desk with laptop - seo writing

Introduction to SEO Writing (for New Freelancers) + 5-Minute Keyword Research Tutorial

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One of the most valuable  skills any freelance writer can learn is SEO writing. In this post, let’s talk about what it means to be an SEO writer and how you can add SEO (hello, upskilling) to your arsenal of content writing skills to increase your market value. 

Plus, I dropped a live session of me conducting keyword research for a freelance client so you can get an idea of what goes into it.  #twobirds 

What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO is a process of creating content in a way that helps search engines like Google, Safari, Bing, YouTube, Pinterest, Amazon, eBay, etc. understand what the content is about. 

SEO helps to improve the visibility of published content. It boosts website traffic by getting search engines to show content in search results. And it allows you to find clever ways to get searchers to click on that content when it does. 

As a skill, SEO writing consistently ranks among Upwork’s Top 100 In-Demand Skills for Freelancers, and with good reason. Businesses need the pages of their websites to show up in search results. That means being optimized in a way that allows search engines to find and display them when customers are looking for the kind of stuff they sell. 

An Example of SEO in Action

So let’s say I am out driving. I say to my phone “Hey Google,  where can I get a Thai iced tea near me?”

Google will show me results about how and where I can get Thai iced tea. The top results will be restaurant listings (because the Google monsters can see that I’m out and about). But other results may include Thai tea recipes, Q&As about Thai tea – how to make it, is it good for you, is it authentic… 

Pinterest pin - boost your freelance writing income by learning SEO writing

Other results will even be from food delivery services letting me know that they can deliver the tea to me from a local restaurant.  And Google may even drop some results in there for online retailers that sell Thai tea mix.

Now if I operate a Thai restaurant, my objective is to show up as one of the first options people see (or hear) when they search for Thai tea… 

before the random eBay seller who’s peddling Thai tea mix, and 

before the delivery services that say they can bring a cup of Thai tea to anyone  for 100 bucks. 

But in order to show up ahead of those guys, my Thai restaurant would need to have some of the pages of my site optimized for the term “Thai ice tea” so that I am a top recommendation from Google when people are searching for that.  

That’s where an SEO writer would come in. 

What Is an SEO Writer? 

So, what do you do as an SEO writer? Well, I can tell you from experience – it’s a lot of research, looking at patterns, and trying to find 100 interesting ways to talk about the same topic. I’m only kidding a little. 

As an SEO writer,  clients will hire you to create content in a way that allows that content (and the brand associated with the content) to be found online by search engines and presented as an option when people search different topics. 

What Are Keywords and Why Are They So Important to Everybody?

The foundation of SEO is the keyword. Keywords and keyword phrases are the queries, questions and topics people speak into their phones or type into their devices to find things online. 

For instance, today, I asked Google to play a Queen Latifah song from 1993.  

I asked Siri if my hamster can eat a carrot (because Google was still playing music from the 1990s).

Over the weekend, I had some questions about picnic tables for kids. I looked at a bunch of picnic tables on Walmart and put a round, patio-styled kids table set with two chairs in the Save for Later section of my Walmart account. Wasn’t sure I wanted to buy it.

I switched to Amazon and conducted a general search for picnic tables. Well, the little patio set I’d been eyeing on Walmart.com surfaced, and beside it, a bench swing with the same pink pattern as the chairs in the patio set. 

I bought them both within a minute or two of seeing the set.

Now, I’ll admit that what Amazon did is a little more than just SEO writing (it’s more like spying on my online behavior and showing me what it “thinks” I want). But in order for Amazon’s algorithm to even show me that same picnic set AND a matching swing, the pages containing that set had to be optimized for my searches. (Even though technically, those searches happened on Walmart.com.)

Amazon got me to spend $150 in a matter of seconds because it was able to show me what I’d been searching for AND a complementary product. This is a very good example of why SEO writing is so important for brands. 

Is SEO Writing Hard to Learn?

Most writers know a little bit of something about writing for the web – creating click-worthy headlines and including different headers and sections in the article to make it easier to read and keep from creating a giant wall of text. Writing on topics that interest people… 

Anyone who spends a lot of time reading on the web understands there are certain ways to craft content so that it’s compelling. 

And a lot of writers and businesses actually understand keyword research and the importance of keywords. There are tools you can use to easily research keywords. Take a look at the screenshot below. 

Screenshot of Google SERPS with Keywords Everywhere side bar for freelancers new to SEO writing

I use a Google Chrome extension called Keywords Everywhere that displays search volume and related keywords for everything I search. So, you can see that doing the keyword research  isn’t all that challenging. 

But knowing what to do with the information you gather – that’s the tough part. That’s where the skill comes in. And that’s usually when brands will bring in an SEO writer and present the writer with all the keyword info they’ve gathered, and basically say, “hey, make something out of this. We need this page to lead to sales.”

And an SEO writer comes in and makes it happen.

How Much Can You Get Paid as an SEO Writer?

It depends on the job, but you can easily boost your hourly rate by 25% to 50% and no one would bat an eye at it. You have to think about how much time and money it takes to create content. And for small teams, it’s not super easy to find great writers who know how to package the brand voice in a way that’s interesting. But most companies end up paying for content that doesn’t help them meet  any of their business goals. 

SEO agencies charge anywhere from a few hundred bucks a month to a few thousand bucks a month to handle the SEO functions for a company. The goal is always the same – to get the brand’s online content to rank better on Google. BUt  most of them don’t deliver near the amount of content a company or brand actually needs to boost their visibility. 

So, stepping in as an SEO writer who can serve as a liaison to fill in that void between what the brand wants and what the SEO firm actually provides is a good spot to be in.

A Quick Checklist of What an SEO Writer Handles for a Client

SEO is pretty standard for all websites, meaning the same types of things need to be done. This list is compiled of things I pulled from SEMRush and Backlinko, two of my favorite content marketing websites. If y ou’re working with an SEO agency, the agency will probably handle quite a bit of this, but in most cases, your small business clients won’t be working with an outside SEO agency. So, it’s a good idea for you to start learning how to handle some of these things yourself.

For the sake of keeping you motivated, I’ll just list some of the more commonly requested services that clients will want SEO writers to provide or at least be familiar with. But if you have a chance, check out this SEO Checklist from SEMRUsh. Comes with a downloadable checklist for you as well.

Setting up Google Search Console and Google Analytics

Google Search Console and Google Analytics are apps that tell you how people are finding and using a site. So, you can find out which keywords people typed in that lead them on a website. You can also find out how many unique visitors are coming to the site every week or every month or every year, and where they happen to be in the world.Google also provides you with information on the interests and online behaviors of the people who visit your site.

Google offers free training at the Google Analytics Academy, and the modules are only about 5 minutes each, so there’s little threat of overwhelm.

Setting up and Using SEO Plugins (may or may not need this)

If you’re working with a client whose website was built using WordPress, SEO Plugins like Yoast are super-helpful with making sure content is search optimized. But a lot of your clients may end up building their websites using platforms like Shopify or Magento. In that case,  you won’t necessarily need to set up SEO plugins on the website, but it’s smart to use a platform like Storychief (which is free) or a Google extension like SEMRush Writing Assistant (which isn’t) to help you write search optimized content.

Doing Keyword Research to Create a List of Keywords

Creating a list of keywords starts as a conversation with your client to find out what their goals are in the short-term and in the long-term. It’s not always going to be the case that your customers will know which keywords they want to target. Or they may say they want to target keywords that they have zero chance of ranking for on Google without first laying a pretty solid foundation for a few months first.

That’s not unusual.

So, it’s important that you understand how keywords work., why they work, and how Google’s algorithm works so that you can determine the best path forward for your client. You will also want to be able to identify high-intent keywords – meaning the queries that people type into their devices when they’re planning to buy and just trying to decide who they’ll buy from.

Writing SEO Articles

SEO articles are like any other article – they are supposed to be informative, well-written, authoritative, and a bit entertaining, even. The bonus thing they have in there is that they incorporate multiple keywords that people would search to find out more about a topic, find a product, buy something, or take some other kind of action. 

Article writing can range from short-and-sweet 800-word posts to epic ultimate guides that can top 10,000 words. This week alone, I’ve penned this post which is around 1500 words and edited a couple of posts that were 3,000 words each, all search-optimized articles. 

The headers in this article have all been pulled from Google. And before I decided to take 15 minutes to finish this article (that I’ve been working on off and on for about a week now), I had pulled reports from Google Analytics for work.

So, across the board, no matter what I write, I am creating content with search engines in mind. After a while, it becomes second nature, but SEO is a skill that you’re always refining because a few times a year, search companies tweak the rules a bit, and you have to stay on top of the latest best-practices. 

But I think it’s fun.  

Writing Meta Descriptions

Meta information is the data that search engines read to help them understand what your content is about. So, being able to write meta titles and meta descriptions for search engines is important. 

It’s often the case that a meta title will be the same as an article title. But sometimes, that’s not the case. The meta title is the words that show up as search results on Google. The meta description is that blurb underneath the meta title that tells searchers what they can expect to find if they click the link. 

Writing both the meta title and the meta description fall under SEO writer duties. 

Writing Snippets and Answer Targets

Okay, so snippets have grown in popularity over the past few years. Google is showing them more and more and in the results for different searches. Snippets provide a succinct answer to specific questions that are asked online. 

Writing snippets is a pretty new development in SEO. Google’s only been shortcutting the search results with these one-and-done answers for a year or two at this point. But it provides another way for SEO writers to get their clients’ content ranking on the first page of  Google. And that’s without waiting months for the post to move up search results. 

You gotta learn how to write these babies. 

SEO Training Courses 

Now let’s talk about some resources where you can actually go to learn how to become an SEO writer. 

If you’re more of a casual learner, but you’re committed…

There are some really great websites and YouTube channels you can check out to get you started. Some of my go-to sources for the best info on writing for search engines are 

  • Moz.com  plus they have a really helpful YouTube channel, too
  • Ahrefs.com, which also has a YouTube channel
  • SEMRUsh + their YouTube channel
  • The Income School channel on YouTube
  • Backlinko.com – is a great blog and Brian Dean’s videos are helpful, too
  • NeilPatel.com – Neil’s a world-renowned content strategist who has tons of content on YouTube as well
  • ContentMonsta.com – a great resource whether you’re just starting out or already a pro
  • HubSpot.com – my jam

If you’re better in a more structured setting, you can check out some of the SEO courses available:

SEMRush has an incredible catalog of free courses that you can take to get a certificate or not. The certification courses typically run a little longer than the non-certification courses. 

Udemy is a paid option if you don’t mind paying. Udemy is kinda funny because many of the courses are about $100 or so, but they go on sale all the time. Definitely great if you’re trying to learn a new skill and you want to be able to learn it quickly and inexpensively. Another really

Another really good source of training is HubSpot.  HubSpot is a is marketing platform and a customer management platform. They also have a really, really great learning dashboard where you can take courses and get certified in different skills. 

About two months ago, I took HubSpot’s email marketing course and got certified in  email marketing. It was a 4-hour course that I did  for an hour an hour a day for a week.  Then  I took the test. It was unreasonably hard, but I got my certification. I passed the test with like 80 something percent and I got my certification. 

Is it Worth the Time to Learn SEO in 2021?

Yes. Gary Vaynerchuk said it best: every company has to be a media company these days. The  demands of creating SO MUCH content all the time is a big enough challenge for brands. They don’t need the added pressure of keeping daily tabs on their SEO strategy, too. 

You can take that off their plate, and they’ll pay you well for it. 

In the end, becoming an SEO writer is really just a matter of making time to do some research. And some studying. And applying what you’ve learned. But for content creators and web writers, it’s an absolute must-have.