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Trading in My Style Guides for SEO Best Practices

“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.

About Stephanie Steward

As an SEO creative editor for The Search Agency, Stephanie Steward relies on her journalistic integrity, creative instincts, research skills, and caffeine to properly structure page optimization and new content creation efforts for each client Web site to which she is assigned. She’s devoted to providing the world with accurate information that is properly punctuated—one Web page at a time. And when she’s not surfing the Web, she’s skating on ice.