ON THIS DAY: On March 14, 1900, Congress ratified the Gold Standard Act.
Gold Standard Day seems like a great time to review our method of creating a common language of quality for your content. This is helpful if whether you're working on your own (after all, it can be hard to keep quality high without someone challenging you) or within a team (it's amazing how many different definitions of "punchier copy" there are). We call this process the Gold Standards.
1. Start with content that works
Start by identifying content that "works" for you. That may be a sales piece that got great results or an blog post that really resonated with readers. Notice the metric for "works" is focused on the purpose of the content. I don't care how punchy the copy is, if it didn't serve its purpose, it's not Gold Standard-worthy. We want to recreate effective content. It's often helpful to choose your models from the same form or genre. For instance, there are different criteria for what makes great ad copy than for great market analyses. (Yes, there are some similarities, too!).
2. Assess what makes it good
Now take a look at the samples you've pulled together. What traits do they share? There are six main traits of all writing: ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice and conventions/SPUG [Here's a more detailed traits worksheet]. Use plain English language, not English-teacher language. Look at writing quality, document structure and organization, and even word count and layout if that’s applicable. Make a list of the characteristics that make these documents good.
3. Create your Gold Standards
Now you need to assemble your models/samples and traits. The goal here is to connect the language directly with the writing so everyone knows what you mean when you say things like, “An entertaining lead that pulls the reader in,” or “Easy-to-understand statistics that support key points.” Depending on the time you have and the level of detail you want, you can organize your Gold Standards around the six traits, like this; include a rationale, like this; or do a "lite" version, like this. However you do it, make sure you include those samples, whether it's the full text or excerpts. That's where you quantify the qualitative language.
4. Add technical requirements.
If you're using SEO terms or have specific formatting requirements like excerpts or pull quotes, create a set of criteria (and models, if necessary) related to these items, like this:
- Underline key words/terms, double underline when a key word appears in a key term
- Highlight text to be linked and [[URL]]. Offset URL in double brackets [[ ]]
- Bullet text should be bold (including punctuation marks). Don’t bold text after initial punctuation mark.
5. Take them for a test drive.
Now you can give your standards a whirl. If you're working with a team, go over the document together and address any questions. You may find that there are criteria missing, or that you need further clarification of a standard. Update the document and then start using it! Content creators can use it for drafting and revising their own work. Editors and approvers can use it while reviewing. Here in our shop, we've found that this process results in fewer revision and editing passes and less project creep. It also makes it easier to move projects from colleague to colleague without a lot of churn (works great for on-boarding, too!). And we're happy to report the same results when we've introduced the Gold Standards process to our clients.
Want to give it a whirl? You can get everything you need from the links in this post. Want to talk it over first? Drop me a line to set up a call!