There’s a lot to be gained by getting faster feedback and approval on your content.
Here are three benefits to get the ball rolling:
- You have more time to refine your content
- You can actually hit your deadlines
- You get to take on extra projects
Together, that adds up to higher quality work and more efficient use of time and money. Win, win, and win!
The question, of course, is how? And the answer is online proofing.
What is online proofing?
Online proofing is the process of sharing content and creative assets for feedback and approval.
Previously, proofing usually involved a handful of people gathering around a printout or monitor to discuss a piece of content. The difference with online proofing is that, as the name suggests, the whole process takes place online.
Before the pandemic: email, transfer links, and slideshows
In the decades leading up to the pandemic, most teams used one of the following methods to proof their content online:
- Email: Send content to stakeholders and discuss amends in email chains
- Transfer links: Send a download link to stakeholders and discuss amends via email or chat
- Slideshows: Present content in PowerPoint or Slides and discuss feedback on a call or in the comments
After the pandemic: online proofing software
The COVID-19 pandemic completely transformed the way we work together. A study from McKinsey & Company on the future of work reports that 4-5 times more work now happens remotely.
As teams get increasingly distributed, the most productive agencies and marketing teams have turned to online proofing software for their creative reviews. This provides a centralized and transparent space for sharing files, collecting feedback, and tracking versions and approvals.
In the same way Slack transformed workplace chat and Zoom (let alone Loom) transformed meetings, online proofing software made content reviews clearer, faster, and more collaborative.
But before we get into the details of how online proofing works, let’s look at the four pitfalls of using email for creative content reviews.
The 4 pitfalls of proofing creative content over email
The most dangerous phrase in the English language is, "We’ve always done it this way," said pioneering 20th-century computer scientist Grace Hopper. And according to Forbes, it’s also the most dangerous phrase in business.
When it comes to white-collar work, email has been the go-to communication channel for around three decades.
- Need to ask your colleague on the seventh floor a question? Email.
- Need to check if anyone fancies a few drinks after work? Email.
- Need to get feedback on a few videos from senior management? Email.
But with content reviews, in particular, proofing work over email has always been messy. And now that 2 in 3 marketers and creatives have a hybrid work setup, the problems with that process are becoming more and more apparent.
This can be broken down into four key areas.
1. Files and feedback are totally disconnected
One of the biggest problems with online proofing over email is that feedback isn’t explicitly connected to the file it’s referencing. And that, as you’re about to find out, is a recipe for chaos.
Multiple transfer links, dozens of attachments, hundreds of comments—all scattered throughout a myriad of email chains. Your team has to waste time consolidating everything in one place before you can even think about getting started on the next version.
The likely outcome? Feedback gets misinterpreted, and extra review rounds are needed to get work across the line, adding days to your approval process.
2. Reviewing creative assets over email is a drag
Imagine trying to give feedback on a document without being able to highlight the part you want to be changed. You’d have to explain your thoughts with long descriptions or copy and paste parts of the content into an email. Not only would this take you longer, but it would also increase the chances of your feedback being misinterpreted.
Yet this is how teams give feedback on videos, designs, and other file types daily. Stakeholders waste time writing out time codes and capturing screenshots to explain what they mean. And content creators are left to either piece everything together or call a meeting for extra clarity.
3. Chasing people for feedback and approval is a full-time job
We’ve already talked about the issues stakeholders face while giving feedback over email. So it’s only natural that many of them put it off for as long as possible.
This creates a problem for project managers, account managers, and marketers. First, they have to keep a sharp eye on who has given approval or requested changes (hello spreadsheets). Then they have to send chaser emails to remind people that their feedback is due.
And so what happens? Creative time gets squeezed, content quality takes a hit, and deadlines get missed.
4. Version control goes out the window
Email proofing is a disaster for version control.
Here are just a few problems you can face:
- You have to give feedback on files without having your previous feedback as a reference
- You can accidentally give feedback on an old version if you miss a few emails
- Your content (especially documents) can be edited and reshared as new versions
And if you’re in a regulated industry like finance, healthcare, or law, there’s a huge risk of publishing the wrong version, landing your company in hot water.
How online proofing software works and why it’s better for modern teams
Online proofing restores order to the chaos of email reviews by centralizing your entire review process.
It gives you instant access to everything happening across your projects, all in your browser. So, in seconds, you can answer questions like, “What’s the difference between this version and the last one?” or “Which files are ready for my team to work on today?”
Let’s look at how online proofing works in six steps.
1. Create a project
The first step in the online proofing process is creating a project. This is effectively a space in the cloud where you can upload files, and your reviewer can come in to add comments – right in their browser.
It only takes a minute to set up your project. Then you can keep tabs on every file, version, comment, and approval, all in one place.
2. Set up your review workflow
Once you’ve created your project, you can set up your workflow to ensure every file gets approved by the right people.
Your review steps may look like this:
- Creative review: Creative director, art director, copywriter
- Management review: Account manager, project manager, strategist
- Client review: Brand manager, marketing manager, legal expert
This approach helps prevent work from being sent to important stakeholders before it’s ready. You have complete control over who sees what and when.
3. Upload files and set due dates
Now for the easiest part of all – sharing files.
Simply upload your files and choose which groups of reviewers you want to share them with. No downloads are required, and no risk of transfer links timing out.
Then set a due date so your reviewers know when their feedback is needed. And if they forget to give feedback as the deadline creeps closer, the best online proofing tools will send them a reminder automatically.
4. Collect feedback and collaborate
You’ve shared your files, and the feedback is flooding in. Now it’s time to engage with your reviewers, bounce ideas around in the comments, and get everyone aligned before developing the next version.
Most online proofing software includes tools like annotations and attachments. This makes it easy to see precisely which parts of your content people are talking about, so you can confidently work through amends.
5. Get approval in your first review step
Once you’ve implemented everyone’s feedback into your content, you’ll be ready to share a new version with your first review step—for example, your creative team.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get your second version approved. But depending on the complexity of your content, you may need another round to prepare it for the next review step.
6. Repeat the above for your remaining review steps
As soon as you’ve got approval in your first review step, you’re ready to share your content with the next group of stakeholders.
This could be your marketing team, product experts, or compliance. And if you want to speed things up, you could run a few of those review steps in parallel to help reach your final version faster.
11 features of online proofing software that solve the problems of email reviews
Sharing files. Discussing feedback. Tracking approvals. Here are the 11 most important features of online proofing software:
1. Comments, annotations, and attachments
One of the biggest benefits of online proofing is the user experience for reviewers.
Instead of writing out long descriptions over email, you can add feedback right on top of your files. Whether you’re giving feedback on a video, document, or image, you can click on the exact point you want to change or talk about. Then you can create your comment in context.
Here’s a roundup of the most popular feedback features:
- Tap to add comments
- Create annotations with the pen tool, lines, boxes, and arrows
- Add attachments as references or for further context
- Reply to discuss comments in context
- Use emojis to react to comments and save time
- @Mention teammates or reviewers
2. Automated timecodes for videos and audio files
Video is one of the trickiest file formats to review over email. Files must be uploaded to transfer links, shared, and downloaded within a certain time frame. Then, reviewers have to list out timecodes to explain which parts they want changed.
Online proofing software cuts video review time dramatically with a little help from automated timecodes. Simply tap on your video or audio file while it’s playing to pause it and create a marker. Then focus on writing your comment without needing to explain which part of the content you’re talking about.
And because comments are tied to specific frames, editors can click on any comment to jump to that part of the video or audio file. This saves precious time on amends and helps to get content across the finish line faster.
3. Due dates and automated reminders
If you’ve ever worked in an advertising agency or marketing team, there’s a very high chance you’ve had to chase a few people for feedback and approval. Not only is this frustrating, but it’s also a massive waste of your time.
Online proofing solves this problem by letting you set due dates for each stage of your approval workflow. Then, as the due date creeps closer, your reviewers will be reminded to give feedback. All while you’re busy focusing on more critical tasks.
Some software go a step further here by letting you automatically set due dates based on a preset time frame (e.g., two days). So if someone starts a review today, the due date will automatically be set for the day after tomorrow—minimizing manual work while setting clear and consistent expectations for your stakeholders.
4. Built-in version control with side-by-side comparisons
Version control is an essential part of any successful review process. Here’s how online proofing can help you manage your versions like a pro:
- Add new versions on top of existing files to keep a clear version history
- Revisit previous versions at any time, including all the comments
- Notify reviewers or teammates if they’re looking at an old version
- Compare versions side by side to see what’s changed and verify the new version
With some tools, you can even auto-compare two versions to point out what’s changed. And it’s only a matter of time before AI starts playing a bigger role in content reviews by helping you stay on brand or get your design layouts just right.
5. Support for all the most popular file types
Some online proofing tools, like websites or design files, specialize in specific file types. But the most valuable tools let you combine all your files under one roof.
You can share files in the following formats:
- Documents: PDF, PDF/X, DOC, DOCX, XLSX, PPTX
- Video: MOV, MP4, 3GP, AAC, AVI, FLC, MPEG-2, WMV, MXF
- Image: JPG, PNG, TIF/TIFF, AI, PSD, SVG, GIF, EPS, WEBP, NEF, CR2, DNG, ARW, HEIC, TTF, PSB
- Audio: MP3, AAC, WAV
- Live website: HTTPS sites
- HTML content: HTML
By having all this content and feedback in one place, you can avoid having to jump between different tools to manage your review rounds. And better yet, so can your reviewers, who may not get on well with other tools.
6. Review steps and templates
Before starting any project, you should think through your review process and the different stakeholders who need to be involved on your way to the finish line.
If you work in an advertising agency, it may look something like this:
- Creative team
- Account management
Or, for a marketing team, it may look more like this:
- Brand and marketing
With online proofing software, you can set up these steps and invite all your reviewers at the start of the project. Then, each time you share a file, you can ensure it gets seen and approved by the right people at the right times.
And the cherry on top? You can turn your workflows into templates to be reused across multiple projects. Perfect for enterprises who need to roll out consistent workflows across their company.
7. Quick find to search for files, versions, and comments
The beauty of having all your content reviews in one place is that everything is neatly organized and easy to find.
But when time is of the essence, you can find what you need even faster with your online proofing software’s search or quick-find feature.
This lets you search through your entire platform for a specific comment, file, version, or project. Then, you can jump to it in a flash and see exactly what you were looking for – a huge time-saver compared to trawling through your inbox.
8. Status indicators to see who’s approved what at a glance
Imagine you’re talking to your boss about a piece of work you recently shared with a client. If they asked how many of your reviewers approved it, how long would it take you to find a reliable answer?
With online proofing software, you can answer this question in seconds. From your project dashboard, you can see the review status of each file and reviewer at a glance.
In some software, for example, you would see one of the following status indicators for each reviewer:
- In review (gray): the reviewer still needs to take a look at this version
- Requested changes (orange): the reviewer has requested changes to this version
- Approved (green): the reviewer has approved this version
This gives you a clear view of which files are ready to work on so you can manage your resources efficiently. And it also saves time on pointless status meetings because everyone already knows where you are in the process.
9. File review reports for auditing your approval process
If you work in a regulated industry, online proofing can be a huge help when it comes to tracking the approval journey of your content.
With review reports, you can save every comment and review decision across every version of a file—including timestamps.
This can be exported as a PDF and saved on your system. So if there’s ever a complaint or lawsuit, you can see exactly where things went wrong and who was responsible.
10. Integrations to stay up to date in your favorite apps
The best online proofing tools can connect with all your favorite apps. This usually works through native integrations or third-party automation providers.
Here are a few ways you can implement integrations in your online proofing workflow:
- Send your reviewers feedback reminders in Slack or Microsoft Teams
- Set review tasks in project management software like Asana and Monday
- Auto-create a project when a marketing request is submitted
11. Insights to help you track and optimize your file reviews
Online proofing software is built to minimize feedback time and maximize time spent on productive, high-impact tasks.
With built-in insights and analytics, online proofing software shows how many files, versions, and comments your team creates each month. And it reveals trends of how those things are changing over time.
This helps you monitor performance and find ways to improve productivity.
Fragmented workplaces demand innovative solutions
Email wasn’t built for proofing content. And as the pandemic made workplaces more distributed and fragmented, teams started looking for tools to solve their proofing problems.
With online proofing software, you can share files, discuss changes, and get approval in one platform. It makes giving feedback faster for reviewers and makes comments clearer and more accurate for content creators. By automating key steps in the review process, online proofing frees teams up to focus on delivering their best work.
Creating efficient design workflows is the next big step in online proofing. See how creative collaboration drives design workflows and makes your branded content more authentic.