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Style Guides, Newsrooms & Deadlines: Delivering Content at Elephate

Managing and directing the content on Elephate’s website requires me to wear a few different hats: editor, writer, publisher. And while finding a team of good and trustworthy writers to create high quality content for our website was an achievement in itself, getting them all working together on the same page is where the real work is. Here’s how we are doing it at Elephate…

READ ALL THE WEBSITES (ESPECIALLY YOUR OWN)

When I was hired, I was a stranger in the strange land of SEO. To acclimate myself with the SEO industry and Elephate’s place in it, the first thing I did was sit down and read our competitors’ websites. I was interested in how they presented themselves and the quality of their content. After reading a lot of articles, I started to recognize the patterns and motifs most SEO content is either locked in or has broken out of.

When I got that out of my system, it was time to go through Elephate’s entire website. I went down the blog rabbit hole and read everything they published, as well as every case study, and then I went through every section of the website, from Services to About Us and beyond.

With the language and jargon down, I was able to now engage our content in a new way.

As a writer, I’m regularly sending my work to publishers. And writers are often so focused on the prize (getting published, making money, etc.), they ignore or forget to read the site/publication they are submitting their work to. Writers need to ask themselves: Would it make sense to be published there? Is my story going to be a good fit?

(I think of this a lot now as I’m receiving emails from people who want to write for us with generic messages proposing topics that have no relation to what we do. And don’t get me started on spelling and grammar.)

By looking at Elephate’s website as a writer, I could better grasp the kind of articles Elephate had already published, and with that, I could consider the kinds of articles that were missing.

CREATE A STYLE GUIDE

Once I knew the website, it was time to create an official in-house Style Guide for writing.

When you have a lot of writers coming together, it’s easy to end up with a lot of disparate voices working against one another (as I saw in some of the other sites out there). I wanted to create an internal continuity regarding language use and style.

Initially, I imagined it as a kind of two-page checklist, but when I sat down to write the guide, it kept growing and growing. I felt like Grady Tripp (only without the existential crisis).

Almost thirty pages later, the official style guide has evolved into its third version.

I tried to cover everything from grammar, punctuation, and so on (as an English teacher for over a decade, I apparently had a lot to get out of my system); however, it was also just as important to examine tone, humor, and writing about what you love.

The Style Guide is detailed, keeps all of the writers on the same page, and is always available to answer any questions they might have.

The current digital landscape is presenting a seemingly infinite amount of possibilities, as well as problems, but one of the best ways to rise above all the noise is to be consistent – both in terms of output and style. If you go out and change your voice every day, the audience who loves you today is going to have a difficult time recognizing you tomorrow.

GET TO KNOW YOUR WRITERS

Elephate’s ultimate weapon is its incredible group of writers. We have writers from all walks of life with a wide range of interests and unique experiences.

Early on, I set aside a day to sit down with all the writers individually to learn as much as I could about them. I wanted to know about where they came from and where they wanted to go. I wanted to know about their education and hobbies.

Most importantly, I wanted to know what they were passionate about. With this information in particular, we could find ways to connect their passions with their work.

Interested in archeology? Great. Isn’t SEO sort of like digging through the past looking for clues?

You love astrophysics? Cool. Can you apply the law of thermodynamics to websites?

I also found out that many of them were having a difficult time explaining what they do in SEO with their friends and family. Interesting. Could you write something about that?

Anyone can write yet another technical article about SEO and JavaScript and Google updates, but no one can write an article about these subjects with your own unique point of view.

This is what I wanted our writers to explore. And so far, the results have been wonderful.

EMBRACE THE NEWSROOM

I know this doesn’t apply to every agency, but if you have a group of writers working in-house, then take advantage of that. Because what you have is a newsroom full Lois Lanes and Peter Parkers (yeah, I know I just crossed universes, nerds!), a writing room, a good old-fashioned bullpen. Basically, you have the potential for a creative and dynamic environment to bounce ideas around.

Talk to them. Work with them. Brainstorm together.

Now I’m as guilty as anyone by relying on emails and Skype to communicate with people who are literally two meters away from me. After all, writing tends to attract people who rather work behind large screens instead of being in front of large crowds.

It’s important to get out of your own head and realize how special this kind of environment can be. Because when everyone’s in the same place, you can engage and hopefully inspire.

It’s a digital world, I know, but analog still works best in real life in terms of truly connecting.

ESTABLISH DEADLINES

Anyone can sit down and write, but few actually finish.

If you’re going to do this, you need to set aside time every day to write until the story is complete. After that, you need to revise it until it’s actually complete. And then you need to start all over again and do the same with the next story.

You want to know the secret to writing: You never truly learn to write – you only learn how to write the story you’re working on.

Each story presents its own problems, whether it’s establishing the story’s point of view or committing to the mountain of research that the story demands. But the biggest problem that every story has is that its writer needs to finish it.

So you need to sit down and you need to write. And yeah, there’s tons of stuff that needs to be done in and out of the office. And there’s a home that needs cleaning. And there’s Facebook and Twitter and the refrigerator calling out your name every ten seconds.

Believe me, I get it. But you can’t call yourself a writer if you have nothing to show for it.

This is why you need to commit to a deadline and finish what you started.

More importantly, you need to be accountable for your deadline. This is why all the writers here post their deadlines in our Content Calendar. I know what they are writing and when they will finish it.

And if someone misses a deadline, we gather outside in a large circle and throw medium-sized rocks at the writer until our arms get tired (usually after the fourth rock – hey, we’re writers, not athletes!).

Shirley Jackson would be so proud.

WRAPPING UP

There are additional aspects worth exploring, but these five tips are essential to creating the process of delivering high quality content consistently. I feel honored to be a part of the team here at Elephate and to share my day with such great writers. If you have any questions about how we do things here, please leave a comment below.

Published
  • 19 April 2018
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