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.
You may have tried googling “freelance writer jobs” and gotten a lot of mixed results. The moniker “freelance writer” is anything but constrictive and there are so many things freelance writers can do and services we can offer. There’s a fit for every fancy.
I often get asked how to create writing samples and what kind of work is “best” to take on. It got me thinking… Man, I wish I'd had a better understanding of what kind of stuff I could write for my portfolio when I started writing. So, I made a list.
Below, you’ll find an incomplete list of 22 (yes, TWENTY-TWO) freelance writer jobs and a short explanation for each. I’m willing to bet a few pique your interest.
Newspaper, Magazine, and other “Professional” Articles and Essays
This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll explain anyway.
Both online and print media outlets are always looking for “outside” voices to tell stories, write journalistic reports, and share opinions. There are tons of calls for pitches on Twitter from editors of every newspaper, magazine and other online media outlet imaginable. Seriously.
The key to landing these types of gigs is to do your research, find the right editor name and email address, and to follow their pitch guidelines (if you can find them, and you probably can) to the letter.
If you don’t follow the publication’s explicit instructions about how to pitch, you won’t be given the time of day. It’s also important to remember that these places get potentially hundreds of pitches every day, too, so you’re just one in a very large sea of many.
Politely follow up and don’t get discouraged if you hear a “no” or don’t get a response at all. Keep at it and eventually, you might find the right person at the right time with the right story or angle.
The best part of these things is that while they don’t generally pay a ton, they have your name on them and you get to fly around the internet tooting your “I’m published in X, Y, and Z” horn.
I wholeheartedly believe that every business needs a blog. This is so important to me that I talk about it all the time. If you like writing long-form, researched, informative content, this is definitely a writing form that should be up your alley.
Landing a client that is interested in having consistent blog content is a big bingo because this often means you have a promise of consistent work for at least a few weeks or months. This saves you the trouble of having to constantly be on the prowl to find new gigs and income.
Blog articles should be a minimum of 500 words (but they can be as long as 2,000 or more) and ideally need to include links to other pages on your client’s website as well as to other reputable outside sources. This is to help them look fair and informed while boosting their long-term search engine optimization efforts.
Email and Print Newsletters
Like blog articles, securing a client who wants you to write newsletters can also be extremely lucrative. I’ve become Instagram friends with a woman who exclusively specializes email newsletters and she’s totally killing it. (Check Lib out. She’s cool.)
Newsletter marketing is an ongoing thing and companies are always in need of someone to help create a strategy and write the copy. You could also learn how to plan and set up email automations – prewritten and scheduled email sequences that are triggered when a subscriber signs up, clicks certain links, or takes a specific action.
In fact, knowing a bit about automations and how to effectively craft them is another service businesses will gladly pay for. If you enjoy strategizing about content delivery, you can up your game by offering email marketing and automation services. This is a great ongoing freelance writer job.
Sales and Marketing Materials
This could take many different forms. You might find you enjoy creating things, like ebooks or journals or quizzes or surveys or coupon vouchers or a whole slew of other things. These materials are used by companies to market themselves every single day.
These things are often called “lead magnets” in the online world. In the print world, sales and marketing materials are literally anything used for sales and marketing. Once again, it’s not a surprise what this means.
From the actual creation of the thing – digital or physical – to the writing that goes along with it, somebody’s got to do that. It could be you. If you’re comfortable using design software like Canva* or if you’ve got a background in more robust systems like Adobe, you could offer a double-whammy to interested clients and handle both the designing and copywriting for their project.
Whitepapers are essentially long-form (think more than 2,000 words) content pieces used by companies to promote specific products or services they offer. (Nonprofits may also use whitepapers.) These are rarely written to entice consumers to buy, but rather for marketing to other businesses.
Want to look over a few whitepaper examples? This blog article highlights a few good ones from big companies like Cisco.
Case studies are, in a way, similar to whitepapers as they serve a specific marketing purpose: They’re basically long-form testimonials for a company. Rather than writing a quick recommendation, case studies focus on specific pain points a customer or client had and how a business helped them solve their issue.
These require interviewing customers about their experience. (Your client may ask you to interview their customer or they may provide you with a recorded interview they conducted.) Your job is to turn it into an interesting cast study article or piece of content depending on your client’s preferences.
While pictures may say 1,00 words, we all still look at product descriptions before we buy things. Someone has to write them!
Product descriptions don’t tend to be high-earners simply based on their length, but if you find a client who has many products and needs descriptions for all of them, that gig could be very lucrative. That said, stores and shops are always adding to their inventory. If you can develop strong relationships with your clients, you’ll be more likely to get repeat business from them.
To pad your product description portfolio, see if you can get some statistics back from your clients. Things like conversion rate (a percentage of how many people visit the product page and ultimately purchase – you want this to be high) and bounce rate (how many people visit the page without taking any action – you want this to be lower) can help you make a case for your copywriting chops.
Media (or press) kits are what businesses use to pitch themselves to press and media outlets. They include company bios, statistics about the person’s or brand’s audience, and a number of different elements that might include notes of their previous partnerships or publication records.
These kits can be used in a couple of ways, too. Some brands use their media kits to pitch themselves as expert speakers or writers. Others may use their kits to court advertisers to buy ad space from their publications.
Depending on the brand or person, the media kit might be short and sweet (check out Jessica Stansberry’s very simple press kit). It might be a very-well decorated press kit like Susue Moore’s. Or it might be an extremely in-depth kit covering advertising pricing, audience demographics, and more, like Oprah Daily, the website covering all press kit materials for Oprah Winfrey’s media empire, or Mel Robbin’s, an internationally-known self-development author and speaker.
These media kits take time to build out and plan. Once again, if you can offer design services, you’ve got one more leg up on other copywriters offering this service. But don’t fret – if you’re not comfortable designing, your services are still in high demand.
Every website you’ve ever visited and read through was written by someone. It might have been a company staffer or it might have been a freelancer. Either way, every single page on the internet with writing had to be (obviously) written by someone.
You could specialize in specific types of website copy, such as “about pages” or any other common page. Or you might specialize in a specific niche and provide copy for company websites in that industry.
One of the best ways to go about this is to ask your clients to present you with an outline of what sections are most likely to be on their website. If they’re working with a web designer, ask for the “wireframe.” If they’re designing the site themselves, ask to see the “dummy” site so you know how things will look, how long your copy sections should approximately be, and where you might need to add little blurbs throughout the pages.
Once again, someone had to write the manual for your Texas Instrument calculator in high school and that new blender you just bought last week.
This may sound especially “technical” but it’s not. Any item that requires a how-to manual or written instructions has a “technical manual.”
This type of writing is generally referred to as “technical writing” and its main goal is to uncomplicate the complicated. It’s very dry language with little or no flourish. Perhaps most surprisingly, this is probably one of the easiest types of writing to break into because it doesn’t often require the writer to match a particular “brand voice.”
Books and Ebooks
Ebooks can be shorter and serve as marketing materials, like lead magnets. (For an example, check out my ebook, 7 Steps to Start a Profitable Freelance Writing Business.) Alternatively, they could be just as long as a printed book, like Kindle ebooks.
Either way, people want to write books but don’t consider themselves “good writers” or want to invest the time it takes to write a book. You could be a book or ebook ghostwriter and make literally thousands of dollars helping others publish their ideas. You may even be able to find postings for these freelance writer jobs on certain job boards. Google “book freelance writer” or “ebook freelance writer” or “ghostwriter.”
Advertising copy is one of the most common things freelancers write, especially if it’s for a special project or sale. It’s akin to copywriting and someetimes these two terms are used interchangeably (though “ad copy” is more specific than just “copywriting”).
This could be something long, like the written content in physical mailers (also called direct mail), or something short and snappy like you often see in sale flyers. If you manage to get feedback from your clients about conversion rates, you can use that to your advantage.
Large companies likely have small teams of people (or just one person) dedicated to running their social media channels (generally called “social media managers”) but smaller companies may not.
Whether they’ve got help creating their images (you could do that as a freelancer, too!), managing posts and engaging with followers, or they just need someone to write the captions, this is a super lucrative freelancing opportunity.
Like with ad copy, if you can track numbers and have something tangible to show for your efforts, you can use that information to gain more clients and raise your rate.
Not everyone wants to hire a PR firm to help them make a splash in the media. Press releases are actually pretty easy to write and the same formula works for nearly every industry. Check out this template from Hubspot to see if this kind of writing is a good fit for you and what you or your client can do to get them in front of a wider audience.
We all know that presidents and other world leaders often don’t write their own speeches (at least not all of them), but that they have a team doing it for them. And they’re not alone!
Plenty of people struggle to write their thoughts clearly or have such stage fright that they need help writing a public speaking script. If you have experience in public speaking or a particular industry, you could easily niche down. Alternatively, your client should provide you with particular talking points so you can craft a thoughtful presentation.
Video has become a dominant force in how we consume media and most of it is scripted in some way. From newsrooms to YouTube videos to advertisements, someone has to make those plans and write those words.
Businesses hoping to make videos for their business on the platform or for their own websites likely don’t have someone on their staff specializing in script writing. Likewise, companies making promotional videos may need help writing scripts for their brands.
If you’ve got any background in video (or radio!) production or scripting, you’d be a natural freelance script writer.
Researchers will often seek help to get their results and findings compiled into written form. These papers may be published in professional or academic journals, among other places.
You likely will need to demonstrate specific previous experience to get hired for these gigs. Depending on your level of expertise in a certain area of study and the budget of the organization that hires you, this could be a big money maker.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Content
There will never be a shortage of people who need to have an understanding of search enging optimization (SEO).
SEO is the “science” behind how brands get found online through search results. There’s a lot that goes into it, from optimizing website pages to checking keywords to writing keyword-based articles and beyond. If this is of interest to you, specializing in SEO will help you stand out from other “generalist” freelancers – bar none. There will never be a shortage of SEO-centric freelance writer jobs (including at companies. This isn't a freelancer-only thing!).
Grants are essentially like scholarships for organizations: money offered by government and aid groups to help fund research and other activities that will benefit the public.
Organizations of all kinds apply for grants and often don’t have anyone on staff whose sole responsibility is completing grant applications to secure funding for their organization. These applications require very special elements and take time to learn.
If you have experience writing grants for a previous employer or nonprofit, you can do it for other groups, too. Even if you don’t have experience, this is a great content-type niche to choose and learn.
As a freelancer, you probably won’t have much need for a resume anymore. (This is one of the many perks of being a freelancer!) But everyone else still does.
People are always looking for help with their resumes. Once again, if you can keep track of your clients’ positive hiring record, you can charge more for your assistance.
Did you know there are people who manage other businesses’ Pinterest accounts for a living? There are!
From creating the images for Pinterest (which you would be wise to offer as part of your service) to writing the captions and scheduling the pins, this is a great way to make money. You’ll need to provide some kind of report each month to show what your work has accomplished for your client, but these don’t need to be fancy.
SIDE NOTE: I spent 6 months in 2021 paying a Pinterest freelancer a whopping $700 a month to manage my Pinterest account. Imagine if you had a few clients paying that much on the regular. You’d be making great money!
Podcast and YouTube Show Notes
Podcasters and YouTubers make the videos and record the audios, but they often aren’t the ones to write their show notes (or edit their content!).
This could be a great opportunity for a long-standing partnership with a client and a great “in” for possible referrals – especially if your person does a lot of collaborations with other podcasters or YouTubers.
So there you have it – 22 different types of content and freelance writer jobs you can master and offer. It takes time to “get good” at any one of them, but the more practice you get, the better you'll be at creating killer content for your clients.
Occasionally, new freelancers or people interested in starting a freelancing business tell me they don’t plan to build a freelance writing website for their budding venture. And when I hear that, my soul cries a little and my ears may bleed.
The truth is that yes, you can technically get your freelance writing business off the ground without a website… but eventually, you're going to want one anyway if you plan to make your biz a bigger part of your life.
Why not start down the right path?
Not to mention, a website gives you a place to:
- Introduce yourself,
- Share your rates (if you'd like – this part is optional),
- Display your writing portfolio, and
- Look professional and show you've got some skills.
Despite what you're thinking, building a website is actually pretty easy and really inexpensive. Here are the basic steps to help you get started on launching your own freelance writing website.
1. Think about what you're going to name your business.
You don't need a fancy business name to build a website. (I once wanted to call my biz “Bold Pen Writing” 🙄 which, I think we can all agree, kind of sucks…).
Start by making a list of adjectives you like that describe your personality or what you want your business to represent. If you know a specific niche you want to write for, maybe consider incorporating that. (Be careful with niches, though, because you don't necessarily want to give the impression you write only for that niche… unless that's your plan, then go for it!)
Once you've got a good list, pull up Thesaurus.com and check out some synonyms for your adjectives. Write down other ones that resonate with you (if there are any).
Now, start pairing the adjectives on your list with words like “writing,” “copywriting,” “content,” and anything writing-related. Keep playing around until you find something you like.
If you don't know what to call your business OR if you just want to be yourself, use your own name! Plenty of successful freelancers do this (including me!) and it works just fine.
2. Search for your chosen website/biz name as an internet domain.
There are a couple of ways to do this.
If you're not ready to pull the trigger on building a website for your business, I recommend simply checking for the URL availability on Google Domains. It doesn't cost anything and will show you whether your website name is available in the format you'd like it to show.
If you're ready to set up your website, I recommend using WordPress.com to set up shop. You don't need a high-powered website with a bunch of bells and whistles right away, so it doesn't make sense for you to sign up for an expensive package from web hosting providers. It's an easy-to-use system and provides you the ability to scale up when you're ready so if you ever need or want more bells and whistles, you can have them.
I recommend going with a “dot com” ending, but sometimes that's not possible. Use your best judgment, but remember you're going to be telling everyone about your freelance writing website. Definitely don't choose something that doesn't make sense, like “dot org!” If you're stuck, try adding a hyphen in your domain name or choose a different ending like “dot io” or “dot co.”
Searching for URLs on Google Domains
Searching for URLs on WordPress.com
Both Google and WordPress will tell you whether or not your clever name is taken (which sadly does happen!) and give you recommendations on how you can tweak yours and get a domain you're happy with.
Below, you can see how this looks on both platforms. I entered the name of this website, KrissiDriver.com (which is of course taken!) to demonstrate the options both platforms will present as alternatives. Google tends to give more realistic suggestions than WordPress… Be careful about using overly-clever workarounds or too many hyphens. You want to be able to tell someone your website URL without having to explain a lot about how to spell it correctly.
Here's what you'll see if your URL choice is unavailable when you're searching on Google Domains.
Here's what you'll see if your URL choice is unavailable when you're searching on WordPress.
I definitely recommend going with WordPress and here's why: You get your domain name for free your first year and your website hosting package (what you pay to WordPress to save your website on their servers) is as little as $48 USD per YEAR. That's less than a month's worth of Starbucks for me!
3. Build your freelance writing website.
Once you've purchased your domain (ideally through WordPress), you can start setting up your website.
WordPress offers all kinds of templates so you don't need to know a single thing about actually “building” a website or how to code. There are lots of free templates or, if you're feeling inspired, you can pay for premium themes (which can be fairly affordable).
Once you've chosen your theme, you can work on creating your pages. You should create:
Don't worry if you're not sure how to organize these or order them. You can always change things later. Taking action is a great first step to getting a website up and running.
As time goes on and you learn more, you can update and improve your pages. Be sure to update your site when you get new pieces to add to your portfolio or when you feel it's time to change your services, raise your rates, or if you're maintaining a consistent freelancing blog.
4. Share your site with the world.
You just built a freelance writing website! You should be freakin' proud of yourself!
Don't be shy – tell everyone. Put a link on your social profiles. Tell your friends and your mom. This is a moment to be celebrated.
Now you have a professional place to point your potential clients and show off your portfolio work when you apply for freelance writing gigs.