Simple Tips For Writing An SEO Style Guide
You want to rank, you have to write stuff. Lots of stuff.
If you’re a big company, you’re likely going to have 5+ copywriters going like gangbusters producing articles for your site, guest blog posts and link bait. Even if you don’t, you still have the content that currently exists on your site: Product descriptions, ‘about us’ pages and whatnot.
If you’re a small company, you probably have to outsource your copywriting simply because you don’t have time to do it yourself. That means at least one other person doing writing for you. And, even if you’re doing it yourself, you need to stay consistent.
In either case, people with many other priorities are going to write stuff that’s essential to your SEO campaign. How do you keep everything inline with your SEO goals?
You need an SEO style guide.
I’ve done a few of these. They usually have three parts: keyword preferences, linking guidelines and <TITLE> rules.
The Right Words
I’m not a fan of telling writers “Use this phrase XX times per article!”
It leads to content that reads like it was written by chimpanzees.
But you can limit choices a little bit, by suggesting the use of specific phrases in reference to specific products/tools/services. The “Recommended Terms List” is the result. Here are a few examples from various style guides:
Helmets: When referring to “bike helmets“, please use the phrase ‘bike helmets’, rather than ‘brain buckets’ or ‘lids’ or ‘bicycle helmets’.
Cell phones: When referring to “cell phones” please use the phrase ‘cell phones’, not ‘cellular phones’, ‘phones’, or ‘handsets’.
Cars: When referring to a specific car for the first time, please use the make + model combination. For example, “Chevy Camaro“.
This list shouldn’t lead to lousy copy—I’m not telling writers to stuff keywords. I’m just telling them which keywords to use when they have to. In that way, the Recommended Terms list will keep the team on track, or remind you of your goals when you sit down to write.
On most sites, the writers are the ones who write and publish content. That means they’re responsible for links.
Consistent linking is essential if you’re going to maintain good canonicalization and avoid the unsightly embarrassment of duplicate content. Speaking as a writer myself, though, I can tell you that consistent linking is the last thing on my mind when I’m trying to make a deadline.
Make it easy by presenting simple, easy-to-follow standards for internal and external links. For example:
All product links should be in this format:
http://www.thesite.com/products/12345.html. Replace 12345 with the correct SKU.
All links to articles should be in this format:
Replace url with the contents of the ‘URL’ field in the content management system.
All links to other sites should use target=”_blank”.
Get the idea? This gets everyone into a routine for linking. At a minimum, it gives you something to point to when your boss freaks out because everyone’s using different link types and they’ve thrown your site into a state of rankings higgledy-piggledy.
The title tag continues to be the strongest on-page ranking factor. That may change, but it hasn’t yet. So you need to make sure all writers have certain rules for writing title tags. Some random examples:
- Never put our brand name first.
- Always provide the full name of the interviewee.
- Keep the title tag to 70 characters or less.
These may be eye-rollers for experienced SEOs. But again, if I’m sitting down to write, the title tag that will eventually be on the published version of the article is just not something I’m thinking about.
Provide guidance and you’ll spend a lot less time hand-editing title tags at 1 AM.
The Real Point: Document, Document, Document
It’s easy for us SEOs to frown at writers when their pesky prose screws up our carefully crafted SEO plans. But keeping things consistent is our responsibility, not theirs. So document everything, provide a style guide, and work with your team to make sure everyone understands it.
That way, you can spend more time on future strategy, and less on editing past copy.
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