What exactly is search engine optimization? Why why does it matter? And what do you need to know about SEO as a freelance writer?
When you’re applying for freelance writing gigs, you may come across job postings that require or “prefer” experience with SEO. But if you don’t have a background in writing content specifically for internet searches, you might be scratching your head.
As a freelance writer, you don’t necessarily need to be a search engine optimization pro, but it will definitely behoove you to have at least a basic understanding of what it is, what it does, and why it’s important.
And more importantly, if you are super interested in it, offering SEO blog writing and copywriting services is a great way to charge a higher freelance writing rate.
Here’s a primer on what you need to know about SEO as a freelance writer.
What is search engine optimization (SEO)?
Whether your clients have an existing blog or they’re wanting to start one, they’re probably asking themselves, “Okay, well how does a search engine determine what’s a good ‘match’ and what isn’t?”
This is where that buzz phrase “search engine optimization” or “SEO” comes into play.
SEO refers to how search engines like Google and Bing “index” or keep records of a business website along with every other piece of content on the internet. From blog posts to news articles to videos to images – it’s all categorized and logged by search engines.
Here are the basics:
Search engines “crawl” across the web and “read” the content on each individual webpage to determine its main topic. They also look for key phrases, common question-answer strings, and straight-up single keywords (depending on the breadth of the search query) in order to churn out a list of top results.
It may sound complicated, but at its core, it’s pretty simple.
Still confused? Imagine SEO as a librarian.
If you’re still confused, let’s think about it in real-world terms. Imagine a search engine is a librarian. Here’s how it works:
- Based on varying criteria, the librarian (or, tfor our example, the search engine) reviews all the books (websites and web pages) he or she can and chooses a place for them in the library.
- You go to the library and ask the librarian for a book (website results) based on a topic you’ve given them (your search query).
- The librarian (search engine) comes back with a ranked list of all the books (websites) he or she thinks will best answer your question or fulfill your requests. The best matches will be at the top of the list; the worst ones will be at the bottom.
This process of a librarian making book suggestions is the simplest way to understand how SEO works.
Okay, but can my clients have a successful SEO strategy without a business blog?
Yes, but let me start by saying this: I’m a firm believer that every business should have a blog – whether it be simple or robust.
If your clients are on the fence or unconvinced about why they really should have a blog, here are a few points you can make when speaking with them:
- A blog plays a major active role in how search engines (::hint hint:: GOOGLE) review and index a website.
- An active blog tells search engines and potential buyers that a business is alive and well.
- By having an informative blog, your clients give their fans a place to gain free value which ultimately builds trust.
- By building trust, they position themselves as an expert in their industry, niche, or locale.
These are just a few of my arguments for setting up a business blog… If I sat and thought about it all day, I could bombard you with more. Suffice it to say, the reasons for having a business blog far outweigh the counter-arguments and “inconveniences” business owners cite for going without one.
But all that said… Businesses asking for writers with SEO experience are probably looking for blog content, so you may not need to convince them of anything!
Now let’s dive into how SEO actually affects your clients’ websites directly and why you should care about it as a freelance writer.
How does SEO actually affect a website?
Ideally, every page on a website should be optimized for search engines – not just the blog. By that, I mean every single page on a website – even the pages that seem meaningless – should have specific keywords or phrases that help search engines direct web surfers to that site.
The better, intentional, and more complete the SEO strategy is across their entire website, the more likely your clients will be to rank in search results.
Remember: Google (the search engine, let’s be real) is going to look at everything – there are no “secret drawers” it won’t open. (Technically, there are ways to direct Google not to log your pages, but we won’t get into that here.)
Now let’s think of Google as a snoopy mother-in-law:
- Your mother-in-law is coming for a visit and she’s very critical. She’s going to look at everything in your house (website).
- Getting compliments from her (appearing on the front page of search results) is hard to come by. So, if you want to impress her or, at the very least, get closer to being complimented, everything you’ve got should, ideally, be super organized (optimized for search engines).
- The closer to perfect your entire home (website) is, the better your mother-in-law will compliment you (rank your website on the first page of search results) and rave about you to others (consistently put your website on the first page).
So what does that entail?
- Intentionally optimizing every page link, from the home page to the blog posts to the “about” page.
- Writing page descriptions and meta descriptions for all pages, blog categories, and blog posts.
- Blog posts include at least one image, preferably a branded “featured image.”
- Giving images and videos uploaded to your clients’ websites or blog posts a file name containing the keywords they’re trying to rank for.
- Adding alt text to every image on your site.
The Open Secret to Writing SEO Content: Keywords
Writing SEO content for your clients is actually easier than you think. In fact, you’re probably already doing it without even realizing it much of the time.
The most important thing you can do (especially if you are the one suggesting content topics for your clients) is to do some keyword research. This is THE #1 key to a successful SEO strategy.
When we’re talking about search optimization keywords, there are two different camps: short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords.
“Short-tail keywords” are generally single words or phrases that encompass a topic. For example, “search engine optimization” or “chocolate cake” or even just “Miami.”
This is how SEO was fueled back in the day – before Google became so smart that engineers started thinking it had come alive. (Yes, that’s a real concern now!)
In the early days of the internet, SEO was in its infancy and not very “smart.” So these “short-tail keywords” were the only way to let search engines know what the content was about. As a result, content and copywriters used an early SEO practice now referred to as “keyword stuffing.”
“Keyword stuffing” means you use the keyword(s) as often as you can, even if it sounds or reads awkwardly. You needed to let the search engines know what the blog post or page was about, and the best way to do that was to make it blatantly obvious.
These days, this is not only unnecessary but a giant no-no. Google and Bing won’t “reward” sites that use keywords like this anymore; they’ll actually penalize them.
On the other hand, “long-tail keywords” are what are most used in today’s SEO efforts. This simply means looking for strings of keywords or phrases that are searched for most often.
Think about it: If you were looking for information on search engine optimization, you probably wouldn’t go to Google and type that in. You’d be more specific, right? You’d try something like “how to do search engine optimization” or “what is search optimization.”
Likewise, someone looking for something about chocolate cake might type in “gluten-free chocolate cake recipes” or “Hersheys cocoa chocolate cake.” Someone looking for things to do or places to go will specify what they’re searching for in their query.
Long-tail keywords are how we most often search the internet now. You do it all the time without noticing! Because when you type in a short-tail keyword, there’s no telling what kind of results will come back or how long it will take you to find what you’re looking for.
Long-tail keywords help internet users find exactly what they want with less effort.
How to Write SEO Content for Your Clients
If you’re offering SEO services or your clients are asking for SEO-friendly blogs, the main thing you need to know is what keywords they’re hoping to rank for.
It’s important to note (and remind your clients) that SEO is a long game – there’s no overnight success. It takes time, consistency, and dedication.
The internet is flooded with information now and it’s hard to rank for a lot of things these days. And it’s hard when you’re competing with bigger companies that may have had an internet presence for a long time. That said, it’s not impossible.
To write content for your clients, start by doing some keyword research and ask them what kinds of things their ideal customers or clients are searching the internet to find. I recommend using a tool like Ubersuggest if you’re new to SEO. It’s easy to understand and will give you a ton of information for free. Neil Patel, the creator of Ubersuggest, has some fantastic YouTube videos, too, on how to use and get the most out of it.
Once you know what keywords you’re going for, write content as you normally would. Use normal language and integrate your keywords in a way that feels and reads naturally – don’t keyword stuff!
When Writing Gigs Ask for “SEO Freelance Writers”
Can you apply for freelance writing jobs without SEO experience?
Yes, you absolutely can.
Obviously, not every gig is going to be asking for SEO experience. And those that do may not have a strong understanding of “all the things” any more than you do. If you have a basic understanding, you can probably apply for gigs that ask for SEO knowledge (and certainly for those that don’t mention it at all).
A word of caution, though: If the gig clearly states you need a strong understanding of SEO and it seems like they know what they’re talking about, apply but be forward about your level of understanding and experience. Having little SEO knowledge isn’t necessarily a non-negotiable for everyone. But you definitely don’t want to be dishonest about what you know (or don’t know, in this case).
And if you’re planning to offer SEO services, do your homework and make sure you feel like you've got a strong handle on how it works and how to do it well. These days, everyone wants search-optimized content, so this is a great way to market yourself and raise your rate.
Search engine optimization has a long name and instills fear in many new freelance writers, but it shouldn’t. Catching on to how it works and making it work for you and your clients is easier than you think.