Our Editorial Process for Creating Truly Outstanding Website Content
Written by LaFleur
Content marketing is incredibly competitive
Sometimes, the scale of something can paralyze our powers of comprehension. For example, there are over 1 billion websites on the internet. Of those websites, only about 10 of them will show up on the first page of Google for any given search query – that’s 0.00000001%.
While language, location, and several other factors will substantially reduce the pool of websites yours is competing with directly, go ahead and search for something one of your potential clients might be interested in. Maybe it’s “Chicago personal injury attorney,” which returns about 1,090,000 results. The top ten for that search are among the elite 0.000009%.
How do those websites end up in Google’s top ten? First and foremost, they provide high-quality written content to visitors, and if you want to compete, you need to do the same. It’s a highly competitive marketplace, but having a clearly defined, process-based approach to content creation will help you rank higher, rank for more keywords, and bring in more highly qualified traffic.
Below, we’ll outline the editorial process LaFleur uses for our clients’ content marketing efforts and our own brand. Just as important as the process itself, the people accomplishing each step matter. At LaFleur, we have highly qualified and uniquely talented content marketing staff members — including master’s level writers and editors, certified SEO specialists, experienced journalists, and more. One hallmark of our service is unparalleled quality in our written work — and quality counts when you’re trying to compete online.
Quality counts – more than you think
Most people — even Millennials — agree that writing needs to be free of typos. In fact, a $10 million court case recently centered around the omission of a critical comma, and Mariner 1 (the $18.5 million spacecraft destined to head to Venus back in 1962) had to be self-destructed shortly after takeoff due to a missing hyphen in the code.
But creating a high-quality piece of internet content is about more than just avoiding typos.
To write something that will rank well in search engines and resonate with your audience, you need to take many factors into consideration. Chief among them are the following:
Branding and voice
Is the topic you are writing about relevant to your brand? Does it help you achieve your larger business goals in some way? Does the content align with messaging elsewhere on your site and within your other online and offline assets? Do the structure and approach of the piece communicate the essence of your brand to help you stand out against competitors?
Is your topic relevant to your target audience? Does it provide them with useful, practical information that will address a real need? Does your content put your audience first and instill trust in readers? (For example, would they feel comfortable providing you with personal or even financial information based on what appears on the page?) Does your content comprehensively address the issue, or does it leave out important facts or details that would help readers? Is your piece sensitive to the particular demographics you are trying to reach?
Offering a unique perspective
Given the volume of material on the internet, does your piece offer unique insights, analyses, data, or methodologies that make it stand out from other content that discusses a similar topic (especially content that is ranking well)? Is your content unique to the page it is on and not simply cobbled together and paraphrased from other sources?
Maintaining incredibly high standards for quality
Could your piece be published in a book, encyclopedia, or major newspaper, magazine, or journal as-is? Are you proud to have your piece of content associated with your name and/or your brand? Has your piece been produced with a great deal of attention to detail? Is your content free of distracting and unprofessional typographical, grammatical, and mechanical errors? (In particular, does your piece have less errors than other content that is ranking well for your topic?)
The best way to attend to these crucial elements in your content is to have a dedicated editorial process where attention to these details is built in to the procedures and workflows that are followed by everyone involved in content creation.
LaFleur’s editorial process for creating truly outstanding website content
Once you know what you are creating, it’s time to figure out how to do it. We have written before about how to write a successful blog post, the right way, as well as how to plan and create blog content with a team of multiple writers.
To offer even deeper insight into the entire editorial process from start to finish, we have outlined each step in detail below.
Step 1: Ideation
Ideation actually begins at the outset of our relationship with a client where we ask a series of onboarding questions related to content.
A few examples include:
- What sets your firm apart from competitors?
- What are the attributes of an ideal client?
- What are 5 words you would use to describe your firm?
- What is the voice/tone you hope to convey in your marketing messaging?
- What are some specific topics, ideas, or news stories you’d like to see covered on your blog?
- Is there anything you definitely don’t want to see in your online content?
- What do you consider to be the primary metric for success in digital marketing?
We try to ask multiple questions to reinforce our understanding of a client’s needs and wants. For example, the words a client would use to describe their firm should align with the voice and tone that they hope to convey. Similarly, the ideas or topics they want to discuss should not appear in the list of concepts they don’t want to see.
As clients offer feedback on their calendars and content (more on that later), we also track their changes and feedback to help inform our approach in the future.
Using answers to onboarding questions, client feedback, keyword and competitor analysis, and other information gathered from regular strategy meetings with clients, our content team specialist (who is dedicated to a select few specific clients) goes to work on generating topic ideas for their client(s).
Typically, this involves doing a bit of preliminary research to develop a pitch for the client that includes the following:
- A working title — Our pitch titles are usually optimized for search engines with embedded target keywords, an appropriate character length for search results, and compelling descriptors. The more well-developed the title is, the easier it is for stakeholders (and eventually the audience) to understand what a piece is about. It’s the difference between “5 Things to Do After an Accident” and “5 Crucial Actions You Need to Take After a Car Wreck.” Which one would you want on your blog?
- A brief bulleted description of the piece — The bulleted description provides a syllogism-esque preview of the topic that includes an overview of salient details that will get covered as well as the internal logical structure of a piece. It should answer the “so what?” question: you’re writing about an editorial process – so what? Why should I care? What can I do with this information?
Here’s what the description looked like for this piece:
- The primary audiences for this piece are current and potential clients of LaFleur in the legal vertical, but it can certainly be more widely applicable to DIY marketers in any field.
- This piece should discuss the competitiveness of content marketing as well as the need for high-quality content in that competitive market.
- It should explain how having an editorial process can improve the quality of content and outline the important steps in our organization’s editorial process.
So far, we’re on track.
A description for the piece helps our clients understand what direction a piece will take so they can offer significantly more insightful and valuable feedback when they review it. The description is also crucial for our writers because they may not get around to writing a piece until several months after it is initially pitched in a client’s quarterly content calendar. Having a detailed description and basic outline saves a lot of time on research and drafting when it’s finally time to put fingers to the keyboard.
- Potential source material — Source material can range from previous blog posts to review, data or information sets to draw from, or competing content that we are trying to outrank in search by providing original insights, original data, and more useful information to the audience. Source material comes up naturally in the initial research process, so, again, documenting it in the pitch saves time later in the writing process and provides even more context for clients who are reviewing the idea.
This is exactly the type of ideation your marketing partner or in-house team should be doing and presenting to you. It will save you time and avoid miscommunication very early in the writing process. Rather than investing 4, 6, or 8 hours researching, writing, and editing a piece and then having it rejected after it is written, a thorough ideation only takes between 15 and 30 minutes (especially for our content specialists who are intimately familiar with their respective clients). So, a pitch can easily be tweaked before the much more time-consuming process of writing and editing is undertaken, and getting helpful, insightful feedback on it can result in a much better final product.
Step 2: Pitch approval
Once a quarter’s worth of pitches are created, they are put into a reader-friendly version of our clients’ editorial calendars and sent out for feedback and/or approval. If a client doesn’t like an idea — no problem; we can develop a new one to run by them.
If a client has their own idea for a blog post — great! We love when our clients get actively involved in the ideation process.
If a client wants to change the direction of a piece — perfect! We’d prefer to hear that early on rather than rewrite something later.
If there are insights, sources, or other details our client can provide to add to an idea — awesome! We recognize that our clients are incredibly busy (which is one of the reasons they trust us to handle their content creation for them), but any personal touch they can offer helps us get to know them better and write content that is more closely aligned with their personal brand.
This review process is also crucial for an in-house team. The stakeholder responsible for the content being written (even if they are not writing it) should review an idea before it gets drafted to offer insights, save time, and effectively manage the process.
Step 3: Drafting
Once an idea is approved, it gets plugged into our task management system, Asana. This helps track all subsequent steps in the editorial process for each blog post, determine who is responsible for them, assign a due date for each step, and more.
Included in the writer’s task is the pitch as well as any feedback from the client. While most people are familiar with the concept of drafting — taking ideas and organizing them into sentence, paragraph, and essay form — we expect quite a bit more from our own writers.
Here are a few key expectations that we have and that you should expect from your marketing partner or your in-house team:
- Find real facts as close to the original source as possible — Outstanding writing begins with a foundation of facts, not simply finding facts to support your ideas (or ignoring the facts altogether). This piece is founded on the facts that our editorial process has brought our organization increased productivity in content creation (which means cost savings to our clients) as well as the facts of our content marketing success — our clients have seen a 159.61% increase in organic traffic to their websites on average as a result of working with us.
We expect our writers will not only find facts to support the claims within any given piece of content, but also that they will find the source of those facts. News, facts, and many other things spread very quickly on the internet and even in the popular consciousness, which is why it’s crucial to ethically source your facts to reputable, credible sources — not some random page on the internet quoting something fifth-hand.
- Chase down the answers to questions — If you have a question about something while writing, there’s a good chance your readers will have a similar question. Rather than hedging, redirecting, or using vague qualifiers, writers should pursue nuanced answers to their questions (and provide them to readers as well). In the process, writers will likely come across new directions for a piece, new facts that inform their approach, or even new ideas for future content topics (which we expect them to record in our shared online notebook for the content team here at LaFleur to save time in the ideation step and produce natural ideas that relate to specific clients’ practices).
Another added benefit of really digging in to research and drafting is that our writers accrue knowledge specific to their clients’ practices. When new clients come in, we assign them to a content specialist who is already familiar with their focus areas. When a new family law firm signs on, for example, they get paired with a family law content team specialist.
- Consider advertising guidelines — Each state bar has nuanced rules and guidelines for advertising. Some require specific disclaimers, some don’t allow client testimonials, some don’t deviate significantly from the American Bar Association’s “Model Rules of Professional Conduct.” While we can’t guarantee that every piece of writing perfectly follows every single rule of professional conduct, we do document the most important rules and guidelines for each of our clients and expect our writers (and editors) to abide by them to the best of their ability.
- Ask questions — We have a very horizontal and collaborative culture here at LaFleur, and we encourage everyone, especially writers, to ask clarifying questions whenever they come up. Sometimes, another writer or editor can answer a question. Other times, an account or project manager can. Although we try to minimize our requests of busy clients, we do make an effort to reach out if we know the answer to a question will have demonstrable value for a given piece.
- Edit your own work at least once — Developing and improving the substance of content is the prime directive of writers during the drafting process, but research shows that writers themselves can catch more than half of their own errors by proofreading their own work. Including this step helps writers improve their own craft and saves editors time.
- Keep search engine optimization (SEO) in mind — All of our writers are expected to use best practices for SEO as they write. Our in-house template for blog posts includes space for the title tag, targeted keyword(s), H1 tag, and meta description, and we also expect writers to create descriptive headings (such as H2s and H3s) with keyword variants.
Obviously, there’s more to drafting than this — such as attending to reading levels, formatting a piece based on best practices for online reading, citing sources thoroughly, getting acquainted with a specific client’s style, etc. — but the expectations for writers as they draft should be clearly outlined in detail to improve quality at the drafting stage.
Step 4: Editing
We have a “two sets of eyes on everything” rule here at LaFleur so that no writer is ever forced to edit their own work before a client sees it. Having a second person (especially one whose expertise is in editing) take a fresh look at any piece of content helps catch more errors and adds a layer of collaboration and accountability that pushes all of us to perform our best and focus on our primary objective: creating the best possible piece of written work for our client.
While many people consider editing to be one step, “editing” is actually a broad term for several different processes: revising, editing, and proofing. Below is an overview of those more nuanced steps:
Revising — While revising, the editor will review the piece primarily for structural considerations. Are sections and paragraphs in the best order? Is there any important information missing? Is there irrelevant information included? Are transitions present, and do they help reveal the internal logic of the piece? Are sources accurate, cited properly, and appropriate for the piece?
Editing — Next comes editing, which generally focuses on the sentence and word level. Are sentences grammatically correct? Are sentences clear? Are the best words being used? Are connected phrases and elements structured in parallel? Do subjects and verbs agree? Is the verb tense consistent?
Proofing — After revising and editing, proofing requires the editor to carefully review a piece for technical correctness and consistency. Punctuation, formatting, spelling, capitalization, and other minutiae are addressed during the proofing stage.
In addition to the basic responsibilities of an editor above, we expect editors to approach pieces with skepticism. This takes many forms. If a claim doesn’t have robust factual support, we expect editors to find it and/or update that section. If a fact seems dubious, we expect editors to corroborate it. If a section appears to run afoul of specific advertising guidelines, we expect editors to revise it.
Furthermore, we expect editors to workshop particularly tricky sections with the team. We have an instant messaging platform, Slack, that allows groups of people to easily message each other. Our team of writers and editors are included in a group, and we frequently workshop sentences, headlines, summaries, and other short passages together to arrive at the best possible iteration in a final draft.
By the time a piece is thoroughly edited, it is ready for client review.
Step 5: Final review and approval
Although our content team is filled with highly intelligent and capable individuals (and detailed ideas get approved by our clients before writing even begins), getting final approval for a piece of content is a crucial step in the editorial process because we are not lawyers and miscommunications do sometimes occur — especially when our clients get bogged down with their caseload.
During final review and approval, our clients read a piece, offer any feedback, and request any revisions. That feedback is tracked and included in their documentation for future reference because we don’t want to waste our clients’ time by telling us the same thing over and over again. We also offer the option for clients to directly revise a piece themselves if they choose; similarly, those changes are tracked, reviewed, and documented to improve our future content.
While we strive to eliminate any mistakes throughout the editorial process, final review is our way of learning from any mistakes that do get through. The truth is that no writer will craft a perfect piece, and no editor will catch every single mistake. The best anyone can do is make sure that multiple people review every piece of content before it gets published online. For us, that includes at least three people: the writer, editor, and client.
One additional benefit of this step is that clients can very quickly be brought up to speed on what is going live on their site. In fact, one of our clients was contacted by a major U.S. newspaper about a piece on their blog. They hadn’t written a word of it, but they could speak intelligently about the content because they had recently reviewed it (and our staff included detailed citations in the piece showing where their facts came from).
Step 6: Final proof
As client feedback and revisions are incorporated, a final proof occurs — usually by the editor of the piece. Although our clients are often very capable individuals, they are not expertly trained writers or editors, which is why we make sure to conduct a final proof if any changes were made after the final draft was sent out for approval.
This is a low-effort, high-return step that essentially just involves a final read-through. However, even one misplaced letter or comma can cause a lot of headaches. A funny example of a typo gone wrong might be Rachael Ray finding inspiration “in cooking her family and her dog” (a magazine cover gaffe that actually turned out to be a hoax). But an innocent typo can turn ugly very quickly, especially in the world of attorney marketing.
Step 7: Publishing content online
At this point in the editorial process, a piece should be as close to perfect as any team can get it. Unfortunately, all of that effort to instill quality at every step can be undone if the content is not published properly online.
For example, if the content is missing crucial SEO elements or, even worse, is undiscoverable by search engines, it will have limited, if any, success. Similarly, if a piece is formatted incorrectly online, it may be difficult to read or fail to capture readers’ attention. Numerous issues can arise at the publication stage in the editorial process, which is why it is important to clearly outline what is expected.
At LaFleur, we optimize every piece of content that gets published, format it according to best practices, include a relevant attention-grabbing image, and much more. Our all-in-house team of content curators who work with content online are also free to reach out to the editorial staff if they notice something amiss in the copy, which provides one more layer of quality assurance from yet another fresh pair of eyes.
Step 8: Distributing published online content
Once a high-quality piece of content is complete and live, it will start paying dividends naturally in many ways. For example, it will:
- Organically draw in new visitors to your site
- Improve the number of keywords your site ranks for
- Improve your rankings in search
- Cross promote other content on your site
- Funnel qualified site traffic to important conversion pages on your site
- Increase conversions both online and off
To amplify these effects, your content can be distributed in many ways. You can:
- Promote your content via email marketing (such as an email newsletter)
- Post your content on social media (and perhaps even boost its reach and visibility with a small spend)
- Strategically link to your content from other places on your website
- Reach out to influencers to request that they share your content
- Find other pages on different websites discussing a similar topic and reach out to the authors to request a link back to your content
- Invest in paid content distribution to get your piece featured on a variety of high-profile sites
These — and any other — methods for distribution should all be part of a larger content marketing strategy designed to further your business goals.
Content marketing experts
Creating a piece of truly outstanding online content is no simple task. It requires a dedicated process with clearly defined steps and expectations. It also requires the right mix of specialized and talented individuals: writing experts, editing experts, and subject-area experts at a minimum. That’s just to get good content created.
Beyond that, someone needs to be familiar with SEO and web development or design in order to post content. An experienced online marketing strategist should help develop a coherent, holistic strategy for content creation and implementation. Someone should also be dedicated to social media and distribution to maximize your content’s effectiveness.
For many small and medium-sized law firms, meeting even the most basic requirements for high quality content creation is simply not a possibility — especially not in a cost-effective way. This means they compromise on the quality and/or posting frequency of their content, or they neglect to create new content for their website entirely. Both practices result in plummeting search rankings, dwindling website traffic, and missed opportunities for new business.
This is where LaFleur comes in. For a fraction of the price of what it would cost to just create some content in-house at your firm, LaFleur can create a smart marketing strategy that caters to the unique needs of your law office and deliver truly exceptional content from our team of uniquely qualified and talented writers, editors, and strategists. Our current clients are experiencing the benefits of our expertise with more website traffic, higher rankings in search engines, and more leads — and you can too.
Call 888-222-1512 today or fill out our convenient online contact form. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Related articles and resources
- “Legal Marketing 101” (A deep dive infographic covering the basics of online marketing for a law firm)
West, L. J. (1983, May). Review of research on proofreading with recommendations for improving proofreading proficiency. Journal of Business Education, 58(8), 284-288.
We were not asked by Asana or Slack to include them in this blog post, and we have no financial relationship with them other than that we are happy customers.