Rewriting web content can be a daunting task. It’s often trickier than starting from scratch.

After all, how do you transform pages of messy, monotonous drivel into clear, engaging content?

The truth is, every copywriter works differently and you need to figure out what suits your style and approach.

But if you’d like some tips, here’s my process, so far, it’s serving me well):

Editors note: Pick up more content rewriting tips from the Recipe Success eCourse

1. Make sure you and your client are on the same page

Let’s face it, most of the time there’s no such thing as a ‘rewrite’. Existing content has usually been slapped together by some well-intended professional who’s probably a genius in their field, but not so crash hot when it comes to writing web content.

It’s best to make things clear from the start so you don’t feel restricted when you begin writing. Make sure your client understands that, while you’ll take the existing content into account, you need the freedom and scope to recreate where necessary to get the strongest results.

2. Develop a detailed brief

If you’re going to nail any content, you need to understand your client’s business and goals. Many copywriters skimp on the brief because they’re afraid of taking up too much of their client’s time. But a detailed brief is essential in understanding –

  • The personality and strengths of the business
  • What your client wants to achieve from their website
  • The reaction they’re trying to drive from customers
  • What type of language and tone to use
  • The needs, desires and problems of their target audience

(What’s more, I find the questions I ask in my brief often raise important points the client hasn’t considered).

Give your client options. Ask them whether they’d prefer to go over the questions via phone or email. Try to get detailed, specific answers that will help you develop strong, relevant content.

If you haven’t already created your own, download the Clever Copywriting School’s Briefing Template here. It’s fab.

3. Run a content audit (optional)

While this isn’t the most exhilarating job in the world, it can be an important one. Whether you need to run an audit or not depends on many things including the age and size of your client’s website (if they have one – you may be rewriting content for a new site).

If a content audit is necessary, make sure you factor it into your original quote.

What is a content audit?

A content audit is a careful look at the existing content. It reveals how well content is performing in terms of SEO and driving traffic. It will help you figure out which content needs to be kept as-is, improved, removed or consolidated.  You don’t want to lose rankings for existing content that’s taken months/years to achieve.

What you choose to audit will depend on the goals in your brief. A typical audit will include –

  • Checking page titles, urls and meta descriptions are Google-friendly
  • Exposing broken or expired links
  • SEO checks on content, keywords, images and tags
  • Duplicate or thin content that can be consolidated/improved
  • Most visited pages/popular content

The Clever Copywriting School has created a content audit spreadsheet to help you manage and sort the existing content as you work through the process. This is also fab.

4. Create a content map (optional)

A content map is a visual technique to help you plan and organise your content in line with a website’s goals and users. It will become your point of direction when you begin writing, keeping you focused on the type of content you need to create. It can also be a great way to show your client (and their web designer) how you see the content fitting together so that you’re all on the same page.

The key is to not overcomplicate.

Your choice of tools will depend on the way you like to work. For the practical minded who prefer the old-fashioned approach, it might come down to a simple whiteboard. But the beauty of web-based tools is that you can save and share what you’ve created. OmniGraffle (a diagramming and mapping tool for Mac) and Balsamiq (a wireframing and prototyping tool) are two of the more popular tools.

5. Get writing

The fun part! But before you begin, get your head around the page you’re working on by jotting down some pointers for guidance:

What existing content have you decided to keep?

Refer back to your audit. Popular, relevant content should be improved, not removed.

What do you want this page to achieve?

Think about how you will drive sign-ups, shares or sales

What information is missing?

Put yourself in the users’ shoes – what will they want to know in order to act?

What’s the tone of language?

Humorous, authoritative, intelligent? What sort of words will appeal to the target audience? Should the language be basic for younger users or more sophisticated for your educated user?

Have you established the page (meta) description?

Remember, the content must deliver what you’re promising users when they click through to the page.

What keywords are currently ranking?

Check back to your audit or use SEMrush and Google Adwords to research keywords. Are there others the page should be ranking for?

Keep referring back to your brief and content map and work through each page keeping the above details in mind.

6. Polish

Once you have the bare bones knuckled down, go over what you’ve written page-by-page asking yourself:

  • Are the titles and meta descriptions engaging enough? Do they meet Google’s character requirements?
  • Do the messages create interest and value for users?
  • Is this sentence necessary/strong enough?
  • Does the tone reflect the company brand?
  • Are the call-to-actions powerful enough?
  • Do the sentences and meanings flow? (The content should progress as a story. Sentences should vary in length.)
  • Does the content give my client an edge over their competition? (Are their strengths and points of difference clearly emphasised?)
  • Can SEO be improved without impacting the strength of the content?

This is a good stage to use a tool like the Hemingway App to help strengthen your writing. This app highlights long, complex sentences, poor word choice, passive voice and adverbs that can be replaced with verbs.

7. Client feedback

Now you have your first draft, send it off to the client (go on, don’t be afraid). Explain in your email that the first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect. Rather, this is ‘skeletal’ stage to get your client’s feedback and give them a chance to highlight any concerns. It will save time in the long run.

8. Redraft

Continue to send each version to your client and work their feedback into the next version. With each redraft (I usually allow for 3 and a final proofread), your content will become stronger and closer to the mark.

By the time you reach proofreading stage, there should be no further changes other than correcting spelling and grammar.

(Breathe a sigh of relief – you’re nearly there.)

9. Sign off

I never used to bother with sign-offs – the client’s already told you everything’s good to go, what’s the point? The point is that clients can come back to you down the track, ‘We’re not happy with this, or there’s been a new development with that…’

Once a project has been signed off, any future changes are considered part of a new project and can be quoted accordingly. A project sign-off also gives you the opportunity to get permission to use your work for promotional means and to request a testimonial.

Use the Clever Copywriting School’s Sign-off Template here. (Also fab!).

After that, there are only two things left to do – send off your final invoice and plop your feet up!

Over to you

Do you have any tips for rewriting existing web content?

Who is Gemma Hawdon?Gemma Hawdon

With over 8 years’ writing experience including writing articles for magazines, blog posts, web content, marketing copy and short stories, Gemma understands how to use language that talks to different audiences and how to create content that consumers will respond to. And having worked in Marketing for companies like GE Capital, Publicis Group and Yahoo! Gemma knows a thing or two about branding and target audience. Check out Gemma’s website.

Check out Gemma’s profile in the Directory.

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