-ups, sites that are slow to load or aren’t mobile-friendly.”

All told, different descriptions of bad user experience accounted for the most common answer I received from writers.

Just to reiterate, the final list of UX issues that will make writers click away comes to:

  • Annoying pop ups
  • Articles split into too many pages
  • Lots of ads
  • Broken links
  • Slow loading times
  • Sites that aren’t mobile friendly

If you’re prioritizing getting email sign ups or ad money over the experience visitors will have on your website, know that may be costing you links.

4.    Overly promotional content

When you’re paying for content (or investing a lot of time in it), it’s hard to set aside the idea of promoting yourself. I get it. You want a direct payoff for what you put into it.

When you make your content all about you though, it makes it come off as less trustworthy.

I head from multiple writers that overly promotional content was a no-no in their linking choices, but writer and content maven Phaedra Hise had the most to say on the subject: “I don’t link to anything that’s too promotional. I’m really picky about that – if it’s too promotional I might even link to it as an example of what NOT to do, but usually I don’t even like to give that kind of publicity.”

I mean, links are nice, but you don’t want to get one by becoming a writer’s example of what not to do.

5.    A statistic without a link or citation

None of the other writers mentioned it, but this is one of my personal rules. If your article mentions a statistic without telling me where it’s from, you will immediately lose my trust.

The thing is, many of us think we know statistics we don’t. I’ve come across the same statistic casually mentioned in article after article that I’ve never been able to track down to a source.

Sometimes the source is a research report that costs hundreds of dollars, so I understand if not every statistic can be easily linked to. But make sure you let me know which report that costs hundreds of dollars it’s from so I’m willing to at least take your word that it’s real.

I can only speak for myself on this one, but if you ever want a link from me, make sure you cite your sources.

6.    Outdated information

A lot of industries move fast. If your blog post from three years ago says something that’s no longer true, then it’s losing value in the link economy.

Says Susan, “If a post is several years old or clearly references outdated information, I’d try to find a more recent post to make sure I’m linking to something that’s still current.”

That doesn’t mean your old posts are useless, just that you should make a project out of updating them now and then. In particular, any posts you have that are popular and bringing in traffic now should be revisited so you can see if there’s a good opportunity to update any of them for accuracy.

7.    Lack of authenticity

This relates somewhat back to overly promotional content, if you come off like you’re trying too hard or acting like something you’re not, people will notice.

Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative put it at the top of his list of things he won’t link to: “Posts lacking personality. I think you can offer a lot of knowledge, but I’d rather not align my brand with yours if it’s boring. And that represents 90% of content marketers, sorry to say.“

The good news is that if 90% of marketers are doing it wrong, then bringing some real personality to your writing is a good way to differentiate yourself.

On a related note, Carol Tice, author of the recent ebook Small Blog Big Income and the blog Make a Living Writing , cited one of her biggest dealbreakers as when “the blog author is pretending to be an authority when they really just started doing the thing they write about.”

There’s a definite value to positioning yourself as a thought leader or expert – but only if you have the knowledge and experience to back it up.

8.    Moral reputation

Carol had another big sin that she mentioned: “I won’t link to posts on the Huffington Post due to its policy of not paying writers, since I am an advocate for fair writer pay.”

She’s the only one of the writers I talked to that mentioned this particular point, but I suspect we’ve all shied away from visiting or linking to a website if we know the brand represents something we disagree with.

Be careful what you stand for and how you treat your employees and contractors. If you gain a reputation for being about something that many writers don’t agree with, they’ll be quick to find another resource to go with instead.

Conclusion

To summarize, the eight deadly sins that will lose you links are:

  • An outdated website
  • Sloppy writing and typos
  • A bad user experience
  • Being overly promotional
  • Not citing your sources
  • Letting your content become outdated
  • Not being authentic
  • A bad brand reputation

Avoiding these things obviously doesn’t guarantee you links. We’re still going to seek out the resources that are most valuable to our readers and relevant to the subject we’re talking about. That may be your links; it may be those of another business or publication. But if you’re guilty of one of these eight sins, then even if your content is useful, there’s a good chance we’ll look for another resource to use instead.

If you want to appeal to the people doing the writing, then take heed. Producing valuable content is one part of the puzzle, avoiding the errors on this list is another.

Why Content Writing Requires Empathy

What are the most important skills a content writer needs? Some of the obvious answers that may first come to mind are:

content writing requires empathy

Image via recitethis.com

  • Knack for language
  • Ability to research
  • Understanding of how to format content for the web
  • Ability to write easy-to-read content
  • Ability to create a content calendar and stick with deadlines

The two answers that came up the most often when I asked content strategists what skills the best content writers possessed were creativity and curiosity.

All of that matters. Good content writing requires a pretty significant skillset. But nothing on that list would be enough to create compelling content that people want to read without the skill that’s arguably most important of all: empathy. You probably won’t see it show up on a resume or the list of qualifications in a job ad, but without empathy, nothing a content writer produces will resonate with the target audience.

The Case for Empathy in Content Marketing

Marketers talk a lot about how important empathy is, but often in other terms. How many times have you heard your marketing colleagues use the phrase “know your audience.” It’s an easy thing to say, but empathy can actually be really challenging. It’s not something that’s taught in school. Most businesses don’t exactly cover it in their training. Trying to truly understand what someone else is thinking and feeling is difficult.

Our default mode is to view our own perception of the world as the most obvious, natural way to see things. It’s just how we’re wired. Getting outside of our own heads in order to figure out the differences in how others see things takes effort and practice.

No one’s arguing against empathy in marketing, but not many organizations are putting it front and center. Probably in large part because it is so much harder than it looks. It’s easy enough to think you know your audience, but much harder to actually go the extra mile to really understand them.

How Can Someone Get Better At Empathy?

Image via Natalie CollinsThat poses the question: what can we actually do about it? First and foremost, read.

If there’s one main way to flex our brain’s empathy muscle, it’s to get inside the heads of other people through books, short stories, and articles. Fiction and non-fiction are both good for this. Through reading, you can take a ride through the mindset and perceptions of the writer or character and learn about the experiences of others.

Devoting more time to reading is great advice for anyone who cares about becoming empathetic (or becoming a better writer in any format). But there’s a whole set of other steps you can take to become more empathetic to your particular audience.

Find them online. Then just hang out and listen.

Look for forums, social media groups, and blog comment sections where your audience hangs out. There are so many spaces online today where people share their thoughts and feelings, if you can figure out where those spaces are for your audience then you’ll have an easy glimpse into the kinds of questions and concerns they have.

Talk to your salespeople and customer service reps.

There are people within your company working directly with your customers and prospects every day. Your salespeople and customer service representatives hear first hand what your target audience is thinking about, the issues they’re facing, the questions they commonly have and the kinds of problems they regularly deal with. All of that information can help you understand your audience better and craft your content calendar based on the topics they actually care about.

Look to your data.

Marketers have more data today than they ever have in the history of the profession. You likely already have at your fingertips loads of information on what your prospects are searching for, the terms they use, and the types of content they’re most commonly seeking out. Data can seem dry and impersonal, but with the proper analysis, it can provide content writers with important insights into the minds of your prospects.

Revisit and refine your personas semi-regularly.

Personas shouldn’t be a project you tackle once and then leave alone. You’re constantly learning more about your audience – what issues they care about, what types of content they respond to, what topics they’re discussing online – your new insights should make their way into the personas you have. Commit to revisiting your personas at least once or twice a year to improve upon them based on new information.

 

Empathy is a crucial skill to have as a content writer, but more importantly, it helps people to become better human beings. When you make an effort to understand what other people go through and how they feel, becoming better at communicating and treating people with greater compassion are natural side effects. The same skill that will make your content more relatable and successful will pay off in your life far beyond the effects it has on your work.