If you’ve been writing, or trying to write, as a freelancer in the past two years, you’ve seen the term “SEO.” You probably saw it most often as something a potential client wants you to understand in order to apply for a job. From your client’s perspective, SEO — Search Engine Optimization — is writing web content in a way that drives search engines such as Google and Bing toward the site that contains the content. It’s fairly obvious why a business would want a web page that’s search engine optimized, and why they would be willing to pay somebody to do it.
From a writer’s perspective, SEO is gold mine. Writing advertising copy has long been a source or nearly limitless and lucrative assignments, and SEO is the new advertising copy. Old ad copy just had to get the attention of the reader. New ad copy needs to inform and inspire the reader, but before it can do that it also has to get the attention of the browsers potential readers use.
How Does SEO Work?
Search engine optimization works by taking advantage of the algorithms that drive a web search. Although some of these factors — such as page titles and linkbacks — are out of the control of a content writer, the appearance of keyphrases within the body of the page will drive traffic to your sight. Including three to five keyphrases, each appearing naturally in the text two to four times, helps search engines match a page with the search strings common to people who want to know about a product. This is a simplification of a complex topic, but it should give you a general idea.
As a writer, your job is to include keywords in the SEO content as naturally as possible. Random, arbitrary inclusion of keywords or key phrases feels unnatural, and can reduce the page’s performance in search engines. Some clients will also ask you to choose the best keywords for a piece of content, while others will hire you having already chosen the SEO content they want.
White Hat SEO
In SEO, “white hat” practices mean playing by the spirit as well as the letter of the search rules. White hat SEO includes practices like natural and organic use of keywords, including appropriate backlinks and receiving links to your page from service-oriented and related websites. The good news is that white hat SEO is easy to follow. If you write the best, most natural copy you can, it’s hard to accidentally stray from white hat practices.
Black Hat SEO
Every system is vulnerable to manipulation. “Black hat” SEO practices take advantage of those vulnerabilities with practices like link redirection, keyword stuffing and hiding text by marking it the same color as a page’s background. Although these tactics are sometimes effective, ongoing algorithm development makes them less and less viable. Worse, some of the major search engines will ban pages that use these practices. Freelance writers should avoid assignments that ask for black hat SEO. It undermines the system that provides us with work, and isn’t much fun to write anyway.
Finding SEO Work
You won’t find clients who need SEO work among the usual markets for nonfiction articles and works of fiction. Instead, look at job boards for writers including Craigslist, Online Writing Jobs, ELance, Journalism Jobs and Freelance Daily. You can also work with your local Chamber of Commerce to get started by helping a nearby business optimize their websites. Once you get some traction, you’ll be amazed at how much work is available. Consistent readers aware of my $20,000 in 9 week goal should know that it’s only possible because of how rich this writing market is.
Thanks for listening.