How to give effective content feedback in 10 simple steps
Giving effective content feedback can be the key to publishing content that converts. I am now a digital content manager and I have been working as a content strategist and SEO for nearly a decade. Content has come a long way in the last ten years and now we have so many ways of tracking the value of the content we produce via tools like Google Analytics and hard metrics like search traffic, bounce rate and conversions.
At the start of my career I was doing a lot of writing. I was a radio copywriter and I had to create ads for various clients with a very quick turnaround. I had many tricky clients and many of them didn’t like the work I did. That’s OK – as a content writer you have to get used to getting and giving feedback – not all of it positive.
Mind Tools says, “Before giving feedback, remind yourself why you are doing it. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve the situation or the person’s performance. You won’t accomplish that by being harsh, critical or offensive.”
Giving effective content feedback is a skill you can cultivate as a content manager or a content strategist, even if you only manage a small blog or website. Here are 10 simple steps on how to give effective content feedback.
Read the content twice before providing feedback
A lot of the time we “skim” writing without really taking it in. Take the time to review the content from end to end, and digest al the elements on the page, including headings, links, citations and quotes. An ideal situation would be to give yourself some time between reads, and to come back to the content with “fresh eyes” before you make any feedback notes.
Consider the audience
As a content manager it’s vital that you know your audience, and not just who they are, but who they want to be. Consider their goals, the verticals they play in, the issues that concern them and their financial position. When reviewing content, try to “think” like the audience before passing on any content notes.
One example I can think of was a writer I was working with who was obviously quite young (twenties) who was writing for a seniors audience. The tone came across as overly-instructive and patronising, as though the author was “talking down” to the audience. With a few constructive notes and a change in thinking, the younger writer was able to salvage the piece.
Give constructive feedback based on the purpose of the content
Not all writing needs to be creative. Sometimes writing just needs to do its job of conveying information in a simple, no-frills method. Before preparing any content notes, nail down exactly what the purpose of the content is, and mark any feedback from this metric. Top of the funnel content looks and sounds very different to bottom of the funnel content – which can be more focused, bespoke and specific.
If you’ve never heard of a conversion funnel, then do some research online. Content marketing can help your audience move towards your products via a journey that starts with an interest and coverts to an eventual sale.
Use the “compliment sandwich”
This one is important (as I have learnt the hard way). Writers and content creators are creative people. They are artists. They care about their work and they are usually very passionate. For this reason, overly harsh feedback can be devastating, and can sour a good freelance relationship.
Look at the work holistically and try to find what the content creator has done ‘right’ before settling on what they have done ‘wrong’. When providing feedback, always be polite, always take feelings into consideration and always start with a positive – particularly if delivering some negative feedback. The “compliment sandwich” means you will give some positive feedback first, then give any negative feedback, then always end with another positive note if you can.
Many creative content producers have a very limited knowledge of SEO and therefore might need direction on a few things, such as:
- heading structure (H1s, H2s, H3s etc.)
- use of keywords, keyword density and keyword research
- linking strategies and appropriate anchor text
- meta descriptions and meta titles
- the importance of subheadings and breaking content up
- CTAs and image alt text
Ensure the content uses citations, quotes, sources and references
This is a particular bugbear of mine. I find that many modern content writers are lazy with their journalistic research and often submit what I call a “wall of text”. An example of this was a freelancer who submitted an article to me about what to wear to an interview. The article was (as far as I could see) just “her opinion”. She might well have done some research but she didn’t quote any experts, any studies or any sources. If you are telling someone to wear the colour blue to an interview – tell them ‘why’. Where has the info come from and how can you justify this point?
Include links to reputable sources, quote experts if you can and look into studies and research to back up your points.
Stick to deadlines and make sure content creators do too
A former radio gal, I am good with deadlines. If something is just one second late in radio land – it’s a disaster. I never miss deadlines and in the rare case that I have to, I communicate to the project owner well in advance that I will be unable to deliver on time, and I propose a solution.
I have heard some terrible excuses for missing deadlines in the past, including celebrating a dog’s birthday and getting dengue fever (while posting from her holidays on Instagram). Good writers and content producers know that they are just one part of a chain, so completing their work in a timely fashion is paramount. When giving feedback – uphold the deadlines you have set, and prioritise the writers who meet them.
Allow appropriate time to action feedback
Remember that most people who are good at what they do have many projects on the boil at one time. When briefing in a project, include and budget for a series of edits. Most content requires editing, some content requires extensive feedback and editing. I recently worked on a document that was up to its 33rd version. It had about 7 people editing and making notes on the content and many of the notes were contradictory.
When planning and pitching a content piece, think about who needs to provide feedback. In my opinion, the fewer people the better, as “too many cooks” in the kitchen never produces a good meal.
If the content really misses the mark, take a deep breath before providing feedback
I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this point and it’s never nice to know when you’ve totally missed the mark – but it does happen. If you are working with a content producer who has gotten it completely wrong, you might feel strong emotions – even anger.
Before sending any feedback in this case, take a few deep breaths. If possible, write your feedback, then “sleep on it” before pushing “send”. Sometimes you’ll find that your feedback was too harsh. If the content producer has missed the mark, try to identify why:
- Was the brief wrong?
- Was the writer given enough direction?
- Does the writer have the correct skills for the job?
- Have they simply missed the tone and style of the work?
- Can the content piece be salvaged, or is this a total rewrite?
Every piece of content could be improved, but learn when to let go
Sure, you can spend a week writing one blog post, but that time is better spent on your commercial product pages. You could tweak 50 versions of your product copy but constantly fiddling with work often doesn’t improve it.
When setting a plan to create content, decide when to let go. Nothing in art will ever be perfect and digital content creation is the same. The good news is that we are not publishing hard copy magazines now, and small changes can be made painlessly, and new versions of content can be enhanced and improved. Learn when to let go of your content and release it into the wild.
Giving effective content feedback
When you nail this skill as a content creator, you’ll not only enhance your own career, but the careers of those you’re providing feedback to. For more information on how to create a content strategy check out my post How to Create a Content Strategy.
“There is no failure. Only feedback.” – Robert Allen & “Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.” – Ed Batista