The Content Writer’s Guide to SEO

1,800,000,000. 1.8 billion. That’s the number of websites estimated to be on the Internet as of 2017. Every single day, …


1.8 billion. That’s the number of websites estimated to be on the Internet as of 2017.

Every single day, hundreds of thousands of more websites are created.

The Internet is noisy. And getting noisier by the day (really, by the minute).

So how are you, or the businesses you write for, supposed to stand out from those competing for the same attention?

One answer is SEO, or search engine optimization.

As a writer, you don’t need to be a master in the craft, but considering how closely linked it is to written content, understanding SEO can separate you from competitors and help boost your earnings as a freelance writer.

What is SEO? A highly abbreviated answer:

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the practice of actively increasing a site’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs), with the ultimate aim of bringing more traffic to the site.

You’ll probably see the phrase “organic traffic” closely connected with SEO.

Digital marketing audiences are separated into two broad categories: Paid traffic, gained through display advertising, and organic traffic, which comes through search engines “organically.”

A healthy amount of organic traffic is a sign that a site is optimized properly for search engines.

SEO efforts are usually built around keywords, sometimes called “key phrases” or “search terms.” Marketers and businesses optimize websites for specific keywords related to their industry and the prospects they want to attract.

The actual process of choosing keywords – an activity known as keyword research – involves consideration and comparison of potential keywords based on their search volume and competitiveness. SEO keywords are also chosen based on customer intent and geography.

For example, if you were writing an article about a vintage clothing store in Jacksonville, Florida, a few keywords you might choose to optimize the post and the website could be:

  • vintage clothing stores in Jacksonville
  • where to buy vintage clothes in Jacksonville
  • flapper dresses in Jacksonville

These are all keywords that your potential customer might be putting into a search engine.

When they enter one of these search terms into Google or Bing, a complicated algorithm is used to determine which sites show up first in the SERPs.

The first few sites in the results are considered “highly ranked,” and have likely been well-optimized for search engines by an experienced marketer.

Why does all this SEO stuff matter?

You might be wondering if it’s really necessary for you to learn SEO.

Maybe you’re thinking, I’m a writer, not a technical marketer. My value’s in the great writing I produce!

Well, you’re not wrong – great writing is valuable. And I admire your confidence!

But as a freelance writer, there are lots of marketing agencies, businesses, and other potential clients that want you to be able to optimize your writing for search engines.

That’s because, in the modern world of digital marketing, content isn’t worth much if no one sees it. And one of the best ways to get it seen is through search engine optimization.


  • 87% of smartphone owners use search engines at least once a day
  • 93% of all online interactions begin with a search engine
  • In 2016, companies spent $65 billion on SEO. By 2020, that number is expected to grow to $79 billion.

SEO is a valuable enough skill that plenty of freelancers – and entire businesses – make a living providing search optimization services.

Luckily for you, to be an effective freelance writer, you don’t need the same level of knowledge as someone offering SEO as their main trade.

The key to success as a freelance content writer is understanding a particular subset of search engine optimization: On-page SEO.

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What You Need to Know About On-Page SEO as a Freelance Content Writer

Some SEO tactics involve generating backlinks (links from other sites to yours) and promoting content on social media.

These are called off-page SEO tactics, and they’re less of a concern for you as a freelance writer.

But written content is the primary vehicle for on-page SEO, a type of search engine optimization that involves tweaking elements of a specific website.

Factors in on-page SEO that you need to consider as a writer include:

  • Keyword usage. You don’t want to shoehorn keywords into your writing in a way that’s unnatural.

    However, it’s important to use keyword phrases and synonyms when they flow into your writing.

    For a more sophisticated breakdown on this idea, check out this article that explains Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), the mathematical concept that search engines use to determine how words on a website relate to a certain search term.
  • Meta tags. HTML meta tags are short excerpts of code that aren’t actually seen on a site but are scanned by search engines.

    These tags help browsers and search engines understand what a site is all about, so that it can be indexed in search results more effectively. The most important meta tags are the page’s description, title, and header tags.
  • Writing great content. It might be obvious, but one of the most important things you can do as a freelance content writer is making sure you produce great stuff!

    Besides representing your own (or your client’s) brand well, compelling content also helps reduce a site’s bounce rate, the percentage of people who visit a website, do not perform any actions or conversions, and then leave.

    By driving people to take action, join a list, or download a longer piece of content, strong writing makes it less likely that visitors will leave a page without taking action, or “bounce.”

The Final Word on SEO as a Freelance Writer and Additional Resources

Social media, email marketing, and paid advertising are all important.

But as long as people are conducting over 6.5 billion searches a day, search engine optimization will be an important component of digital marketing.

The explanations of SEO and related concepts here are relatively basic: It’s nearly impossible to sufficiently explain a massive subject like SEO in a single blog post.

Check out these valuable resources to learn more about SEO:

  • Moz. Moz is an SEO software platform founded by Rand Fishkin, a prominent marketer well-respected for his analytical, iterative approach to SEO.

    The Moz blog archives are chock-full of valuable SEO tips, especially Rand’s Whiteboard Friday series.
  • HubSpot. The HubSpot blog is one of the best sources of info for all things digital and inbound marketing. Check out their blog post, On-Page SEO 101.
  • Search Engine Journal. Some concepts are more advanced, but this long-running blog is well-respected among SEO practitioners for its actionable, info-packed news updates.

There are also plenty of online courses and certifications related to SEO.

If you want to open up new opportunities to get paid as a freelance writer, don’t neglect learning the concepts and techniques that will help content get seen on search engines.

Understanding SEO can provide a boost for your own writing, the clients you work for, and most importantly, your bank account.

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