SEO writing is one of the newer forms of freelance writing spawned by the Internet Age, and as such, SEO writing is an excellent way -- if at times a frustrating way -- for budding writers to cut their teeth in the freelance writing scene. SEO writing takes a fair amount of imagination and some engineering grit, but if you like puzzles, then freelancing as an SEO writer will interest you.
SEO, or "Search Engine Optimization," has its roots in the early days of the Internet. Once early Internet marketers realized they could manipulate search engine rankings with meaningless content and keywords, a whirlwind of keyword-stuffed web pages swept across the Internet, all designed to push their content -- and the products they sold -- to the top of search engine lists. This sharply increased user traffic and potential profits. It wasn't uncommon to see web pages with only a few short paragraphs of copy with large, seemingly-blank areas of space. However, if you highlighted these blank areas of space with a cursor, it would reveal massive strings of invisible keywords. SEO writers used to embed invisible keywords in text to rank the webpage higher in search engines for nearly any remotely-relevant search term.
Fortunately for good web design, search engine programmers became aware of this flaw, and they refined their search engines to ignore such obvious "keyword stuffing." This major change has made search engines rank web pages more relevant of the actual content and not the stuffed keywords. Content providers responded to this by developing SEO writing, which ideally gets the same results as open keyword-stuffing, but provides a better-designed, better-written page as well. It's a "best of both worlds" compromise: content providers willing to invest in SEO writing get to keep their high search engine rankings and readers get more smoothly integrated and keyword-dense text.
There are bad SEO writers and good SEO writers. Bad SEO writers aren't aware of exactly how search engines work, and will try stuffing text with ten or twenty commonly-used search terms ("sex," "money," and the like) ten or twenty times apiece, without caring whether the actual text reads well. These days search engines are sophisticated enough to ignore these kinds of transparent keyword-stuffing efforts, a defense which only good SEO practice can get around.
A skilled SEO writer:
- Uses only one or two search terms per page;
- Uses unique, natural-language search terms;
- Integrates search terms smoothly with text;
The difference between a good and bad SEO writer are in the results. Good SEO writers can provide actual results in the search rankings. Their SEO writing talents keep the client's web pages on the first page of search engine results and create additional revenue for the client. Bad SEO writers don't keep client pages in the first page of search engine results; they create nearly unreadable, transparently phony text, and don't get paid well at all. If you want to succeed as a freelance SEO writer, you first need to learn to be a good one.
Writing integrated text is often the most difficult part of good SEO writing. The rule is you should use each search term once or twice in a 250-word block of copy. This is fine if your search term is something like "bond portfolio," but what do you do if your search term is more like "high-yield gold investment bond package bonds"? This is where the "puzzle" aspect of SEO writing comes in: no matter how cumbersome your search term, you need to find a way to make it sound natural.
Skilled SEO writers employ some tricks for awkward keyword phrases, such as the following:
- Enclosing the search term in quotes (making it seem like a precise technical term, rather than just clunky phrase); and
- Defining the term at the opening of the article and using it further on, or drawing comparisons between two SEO terms (requiring you to refer to both frequently).
There aren't any hard-and-fast rules to integrate keywords effectively; every keyword set is different and every article has different needs. But with imagination, you can get your prose to read naturally while still being SEO-worthy. Just remember the other principal rule: don't overstuff keywords in text, but rather space your keywords adequately throughout the text.
Who offers SEO writing jobs? Virtually any company with enough money and enough willingness to maintain a high web presence. Be careful of the keyword lists you take on. Generally speaking, if the client has a long keyword list and he needs many keywords in his text, then most search engines will rank his webpage low and you may not be able to achieve the results he wants. To establish yourself as a freelance SEO writer (and to get some much needed practice in SEO writing), you'll probably need to take some of these jobs at some point. Take a look on freelance writing message boards, in classified ads, and make inquiries at local businesses who either have a web presence, or who you think are ready to develop one. Chances are excellent that companies with new websites can use a skilled SEO writer.
Keep at it, learn the tricks, and remember that SEO writing is a very in-demand skill. Once you build a reputation for yourself, you can command both higher prices and higher-profile (yet easier) assignments regularly.