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Nathan Midgley
October 26, 2016

Bigger and better: How to maintain quality on high-volume writing projects

When landing page requirements run into the thousands, standards don’t have to dip. Here’s how to get the balance right.

Let’s talk about a kind of commercial writing that nobody wants to talk about. It isn’t creatively sexy, like boutique copywriting; it isn’t strategically sexy, like an all-in content marketing campaign. In fact it’s Sexy Content’s big, awkward cousin.

I’m talking about high-volume content. Fulfilment for sites whose landing page requirements run well into the thousands. Four figures. Five figures. This isn’t an uncommon situation in travel, where the range of destinations and range of product attributes (hotel star ratings, accommodation types, holiday categories, attraction categories, traveller personas, transport types, transport gateways…) can combine to make landing pages multiply exponentially.

Terrifying, right? To some extent it is, and it’s no wonder that so many sites feature beige auto-generated copy (“We have the best hotels near [LOCATION], so use our site to find the perfect [LOCATION] hotel”). But with some editorial knowledge and experience you can get high-volume content done to a good standard. You need smart planning and briefing; good QA practices; and a little understanding of what freelancers want and need.

Here are the five pillars of getting high-volume content projects right:

Plan it out

The more work you do upfront, the smoother the project will run once it’s underway. Do some research to assess the kind of things the brand’s customers and prospects are interested in. When we ran a moderate-volume project for trainline, we started with some search and social analysis. And while it wasn’t wholly surprising to find close correlation between train travel and football, shopping and cultural attractions, it was useful to have those things qualified.

Qualified topic steers don’t just help you create more effective pages, they also give writers a place to start. Multiply that small win across hundreds of pieces and you’ll find it adds up to a real efficiency gain.

Write a solid brief

The brief isn’t just about topics. As well as guiding writers’ research, you should be setting out a structure – paragraph-by-paragraph, ideally – and outlining a tone of voice. In most cases, you’ll want to go for concision and clarity; save the gushing descriptive language for blog posts and features, because in the context of a landing page it won’t help shift the needle and it’ll slow down the writing process. (Writers like to write. Give us an opportunity to agonise over le mot juste and we will.) Give your team a handbook that includes research guidance, sample copy and a style guide.

Get the right team

Use volume to your advantage. It allows you offer writers steady and reasonably flexible work. But be realistic about the work’s appeal: no writer is going to devote every working day to writing SEO-focused landing pages for months on end. If you set a per-piece rate and parcel the work out sensibly to a large team, you can offer freelancers a steady job they can fit around other work. That’s a genuinely appealing prospect.

The alternative is to source a small team of writers and squeeze them for insane, relentless volume – and while that might work for a month or so, you’re at risk of facing a burnt-out, demoralised team by month two. Quality will dip, and at worst you’ll end up sourcing and onboarding writers all over again as your original team walks away.

QA it

The QA team at your end is as important as the writing team. It could be one person or it could be several, but they need to know the brief inside out, from the formatting guidelines down to the keyword requirements. No cutting corners: every piece gets read. Again, it helps to set a sensible level: the goal is not award-winning magazine copy, it’s relevant, optimised writing that flows.

Organise

It’s surprising how low-tech you can be on a high-volume project. The ideal platform is an enterprise-class CMS with workflow tools and contributor management, but we’ve successfully run volume projects with a set of well-thought-out Dropbox folders. At the very least, you need to:

  • Break down raw copy by category (the exact taxonomy will vary depending on the project, obviously)
  • Create sub-folders for original and edited copy within each category folder
  • Define a filename structure that everyone uses (e.g. [CATEGORY]-[TOPIC]-[WRITER INITIALS]
  • Set up and regularly update a log sheet, showing the status of every piece. You’ll also need this to log and manage any required changes

If you’re not using a CMS that versions automatically, it’s really important to archive those originals. You need to be able to track back to the source in case of queries or outright errors. (And no, keeping them in your inbox as email attachments doesn’t count as archiving.)

Feed back

While all this up-front work is crucial, your level of efficiency isn’t set in stone when the project kicks off. Throughout, and particularly in the early stages, you should be giving writers as much personalised feedback as possible – it helps them work faster and saves time in the QA phase. It’s futile to expect every one of a large writing team to nail it immediately (though some will, and you will want to give them a hug for it).

Having more than one person on the editing staff helps here; we regularly compare notes on writers to thrash out what needs to be addressed in the next round of submissions. You want to be incrementally increasing your team’s efficiency all the time – not in terms of squeezing more work out of them, but in terms of helping them write quicker and closer to the brief. Result? A more engaged team and an easier QA process at your end.

Want more advice on helping a team of writers perform at their best? Try our six tips on keeping content creators motivated

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