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What Writers Should Know About SEO to Stay Competitive in 2019

I couldn’t help but wonder… how Carrie Bradshaw could afford that one-bedroom stunner with an oversized closet on the Upper East Side. Decades ago, a writer could have — maybe — gotten by with a few writing assignments a month that paid $2 a word, but these days, it’s unlikely Carrie would have the same luxury living.

For those writers who have expanded their skill set beyond journalism and quick, viral news wins, many have found SEO writing to be a lucrative endeavor. Instead of Carrie questioning whether Mr. Big would finally come around and confess his love, in 2019, she’d be asked to pen a 2,000-word mega guide to dating unavailable men, highlighting three keywords throughout the text.

Though definitely a more technical skill than the fruitful and creative language of feature writing, SEO and wordsmiths have a dynamic relationship. While it isn’t as straightforward as interviewing experts and reporting on trends, the best SEO work often comes from those who are professionally schooled on the craft. Why’s this? Well, it reads more eloquently, while still serving its purpose.

If you’ve yet to dabble into the realm of SEO content creation, here’s your 101 guide on weaving this digital artistry into your list of services.

We seriously — seriously — hope you already know this stuff, but it's worth repeating nonetheless, dear freelance writers. | #ContentMarketing | #SEO | #FreelanceWriting Click To Tweet

SEO bare basics for freelancers who need to up their skills for content marketing.

So, what’s all the SEO fuss?

(We seriously — seriously — hope you already know this stuff, but it’s worth repeating nonetheless.)

The shorthand acronym for “Search Engine Optimization”, SEO is basically as it sounds: the process of getting on Google’s good graces. Entrepreneur contributor Scott McGovern explains there are many aspects that go into developing a solid SEO strategy, and most of them include effective wordsmiths. How come? Google combs through every last page of a company’s website — from the home page to the blog — determining how trustworthy your content is, and how appealing it is to search engines.

“The easier it is for Google bots to ‘crawl’ your website, the simpler it is for them to index it, and the higher you’ll rank in Google search,” he explains. “Since approximately 90 percent of people only consider the first page of Google search results, it’s more important than ever to rank well on Google.”

Why do companies want SEO help?

Though, sure, companies could pay for ads, they can become pricey and confusing, not to mention ineffective. Instead, many businesses are seeing the value of talented writers who can translate their core clients, their values, their services and beyond into readable copy that’s engaging, accurate and, of course, tailored for SEO. This creates organic traffic, as opposed to paid.

“Organic traffic is when people discover a website through non-paid search results through a search engine like Google. Conversely, paid search traffic means that a company has paid Google for their content to show up. Think of the boxes at the top of Google search windows that are labeled ‘Ad’,” McGovern explains. “Relying on these ads to drive traffic is increasingly expensive, and therefore unsustainable for large and small businesses alike.”

While plenty of people have taken an English class here and there, and can string together an email, true writers have a knack for creating compelling blogs, mission statements and any other copy needs. This allows businesses and entrepreneurs to focus on their superpowers and interests, rather than getting lost in paragraphs of texts.

What do SEO writers do?

In the next year, McGovern says there will be an increasingly high demand for SEO writers, as companies will shift their marketing strategies toward organic search traffic in response to growing advertising fees. This trend creates a valuable marketplace for those professionals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and test their hand at SEO writing. It’s a complex, diverse and ever-changing field, requiring writers to be nimble and responsive, as well as proactive for their clients.

As McGovern explains, “SEO writing is creating content that appeals to search engines through keywords, internal and external linking, and other structural elements. Everything from how and where you upload videos to how many characters you use in a headline matters — and what is best for search is subject to change at a moment’s notice,” he explains.

When a content strategist is brought on to optimize a site, they can be expected to write both short- and long-term copy, make recommendations for keywords that have the ability to win big for their client, as well as create game plans for publishing content, the best sites to link back to, and other tasks.

To stay competitive and please clients, freelancers to stay with SEO basics.

To stay competitive and please clients, it’s important to keep these helpful SEO tips in mind when writing:

1. Stay up to date on trends.

No matter how long ago you graduated from college or stepped foot in any sort of classroom, it’s time to break out those studying skills, since SEO best practices change… all the time. McGovern explains this is part of what makes this type of work so complex, since little improvements — like ideal title length size, what type of content structure Google prefers, which part of the article Google scours the most — are all subject to change at any moment based purely off of factors that no one but Google understands.

When we say you’re at Google’s mercy — we mean it. “You have to stay on top of your game. This means constantly reading about SEO, but keeping in mind that all the tips and tricks the internet has to share will eventually become outdated, if they aren’t already,” he explains.

He recommends SEO writers to cast a broad net when reading SEO advice and tools. His top picks for major players in the space are SEMRush or Moz for data.

2. Be prepared to write longer — and longer.

Nikki Parker, the Senior Vice President of 5W Public Relations, predicts SEO content will only become longer and longer, requiring SEO writers to set aside hours to finish their work. This might mean creating a piece of writing based off of a specific keyword (or a few) that runs upwards of 1,200 words — and sometimes as high as 3,000.

Most marketers now operate by the standard assumption that any sort of article under 800 words isn’t even considered by Google, which can help you make your case to a client who prefers short-and-snappy over long-winded.

Though it could give you a minor case of carpal tunnel, with more room to play with, you can become that much more creative with your writing, since hey, you have the white space to play.

Writers, relax. Storytelling skills still matter the most for SEO success.

3. Keep your storytelling skills.

When you first start out in SEO, you could feel the pressure of optimization over language that’s easy to interrupt and, well, makes since. But as the Vice President of Marketing for Budsies and MyPetsies, Frankie Burns explains, at their core, writers are skilled storytellers and word-wielding magicians, and they shouldn’t limit themselves because they’re taking on a new form of writing.

He notes there were five million new websites created in 2018 alone, all of which required SEO-ready content — and could have used a sharp wordsmith. “Writers are the ones producing the fuel that websites need to drives sales, which is a pretty heavy responsibility,” he adds. But don’t let it overwhelm you. Instead, use it as your selling point.

Writers, relax. Storytelling is still the MOST important skill in achieving SEO success. It's just how you can better structure your story to be more accessible to readers that matters. |#SEO | #ContentMarketing | #FreelanceWriting Click To Tweet

4. Always come prepared with an angle.

As more people adapt to SEO content, the harder it’ll be to create unique content, according to Burns. Writers are more challenged to have fun with keywords and make them more click-worthy. After all, as they taught you in journalism school, angle is everything.

“With so much content flooding the internet, it’s getting harder to find topics that haven’t already been written about in-depth. This means that writers are going to have to think more strategically and get more niche with their topics,” he explains.

When put in action, Burns says this means instead of writing “The Best Pet Products”, a SEO writer could pitch “The Best Tech Products for the Millennial Pet Owner.” “It’s more specific to a particular audience, which can increase engagement, and more likely to show up in the search results, which can increase visibility,” he adds.

5. Put in the time — and stand by your work.

If your client is brand-spankin’ new to SEO work and what it means for their bottom line, you should be prepared to explain it thoroughly and cohesively. Because search algorithms are always in flux, setting expectations will ensure they remain satisfied with your work, and they realize much of SEO is a long-term game plan, as opposed to an immediate benefit.

McGovern shares not everyone agrees with what works, and oftentimes, a writer will have to use their best judgement on applying keywords and choosing the word count of titles and so on. As you pen your copy, set it live and await the results, keep in contact with your client and stand up for the quality of the pages. Though it might take months for them to arrive on the first page, cohesive language that doesn’t sound robotic will get you further.

No matter how advanced Google's algorithms become, you still have to keep your content HUMAN.

6. Keep it human.

The most important tip to remember, above all else? That bit about robots: Don’t become one!

It might seem contradictory, but Burns explains Google’s algorithm takes content engagement into ranking websites. Well-written words that connect with people attract interaction, sharing and comments, even if there is a more technical article around the web that optimized stronger. In short: writing for humans is more important to ticking off every last box. And hey, it makes it easier if your client can actually understand — and want to read — what you’re producing.

Read related posts on making the most of SEO in your writing:

Lindsay Tigar

About Lindsay

Lindsay Tigar is an experienced, established travel and lifestyle journalist, editor and content strategist. Since uprooting from Asheville, North Carolina in 2010 to Manhattan, Lindsay's work has appeared on several websites, including Travel + Leisure, Vogue, USA Today, Reader's Digest, Self, Refinery29 and countless others. While she is always up for the challenge of any assignment, her main areas of focus include travel, wellness, career, psychology, love and healthy living.

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