If you’ve been around the freelance job boards a time or two, you might have seen some clients asking for writers who know about search engine optimization.
For a long time, I steered clear when I saw requests for writers with SEO experience and knowledge. I thought it would be way too hard to learn.
Turns out, most clients are just looking for writers to have a basic understanding of keywords and how to use them when writing. They usually don’t expect you to be an SEO expert.
And the basics of SEO? Well, that is super easy, dudes. Seriously, this is one of those things you can learn pretty quickly, and then build upon your knowledge as you go.
Now, let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I’m going to just talk about the very basics. This won’t be enough knowledge to land you a job writing about SEO for a search engine-related blog.
But it does give you a slight edge over other writers who don’t know anything about SEO at all.
So… here we go!
What is SEO and What are Keywords?
One of the main ways that websites get traffic is through search engines like Google. Website owners want their website and internal pages, like individual blog posts and articles, to show up on search engine results lists so they get more traffic.
Search engine optimization is simply the process of writing content in such a way that search engines like Google deem your content worthy of their traffic.
Obviously, you aren’t going to show up on search engine results every single time someone in the world uses Google. Google (and other search engines, but Google is most important so I’ll just say Google from now on) wants their results to be as relevant to people as possible.
That way, you keep using Google!
Imaging if you typed “where to buy cat costumes” into Google and instead of finding a bunch of silly outfits to enrage your favorite furry feline, your top three results were links to a taco truck website, a website selling shoes, and a blog about video games. Well, that wouldn’t be helpful at all! Eventually you’d stop using Google and instead use a search engine that gives you relevant results.
So, Google uses an algorithm to look at your content and decide what it is about. That way, they can just show your content when the person types something related into the search bar.
This thing they type… that’s called a “keyword phrase,” which is commonly shortened to just “keyword.”
Any phrase in the world can be a keyword!
Writers who understand search engine optimization know that by using the proper keywords within the content they write, they can get their content seen more often on Google, which in turn brings in more traffic, which in turn makes the client happen, which in turn leads to more work, which in turn leads to being able to buy better cat costumes.
The Dark Side of SEO
So pretty much as soon as Google became a thing, people started trying to figure out how to manipulate the search results to get more traffic to their own websites.
This is why we can’t have nice things, people.
Basically, Google’s goal is to show you the VERY BEST RESULT ever. But the algorithm they use has “spiders” looking at websites, not humans. (Spiders are basically just bots that analyze the words on a page. There’s no human element making a decision.)
Poo-head people figured out you can trick the bots into thinking that a page was relevant to a specific keyword, even if it wasn’t the best website on the internet for that keyword.
For example, let’s say you wanted to sell cat costumes, but your website is kind of crappy. It used to be that you could just fill a page with the phrase “cat costume” and Google’s spiders would think it was super relevant, so your page would be shown in their search results above other websites, even if those websites were better.
Today… sorry, jerks, Google is WAY too smart for that!
See, Google doesn’t want you to manipulate the results. They want to just show content that is naturally the best. So those old tricks don’t work anymore, and in fact might get you blacklisted from appearing in Google search results at all, which is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to someone who owns a website.
What’s a Savvy Writer to Do?
Your job as a writer is to use keywords in a smart, natural way.
So here’s how to do it!
First, figure out a relevant keyword to use if you client hasn’t already done this for you. This post on my other blog gives you a step by step on how to do it (and yes, you should charge more if you have to do keyword research, because it can take anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes to do proper keyword research for just one piece of content).
Once you have the keyword you’ll be using as your focus, you want to make sure it is included in your content in a few places:
- Put it in the title.
- Put it in the first paragraph.
- Sprinkle it throughout the content (but not too often).
Next, brainstorm a list of keywords that are related to your focus keyword.
Here’s the best way to do that:
- Go to Google and start typing in your keyword. What other results pop up as predictive keywords when you are typing? Write those down.
- Next, search for your keyword. Scroll to the very bottom of the page. What other suggestions are given there?
- Finally, narrow down your list to about 5 that are the most closely related to the content you are writing.
Then, you want to sprinkle these keywords into your content as well. Just once or twice will do. Make sure it is natural! If you have to force the keyword to work, it’s not a good situation. Google will be able to tell that you are “keyword stuffing” to get results.
Finally, just do what you do! Google rewards excellent writing. So, whenever you write content with keywords, write the best content possible for that specific keyword.
For example, if your client wants you to write about “cat costumes” make sure that your content is actually about cat costumes, not a broad topic like pet costumes that mentions cat costumes as one type of pet costume.
Write the BEST content you can that answers the person’s query. What would you want to find if you typed the target keyword into Google.
Some parting advice…
Keywords are just one of the ways you can get Google to rank your content. Some people devote their entire lives to search engine optimization. Google also looks at things like site speed, links from other sites (that’s a biggie), the URL, and so forth. In other words, most of it is out of your control as the writer.
If it interest you, though, I definitely recommend reading up more on search engine optimization and how it works. You can use your career as a freelance writer to become an SEO expert, which is an extremely lucrative field if you know what you’re doing. I definitely encourage you to pursue it if you enjoy working with keywords.
Oh, and for the record… I totally do not endorse humiliating your cat with a costume haha. Any scratch or bite scars you get due to dressing your cat in a costume is totally not my fault!