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SEO Basics: Substantive Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading

You may be surprised to learn that editing is a very important part of search engine optimization (SEO). High-quality content should always be reviewed for correctness, consistency, and clarity before being published.

The most successful SEO content is written by those who understand that editing is made up of a lot more than just proofreading and correcting typos and misspellings. It involves gauging readability, fact-checking, formatting, and more.

Standard digital editing can be broken into three types: substantive, copy, and proofreading.

What is substantive editing?

Substantive editing, which is also called content editing or structural editing, is when a piece is edited for its format, content, style, and even presentation. Substantive editing is in-depth and involved because it requires an editor to really dig into the content and review it from every angle.

During a substantive edit, an editor will take note of structure and formatting; the flow, reading level, and cadence of the content; and the tone, style, and language that the writer has used.

Sometimes, substantive editing involves rewriting and reorganizing sections of a piece of content. Typically, substantive editing is a back-and-forth process where an editor and writer work closely together to make a piece the best that it can be.

In SEO, substantive editing can be used to:

  • Make sure that proper headers are being used (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
  • Confirm the content’s reading level suits the intended audience
  • Properly format rich snippets and search phrases or questions
  • Organize the content for online readability using lists, headings, and properly spaced paragraphs
  • Fix and remove keyword stuffing
  • Check for duplicate content and ensure content differentiation
  • See whether a submitted guest post is a fit for your publication
  • Ensure internal links are properly formatted

What is copy editing?

Copy editing is when a piece of content is edited for typos, misspellings, and grammar and punctuation errors. Typically, a copyedit is done before a piece is proofread.

During a copy edit, an editor will compare the content to the house style guide or style sheet to ensure that it follows the publications writing rules, such as whether to use serial commas or when to spell out numbers.

Sometimes, copy editing also includes tasks like fact checking and approving or rejecting a piece that has been submitted for publication. Copy editing is more about ensuring correctness and style than reviewing structure and format.

In terms of SEO, copy editing can involve things like:

  • Ensuring keywords are spelled and used correctly
  • Checking alternate keyword spellings and names
  • Reviewing the meta description and title tag for errors
  • Checking images for alternate text
  • Adding or removing primary and secondary keywords
  • Editing for country-specific terms or spelling variations

What is proofreading?

After substantive and copy editing comes proofreading. Proofreading is when a proofreader or editor takes one final look at a piece of content before it’s published.

Since substantive and copy editing can mean multiple rounds of edits between a writer and editor, sometimes errors and typos are missed. A proofreader’s job is to catch any last errors before a piece goes live and after it has gone through its substantive and copy edits.

Proofreading for SEO can include things like:

  • Ensuring edits from Microsoft Word and Google Docs were accepted properly
  • Going through a publishing checklist to check for things like a title tag, meta description, URL, image, etc.
  • Confirming SEO edits and suggestions were implemented as requested
  • Reviewing formatting like headers and bullet lists to make sure they’re properly tagged for your content management system

How do I edit SEO content?

If you’re not a writer or editor, you may find editing to be a daunting task. Even with a tool like Grammarly, you have to have a pre-existing knowledge of writing and editing best practices to know when the software is making a mistake or a questionable suggestion.

The best option is to have either an in-house or contract-based editor to review your work. But, if that’s not feasible, consider taking some editing courses on top of using a tool like Grammarly so that you have an idea of what’s an acceptable edit versus what’s not.

Why should I edit SEO content?

We’ve come a long way since the days of keyword stuffing and content farms. As search engine algorithms become smarter and more adaptable, they also become more adept at filtering poorly written content out of search results.

Creating a high-quality piece of SEO content isn’t just about hitting the right keywords anymore. It’s about writing a piece of thoughtful, well-researched, and error-free content that readers find helpful and easy to digest.

And as time goes on, we can only assume that search engines will continue their push to focus on quality content in search results. Which means that editing will only become more important as the digital publishing world continues to evolve and expand.

You should edit your SEO content not only for search engines but your readers as well. Presenting well-written and thoughtfully edited content is a sign of respect to those who take the time to read and absorb your work.

If you don’t have the time or skills to edit your work yourself, hire someone like me to do it for you.