Whether you got straight A’s in all of your writing classes or you’ve just always been a lover of the written word, you can make money as a freelance writer.
However, you probably aren’t going to find a lot of clients looking for you to ghost write a novel or literary analysis for them. Informative blog posts, product reviews, listicles—these are the bread and butter of most freelance writers.
Since this content is going to be published online, your customers are expecting it to rank in Google. And that means you need SEO (or search engine optimization).
So this post is for all of you avid and skilled writers out there who don’t know much about SEO. We’ll cover the 4 SEO writing basics that every freelance writer needs to know to make it in this business.
But first, a word of warning…
SEO is a big field. Its roots run deep and the rules change every day. This guide is meant to be a basic primer.
There are lots of nuances and exceptions to some of the guidelines we offer below. But we wanted to keep this post as straightforward and simple as possible for complete SEO writing beginners.
If you really want to dive deep into everything there is to know about SEO, consider joining the Superstar SEO Academy.
4 SEO Writing Basics That Every Freelance Writer Needs to Know
Your customers are usually going to expect you to understand the basics of SEO writing. While they might provide you with detailed guidelines to follow, here are 4 of the most important concepts that you will need to understand.
#1 Appeal to search intent
Whenever someone types something into Google, they have what is called “search intent”. It’s exactly what it sounds like: the reason they are searching the internet.
Google likes to rank content that appeals to the reader’s search intent. This is why, for example, when you search for “plumbers in New York City” you don’t get results for plumbers in Boise.
But you also don’t get blog posts about common plumbing problems, DIY plumbing guides, or YouTube videos of some guy fixing his toilet.
Google knows that the person searching “plumbers in New York City” is looking for businesses to call. So that’s what they rank on the first page.
So when you are hired to write a piece of content for someone, make sure you understand the likely search intent of the audience. Are they trying to answer a question? Are they looking for recommendations? Are they searching for a guide to do-it-themselves? Do they want to hire a professional?
Write to meet your audience’s needs and you’ll have a much better chance of actually ranking in Google.
Calls-to-action. An important aspect of appealing to search intent is including appropriate calls-to-action (or CTAs). CTAs are places where you prompt the reader to do something, such as call the business or fill out a form.
Make sure that your CTAs match the search intent. For example, if you are writing a detailed product review, the most common CTA will be to click on a link to buy the product. For content for service businesses, CTAs usually revolve around scheduling service or contacting the business.
#2 Write for skimmers
On the internet, people skim. In fact, many tend to read in an F-shaped pattern. This means that within any given section of a page, they read the first few lines in detail (the top of the F). After that, they tend to skip around, focusing on the left hand side of the screen.
There are lots of other common internet reading patterns, but the general gist of them is that people usually skim online content.
To keep your writing readable and relevant (and thus valuable to your clients), keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Use headings. Lots and lots of headings. In general, never go more than 300 words without a new heading or other visual break in the content.
- Keep paragraphs short. This isn’t scholarly essay writing. Keep your paragraphs to about 1 to 4 sentences long. If you need a longer paragraph, make sure it is surrounded by shorter ones.
- Use bold text and bullet points. Or any other visual feature to break up your text and make it easy for readers to grasp your point with minimal effort.
#3 Understand what keywords are and how to use them
Generally, your clients are going to specify one or more keywords for you to target in your post. If you’re new to SEO writing basics, you might have no idea what this means or how to apply it. So let’s go over the most important stuff.
A keyword is simply a search term. It’s what a person types into Google to find information. Your client provides you keywords because they are hoping to rank for specific terms.
Sometimes, clients will specify both primary and secondary keywords. Different people use these terms in different ways. But generally, the primary keyword is the one that specifies the overall topic of the post and determines the search intent. Secondary keywords are usually synonyms for the primary keyword or represent additional sub-topics that should be included within the post.
Beyond using keywords to help you determine search intent and outline your writing, here are other important considerations fro SEO:
- Place the primary keyword in the title of the post.
- Use secondary keywords within your headings when it makes sense.
- Aim to use the keywords naturally in the text of the post. Avoid stuffing them in unnaturally if you can avoid it.
- Some clients may specify a desired keyword density. This indicates the percentage of the total words that a keyword should encompass. For example, if you are writing a 1000 word post with a keyword density of 0.5%, this means you should include the keyword approximately 5 times.
#4 Know the basics of internal linking
One final thing to keep in mind is internal linking. Some clients may request it, or you can just offer it as part of your service.
Internal linking is the process of linking from one page on a website to another page on the same website. For example, here is an internal link to our article on How to Guest Post on Legiit for Free.
Internal linking has SEO benefits and applications that are beyond the scope of this post. But here are the basics you should understand:
- Keep your links relevant. For example, the link we just shared makes sense to include, because the target audience is freelance writers, just like this post you’re reading.
- The text you use to link (also known as the anchor text), should closely match the target keyword of the post you are linking to.
BONUS: Simple Outlines for Common Writing Tasks
While a lot of writing tasks require a good deal of critical thinking in order to properly organize, there are some that are pretty formulaic. So to close this post, here are a few simple outlines that you can use for common SEO writing tasks you’ll be hired for.
A listicle, or list post, is basically a long line up of quick blurbs: “7 Spring Cleaning Tips” or “19 Holiday Cocktails You Don’t Want to Miss”, for example.
- Brief introduction to set the context for the listicle
- A heading for each new item in the list, followed by a 1-3 paragraph write-up
- Brief closing to encourage the reader to comment or share
This outline is for when you are writing an in-depth review of a single product.
- Brief introduction to tell the reader what is being reviewed and establish your credibility
- Bulleted list of the pros and cons of the product
- 1 – 2 paragraph summary, providing your overall evaluation
- Multiple headings, each providing in-depth information on a single feature, benefit, or aspect of the product
- Optional FAQ section
- Brief conclusion with a CTA to order the product. Could also include an internal link to another review of a potential alternative.
A buyer’s guide, or review roundup, is a single post that includes multiple mini product reviews. These are for keywords like “best ice cream maker” or “electric lawn mower reviews”.
- Brief introduction to appeal to the reader’s pain points and establish your credibility
- Comparison table to compare the features of the products you are reviewing
- Multiple headings, each focusing on a different product. Provide a 1 – 3 paragraph mini review and a list of pros/cons for each.
- Optional Buyer’s Guide section in which you offer advice on how to make the right choice
- Brief conclusion with a CTA to order the product. Usually, you can recommend your top 2 or 3 choices here depending on the reader’s needs.