3 Things Every Content Editor Should Know About SEO Today

There is a tendency among creatives, writers and editors to look at search engine optimisation (SEO) as a chore — something you do to appease the strategists and analysts. This could not be farther from the truth. A well-planned, thoughtfully crafted piece of content that is also optimised for search engines can be found more easily by users, and gain organic traffic. Think of it like this: you put your heart and soul into creating the best piece of work you can — and naturally, you want to have as many people see it as possible, for as long as possible.

Although writers and editors are generally familiar with optimising their copy with keywords, I find that many still follow some practices that have become outdated due to the updates Google has made to its algorithms.

Ditch Keyword Stuffing

It baffles me how professionals working in digital and content marketing still think SEO is about including keywords into the copy after the writing. The result is often copy with the same keyword repeated multiple times artificially (called “keyword stuffing”). It should be common knowledge by now that keywords come before the article is written, as part of the keyword research.

Ask your strategist about keyword research and make sure it is an essential component of the content strategy they are developing. At the minimum they should be supplying you with a list of semantically related keywords that determine the top-level content ideas and subtopics you write about, well before you put pen to paper. This will give you an idea of the keywords and related topics you will need to include, so that you can write the copy naturally instead of stuffing keywords in later.

Write for the User, Not the Search Engine

This is directly related to keyword stuffing. Writers in the past artificially included keywords into the copy after writing it to ensure that it met the ranking factors of older versions of Google’s algorithm. But today, Google’s latest iteration of its algorithm — the machine-learning-powered RankBrain — looks at semantic relevance. This means that Google’s understanding of what users search for keeps improving as it learns more from search queries, and provides better, more relevant search results taking into account the context, intent and relationships between words.

For instance, in the past, a search like “hot dog” would have returned results with this exact phrase in their titles, as well as results showing “boiling puppies” (!). In contrast, not only does today’s Google exclude most non-relevant results, it might even show you related results on “cooking”, “bread”, “mustard” and “recipes”.

What does this mean for you as a writer?

Instead of artificially including the same keyword multiple times in your copy, you should write naturally, keeping the user in mind and sprinkling variations of semantically related keywords throughout your copy.

There Is No Ideal Content Length

You might hear various claims such as “short-form posts are SEO-optimised”, “the top 10 search results for a keyword are all long-form posts, so you should write longer pieces” or “the ideal length of a blog should be between 1,811 words and 1,827 words”. My advice is to take these with a pinch of salt.

The key thing to remember is: the length of the article/post/piece is not the sole determinant of its rank on Google. There are a number of other factors that affect how search-engine friendly an article is — such as specific, relevant keywords, competition for these keywords and most importantly, the value the content provides for the user.

In other words, it is impossible to declare conclusively that the length of the article is the reason the article has reached number-one rank on Google, and that if you write a longer article, it will have better SEO value.

The length of a post should eventually be determined by the searcher’s goals. If what they search for — be it information on a topic, or a guide on how to solve a problem — can be given in a short, snappy article of 300 words, then there’s no need to go beyond that. But if you are writing about a complex topic and you have an in-depth explanation with multiple examples, case studies, templates and resources that cannot be found elsewhere, then it makes sense to go long.