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I'm a staff writer on a site that puts lots of emphasis on SEO. To that end, they have an SEO editor come back in to our posts after publication.

The editor changes things like the abstract of the piece, tags, and so on, but also often changes the title, headings, and the first couple paragraphs.

Twice now the title change has significantly misdirected the piece; the title no longer describes what I've written about.

Also, these changes often create glaring grammatical errors (including one error where a word was only half-written).

I don't feel comfortable having my name on the byline of a piece that's now poorly written, and if I've already shared the work on social media or other outlets, I am a bit limited.

Contract Details The contract with this client is for an entire year, 3 pieces per month. It's the most visited site on the topic at hand (which is my niche), so it provides lots of eye traffic. In this case, that's potentially a bad thing because of the errors.

What I've Already Done I emailed the SEO manager after the first incident just a couple weeks ago, and now that she's done it again I emailed the overall blog manager (who is generally not a very kind or receptive person).

After hearing back some general ideas about what they try to do with the title and first few paragraphs, I took it upon myself to do this work for them rather than leave it to them. However, I guess I fell short.

After explaining the errors, I went back into the first post myself and changed the errors to things that make more sense.

It feels like I have to write the piece, do all the detail involved in publishing, monitor and respond to comments (all part of my contract), and then monitor the changes to make sure they communicate the same message I wrote and maintain the integrity of my style, error-free.

Has anyone run into a similar issue? What approaches worked or didn't work?

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You don't have many options open to you—and some options are rather extreme.

  • Write your articles and let them make the changes they want.
  • Write your articles and correct any revisions that annoy you too much.
  • Continue to express to your concerns and hope the situation improves.
  • Drum up support on social media, or elsewhere (perhaps among other authors who feel similarly), in order to lend objective voices to your own.
  • Post your articles in parallel to a blog of your own—one that retains your original content. Your own blog would contain "authoritative" copies of your work.
  • Stop submitting articles, on the grounds that they are making substantive changes of which you don't approve. (E.g., break your contract, or otherwise renegotiate it.)

Several of those options would depend on the actual details of your contract—what you, or they, are or are not allowed to do. And not all of the options are are mutually exclusive.

It feels like I have to write the piece, do all the detail involved in publishing, monitor and respond to comments (all part of my contract), and then monitor the changes to make sure they communicate the same message I wrote and maintain the integrity of my style, error-free.

It sounds like you can manage to have things as you want them—but it takes a lot of your time and energy in order to do so.

You will have to ask yourself what your priorities are, how you weigh the importance of the job and its work relations versus the integrity of your work and name, and what amount of energy is worthwhile for you to expend in order to come up with an acceptable balance.

Also, these changes often create glaring grammatical errors (including one error where a word was only half-written).

This specific point is more disturbing. It's not so much about policy but about appropriate procedures and competence. However, aside from trying to make friendly inquiries into how that happened, and offering positive suggestions about changes to prevent it in the future, there is little you can do.

I have been in the shoes of your editor. I would have been mortified if I had made such mistakes, or if I hadn't done the best I could to balance the company's requirements with the needs of submitting authors.

Interestingly, after I'd copyedited text and started to deal with SEO, SEO-specific changes all happened before the "final click" to publish an article. (I would often create drafts, keeping them from the public.) And if something in the text itself did need to be changed for the purpose of SEO, the article could not be published until the author approved of those changes.

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    And maybe in addition to your good suggestions Morgan could talk to the other writers to build up some pressure on the unresponsive blog owner. Kind of create a writer's union. Others must have the same happen to them. – user29032 Apr 18 '18 at 5:11
  • Thanks - yes, most other items I submit through other editors/publications have all changes done where we can both view before final publication. The errors issue is especially problematic for me because they actually email me with each and every grammatical error they think they find (and I say "think" because more than once they've told me a correctly used semicolon was used in error, so they change my sentence to be a comma splice instead). It's a little maddening to see the hypocrisy. – Morgan Meredith Apr 18 '18 at 17:38
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Editors edit. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse.

When an editor edits something in a way that changes the original meaning it is a sign that, however clear the statement was to you, you did not get it across successfully to at least one person -- the editor.

I'm going through the edit process now for my book on Structured Writing and it is a constant back and forth. The editor sends me the edited version of the chapter. I compare it with the original. Some of the time the edits are an obvious improvement. Sometimes they seem to me to make no substantial difference. Sometimes I think they are worse than the original, but not enough to be worth fighting about. Sometimes they are definitely worse. Sometimes they misrepresent my meaning.

The latter two are the only cases where I send changes back. In almost all of these cases, I rewrite rather than restoring the original. In almost all cases, I write a note to the editor explaining why I changed them. In most cases, he accepts my changes. In a few cases he edits my changes and we repeat the process.

That's just how the process works. Writing is a solitary activity but publication is a team sport (and much the better for it, overall). So, yes, you should expect to edit your editor's edits and explain why on every piece, perhaps more than once. That's how the process works.

Remember, the editor is the first person who actually reads you piece and tries to understand it. We all have blind spots (Google "curse of knowledge") and the editor is the one who will find those and try to fix them. But editors are human too, and they make mistakes as well. You are your editor's editor.

  • Thanks, Mark - sometimes it seems like the editors and their decisions are unimpeachable, so I definitely appreciate the "editing the editors" point. I do wonder if the SEO editor actually reads the full piece or just the first few paragraphs, because she's the one consistently missing my meaning. The most unfortunate part of this is my contract requires me to share all the articles on social media. I've let the blog editor know that I'm no longer doing so, because I don't feel comfortable with these going out and connected to my name in such a fashion. – Morgan Meredith Apr 19 '18 at 14:17
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    Sounds like your SEO editor is using a style of SEO that no longer works (because Google has been changing the algorithm specifically to defeat it). Google is basically working to defeat all mechanical SEO tricks and ensure that quality content is the only SEO that matters. SEO jocks, of course, will never admit this, since it puts them out of a job. But you might want to research it and put the evidence in front of the site owner, since it will basically tell them that you are more valuable to them than the editor. – Mark Baker Apr 19 '18 at 14:45

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