The editorial SEO checklist

Ian Lurie

I already gave publishers some SEO tips. Now it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty: The editorial team. By ‘editorial team’ I mean: Writers, editors and anyone who puts their hands on an article before it hits the interwebs.
Publishers have it easy: Make some changes, site- or server-wide, and you’re a hero. Editorial staff have to apply sound SEO and online writing practices to every new article, photo or video. Eck. So, here’s my very short checklist for editorial teams:

  1. Write descriptive headlines. Make sure your article headline would make sense to the average reader when written on a blank sheet of paper. That headline might show up out of context in an RSS reader, a search result or who-knows-what. 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 SEO.
  2. Forget about wrap. Don’t shorten your headlines or subheads. If they wrap to two lines, it’s OK! This isn’t print, so you have no restrictions in that respect.
  3. 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. You can also have click here, if you want. Just make sure there’s a descriptive link in place.
  4. 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.
  5. Mention the primary subject in the first paragraph. Again, duh. Yet I see lots of articles that don’t have the name of the person, the description of the key event or whatever else in the first freaking paragraph. Why oh why?
  6. Resize images in an image editor. I know you’re in a hurry to get that story uploaded. But take the time to resize images properly, using an image editor. Don’t resize them using the content management system or HTML. Image crawlers want to ‘see’ an image file that matches the size and shape of the displayed image.
  7. Write ALT tags for images. Write an alternate tag for your image that fully describes the image. I guarantee your content management system has a field for the ‘alt’ tag, or uses another field for it. The right ALT tag can help you get that image indexed, and help rank the text around it.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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. If you really want to do that, hire an SEO. That way, you can write beautiful prose, and hate the SEO when they mess it up.

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  1. I noticed you did not say keyword once. The important point you made about writing for your readers is the key. Some people do get bogged down with having a keyword of choice in their post, and I must admit I have a tendency to do that at times.
    I keep the keyword to rank for in mind when writing articles for submission. But as I hate writing, I get writers with SEO experience to do that part.
    Great tips for the editorial team and will come in handy for me.
    Thanks for sharing.
    – Louis

  2. I think point #1 is the most important on this list.
    Too many times the editorial team and/or writers like to write “smart” or “punny” headlines which end up being read out of context as you mentioned, or are just plain unsearchable because the “clever” headlines end up having nothing to do with the main article.
    Definitely an important point to learn for writing for the web.

  3. I must admit, that I often exercise #2 – really just to make things look better as far as the layout is concerned. But I agree – content is much more important, both for users and SE’s. 🙂

  4. 11. As well as resizing images, use a compression utility i.e. imageready
    Just one correction though – BP is no longer British Petroleum. They abolished that title in the 1990s to reflect that they are no longer a British company but are now a multinational corporation (around 1/3 American owned!) Obviously no-one told Obama! 😉

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