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Recently, I worked with a big-brand publisher that published print assets to their site. The powers-that-be believed that the content should position just fine. After all, the content was written by professional writers and was a hit in print. Plus, some of their writers were afraid that adding key phrases would transform their great content into jargon-stuffed drivel. As a result, nothing was optimized. So what happened?

The content only positioned for branded key phrases and nothing else. Despite the fact that their content was incredibly resource-rich, it was free of search phrases. Their headlines didn’t include any key phrases, their H2s were typically single-word headlines, and the body content was key phrase-free.


Still, the good news is that the situation was easily fixable. Print content can easily be optimized for Google–it just needs to be built into the process. Here’s how to do it:

Get over the “SEO writing is key phrase-stuffed” mentality

I’ve walked into many training sessions where the vibe was “I don’t need to learn this and I don’t want to be here.” Why? Because many print writers are under the misconception that all SEO writing is key phrase-stuffed.

Yes, you still see evidence of key phrase-stuffing, despite Google’s best efforts to make it go away. But the content that typically positions in Google (and gets links and social shares) is well-written, semantically-rich, and authoritative. Plus, Google specifically goes after keyword-stuffing. Here’s a quote from Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines, in reference to what’s considered “lowest” quality content:

Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish.

So if your writers hate key phrase-stuffed content, cool. That’s not what SEO writing is anyway. But often, the only way your writers will understand that point is if you:

Train your writers in SEO writing

I’ve heard some marketing managers complain that their print copywriters didn’t “have the bandwidth to write SEO copy.” To me, this shows a misconception that folks have about the SEO writing process.

SEO writing takes slightly more time than writing for print (it’s that pesky key phrase research), but it’s easily built into the production schedule. Plus, if your writers are producing print articles, catalog pages, and guides, SEO writing is a natural skill set.

Yes, key phrase research is an extra step. Yes, it takes time to learn and master. But once your writers “get it,” every word they write will be good for Google.

In every survey I conduct, the writers have the most fun when they understand how similar key phrases can have drastically different search volumes. This “aha!” moment for writers helps to guide their writing in powerful ways–one that meshes their creative talents with data-driven writing. By the end of the training, these previously hostile writers are excited about the SEO-writing opportunities–and they want to implement what they’ve learned.

Determine what your most important print assets are and optimize them first

Once your writers are trained, it’s easy for them to create content that’s great for Google. But, you also want to transform your poorly-positioned print content into Google gold.

Key phrase-editing (where you’re optimizing existing content for SEO) isn’t hard, but it is time-consuming. It involves:

  • researching the page key phrases
  • adding key phrases, synonyms, and related words to the body copy
  • revising (or adding) new H2 subheadlines
  • writing titles and descriptions

If your old print articles are shorter (500 words or less) you may want to consider combining two or more related articles and creating a longer blog post. It’s an easy way to write longer, authoritative content using the assets you already have.

Not sure where to start?

You can run an SEO content audit on your site, and discover pages that–with a few tweaks–have major optimization potential.

Next, train your print copywriters. There are a variety of training options that can fit any company’s budget–yes, even a small business! Larger businesses with more resources may benefit from customized training in SEO writing, which combines a site audit and consulting with hands-on training.

Finally, build editing old print assets into your editorial calendar. You may only be able to tweak five pages a month–that’s OK. The more pages you can optimize for Google, the more you can start enjoying expanded search traffic.