Ninety-three percent of all website traffic starts with a search engine query.
The result? It’s not enough for companies to just create good content — they also need to optimize content so it’s well received by search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. The lion’s share of searchers will click a link on the first page of the search results, so it’s critical that your content is ranked highly enough to make it to the first page.
Think of it like setting up a brick-and-mortar shop: you can have the best store out there, but if you don’t have signs, an address on the map or other ways for potential customers to know what’s inside, you’re not going to get people coming into the store.
For freelance writers, this need creates opportunity: businesses need high-quality articles, blog posts, city pages, website content and other types of SEO-optimized written content to help build out their search engine marketing strategy. Even the best written content won’t deliver the search traffic businesses need if it hasn’t been optimized for SEO, including the proper use of keywords, solving searcher intent and more.
Some companies leverage in-house talent to bridge the gap, but many now recognize the value in specialization of labor and are looking for highly skilled SEO content writers to help drive their content strategy. It’s no easy task: SEO writing takes discipline, focus and the ability to shift gears or change topics on demand. But for writers with the raw talent and willingness to improve their craft, SEO writing offers substantial opportunities.
Ready for a crash course? Here’s how you can become an SEO content writer.
Writing Is the Foundation
First thing’s first: Make sure you’ve got the writing skills to pay the bills. (Yes. I do like cheesy sayings.)
In practice, this means you’re able to create high-quality content that’s free of grammatical and spelling errors, draws in and engages readers and quickly communicates key points.
When it comes to SEO writing, there’s a tendency to think of it as more mechanical and less creative than other types of content, but the truth is that brands now recognize the value of SEO-driven articles and blog posts that draw in potential consumers with great storytelling and subtle brand positioning.
If you’re already comfortable with the basics — great. If you think you can use some improvement, check out our Writer University for actionable lessons to get your writing where it needs to be. There are also plenty of other resources, including Poynter University, Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), and my personal favorite, Minion Fogarty’s Grammar Girl. You should also subscribe to AP’s online stylebook and do a bit of studying.
For help with content questions, writing structure or workflow you’ll find plenty of forums and writing groups online. One of the most popular is WriteWords; the site offers everything tips and tricks articles to job opportunities to writing groups that can help evaluate and critique your work.
You’re going to have to do all the groundwork on getting your writing, grammar, logic, flow and structure up to speed. This article is about how to add to those skills by learning how to take the really compelling, engaging content you write and adding value by optimizing it for SEO.
ALSO – 10 Things to Know Before You Start Writing for a Client
ALSO– Copywriting for SEO
Understanding Searcher Intent
Modern SEO demands more than simply using keywords in your writing. It’s critical that you understand what the most relevant information is to satisfy someone plugging in those keywords.
The days when keyword-stuffed content (Read: “I love peanut butter sandwiches because peanut butter sandwiches have a lot of peanut butter in the sandwich.”) are gone. Today’s search engine algorithms like Google’s RankBrain look at the behavioral metrics of content such as bounce rate and dwell time to determine how actual readers view your content and whether it’s deserving of a high placement in the search engine results.
Start by reviewing the set of keywords you’re given, and then try to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. Let that guide you as you write.
Someone who’s thinking about getting a new dog might search for these keyword terms:
- Best dogs for families with kids
- Cost of canine veterinary care
- Dog training
While these are more likely queries from someone considering a career in the veterinary field:
- Canine anatomy
- Common diseases in dogs
- Veterinary schools
And someone who’s shopping for their dog might use these terms:
- Cheap dog collars
- Best doggy doors
- Soft dog beds
Though the topic — dogs — remains the same, the people plugging in those groups of search terms were looking for something very different and had unique searcher intents. Make sure you come to that same type of understanding before you head for your keyboard.
Good SEO-optimized content should focus on solving searcher intent instead of simply slotting in specific keywords. Focus on doing that through great storytelling, and your content should rank well.
The A to Z of Keywords
Keywords, key phrases, targets — call them whatever you want. But rest assured, they drive SEO content. If you’re an SEO copywriter, chances are assignments will come complete with keywords designed to help them perform well across multiple search engines.
Types of Keywords
Most clients will provide you with several different types of keywords. Though they may look the same and have a similar purpose, the way you use them in your copy differs.
1. Primary Keywords: These are the most important keywords for SEO. They typically have a high search volume and low competition, though you’ll also see clients rely on long-tail keywords — those that are more specific and have a lower search volume but a much more focused searcher intent.
2. Secondary Keywords: These keywords are very relevant to your primary keyword, though they typically have a lower search volume. Think of them as keywords that support the primary.
3. Semantically Related Keywords: These terms are related in some fashion to your primary keywords, though they go beyond mere synonyms. Often referred to as LSI keywords, these indicate topics that would naturally be included in an article about your primary keyword. Sticking with the canine theme, an article about “dog training” might have LSI keywords that include “potty training puppies,” “dog whisperer,” and “interpreting dog behavior.” Semantic keywords might indicate subtopics you should cover.
There’s no definitive way to use keywords, and how you will use them varies depending on the type of content you’re writing. But, here’s an example of instructions for a standard blog post:
1. Primary Keyword: Include in the page title, meta description, H1, at least one H2 and early in the body text.
2. Secondary Keyword: Include in an H2 and in the body text for that section.
3. Semantic Keywords: Include as many as you can at least once in the body text.
Each client may have their own philosophy on keyword placement, so be sure to ask questions before you start writing.
Occasionally you’ll have clients that ask for each keyword to be used multiple times or to reach a certain keyword density, but this is becoming less common. The approach outlined above lets you get your keywords in while still focusing primarily on writing for the user and solving search intent.
Stop Words and Such
Trust me — the time will come when you’re handed keywords that are grammatically incorrect or very difficult to work into the content, especially when you’re dealing with SEO-optimized local content (dentists New York, plumbers near me, etc.).
Making slight variations, adding/removing punctuation or changing a keyword from singular to plural should have no impact on how Google reads the keywords. You’re also able to add what Google calls “stop words” without impacting the recognizability of the keyword.
Don’t be mistaken — Google has gotten really, really good at figuring out what the actual keywords are meant to be despite everything else going on around them, but you are bound to run into clients who are adamant that their researched keyword terms can’t be altered.
Each of your future clients will have their own rules on what to do (or not to do) with the keywords they provide you, and it’s in your best interests to adhere to what they say — even if it may not be in their best interest SEO-wise. If what you know to be true conflicts with what the client says, simply make your point, send them some links to authority sites on the subject and then get back to work.
While it’s not very common, clients sometimes ask writers to do keyword research for content they write. There are a number of tools that can help you do this including Google’s Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, SEMrush Keyword Magic, Moz Keyword Explorer, etc. You can also use Neil Patel’s new UberSuggest tool to get keyword ideas and analyze traffic, and LSI Graph to generate semantically related keywords — and they’re both free. It just doesn’t get better than that.
What you’re looking for is a keyword or group of keywords that have a reasonable search volume, show a clear intent you can address with your content and ideally isn’t overly competitive.
How do you know if a search term is competitive? Look at the existing top search results for the search term, and audit the resulting content. How long is it? Does it include lots of data and sources? Are semantically related topics covered? If the content does all these things well, it might be tough to rank higher.. But, if they’re lacking in all these areas, you have a good shot at outranking them.
Keep in mind that keyword research is generally executed by SEO professionals and not writers or editors. If you’re going to take this responsibility on, think about how you’re going to charge the client — whether it be an hourly rate or by the keyword — so you get compensated for all your time.
On very large projects such as writing product descriptions or city pages, clients often won’t have a specific keyword for every assignment they order. Often, what they’ll do instead is ask writers to create their own keywords based on a simple formula involving broad keywords.
For example, if a client wanted city pages for a car rental business they might give writers this formula to build keywords:
Primary – “CITY NAME” + “Car Rentals”
Secondary – “Best Cars for” + CITY NAME”
For product descriptions, it usually looks something like this:
“BRAND” + “MODEL NAME” + “DESCRIPTOR” + “PRODUCT”
Formulaic keywords are simple to work with, but just make sure you get all the requirements you need from the client before you start.
Why You Should Care About Featured Snippets
Here’s the hard truth — 75 percent of users never click past the first page of search engine results.
Featured snippets in the form of instant answers, knowledge graphs and videos are stealing traffic from the top organic results.
Ahrefs reports that 12.29% of all search queries have featured snippets in their search results. On these searches, the featured snippet captures 8.6% of clicks, which takes away from the top ranked search result. On the flip side, Inc.com reports that if you can earn a place in the featured snippet, your page traffic could increase 20-30% and your organic CTR could go up by 677%.
Combine that with the 70 to 80 percent of users ignoring paid advertisements and the reality sets in: If brands can’t get their SEO content in the top 10 search results or featured snippets (position 0), almost no one is clicking through and their competitors will take most of their potential audience.
What you can (and should) do is optimize for featured snippets as you write. There are three basic types:
There’s lots to learn about writing content that Google will consider for a featured snippet, and we can’t fit it all in here. But it’s fair to say that most featured snippets are the result of a searcher asking a question. You just need to supply the answers.
Answer the Public is a great (free) tool to use. Simply plug in your topic or keyword, and it will spit out ideas in the form of questions:
Read this article from the Content Marketing Institute to get more advice on how to rank for featured snippets. This HubSpot article also gives some great advice.
The Importance of Metadata
Start strong. Searchers don’t see much of your article in search results — in most cases, all they’ll see is the title and meta description. The result? Your title and meta description need to grab attention and compel users to click through.
There’s been a lot written about how to write engaging titles, and there are even (free) tools to measure their effectiveness. Though the data may be out of date, this 2017 study conducted by BuzzSumo is a great starting point for learning how to craft good titles. Once you’ve got the hang of it, use CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to see how well you’ve done. Ideally, you’ll want a score of 60 or higher.
The meta description is a short blurb — anywhere from 160 to 320 characters, depending on where Google stands on the subject at the time.
The sole purpose for meta descriptions is to get searchers to click on the link. That’s it. You don’t have a lot of words to use, so what you write has to be concise, informative, compelling and reflective of the article or post it points to. Shopify has a really informative post on the subject, a does Neil Patel.
Finding the Right Fit
No beginner’s guide to SEO copywriting would be complete without a few tips on where to get you first job and where to go for help if you need it.
Looking for a job? Great content marketers are hiring. Crowd Content is a great place to start — we offer jobs for writers of varying skill levels and specializations along with opportunities to work directly with clients if they like what you create. In addition, our quality rating system means that when you write great content you get more chances to write for better pay. It’s a win-win.
SEO Writing Jobs Going Forward
SEO is here to stay. Companies need content writers who can deliver fresh, creative articles that grab user attention and satisfy search engine algorithms. If you can master everything I talked about here and stay current with SEO trends, your skills will always be in demand.