How to Edit Articles By a Guest Author for SEO – Without Overstepping!

Recently, I showed a client how to optimize articles they were publishing on their website for SEO. After all, producing good content is the hard part. Optimization is the easy part! Why not take a few extra steps so people who are searching online can find your content? Their webmaster brought up a very reasonable concern: Many of the articles were written by guest authors, and they don’t want to interfere with how the author decided to write it. This comes up for me too. I often edit blog posts by other JB Media team members for SEO—but I don’t want to override their personal voice and style. Especially with guest authors, it’s important not to go overboard. Fortunately, you can do a lot for SEO while doing very little to change the author’s word choices. This post will show you how.

How Much Can You Edit a Guest Blogger or Author?

In some cases, there’s no problem! You may feel totally comfortable making changes for SEO. Other cases call for more sensitivity. How much you can change depends on a number of factors:

  • Is SEO a major priority? If the whole point of the article is to attract organic traffic, then don’t be shy about editing it for SEO. Communicate with the writer ahead of time about your SEO goals. It helps if you work with a writer who already understands the principles of SEO.
  • Do your edits improve the article—or detract? I find that SEO edits (especially subheads) often make articles more skimmable, which makes them more reader friendly. Advocate for changes that are good for both SEO and the reader. But, avoid edits that distort the author’s meaning or make the article sound unnatural.
  • Do you work closely with the author? I don’t worry too much about editing my coworkers (although, of course, I run my changes by them before the post goes live.) It’s a different story if you’ve asked an outside expert to contribute to your site. You don’t want to undermine his or her authority or creative work with extensive edits.
  • Will the author mind? It’s possible the author will object to your SEO edits. On the other hand, they might appreciate them. After all, they want their work to be found and read by a wider audience. Most authors will accept reasonable edits if they understand the benefits.

Do What You Wanna: 4 Major SEO Elements That Don’t Require Any Edits to the Author’s Work

Some of the biggest bang-­for-­your-­SEO-­buck elements don’t show up on the page at all. You don’t have to change one word of the author’s work to optimize these important SEO elements. However, you DO need to make sure they accurately represent what’s on the page.

Meta title

All online content actually has two titles—the on­-page title (H1) and the meta title. For SEO, the meta title matters more. In fact, it’s your single most important opportunity to use your focus keywords—prime SEO real estate! The meta title will show up in search results, but not on the page. That means you can write an SEO­-friendly meta title without altering the author’s work. But, there’s a catch: the meta title can’t be too different from your on-­page title. You don’t want to mess with your user by having them click on one title in search results, then arrive at a page with a completely different title (bounce!) So, in some cases, you may need to suggest changes to the H1, as well. Learn more in my next blog post, “Do Your meta title and H1 Need to Match?”

Meta description

Here you get about 160 characters (1­2 sentences) to say what the article is about, using your priority keywords. Like the meta title, your meta description will show up only in search results, not on the page. Just make sure that it accurately reflects what users will find when the get to the page.


The author probably didn’t write a URL to go with his or her post. You get to write the URL. It should be a version of your meta title (often, a shorter version), which means you can work in your focus keywords.

Image Optimization

You can optimize images for SEO by using relevant keywords in image filenames, alt tags, and captions. That’s one more way you can optimize a page without changing the article text at all.

Subheads: Great for SEO, Great for Readability

Tweaking or adding subheads is a simple way to boost an article’s SEO potential—and, as a huge bonus, it can significantly improve the reader’s experience. Subheads break up the text, which immediately makes the page more visually appealing. They also tell the reader what each section of the article is about, which makes it more skimmable. Online readers want to skim a page before they decide whether to read it. So, outlining major topics or highlighting important points in your subheads will make your content more accessible and engaging. Although subheads are prominent on the page, they’re relatively non­invasive because you can just slide them in between paragraphs without changing the body text. If you do a good job, the benefits for readability (not to mention SEO) should be clearly evident. Note: To get the SEO benefit from your subheads, make sure you format them as subheads (H2, H3, etc.)­­not just bold or other visual formatting. Want to see an example? Check out my recent post, “Optimize Everything!” where we recommended a bunch of subheads to break up a guest article on Land Trust Alliance’s website.

Optimizing for Keywords

If you know from your keyword research that it’s important to include a certain phrase or to use one synonym as opposed to another, go ahead and make those edits. Just make sure you’re not changing the author’s meaning. If the changes are minor, it shouldn’t be a big issue.

Making the Connections: Interlinking

The guest post probably relates to one of your core topics or services, right? (Otherwise, what’s it doing on your site?) Look for a way to link from the article to the relevant section of your site. That helps build your site’s authority for that topic.

You and Your Guest Writers—It’s All About Relationships

When you publish guest content, it should be a rewarding experience for you and for the writer. Here are some tips for cultivating great relationships with your writers, so they’ll keep providing valuable content for your site:

  • Ask them to review any edits before you publish the article.
  • Provide a short bio about the author.
  • Provide a link to their blog, website, or social media.
  • Have a plan to promote and circulate their content. Writers want to be read!
  • Say thank you!