Trading in My Style Guides for SEO Best Practices

Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEO

“Creative writing and editing” has taken on a whole new meaning since I started working for TSA as an SEO content editor in September. My experience as a journalist and editor for trade magazines has served me well so far in terms of writing and managing content; however, I’ve had to completely restock my writer’s tool box for this new job. Instead of relying on the Associated Press and Chicago style guides, interviews, and various blogs about copy editing and the technical industries I covered, I now have a long list of SEO-related blogs to read, tools like Google AdWords and TSA’s proprietary content analysis system, a ten-books-in-one SEO for Dummies Desk Reference, and the all-important Best Practices. The most striking adjustment I think I’ve made is in expanding my understanding of creative writing to include the strategizing and calculations necessary for good SEO content. The only things that remain the same are my approach to research and the occasional need for a good old-fashioned thesaurus.

In terms of diction, creative writing, to me, used to mean coming up with a catchy headline and a really good lead. It used to require structuring an article to make logical sense and appeal to a very specific audience. My priorities were to get quality quotes, high-resolution photos, and write to fit the allotted space in the layout. But with SEO writing, I’m focused on using the right keywords the right number of times, and I’m challenged with finding many ways to rephrase how I refer to or address a specific topic. In an article about weight loss diets, for example, once I’ve used up my rationed number of “weight loss,” “weight,” and “loss” keywords that I’m allowed, it’s about making appropriate use of “losing inches,” or “reducing your waistline,” etc. For me, it’s a fun word game, like a crossword puzzle. And throughout the writing process, I’m not only maintaining my standards of writing and editing, but I’m learning how to do so with a number of new tools and perspectives.

Creative thinking in terms of article ideas and long-term content strategies is also drastically different. I’m not only considering the potential readers of my writing, but also the client’s goals for their Web site. I no longer cover the hot topics of one industry in a monthly print publication, quarterly e-supplements, and weekly blog. Now, I’m using keyword research to come up with dozens of articles on a range of topics, depending on the client accounts I’m working on. And, instead of writing a month or two ahead of publication, I’m writing and optimizing several pages of content per week based on keyword analysis and content strategy reports according to a schedule that will keep me busy for months—per client (right now I have five). It’s like going from spinning plates to juggling chainsaws. And, I’m loving the buzz.

SEO writing also involves more math than any other kind of writing I’ve ever done, except maybe the iambic pentameter poetry I wrote in school. Previously, my only concern with word count was total word count and how many words I had to cut to fit the magazine’s layout. Now, I’m factoring keyword density and frequency, search volume, and keyword competitiveness figures into my writing. What’s strange is that the rules don’t feel like constraints. Rather, they seem like a challenging obstacle course to navigate…one that leads to a high rate of conversions, hopefully.

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7 Responses to “Trading in My Style Guides for SEO Best Practices”

  1. Jack R says:

    Interesting article Stephanie thanks!

    As a fellow content editor over the pond I found this article was particularly relevant to my job. I did have a question for you though… what do you think is a good keyword density percentage? I keep seeing varying opinions on the subject, but the latest chunk of advice I’ve clutched on to is:
    “to keep keyword density between 6% and 10% for a couple important keywords on your page, and about 3 to 5% for less important terms.”
    Agree? I’m writing product copy and need to write around 130 (max) words per product page.

    Great blog TSA by the way, enjoying the posts!

    • Hi Jack. Thank you for your comments and question. We don’t believe in a set percentage for keyword density because each keyword is unique (as is the context in which the keyword is being used for optimization). We find that for every topic focus, when you do a competitive comparison, the keyword density percentage varies greatly. That’s why we focus on comparing a specific Web page’s content structure against the top ranking pages in Google for the term we’re optimizing content around. For example, we will look at how our client’s content is currently ranking for a specific keyword and then we’ll look at how other sites that rank better for that keyword structure their content. Using that comparison and our content analysis tools, we can gauge what it is about that structure (including keyword density, frequency, and total body count, etc.) that is probably helping the top sites to rank. Best regards, Stephanie.

    • David Waterman says:

      Stephanie is absolutely correct in her response. When it comes to making keyword usage recommendations, it’s all about looking at who’s ranking for the term. We look at the top sites, analyze how they use keyword (using our amazing tools and SEO know-how), establish what would be an ideal percentage of usage, and then make the appropriate content changes. In some cases we increase the percentage of use of a primary keyword phrase within on-page content to 5%. In others, we increase it to 8%. In some cases, it’s even higher. So instead of going with one specific percentage of use recommendation, we feel it’s more beneficial to do the research and establish an ideal percentage of usage on a per-keyword basis.

      Question: Why look at the top site?
      Answer: Why not? They’ve been very successful at convincing the search engines that they’re top authorities on specific keywords, and although content is only a piece of the SEO puzzle, if their content was completely wrong (i,e. absolutely stuffed with keywords), they probably wouldn’t be in the top 10.

  2. Richard says:

    Very insightful post, Stephanie. You are doing a great job!

  3. David Hughes says:

    Thanks Stephanie, it very interesting to read about the impact that search engines are having on how journalists approach writing an article, how things have changed over the past few years…

  4. Barbara says:

    As a former marketer – I think this post hits the nail on the head. Traditional writing and marketing copy was about creativity, conveying a story, painting a picture. Content writing for the web has to balance all of those things with the SEO specific needs to garner the ranking results you are after. It is a hard balance and one that is sometimes hard to convince your partners to understand.

    I love that you are excited and challenged by this opportunity and love the crossword puzzle analogy. Keep up the good work.

  5. nice insight. am beginning to love this site. :)

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