By Madeleine Leznoff
The world of marketing and commercial content creation can offer some valuable lessons for editors working in the online space. Having worked as a digital copywriter and editor, including on an e-commerce team, I learned early on that being successful entails having more than just writing and editing skills—in a sense, I had to become a digital jack of all trades. Since digital content is woven into the entire user experience, an editor may be needed at every step of content creation. Surprising even myself, I discovered that while working as a digital editor I picked up the following skills along the way.
An understanding of good design
Content and design go hand-in-hand, and arguably more so on the web than on paper because of the need to capture shorter attention spans. I’ve had the opportunity to work collaboratively with graphic designers to help determine copy structure, length, and placement, and in turn, help influence the design of projects like web pages, apps, and marketing emails. After all, who understands the goals of the content better than the editor?
Even someone who doesn’t specialize in graphic design would be surprised at how much of an eye for good design they can develop as a digital editor, and how they can help to shape a great user experience—ensuring the user has a seamless interaction with the page or application. For instance, when I’m working with content, I may realize that users are not likely to read a long section of instructions, so instead I may suggest a step-by-step infographic or a carousel of illustrations mixed with text.
A basic knowledge of web development
One of the most basic aspects of digital editing involves testing the functionality of live copy (the text when it’s published to the web), which means testing hyperlinks and checking how content appears on different devices. Seeing the edited copy live in a web or app environment is a different experience than seeing it in placement on a mock-up. The way content is displayed can even vary from browser to browser. As a digital editor, I help dictate how the text should appear, right down to the line breaks in sentences.
In order to provide feedback, I have to understand the limitations of web development for each project: for example, whether there’s an opportunity to link directly to specific content within the page, or if it’s possible to place supplementary copy (such as a definition or a legal footnote) in a pop-up window instead of on the page. The best way to learn about the options you have? Form a good relationship with the web developer working on the project and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can also research what works well on other websites that have great user experiences.
The ability to interpret analytics
When content lives on the web, you can bet some digital tool is tracking how the site is performing, for example, whether it is attracting clicks. This knowledge, called analytics, is invaluable for iterating on the current copy, and for optimizing future work. I use analytics to help me make decisions when editing; analytics can show how wording hyperlinks affects click-through rates, or what content users aren’t engaging with due to placement.
Analytics can also help determine the best word and punctuation choices for calls-to-action and subject lines. As an example, it is possible to send identical marketing emails to two groups of subscribers but provide different subject lines, perhaps one phrased as a statement, and the other as a question. Which of the two email types gets opened by more readers can help to understand what kind of language resonates with the users.
I’ve had to enter the world of analytics dashboards, like Google and Adobe, armed with only a login. In many cases, a quick tutorial from a marketing or analytics colleague helped me find what I needed. I was also able to set up a dashboard or create an automated report that focuses on metrics related to content, such as the amount of time people are spending on each page.
In some cases, a digital editor’s sole responsibility is to provide clean and functional copy. However, I’ve often been required to collaborate with a marketing team and have been involved from the design of the project, to the live state, to using the data collected to edit content afterward. Even if the particular skills developed in the process aren’t necessarily a part of my role, I’ve found that getting familiar with them has only made me a more valued editor.
Madeleine Leznoff is a digital copywriter and editor based in Toronto. She specializes in UX copywriting for e-commerce and marketing content.
This article was copy edited by Tamara Zayachkowski.