SEO Guidelines For Editorial

Co-authored with Ian Lurie, CEO and founder of Seattle-based Portent Inc. A version of this post first appeared on the Portent blog.

Editorial teams control the single most ‘future proof’ search rankings factor: Content quality. Consistent ‘quality’ as defined by Google, though, means following some specific rules. So, here’s my very short checklist for editorial teams:


Write descriptive headlines

Make sure your article headline would make sense to the average reader when written on a blank sheet of paper.


In the print world, you could always rely on the text and images around a headline to lend context. On the internet, headlines get taken out of context, all the time. So the headline alone must tell the reader what to expect. And, of course, the headline will likely become your article’s title tag, which is key to search engine visibility.


The worst offender of this rule that I’ve ever seen was a 28pt headline that declared, “Supreme Court Tries Sodomy.”

I’m a very open-minded writer. But I suspect this journalist meant something different.

Finally, mention the primary person/topic/event in the article headline. Seems obvious, doesn’t it. Apparently it isn’t. If your article is about BP Oil, make sure BP Oil is in the headline.


Use links to serve the reader

When you link between articles or to other resources, don’t attempt to out-think search engines. Ask yourself a simple question: Will this link help my readers? If the answer is yes, provide the link, even if it points off-site. The reader remembers that you provided more information. They’ll be back.


If you want to be even more helpful, write descriptive links. In a sentence like ‘Lurie went to prison for 10 years,’ don’t add a ‘click here’ at the end for more information. Make ‘Lurie went to prison,’ or something similar, the link itself.


If you write a related story, link to it. If you write a story about squirrel infestations in the New York subway system, and wrote a related story a year ago, link back to it. By connecting the stories, you create a cluster of relevant content.


Structure your content for online readers

We take readers’ viewing patterns for granted. But your online audience tends to rapidly skim visible content for relevance. If content doesn’t appear relevant in the first 1–2 seconds, they’re gone. Follow some simple rules to ensure they stick around:

  1. Mention the primary subject in the first paragraph. I see many articles that don’t have the name of the person, the description of the key event or whatever else in the first paragraph. Why oh why? If I’m reading your piece using my smartphone, the visible screen area is very small. And I’m always short on time. I need to know whether this article is relevant right away.

  2. Use full names. The first or second time you mention a person or company, use the full name. Not ‘Mr. Lurie’ or ‘Lurie’, but ‘Ian Lurie’. Not ‘BP’, but ‘British Petroleum’. That will give search engines and searchers who look for the full name a better shot at finding you.

  3. Use subheadings, image captions and other ‘breaks’ to make your page highly scannable. The more opportunities I have to verify relevance in my initial glance, the more likely I am to read the rest.


Do a little image work

Sometimes, writers treat image formatting as an afterthought. But following some basic best practices may change a good piece into a great one.


Most important, make sure images load fast. Load speed is a major factor in reader retention. Images are a major factor in load speed. So, if you’re the one adding images to your writing, be sure to:

  1. Don’t resize images ‘on the fly.’ There are two ways to resize images: Using HTML code, which squashes or stretches the image as the reader’s browser loads it (on the fly); or using an image editor. Some content management systems will do the latter for you. If yours doesn’t, use a basic image editor — Photoshop LE is great — to do it yourself.

  2. Compress images. You can use a simple tool like to reduce image file size without impacting quality. It only takes a minute.


Also, write ALT tags for images. Write an alternate attribute for your image that fully describes the image. I guarantee your content management system has a field for the ‘alt’ attribute, or uses another field for it. The right ALT tag can help you get that image indexed, and help rank the text around it.


And, give images relevant captions. Put a relevant caption under or near the image, or at least make sure the text of the paragraph before/after that image is related. That helps search engines figure out if the image is relevant, and could get you higher rankings.


It’s about your readers

I didn’t say ‘keyword’ once, did I? That’s because everything I’ve mentioned is equally good for your readers and search engines. It’s also because, if you’re writing for a large publication, your search rankings and traffic will flow naturally from your subject matter. Don’t try to shoehorn in the phrases you think will generate traffic. A lot’s changed in the Search Engine Optimization world over the last four years. Most relevant to editorial teams: Content that fits Google’s definition of ‘high quality’ drives rankings. In the new Google reality, you have a lot of leverage. Apply it.

Article source:

Related Posts