Writers all want to earn more. Our time is valuable. We don’t want to become a mindless robot, pumping out articles for low pay, without any end in sight.
Which means you shouldn’t just bill yourself as a general writer. Instead, bill yourself as an expert in multiple fields. It differentiates you from the competition, plus you’re more valuable to clients if you can wear multiple hats.
Stop repeating that all you can do is write. You can do so much more – like SEO.
Before you click away, saying that “I’m not an SEO expert. I’m a writer,” know that it’s not as complicated as some try to portray.
You might already know SEO best practices and not even realize.
And if you’re writing for the web, you need to understand how to optimize your writing for search anyway.
Because when you’re writing for clients, you’ll run into this question a lot:
Can you get my site on the first page on Google?
How many writers have heard this? How many clients are looking to be at #1 in their main keyword’s search results? I’m guessing every single one. It’s because search engine traffic is huge. Google handles over one trillion searches a year.
Which means you should know SEO. SEO creates visibility. It brings readers in.
And if you’re able to get more eyeballs, gathering leads or conversions, clients will want to pay you more. It means you can bring them results.
It won’t be complex, either. You might’ve heard outdated theories on SEO and decided it wasn’t for you.
Ranking schemes like keyword spamming are long gone. It’s all about creating quality content that’s useful, and that’s what every writer wants to do, isn’t it? To create something valuable for their audience?
All it will take are a few tweaks if you’re already creating engaging content and you’ll be able to optimize your posts for SEO.
With that in mind, let’s dig into what SEO is, and what it isn’t.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. The term refers to creating organic traffic through search engine positioning. Links on the top of the page are more likely to receive click-through, so that’s where you want to be for search terms you’re writing for.
How you’ll get to the top of those search results is when disagreements emerge.
Or just plain misinformation appears. Some of these SEO “facts” have been hanging around since the early 2000s and never been updated. It used to be much simpler to rank on Google. Then Google got smarter as their technology advanced.
Some of these easy, and sometimes shady tactics are still around.
You’ll hear SEO marketers telling you that you need a specific keyword density, or tell you that you need to write nonsensical keywords that make your writing awkward, or you might even see businesses purchasing hundreds of backlinks.
But they’re not looking at the big picture.
Gone are the days when you can spam a keyword on multiple 100-word blog posts and hope that you rank first. Most likely, your site will be penalized for this practice.
Plus, your visitors will be disappointed. What they’re reading will sound more like a broken robot rather than a sensible human.
The big picture is that Google is now ranking based on user experience. Key on user experience is relevancy to what they type into the search bar.
From Google, “When a user enters a query, our machines search the index for matching pages and return the results we believe are the most relevant to the user. Relevancy is determined by over 200 factors.”
Why not take advice from Google itself? They would know best!
Advice from their search guidelines page:
“Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
Don't deceive your users.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?’
Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”
That sounds sensible.
Google is in the business of serving their customers, the searchers.
You’re in the business of serving the searchers with useful content.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Everyone wins with focused, useful content.
Next, let’s go over how to achieve a better ranking.
Factors in a better search ranking
Google has said that they determine relevancy by over 200 factors, but they aren’t going to be nice enough to give us a whole list of those factors. If they did, it would make our jobs much too easy.
Instead, we have to rely on independent studies.
We’ll rely on Moz’s in-depth Search Engine Ranking Factors Study.
They studied the top 50 Google results of 16,521 search queries, resulting in over 700,000 unique URLs.
Here is what their study found is important for page ranking:
These are factors you can influence with your content:
User time on page
Media like images or video
*This doesn’t mean a keyword should be spammed. It should be in the title tag, near the beginning of the page, and a few times in the body. Other places where a keyword could be used are the page URL, in image ALT tags, and the meta description tag.
As you can see by these factors, Google’s search engine acts more human now. It analyzes hundreds of factors to find what a searcher would find useful. To try to game a system as advanced like this would be folly.
Instead, we should embrace good, shareable content that has been created with care.
Before doing SEO work, you should’ve been writing to try to engage your audience, who you should have researched. This can increase your reader’s time on the page, since they should find your content interesting.
Other ways to increase time on page are to break up your writing. Give it room to breathe with white space.
Bolding and headlines will help with that too. Images or video, which you can add alt text to with your keywords inside, will keep readers on your page.
By getting social shares, you’re delivering content to readers who find it useful. They find it so useful that they think their friends will too!
These factors will help boost your page ranking, and all it takes is to deliver well-written, engaging content.
But that doesn’t mean you can completely leave out keywords.
Choosing your keywords
First, you should have a good idea of what your main topic is.
Most of the time, the client will have a keyword or keywords that they want to target, but sometimes, like if you’ve been hired to work on their entire SEO strategy, you might have to find the best keywords yourself.
Plug your content’s focus into a keyword tool like Google Adword’s Keyword Planner.
A smart idea is to pick a term with high search volume but low competition.
Avoid trying to rank for terms with competitive sites crowding the top search results.
A competitive site is one with authority, usually a brand name that is trusted. For example, if your keyword was “news” and you were trying to rank on the first page, you’ll be taking on global news organizations that have vast resources and name recognition.
Once you’ve picked your keyword(s), try to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes.
What was their intent when plugging that into their search bar?
Transactional: (purchase) ex. “Get a new comforter”
Informational: (know more) ex. “How do you snorkel?”
Navigational: (go to a specific website) ex. “Walmart.com”
Intent decides how you’ll create your content.
This is highly important. By taking one of our examples above, “How do you snorkel?” and then giving someone a shop that sells snorkeling supplies, your page is not a satisfying result.
You gave them a transactional page instead of an informative page. It would be the same as giving someone information on comforters if they were only looking to purchase one.
By knowing the intent, you can hone your message so it connects with the searcher. Which means a lower bounce rate. As mentioned above, the longer a reader stays on your page, the better for SEO.
There are certain factors that you might not be involved with. Factors like site design and security might be under the control of your client.
They might have hired you to write SEO posts, but their site might not be SEO compliant. That means they’ll be posting your wonderful SEO optimized posts, but they’ll be dinged by the search engine, so your posts never reach their full potential.
Let them know that some of these factors might factor into search engine ranking:
Site security (ex. SSL and spam removal)
They might’ve never known any of these factors are crucial to SEO success. Your content will do better, and hopefully your client’s site will too.
Scale up and earn more
The more value you bring to the table, the more leverage you have when negotiating.
Bringing in traffic is massively valuable to clients.
Not only is it potential income, but it’s also very easy to track. Site traffic reports are quite prominent on an average web host. It doesn’t take special tools or cost more to see if your traffic has spiked. It’s one reason webmasters often obsess over traffic.
Use these new income-generating skills to your advantage.
It seems that you’ll have two new paths available…
Take control of a client’s SEO strategy
By taking control of their whole SEO strategy, you’ll have a lot more work available then if you simply offered to write a few blog posts.
You’ll need to research keywords. Maybe you’ll even change your content calendar based on your research. Or if a piece of content isn’t bringing in results, edit it so that it’s more relevant to your search term.
With more responsibility comes the potential to ask for a higher rate. Especially since search is often number one when it comes to a business’ online traffic.
Be a content writer who excels at SEO
Or you can even bill yourself as a content writer who knows SEO.
After all, great content is one of the key components of a winning SEO strategy. You can claim that each individual post you create will be optimized to reach high search rankings.
Clients want to feel at ease when hiring you, so show them examples of your links ranking high in search results. You’ll have proof that you’re capable of bringing in traffic. You won’t just be an average writer, but one who offers proof of success.
More opportunities with SEO
Knowing SEO opens more opportunities for you. You can approach a past client, or maybe even after writing a post, and ask if you can help them with their search engine ranking.
Since you now know that link building is one way to rank higher, could you ask if they’ve thought about a link-building strategy?
If they say no, that gives you an opportunity. You can pitch yourself more work by offering to write guest posts. Or you can write other promotional material, like reports or e-books that can build backlinks and increase their site authority.
Now that you know that longer content works better for SEO, you can pitch longer content, and more words usually means better pay.
All of these new opportunities, and becoming a master at SEO writing won’t take years of training.
In fact, you are probably already doing most of it by creating relevant, useful content for your readers.
Just follow a few steps like those outlined above, and you can be billing more than ever before.