If you’re interested in starting a freelance writing career (or maybe you’ve already been a freelance content writer for some time), you’ll need to know the basics of SEO (search engine optimization) to help you build up your work on Google, and keep you getting that paper.
When I first started out as a freelance writer and blogger I had no idea what any of this meant and felt totally overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. And what made things worse, is that Google seems to think if you’re searching for info about SEO you probably already have a baseline of understanding.
This blog is about the absolute basic, step one for SEO. Although there are definitely some additional bits of intel and wisdom that could help someone who knows a thing or two already…
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Learning About Basic SEO and Freelance Writing
SEO stands for search engine optimization. When you search for something on Google, the words you type into a search box are known a keywords. So, for example, you might be hungry and type in “best pizza near me.” Based on those words, Google’s crawling little bots (legit called crawlers) will scan every web page they have in their database sorting through algorithms to land at the pizza restaurants near you that have the best ratings.
The ultimate goal in SEO is to have what you’ve written land on the first “page” of Google. Or at least the first ten listings for whatever turn of keyword phrase you type in. Obviously, something like pizza is going to be very hard to “rank” for as it’s a hugely popular word/phrase to search for.
Which is where something known as Long Tail Keywords come into play.
How Long Tail Keywords Will Help Your Freelance Writing
Long tail keywords are phrases that are longer than two or three words, that make the Google search much more specific. So in our example above that would be something more like, “The best vegan pizza in Santa Clarita.”
Phrases that are longer than 2/3 words tend to be long tail keywords and can help you narrow down your search (and also get your content to the person who most needs to read it).
More on that in a hot sec…
SEO Doesn’t Have to be Overwhelming
When I first started to learn about SEO I found it insanely frustrating because most sites assume that anyone trying to learn about SEO has a basic understanding of it.
For me, I was a complete newbie and I use Squarespace as a platform so when so called experts told me to install a Yoast plugin to run SEO I was like WHAT THE FUCK IS A PLUGIN (note: Squarespace doesn’t use plugins, or at least they do all the heavy lifting of that on their own time so you have more time to create content which is one of the many reasons why I heart Squarespace.) Also, I have since learned a lot about plugins and am way more familiar with Wordpress via working with several different clients.
The truth is, according to the experts, no one knows for sure what makes a particular post rank higher than the others. In fact, Google recently came out and shared that they use over 200 ranking factors to determine how something gets to that illusive first page. While using keywords is certainly important, and will definitely get you some movement and traction, there are a ton of other factors including linking to other posts, (known as backlinks), having loads of pageviews, and labeling things correctly, like photos, and alt text that you publish.
This past summer, Google changed their algorithm, again, which caused several pages of bloggers and writers I know to drop in rankings. It’s not clear exactly WHAT Google was looking for when they changed things, and there’s also no way to know entirely when something like this will happen again (and it will). The bottom line is, spend some time researching keywords, and then use them when you can in strategic areas within your articles.
The same goes for building keywords into your content when you’re sending out applications for gigs. Showing that you have a basic understanding of SEO is important for editors. But once you add your researched keywords, set it and forget it. Try not to obsess about it. For some keywords, it can take months, if not years to build traction on Google, so it’s not an instant gratification thing (for the most part).
Your SEO Keywords Will Almost Always BE Provided for You
Some really good news! When it comes to freelance writing, a lot of the keywords will typically provided for you by your client so it’s not as necessary. (Although some clients will want you to source photos and upload content to their site it really depends.)
Because many freelance content publishers work for larger agencies, they literally have people who do that keyword research for them. Most of my clients fall into this category and when they send me an assignment they also send me anywhere from one to ten keywords they’d like me to include in the piece.
There are always exceptions for this, as in a client whom I’m helping to create a brand new blog. I have to do a lot of the keyword research on my own, which can be labor intensive, but now that I’m far more familiar with what I’m doing, the process is a lot easier.
Finding the Right Long Tail Keyword
With the use of some of the tools below, finding the “right” long tail keyword is more like a treasure hunt than an exact science. Changing the way a phrase is constructed to get you to a more ideal keyword. This is where it helps to be creative, and to not settle for that first hit when you start thinking about what a person would be searching for.
Ultimately that’s what you’re doing when you’re looking for keywords. You’re thinking like a customer, and you’re trying to establish what a person will search for when they’re looking for the answer to something, or trying to find something that they want to buy.
Where To Use SEO Keywords in Freelance Writing Jobs
Once you land on the keywords that look good, you’ll want to use your keywords in some pretty specific places including the following:
Include the keywords in H1 (heading 1) or titles.
H2 (heading 2) or section breaks.
and H3 (heading 3) subtitles (or when you break out into smaller lists).
Let’s be honest, you’ll want to use these anyway to break up text (along with pictures) although only use one H1 heading and the rest are mostly H2 and some rare H3 (If you need to use H3).
Rename your photos to include any keywords.
Repeat the main keywords at least once somewhere else in the document, if you can, include it in the last paragraph although that’s not necessary.
Odds are your editor will give you a specific page count ( usually between 1000 - 2500 words). The longer your post the more likely it’s going to rank more highly because of the sheer volume of times you can use the keywords! (Try to guess how many times I’ve used “freelance writing” in this one. Mmmkay?)
I try to push for longer when I can.
What SEO Keywords Should You Use
When you find a keyword, it’s a good idea to try and rank for something, at minimum, that best a search result of at least 1000 searches per month. This is a good baseline for something you might be able to rank for but it’s possible you could rank for something much higher too (it’s a super big unknown) so go ahead and throw a bunch of different variations of say, SEO for freelance writing, SEO and content writing, how to use SEO in freelance content, Using SEO as a content writer…see? (That was, admittedly, really fun to do since it usually needs to be done far more organically).
Where to find SEO Keywords for Freelance Writing
So where the fuck do you search for SEO keywords anyway? There are so many SEO platforms to search for keywords it can feel so overwhelming. And I’ve tried at least all of them at least once.
Lately, I’ve been using ubbersuggest.com which is also a free service and provides tons of keyword suggestions simply, effectively, and with easy to understand terms.
A lot of SEO content sites will recommend using Google keyword planner. It used to be a really easy way to see what keywords would pop up to compliment something you were writing about but now they charge a fee to “place an ad.” You can try to hack it by going through the prompts and setting up a $.01 add, but who has the time to deal with that shit.
Keysearch.co is useful to suggest and tell you how hard something is to rank for. If the word or phrase you’re trying to rank for is green, definitely try to include it in your listing. If it’s red, good - fucking - luck. But do consider including it among other green ones to help build up the overall SEO.
Keysearch.co is free initially, but once you max out on keyword searches you should consider upgrading to the paid service. It is, hands down, one of the cheapest available at $5 for 50 keywords tracked.
Start with something small (or even the free plan) to test out how it works. And then upgrade when you find you are maxing out on your limit. I’m on the basic plan because between this blog and my clients I’m searching about 20 - 30 words a day, typically. The basic plan is 200 keywords or 20 credits, for $17 a month and it’s worth it for me to have a sense of how difficult something is ranking.
SEO Research Tools for Freelance Writing
I really love Answer the Public to search for common questions asked about a specific topic to get the wheels turning when I’m not even sure where to begin.
For headline suggestions the best platform is Coschedule.com. It’s free (although their paid marketing software looks pretty awesome). The idea is you’ll want to use a combination of “power” words and “emotional words” in your headlines. Don’t use it as the end all be all of SEO research, but it’s a great place to start!
Other Free SEO Keyword Search Platforms
I really love Answer the Public to search for common questions asked about a specific topic to get the wheels turning and brainstorm topic ideas.
Dare To Conquer
Let’s talk Blogs for a second because I’ve taken several blogging courses on this journey as a work-from-home momma as well and hands down the most comprehensive overview of SEO I learned was from the coursework in Dare to Conquer (formerly known as Billionaire Blog Club).
Of all the courses I’ve taken, I wish I had started with Dare to Conquer. While much of the information wasn’t new news to me, there was so much that was eye opening and revealing (and attainable!) to learning how to optimize posts for this blog, as well as for other clients blogs that I help to curate.
If you’re interested in starting your own blog, Dare to Conquer is hands down the best course/community available.
RELATED READING: HOW TO BECOME A FREELANCE WRITER AND WORK FROM HOME
SEO in Freelance Writing Can Be Fun!
I’m constantly learning and growing my understanding of SEO and because of the nature of this industry it’s so hard to know what the “ultimate” tip to improve your SEO will be. There is no end all be all way of improving your ranking for an article.
While there are tons of things you can esteem to do to improve your chance, you’ll need to continue to update posts, and learn what the latest theories, tools, and resources are in the world of SEO.