B2B technology copywriter David McGuire shares a checklist you can use for your own content review process.
The problem with writing – at least, if you’re the one that has to review it – is that it’s all terribly subjective. Your view of what “good” looks like might be quite different from someone else’s.
That’s fine if we’re talking about our favourite novels, playwrights, or poets. But if you’re tasked with editing and approving written marketing content, it’s a big headache – because how do you apply consistent quality standards? And even then, how do you know your stakeholders won’t disagree?
As creative director to a team of a dozen copywriters, this is a challenge I face daily. Looking at another writer’s copy, I have to get away from asking “Would I have written it this way?” or even “Do I like it?”
Instead, the question I have to ask is, “Does this meet the brief?” or, more simply, “Will it work?”
But meeting the brief – and writing something that works – takes a whole host of elements. From your spelling and grammar through to your structure, voice and tone. Effective copy isn’t just accurate; it’s compelling, persuasive, and easy to read. It understands its audience, and meets them where they are. It makes people take action.
Over the last few years, our writing team has tried to zero in on exactly what those elements are – so that we can look for them in a consistent, objective way, every time we review.
We’ve come up with a
sixteen-point content quality checklist
, which we use to guide our editing and quality assurance. You’re more than welcome to borrow, adapt, or steal it if you’d like.
We ask sixteen unequivocal yes/no questions, grouped into the five qualities we think all good B2B content needs to have.
- A: Accuracy – because nobody’s going to trust content that’s full of mistakes
- B: Clarity – because busy B2B decision makers need to get the point quickly
- C: Authority – because you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about
- D: Empathy – because your reader has to care about what you’re saying
- E: Wizardry – because there’s a tonne of content out there, so yours needs to be special
None is more important than another, but each one builds on the one before – a little like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Let’s take a look at the questions in turn, and why we ask them.
Section A: Accuracy
1. Is the copy free from factual errors?
The most fundamental requirement is that everything your content says must be factually true. If it’s not, you’ve harmed your brand before you’ve even begun. It sounds obvious, but check names, details, statements – and, in particular, look out for
common maths errors
. You’d be amazed how much B2B content makes mistakes with percentages because the writer is “not a numbers person”.
2. Have you screened for typos, grammatical errors, and spelling mistakes?
This is a basic hygiene factor. Good spelling and grammar doesn’t make your writing persuasive, but getting it wrong can undermine your credibility from the off. (Naturally,
dictates there will now be at least one typo in this blog post. That’s life.)
3. Does the piece meet technical requirements (character count, templates, style guide, SEO)?
It doesn’t matter how compelling the copy is, nobody’s going to see it if it doesn’t do the basic things like satisfying the brand police and fitting into the space allocated. So find out what those requirements are, and screen against them.
Section B: Clarity
4. Does the copy have a logical structure that presents a compelling argument?
In short, is the content easy to follow – with the right information in the right places? You’re not going to convince anyone if there are yawning gaps in your logic, or if your reader gets lost halfway through.
5. Is the point of the piece obvious – from the start and throughout the narrative?
One thing all B2B decision-makers have in common is that they’re busy, with lots of things competing for their attention. So you need to get to the point quickly, and that thread needs to be easy to follow all the way to the end. This is not the place for getting too clever.
6. Is every sentence easy to read?
This is an extraordinarily high bar – and it’s the one where most of our first drafts fail their internal review. But the truth is most B2B content is a pain in the arse to read; even basic clarity can be a huge differentiator in most markets. So look for sentences that are longer or more complicated than they need to be. Maybe feed your content into a
Section C: Authority
7. Is there appropriate use of technical industry terms that are relevant for the intended audience?
Some people will tell you to take all the jargon out of your content. They’re talking rubbish. You need to speak your reader’s language, and that means using the terminology they use, in the way they use it. But be careful: this does NOT mean shoving in technical terms to show off, or trying to impress your reader with language that’s more complex than it needs to be. Be authentic.
8. Are claims supported by evidence and specific details?
This one’s simple: don’t claim anything you can’t prove. Even if you’re not lying, it’ll look like you are. So use facts, figures, quotes, hyperlinks, footnotes – don’t disrupt the flow of your story, but do subtly show the reader you’re not blagging.
9. Is the copy free from waffle, hyperbole,
, and overly formal language?
When we’re not confident about a subject, our language gets inflated to compensate. Instinctively, we all know this, so needlessly tricky wording smells like bullshit. As the Nobel laureate and behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman said: “If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.”
Section D: Empathy
10. Is there evidence that the writer understands who the target audience is?
A lot of B2B content just announces information blankly to the world, seemingly without recognising that the reader even exists – much less accounting for what they care about. Good copy addresses the reader directly, and speaks to their aspirations, challenges, and concerns.
11. Does the piece avoid making assumptions about the audience?
There’s a fine line between meeting the audience where they are, and telling them what they think. While you want to recognise their challenges, don’t patronise them by claiming to know their job better than they do.
12. Is the content appropriate to the audience’s interests, priorities, and knowledge level?
You don’t want to confuse the audience with acronyms and concepts they don’t understand. But equally, don’t tell them things they already know. Think how many vertical-specific web pages start with a description of the sector and why it’s important – if I already work in it, why would I care?
Section E: Wizardry
13. Does the piece offer original insight and value to the reader?
For a content piece to have the best chance of success, it has to give the reader value they can’t get anywhere else. Is there new information, exclusive research, or a fresh point of view? Or maybe it’s just collated better, or is easier to read. But why would they choose this asset, and not your competitor’s one?
14. Is it written in the right voice?
If you covered up the branding and design elements, would it be clear who this content is from? Is the tone appropriate to the audience and subject matter, and is the voice consistent with the brand’s usual style?
15. Is it engaging and enjoyable to read? (Or is it likely to incite readers to action?)
Did you get through it all easily, or was it a chore? You shouldn’t be thinking “this was well written” (that’s a distraction), but you should get to the end quicker than you thought. And when you get there, you should feel like taking the next step.
The final stop/go question:
16. Does the piece reflect the right messaging and meet the brief?
However engaging and well written your content might be, it needs to do the job it was created for. So check your impression of the overall message, and ask whether it delivers on the most important objectives outlined in your brief. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.
This is just a starting point; use your own version
There are no doubt questions on
that aren’t relevant to your brand’s content – and likewise there are probably other things that are important to you. But the point is, it’s important to know what’s on your list.
It won’t make editing easy. But it will give you a fighting chance of applying a consistent, objective standard when you’re reviewing B2B content. And if you’re
lucky, you might just manage to stop your stakeholders rewriting everything, too.
You can hear more from David by attending his upcoming B2B copywriting course. Click
to find out more.
Why not check out Propolis, our exclusive community for B2B marketers to share insights, learn from industry leading marketers, and access our best content. Propolis includes a Hive (group) specially dedicated to Brand and Content strategy.