You’ve written your web copy. Now what? Use our website copy editing checklist below to create the best possible experience for your users.
Just put this page in a window next to the page you’re working on and check off the boxes below while you work.
You can also bookmark this page so you can come back to it later.
If you want to use a paper checklist instead, download a PDF of our checklist and print it out to make your website copy editing even easier.
RedLine’s Website Copy Editing Checklist
Website copy editing doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, if you just work your way through a list of steps, it can actually be pretty easy.
Title of Page or Post
Does the title accurately reflect the content?
Don’t do clickbait. Sure, a sensational headline may increase your CTR, but you’ll annoy your readers once they find out that what you’ve promised (the title) doesn’t match what you’re delivering (the content).
If your post is about five types of Pacific salmon, then your title should reflect that.
Is the wording of the title easy to understand?
Much of website copy editing is about making people want to read the content.
Don’t use words such as obstreperous and conflagration in your title. Instead, use stubborn and fire. (The exception, of course, is if you’re running a website on SAT vocabulary words.)
In addition, your title should be a clear teaser of content to come. Remember, just because the wording is easy doesn’t mean that you’ve achieved clarity.
Consider this headline from today’s New York Times: The Doomsday Clock Advances Towards Midnight. What’s the article about? It’s tough to say.
Of course, once you click on the article, you get the full headline: Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight. But without context, the title that appears on the front page is more opaque than it needs to be.
Is the wording of the title likely to entice readers?
I admit it. I’ve written some bad titles on our blog. (The creative juices don’t always flow, you know.)
But your goal here should be to write a title that people want to click.
You can use Google Search Console to check the clickthrough rate on every page on your website. If you can improve the wording of your titles, then do it!
For example, change An Introduction to SEO (boring) to SEO Basics: 10 Things You Need to Know (better).
Is the title under 60 characters?
There’s some debate over just how many characters you can have in a title before it gets cut off. This is because titles get truncated based on pixels, not number of characters.
Furthermore, not all letters have the same width. (Just look at the w and i in the word width.)
Using the Yoast SEO plugin, I tested how many characters I could safely fit in the snippet preview without the title truncating. The maximum with a very wide letter—a capital W—was 39, while the maximum with a very narrow letter—a lowercase i—was 168.
In 2016, Google increased the number of characters that it shows in titles in SERPs. But it still varies depending upon the user’s device.
In general, 60 characters is a safe bet. If you really want to play it safe, shoot for no more than 55 characters.
Does your title draw readers in? It should.
Each heading needs to reflect the content below it.
Do headings reflect or summarize the content that follows?
Each heading on your page should represent the content that follows it. For example, under the heading “Mission Statement” the reader should find the mission statement (and perhaps an elaboration of the mission statement)—nothing else.
Do headings each have the correct HTML tag (H1, H2, H3, etc.)?
One of your website copy editing duties is to check the tags on your headings.
Your web publishing platform should allow you to view the HTML code for any page or post. (The WordPress interface lets you click between “Visual” and “Text,” the latter of which is the HTML of the page.)
Remember: Don’t use more than one H1 tag on any page, and subheads must fit logically under their “parent” headings.
Are headings in the correct case (title case or sentence case)?
Consistency on your website matters. Use your “house style” for headings across all pages and posts.
In other words, if you prefer titles in sentence case, then make them all sentence case.
Of course, I’m not saying you can’t have a blend of styles. It’s just that the styles should be the same regardless of content. (For example, H1 and H2 headings are title case and H3 and lower are sentence case.)
Does the keyword appear in at least one heading?
Good on-page optimization means including your keyword in at least one heading within your post.
Don’t force it, though. It should appear naturally, which means that you shouldn’t use the keyword in every heading.
Does the first paragraph clearly state what the reader will find?
There’s constant competition for your readers’ attention. Don’t make them read 500 words just to determine if they’ve landed on the right page.
State the gist of your page or post early. This means in the first paragraph or even the first sentence or two.
Does the first paragraph contain the keyword?
As with using your keyword in a heading, your first paragraph should also contain the keyword.
Again, though, this should happen naturally. After all, if you’re writing about corporate social responsibility (CSR), then the term CSR will likely appear at the top of the post.
Are the keyword and its natural variants used throughout the text?
If you’re trying to optimize your content for search, then you should sprinkle your keyword and its natural variants throughout the text.
For example, a knitting tutorial for a wool hat might naturally include terms such as knit cap, knitted cap, and knit wool hat. In other words, you shouldn’t use wool hat over and over again. Mix it up!
In addition, it makes sense to include “higher-level” related terms, such as wool fashions and knitting designs.
Is there enough body copy to inform, help, entertain, or persuade the reader?
This item is less about word count and more about content. You’ve heard it a thousand times: “Content is king.”
And it’s true. Are you providing enough text to inform your readers? Have you helped them? Are you providing examples or case studies?
You probably can’t solve someone’s problem in 200 words—but in 2,000 you can.
Do all your posts have to be 2,000 words long? Of course not.
But in a world where Demand Media was penalized for its short, cookie-cutter articles, it pays to produce original, thoughtful, and thorough content.
Is there enough body copy to attract search traffic?
When it comes to word count, there’s no magic number. But there are definitely guidelines.
Yoast, maker of an excellent SEO plugin for WordPress, says that your content should be at least 300 words.
Brian Dean of Backlinko found that the average length of posts appearing on the first page of Google’s search results is almost 1,9oo words.
Translation? That 200-word post—and even that 700-word post—may not be doing you any favors.
Is the body text at the right readability level for the audience?
Adjusting the readability of your text is part of website copy editing.
But readability is a funny thing. While there are tools that you can give you a score (like the Flesch-Kincaid test), readability depends entirely on your audience.
It’s not as simple as saying “A higher Flesch readability score is better.” What we can say is that text with a higher readability score is more likely to be understood by more people than a lower score.
On our blog, we always try to keep Flesch readability above 60.0. If we were analyzing scientific research on fossil fuel consumption, however, we’d probably have to settle for a lower score.
The key is to write for your audience first, then make tweaks to your writing when reasonable to make it more readable. If you use Yoast’s SEO plugin, then check out our post on how to get a perfect readability score.
Does the body text contain hyperlinks?
Our website copy editing checklist includes items that don’t involve editing per se, such as hyperlinks. But we’re including them because they improve the user experience.
There are two main reasons why your content should include hyperlinks:
- Hyperlinks are useful resources for your readers. (As long as you’ve chosen your links wisely, anyway.)
- Hyperlinks can help your on-page SEO. Link to high-authority sites (newspapers, government agency sites, etc.) instead of low-authority sites (say, tinfoilhatconspiracy.com).
Do external hyperlinks open in a new tab?
Your readers are on your site, so don’t send them away by having your links open in the same tab as your content!
Every external link should have target= “_blank” as a parameter.
Do internal hyperlinks open in the same tab?
Let’s say you want to send readers from the current post to another post on your site. If it appears in the footer, for example, then it’s okay to set that link to open in the same tab.
However, there are times when you’ll want to open an internal link in a new tab. (If the link to the other post appears in the first paragraph of the current post, for instance.)
Are italics and boldface used correctly and consistently?
There’s a lot of leeway here. But the important thing is that you’re consistent in your approach.
For example, if you were including a bulleted list about pets in your post, you could do the following:
- Dogs. From purebreds to mutts, man’s best friend is also America’s most popular pet.
- Cats. Felines may be finicky, but cat owners love them all the same.
- Turtles. There just aren’t that many people who own turtles.
Each main item in the bulleted list is in boldface, while the sentence after is not.
Is each paragraph short enough?
Reading online is different than reading on paper. Break up those paragraphs!
The effect that you get is extra white space on the screen, and that makes scanning and reading easier.
Is each sentence short enough?
Website copy editing includes trimming long sentences. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional long sentence in your writing; just don’t make it a habit.
What’s a “long” sentence? Yoast considers anything over 20 words to be lengthy, but there are plenty of perfectly good sentences that are 25 or 30 words or longer. (Heck, the previous sentence has 25 words in it and your head hasn’t exploded yet, has it?)
If, while reading a sentence you find that you’re getting lost, then it’s too long. Break it into two smaller sentences.
Is each heading followed by fewer than 300 words?
This one comes directly from Yoast. Given that they have a far larger team of coders, researchers, and testers than we do (we have none), let’s trust them when they say that this is good for on-page SEO.
The reason is because headings help break up long swaths of text, making reading much easier.
Does the body copy use mostly the active voice?
The active voice is preferred by writing experts in—oh, no!—er, writing experts prefer the active voice. See this post on when to use the active voice in your writing.
Are there enough transition words in the text?
Words such as however, but, also, and in addition guide your readers, helping them detect consequences, cause and effect, details, elaboration, and changes of text “direction.”
Good use of transition words improves comprehension, which is the main reason this step needs to be part of your website copy editing to-do list.
Are abbreviations and acronyms explained at first instance?
This is especially important when you’re writing for a general audience. Readers may not know the industry acronyms that you’re using, so help them out the first time they appear in the text.
The way to handle this is as follows: …the report indicates an increase in parts per million (ppm) over the last decade…
Once you’ve defined your acronym (or initialism, as the case may be), feel free to use the short form in later instances.
Have extra hard returns been deleted?
This one’s easy. Just look for spacing that looks way overdone.
Have double spaces been deleted?
I know, I know. Your high school typing teacher back in 1992 taught you to put two spaces after every period. She was wrong.
In fact, typesetters and designers will actually remove one of every two spaces you’ve inserted. So don’t do it.
Has the style guide (client’s or in-house) been followed?
Many of the items in our website copy editing checklist are general—that is, we didn’t write them with a particular client in mind.
However, your client (or your own organization) may use a style guide that describes how you should handle certain elements in your writing.
For example, do you use US or U.S.? Do you write out percent or just use the symbol (%)? Should you avoid using impact as a verb?
Write your content with your style guide handy. It will make the editing process easier (because you won’t have to fix as much).
Are the spelling and grammar in the body copy correct?
You guessed it. Your editing efforts aren’t complete until you’ve reread the text on the page or post to check for typos, missing words, repeat words, and grammar goofs.
The best way to ensure that your copy is clean is to have a professional editor check it. But that costs money, so instead you can do one of the following:
- Read the text out loud. You’ll catch things that you didn’t see while scanning the post.
- Wait a day or two, then reread the text. Sometimes you just need “distance” in order to see errors.
- Ask a colleague to read your post or page. (Preferably this colleague is an avid reader, a former editor, incredibly anal, or all three.)
Your keywords should appear naturally in your content.
Scale your images so they’re under 100 KB. It’s a lot easier than free climbing.
Is each image under 100 KB?
Okay, fair enough. This may not be what you think of as website copy editing.
However, given that more people seem to be wearing more hats these days (especially in small organizations), it’s entirely possible that the person editing the post is the same one who’s curating the images.
Small files load faster than large files, and you have complete control over image size. See how fast the images on your page are loading.
There is absolutely no reason why that beautiful photo on your home page has to be 2.5 MB. Scale it down now.
Is the resolution of each image set to 72 dpi?
Stock images are often set at 300 dpi, which is the resolution that printers require. (Designing a catalog or a brochure? Then leave those images at 300 dpi.)
On the web, though, you only need a resolution of 72 dpi. A lower resolution decreases the file size, which helps your page load faster.
Does each image have an alt tag?
Alt tags are there in case your image doesn’t render properly on the user’s screen.
But they have the added benefit of SEO potential. You can include your keyword in your alt tags to help search engines figure out what your page is about.
Is each image aligned properly?
Image size, in our opinion, dictates image alignment. A small image (say, 200 pixels wide) could be right- or left-aligned. The text then flows around it.
A large image (say, 900 pixels wide) should be center-aligned.
We also recommend making image width consistent. For example, with the exception of the first image on this page (also the featured image), all images on this page are 300 px wide.
Is each image caption styled correctly?
Obviously, your theme handles the bulk of the styling here (typeface, font weight, italics or roman type, etc.).
But you, as a website copy editing machine, will also check for things like case, final periods (or not), and italics for figure numbers (or not). Won’t you?
Is there a featured image?
The featured image is the picture that becomes the “face” of your post when it appears on social media. Use it!
Other Page Elements
Do dividers appear in logical places?
A divider, like white space, breaks up the text on your page and makes for easier reading. However, unlike white space, a divider shows a break in the type of content.
One great place to put a divider is at the end of your post—after the post content but before some final call to action, such as If you liked this post, then subscribe to our newsletter to get updates about toxic waste dumps in your area.
Is there enough white space on the page?
A cluttered page is an ugly page. And it’s also hard to read.
Break up your paragraphs and set your CSS style sheets to include padding above and below images.
Do any numbered and bulleted lists appear?
Lists make reading easier.
So if you’re enumerating the eight species of bear, you could write them all out in a sentence and separate them with commas: The eight species are Asiatic bear, brown bear, black bear, giant panda, polar bear, sloth bear, spectacled bear, and sun bear.
Or you could put them in a list:
- Asiatic bear
- brown bear
- black bear
- giant panda
- polar bear
- sloth bear
- spectacled bear
- sun bear
Which is easier to read?
Do pull quotes appear in logical places?
If you use a block quote or a pull quote, don’t put it miles away from the section that it comes from. Insert it in a logical spot in your post.
Are toggles or panes used for FAQ sections?
An easy and attractive way to present information on an FAQ page is to use toggles or panes. The user isn’t overwhelmed with text when she lands on the page and instead can click on sections of text one at a time.
Our FAQ page on copy editing uses this technique.
Does the keyword appear in the meta description?
Yes, Mr. Analog Editor, your job has changed. One of your website copy editing duties is to check the meta description for your post’s keyword.
It’s not that it will directly improve on-page SEO; it’s just that it’s one more indication to your potential readers of what your content is about.
Is the wording of the meta description clear and concise?
This is your chance to sell it. When people do an Internet search, they get 10 choices on the first page of Google. (Not many people even go to the second page.)
So will they click if they read a sloppy, fake, or otherwise blah description? Nope.
Edit for clarity and concision in your meta description. (According to Moz, the ideal length is between 150 and 160 characters.)
Does your post contain tags?
Tags help your readers navigate to topics that match their interests, keeping them on your site. Search engines can index your tag pages, too—which works in your favor.
One item on your list? Get rid of clutter on your page by allowing plenty of white space.
Website copy editing isn’t rocket science. But readers expect consistency and accessibility. (See an easy 8-step process for writing better web content.)
Following a set process when creating each page or post strengthens your site, both from a UX standpoint and an SEO perspective.
If you need help, let us know. Our editing services can help with both your digital and print content.