Editing a piece of content is a work of precision, regardless of whether that content is an online blog or article, an image or video, or a print piece in a newspaper or magazine. But effective search engine optimization (SEO) editing goes beyond the basics of grammar.
Reviewing a piece with an eye for digital marketing is a different animal.
Does grammar impact SEO?
According to Google, their search engine crawlers don’t downgrade a website based on grammar and punctuation. However, anecdotal evidence shows that spelling mistakes in your content can indeed impact your SEO as search engines might not be able to recognize misspelled keywords.
Another possible way improper grammar and punctuation might affect your site is through user engagement. Search engine crawlers do look at engagement metrics such as each user’s average time on the page, scroll depth and bounce rate to determine if the content met the user’s needs. If readers are getting annoyed with the bad grammar and bouncing off the page, this will be noticed and your rankings could be downgraded as a result.
So if you’re tasked with the job of optimizing your company’s online content for search engines, here are 6 practical tips you can start doing right now to optimize your copy for both your target audience AND search engines.
Tip #1: Edit for the keyword
Your target keyword should be in the first 100 words of content. While we never advocate “keyword stuffing,” it is best practice to insert the keyword you want the post to rank for in a natural way at the beginning of the page. This approach helps signal to search engines what your post is about and where to rank the page.
After ensuring that your target keyword is in the first 100 words, look for other ways to insert the word or phrase into the flow of the content. Don’t overdo your use of the keyword though and feel free to use related (semantic) search phrases.
Good editing requires an “ear,” if you will, for the written word, as though you were listening to music. If your editing instinct tells you there’s too much redundancy in keyword usage, then trim it back.
Tip #2: Optimize headlines and metadata
Another place to include your target keyword is in the main headline, along with the meta-title and meta-description tags. The main headline—or H1, as it’s typically called—is an important indicator of what your content is about, and so your target keyword should be prominently featured here for readers.
The “metadata” (title and description tags), on the other hand, are different. Even though these tags aren’t visible to the general user and are located on the backend, they are important SEO elements that tell search engines what subject your page covers. The metadata also appears on the search engine results page as your page’s title and description.
Your content should still get listed and ranked without metadata; however, if you don’t specifically tell the search engine crawlers how you want your page to appear in the search results, they will automatically figure out how to present your page.
A search engine’s job is to figure out what your page is about, and they’re pretty good at it. But isn’t it better for everyone if you directly tell the search engine what the content is about? That’s what you’re doing with a meta-title and meta-description, and it’s where you can really make your page rise in the search results.
Tip #3: Embrace small paragraphs and subheaders
People consume content differently online than they do in hard-copy format. “Reading” online is really more like browsing, skimming and scanning.
Even when people actually read an article online from start to finish, they generally aren’t as focused compared to when reading print copy such as a book or newspaper—partly due to all of the visual distractions that are found on most websites (ads, sidebars, pop-ups, chat boxes, etc.).
That’s okay—it just means you need to edit differently.
Don’t be afraid to make paragraphs for online content smaller to let the reader’s eye absorb it all easier. Also, use subheadings more liberally than you otherwise might to help organize the content and let the reader know exactly what information to expect.
Unlike magazines, newspapers and books, white space is your friend when it comes to online content. Big, bulky paragraphs and long sentences will drive your reader away faster than mixing up “you’re” and “your.”
Tip #4: Include and optimize visuals
Online content needs to be visually compelling, which means generous use of images, graphics and videos to break up long text and keep the reader interested.
In the world of SEO, the benefit of visual components isn’t only what value they provide to the reader; it’s also another opportunity for you to tell search engines what your content is about. The backend of most content management systems (CMS) has a place where you can give your image or video its own title and a description. These are more opportunities to use your target keyword.
Don’t forget to use the “alt text” feature, which provides text that appears for someone who is visually impaired to describe what the image depicts. Don’t be afraid to use a lengthy description here, and again remember to throw in that target keyword or phrase.
Optimizing images and video is good for both website accessibility and SEO. Plus, depending on which industry you are in, it may even be necessary to ensure compliance with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Tip #5: Use bulleted and numbered lists
As you edit, look for paragraphs that might be better suited as a bullet-pointed list. Like anything else in SEO editing, don’t force the issue when it’s clearly not there. But when information can be presented this way, it does 2 things:
- It makes your content more web-friendly for the user by chopping up the paragraphs, and
- It makes your page more likely to get featured as a “rich snippet” in search results (the boxed content at the very top that occasionally appears as the answer to a query).
Tip #6: Master internal linking
Relevant internal links add to your page’s SEO value. When referencing another one of your pages or blog posts on a related topic, put the link in there. This adds to the user experience by offering them additional resources and a chance to dive deeper into your site. Search engines love this as well, as more resources indicate a page that their searcher will like.
There are some cautionary notes, however, when it comes to internal linking strategy.
For starters, make certain the words you link from (the anchor text) are actually what the page you are linking to is about. When it’s not, a user can get annoyed after clicking on the link, only to discover a page that has nothing to do with that keyword.
Also, avoid overdoing it on the number of internal links, regardless of how perfect they might be for the anchor text. Adding a hyperlink generally means that the anchor text will be bolded or underlined. If done to excess, this could hurt the presentation of the page.
Good internal linking means really knowing what existing content is on your website. Most editors don’t have time to run detailed searches of all the possible linking options and it probably wouldn’t be a productive use of time in any case. An SEO editor should have an instinctive grasp of the library of content and resources at their disposal so that good internal linking opportunities naturally jump out in the editing process.
Best online content editing tools and resources
Line-by-line editing and proofreading can be time-consuming.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free and low-cost online tools available to help make SEO editing easier and faster. While we’ve found that nothing can replace the effectiveness of a discerning human eye when it comes to editing, here’s a shortlist of some of our favorite tools and resources that can help support and strengthen your SEO editing endeavors:
- Grammarly. As one of the more popular (and well-advertised) editing apps, Grammarly scans virtually any text “for common grammatical mistakes (like misused commas) and complex ones (like misplaced modifiers).” Grammarly is available as a plugin on various web browsers (like Chrome) and integrates with Google Docs, making it possible to quickly and easily review content files. There is a free version you can download, as well as Grammarly Business for teams that need more functionality.
- Hemingway Editor. Available as a free desktop app and online, the Hemingway App allows you to easily copy and paste your content into the box. The editor highlights errors and suggestions, and also assigns your copy a readability grade.
- Keywords Everywhere. With this plugin for Chrome or Firefox, you can quickly and easily look at a keyword’s search volume, cost-per-click, competition rating and trend data right on the search results page, as well as find related keywords to optimize for in your headers, subheadings and content.
- SEO META in 1 CLICK. This free plugin for Chrome displays all metadata and main SEO information of a page with just 1 click. This tool comes in handy when determining how to optimize and edit an existing page to improve its position in the SERPs.
- Copyscape. Avoiding content duplication is another important part of SEO editing since duplicate content is not ranked well by Google and other search engines. The Copyscape plagiarism checker is an excellent tool for checking to see if your URL and content is original. Some of Copyscape’s plagiarism tools are available for free, though you’ll have to sign up for the Premium version to unlock the full features.
- Diffchecker. When producing or editing content, it often goes through many renditions and changes. Available in web or desktop versions, Diffchecker helps copy editors compare the text differences between 2 text files. Simply copy and paste your original text into the left box, then the final version into the right box. The program will automatically compare the samples side-by-side and highlight the changes. This is an especially useful tool when providing feedback to your writing team.
What are some of your favorite SEO editing tips and tools?
Let us know in the comments below.