Columns September 2020

SEO for Editors

By Michelle Corbin

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” With so much of the technical content that we produce published online, technical communicators have to know a bit about SEO. To learn the details of SEO, check out Search Engine Land and their “Essential Guide to SEO.” Another popular SEO learning resource is the Moz blog.

In this column, I present a way of thinking about SEO using SEO checklists that we have crafted based on the information in those resources. I might not present it using their terminology (jargon!), but I think they capture the essence of SEO guidelines for technical writers and technical editors.


If you’ve heard anything about SEO, you’ve likely heard quite a bit about keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases that define what your content is about and that (hopefully) map to what people are searching for. Keywords are the answers to the users’ questions, so like all other things in our field, good keywords require knowing your users.

Once you’ve identified the keywords, you need to use them in all the right places:

  • Titles
  • Headings
  • URLs
  • Alt text for images
  • Liberally—and especially—within the first paragraphs on a page

Always front-load these elements with your keywords. That being said, make sure you keep your users in mind, and just write good content that your users will want to read.

Focus on the Content

For SEO, content truly is king. Content must be accurate (updated regularly), complete, and well-written.

It also needs to be compelling. Your content should provide unique information about the subject, answer the question that your users are asking, and be linked to from other pieces of content on and off your site.

The abstracts or blurbs (or snippets or meta descriptions) should also be carefully crafted to include keywords and answer your users’ questions. These blurbs are being pulled into search engine results pages (SERPs) to help users decide which link to take.

Headings help users navigate the page and understand the structure of the content on the page. Use lists and multiple, shorter paragraphs to break up large, long blocks of text. Finally, embed multimedia—images and video—to truly differentiate your content.

In Editing Matters, Michelle Corbin covers matters (topics) about editing that matter (are of consequence) to communicators of all kinds. Watch this space to understand more about editing and what you can do to improve the quality of your content. To suggest a topic or ask a question, contact Michelle at
Watch the Length of Things

Every title, subtitle, and heading in a piece of content must pack a significant punch for the SEO or findability of your content. Titles, subtitles, and headings will likely be used in SERPs and social media posts, which means that if they’re too long, they’ll be truncated. Titles and headings should be fewer than 50 characters, including spaces. Abstracts or blurbs should be fewer than 155 characters, including spaces.


Successful, useful information is easy to find. Findable information uses a core set of content SEO factors. All of the other factors that your site architect focuses on to improve SEO will be for naught if the content itself isn’t of the utmost quality.


Moz. n.d. “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO.” Accessed 28 June 2020.

Moz. n.d. “What Are Keywords?” Moz SEO Learning Center. Accessed 28 June 2020.

Search Engine Land. n.d. “Essential Guide to SEO: How to Master the Science of SEO.” Accessed 28 June 2020.

Search Engine Land. n.d. “What Is SEO/Search Engine Optimization?” Accessed 28 June 2020.