Curiouser and curiouser! Just like the heroine of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, who was transported to a surreal world after following the White Rabbit down his burrow, I found myself in a strange place when I first started to explore the world of web editing.
For Alice, life was literally transformed out of all proportion after she started eating currant cake and drinking a liquid that had the flavour of ‘cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast’.
There were none of those delights for me when I began googling for advice. In fact, there were very few tempting morsels of information you would normally find on display in the internet marketplace. In my case, it was like disappearing down the burrow and following a tunnel without a light at the end of it.
It’s all so perfectly obvious with traditional printed publications – my job is to edit or proofread the text supplied to me. Yes, there might be the odd fiddly bits in the form of illustrations, for example, but it’s all generally straightforward.
That’s not the case with web pages. What exactly do I edit? Well, the text you see on each page, of course! To repeat Alice's words: ‘Oh dear, what nonsense I’m talking.’
There is indeed the main text, but also the header and footer information, the menu, the text on sliders, dynamic content that changes depending on the device used to access it, the metadata... It’s almost as though the page ‘did an Alice’ by swigging from the bottle and opening out ‘like the largest telescope that ever was’.
And it is not always obvious how to obtain that content. At first glance, retrieving the hidden metadata looks like a daunting task. (I later discovered a neat and quick way to do this.)
Then there is the sheer quantity of material. A friend has an uncomplicated-looking business website with just a handful of items in his menu. When I ran software to check how many web pages his site actually used, I discovered it had a thousand.
Yes, one thousand! A large number of blog entries, going back several years, accounted for most of them. If he asked me to read the whole lot, I’d have to warn him of a three-month wait for me to complete the job.
That enormous total leads me to another problem – organising the content. Just how do you manage to keep on top of a site of ‘just’ one hundred pages? And how do you present your amendments to the client in a way that enables them to see the different types of content of a page in a clear fashion?
To cut a long story short, I found what I was looking for in two places. The Web Editing course presented by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading introduced me to Microsoft Excel inventories to manage unwieldy sites, and I was lucky to discover the hugely useful guide posted by Canadian website editor and SEO specialist Michelle Bourbonniere.
Thanks to Michelle, I learnt all about SEO crawling software to compile lists of pages and Chrome extensions to check metadata, and she offered a handy step-by-step guide to the editing process for websites.
Of course, making the job manageable is also about common sense. Better to ask the client for a list of pages they would like you to check than try to climb Everest by reading everything the crawler software lists for you.
When I first put Michelle's suggestions into practice the job went like a dream. And that reminded me of a certain young lady down a rabbit hole…
‘Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about.’