4 Tips for Contributed Articles

bucket brigade and contributed articles

Writing a contributed article, or byline: easy. Getting it to look in print the way you intended: not so easy. A few tips for marketing managers getting from A to Z.

It’s like a bucket brigade, really – the path between the marketing communications writer and the finally posted content. The bucket starts out full, but by the time it’s gone through a dozen or so hands, there’s quite a bit missing.

So the client’s marketing manager said, “We have the opportunity to contribute an article to a publication. Our PR firm set it up, and the editors like the pitch. Interview the product manager and write it up.”

The publication had some guidelines for writing, mostly about style rather than mechanics. It offered even fewer about what to expect once the article ran.

So we got to work: interview, drafts, contributor’s bio, images, carefully selected links, approvals, ready. That took about two weeks.

The marketing manager handed the finished copy (~1900 words) off to the PR agency, who passed it to the publication. It ran on the Web the next morning, and the eye is never so able to find problems as just a little after it’s too late.

Fixing problems with your contributed articles

Maybe some of our problems stemmed from working in Microsoft Word. Fortunately, it’s lingua franca for moving copy around during review cycles. Unfortunately, it’s not like HTML, and it’s really not like Drupal or WordPress or Joomla or any of the other content management systems online publications use.

Mostly, though, it’s a few questions we didn’t ask. We’re smarter now, and I want you to be that much smarter as well.

1. Images and sidebar

Problem: We included two images and a sidebar in a text box. Knowing how fussy people get about images, we shipped them as colossal, high-resolution JPEG files and let the publication crunch them down as much as they needed to. The images included captions (Figure 1, Figure 2) and the copy referred to them.

The problem was the sidebar, which the magazine had recommended we include. It supplemented a paragraph near the middle of the article, but the magazine dumped it at the bottom, just before the author bio. It was useless down there, but the moral of the story (which I had forgotten – my bad) is that sidebars don’t get along well with these pages.

Fix: Use a sidebar, but create it as an image near the text you want to emphasize.

2. Links

Problem: We embedded several hyperlinks in the article, mostly to webinars and pages on the client’s site. Not all publications like that, because you’re using their real estate to promote your content. In fact, the author bio contained four links; the publication scrubbed them all on the main page, but allowed them on a separate About the Author page.

Fix: Find out the publication’s policy on hyperlinks. They may have a limit of one link per 500 or so words, and they may have a policy that favors authoritative links (e.g.,  to Wikipedia or Reuters) over linking to your own assets. For that matter, include links to other content in the publication; they’ll probably like that even more than links to Wikipedia. Is there a more sincere form of journalistic flattery?

3. Numbered lists

Problem: It’s hard enough in MS Word to list four numbered items, then enter some non-numbered text, then resume the numbered list. It’s even harder on the Web.

Fix: Don’t clown around with this kind of formatting if your article is destined for the Web. It just annoys the people who have to tear it apart and disrupt the structure of your article. Or, hard-number the items into the text instead of using automatic numbering and list items (<li>).

4. URL

Problem: To the extent that a keyword-rich URL gives your content an SEO boost, it’s a nice thing to hope for. Unfortunately, the CMS assigned the article a lame URL: http://www.sys-con.com/node/2207848. Not much SEO juice from that, and no benefit to the publication, either.

Fix: Ask for a decent link. All they can say is “no.” The CMS should be able to accommodate this.

These four fixes should ensure that more of your water survives the bucket brigade.

What else have you found out about submitting contributed articles to Web publications? It’s a different world from paper-based press, isn’t it?

photo credit: mcoughlin


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”