SEO Editing vs. Copywriting for SEO

Should you create original content? Or, should you SEO optimize a page that’s already on the site?

Freelance and in-house writers ask this question all the time. Their emails say, “My boss (or client) wants me to add keyphrases to this existing page. The problem is, the page isn’t very good. Will the keyphrases help? Or is better to rewrite it?”

That’s an excellent question that I address in the video  — or, you can read the modified transcript, below.

SEO copywriting and SEO editing — what’s the difference?

First, let’s go over the differences between SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing.

Keyphrase editing is also known as “on-page optimization,” “optimizing the text,” or “SEO copyediting.” The technique is to add keywords — either derived from the writer’s keyphrase research or received from an SEO — to existing text.

When a page is optimized (or edited,) the content is not rewritten. The writer may edit the page Title and meta description, but for the most part, she’s working with the existing content.

SEO copywriting usually refers to creating original content. The writer still conducts keyphrase research (or receives the keyphrases from an SEO.) However, rather than editing the existing content, she would write brand-new content and include the keyphrases (along with synonyms and related words.)

So you see, SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing are very different: one is working with existing text, and the other is throwing away the existing text and starting fresh.

Should you optimize your site? Or rewrite your pages?

So, when is a better strategy to edit existing pages rather than rewrite them?

It’s best to optimize a page (keyphase editing) when:

  • You (and your readers) already love the content
  • The page isn’t crucial to the sales process
  • The bounce rate isn’t too high

If you have content on your site you (and your readers) already love and it’s performing well, but it wasn’t written with keyphrases the first time around, the page may be a good candidate for keyphrase editing.

It’s also OK to edit the page when it isn’t crucial to the sales process. For example, I’ve worked with companies that have edited old blog posts and saw a great bump in search positions as a result. Editing FAQ pages and articles can offer the same benefit.

Finally, optimizing the page is OK when the time on page (or bounce rate) isn’t too high. You know that people are sticking around and reading the page once they’ve landed on it, so adding in some strategic keyphrases here and there is typically fine for that page.

An SEO content editor or an SEO copywriter usually handles the keyphrase editing. He may be someone you employ in-house, or a freelancer.

There are also certain times when it’s better to write original content, such as:

  • When the page is crucial to the sales process
  • When the page is a duplicate
  • When page conversions or time on page is low

If a page is crucial to the sales process, or is somehow intended to make money — like the home page, and subcategory pages such as products and services — it’s better to rewrite it.

You also want to rewrite the page if it’s a duplicate. This is common with  local landing pages, where two (or more) pages may be basically the same (outside of the city name.)

Also, when you know that the page isn’t working — you’re not getting conversions, the time on page is low, and people are bouncing out quickly —  rewrite it. Readers are telling you they don’t like the page by leaving as soon as they can.

Sure, you can edit the keyphrases into a poorly performing page and sure, hypothetically that page might position a little better, but it won’t help boost conversions.

Either a freelancer or an experienced in-house SEO copywriter can rewrite your pages. Also, an SEO content strategist could do the keyphrase research for you, as well as dovetail her research with the rest of your SEO plan.

Make sense? There’s clearly a difference between when you would write original content and when you can work with the existing content — and it’s smart to know those differences before you proceed.

(Editors note: I originally wrote this post in 2011. A lot has changed since then, so I updated the video and the transcript. I hope you enjoyed the post!)

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Photo thanks: © Bakhtiar Zein |


20 replies
  1. Moosa Hemani
    Moosa Hemani says:

    been though your blog from time to time but this video thing is really appreciate-able… i would rather advise some one to go for SEO copy writing in most of the cases becasue in real time there are very few clients who are there on the internet with very creative content. so instead of adding keywords to the existing content i personality believe SEO copy writing is more better for long term.

  2. Laura Crest
    Laura Crest says:

    Yes, Moosa, by and large many clients fitting your description could use a complete SEO rewrite!

    But there are instances where it simply isn’t necessary for the SEO copywriter or the client to do so. For instance, your client may have very solid content that is smartly targeted to their customer persona, and is otherwise sound in tone and feel, but not critical to conversions, per se. These are the circumstances in which keyphrase editing would serve your client best.

    However, if you have clients with very little to no quality content, then by all means, go with copywriting for SEO from the start! That was the point of distinguishing when SEO copywriting is preferable to SEO editing.

    Thanks for your comments and feedback!

  3. Laura Crest
    Laura Crest says:

    Ken, hi! Thanks for your comment – so glad you found it timely as well as helpful! Next Monday, Heather will be sharing SEO editing tips, so be sure to tune in again then!:)There’s also a great post on the subject from October 2010 — you’ll find the link to it ( Supercharge your webcopy with super simple keyphrase editing) above the comments. Thanks again 🙂

  4. Gabriel
    Gabriel says:

    In a 400 word page what percentage or how many times should a keyword or phrase be used and would you recommend that images be labeled or named for that specific keyword or phrase that is being used for the same page?

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Gabriel, there’s no hard and fast rule around how many times to use a keyphrase. The best approach is to use them in strategic places (like headlines/subheadlines) and write your content so it’s great for your users. If your copy starts sounding keyphrase-stuffed, it probably is. 🙂

      Regarding images, yes, you’d want to use an applicable keyphrase whenever possible….just don’t stuff the alt tag with tons of keywords. Think of it as describing the image instead. 🙂


  5. Laura Crest
    Laura Crest says:

    Hi Gabriel!

    Let’s start with question #1: There is no formula for keyword density – that is a persistent relic from the way-back machine that is no longer applicable for authentic, legitimate SEO. A common-sense rule of thumb is to use two to three keywords/keyphrases per page, where they fit and flow with the writing, and where they pack the most SEO-mojo: headers, subheaders, links.

    As for question #2: Alternative text for images is recommended for SEO purposes inasmuch that search engines do not “read” images. However, I would warn you to avoid “overkill” of keyword/phrase use here, unless it actually applies to the particular image. The search engines might interpret it as keyword stuffing or spamming.

    Hope this helps! Thanks for your contribution to the conversation! 🙂

  6. Laura Crest
    Laura Crest says:

    Hi Pam! Always a treat to hear from you — thanks!

    As for the pricing difference, “it depends.” 🙂 Seriously, though, inasmuch as straightup SEO copywriting is creating content while massaging in the keyword/phrases, versus just working in keywords and phrases into existing (and otherwise solid) content as you would with SEO editing, you can expect to charge more, much more, for SEO copywriting.

    Heather posted a how-to vid on how to make money as an SEO copywriter a couple of weeks back: (htttp:// in which she discussed pricing for SEO copywriting. It can range from $50 to $1,500 / page, depending on your experience and portfolio of client testimonials, case studies, et.

    Next Monday, Heather will post tips on SEO editing — perhaps she might address pricing for that then. All I can tell you right now is that original SEO copywriting will fetch more than SEO editing. By how much..well, it depends 🙂

    Thanks again, Pam, for your feedback — it’s always great to hear from you!

  7. Scott Hastings
    Scott Hastings says:

    Wow, I never realized there was much of a difference. It is almost scary to go back and look at some of the content we wrote but did not edit. It is no wonder some of the articles published online never make it to the first page of Google search. As always, thanks for the great insights.

    Scott Hastings

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      You’re welcome!

      And just think — you can still go back and optimize those old articles. Who knows how much more new traffic you’ll see…? 🙂

  8. Micky Stuivenberg
    Micky Stuivenberg says:

    Hi Heather. Going back to edit old blog posts is indeed a good idea, particularly if parts have become outdated over time. Updating an existing piece of content so it becomes fresh and up to date again not only ensures you retain the SEO juice the existing page has built up over the years and you don’t have to go and update any links to the page, but it also puts the blog post back on top of the pile and in front of people who may not have seen the original piece. That’s exactly what this blog post of yours has done. Good advice.


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