Why do you need an editor on a website?

Image of the goddess Durga, part of Richard's exhibition Voices of Bengal.

I’ve just finished work on a new website devoted to Indian culture. Richard Blurton was a curator at the British Museum for more than thirty years. One of the biggest exhibitions he organised there was Voices of Bengal which involved constructing a 20ft high image of the goddess Durga.

Now that he has retired, Richard wanted to document his time at the Museum, to promote his books and to publicise the research he continues to carry out. To create a website for him, I worked with the designer Catherine Jordan.

Richard is a excellent writer. He’s the author of numerous articles and books, the latest being “India: a History in Objects“.

So we had a writer and a designer. What was there for me, the editor, to do?

1. Manage the project

In this case I was the project manager. Richard had asked me to help him build a website. The first task was to determine what he wanted the site for – what was its purpose and who was the audience he was targeting. Once we’d decided that and drawn up a plan, I commissioned the designer to make the site. From then on, the three of us worked together.

2. Draw up a plan

If ever I’m asked to look at a website and give feedback, I will happily give it, but the reaction I keep to myself is usually “I wish you’d asked me before you put the site up.” Small changes may be easy to make, but often the problem is a lack of clear purpose and structure, which is much harder to correct.

So it’s vital to have a plan that reflects your purpose, and a structure that divides the relevant information into discrete sections that ensure the site is easy to navigate.

3. Edit the material

Having decided what goes where, I took the information on each topic and edited it: perhaps to write a more engaging intro or to shorten a piece; in some cases to suggest photos that would complement the information; in others to research, and check links to, supporting information on other websites.

4. Write the labels

Then the all-important labelling of the sections. Some section headings – About, Contact etc. – suggest themselves and should be standard so that users know what to expect. However, even the Contact page may need editing as it depends how and how easily the client wants to be contacted: email, phone, form?

Why do I call labelling all-important? Because the labels you choose for the sections of your website become your main navigation. In order to tell users what to expect, the labels need to be general enough to be understood – not the brand name of a product, for example – but specific enough to be interesting and clearly describe the content of that section.

Users should not be taken by surprise when they click on a link.

5. Make sure it all works together

Internal links that take users to other pages enrich a website. Lots of “Read more”s or “Click here”s at the bottom of the text are boring. Well-written links within the text highlight what is interesting and help the user to navigate the content.

Apart from the obvious task of checking all the links, internal and external, the editor’s eye is looking for consistency throughout the site: are titles all italicised or bolded, are individuals described in the same way everywhere, are all the photos explained, and so on.

Consistency is vital to creating a smooth and easy journey through the website.

If you’d like me to edit a website for you, please contact me.

Have a look at the various kinds of editorial consultancy I offer and some case studies.