May 25, 2020
This guest blog post is courtesy of Desiree Joy Villena, a virtual assistant based in the Philippines. See her Upwork profile here.
Read more freelance writer guest posts.
To make a living as a freelancer in 2020, you need to go above and beyond. I’m sure my fellow freelancers already understand the importance of creating excellent content to appeal to clients. But what about appealing to Google (or “Big G”, as my colleagues call it)?
Indeed, with ever-increasing competition among businesses online, search engine optimization (SEO) has become more crucial than ever. (If you’re new to SEO, it’s how you can increase an audience to your website through natural search on search engines.) As a result, I’ve developed this step-by-step process for writing SEO posts that are informative, interesting, and rank well for their intended keyword(s) on Google! Follow these steps and you’ll be raking in clients left and right.
When writing SEO posts, it’s essential to have a strong sense of your target keyword. For this, you’ll need two things: an analytics tool like Ahrefs or Moz, and excellent note-taking skills. Luckily, most experienced freelancers are already in possession of the second! As for the first, you can either invest in your own accounts once you start writing SEO posts on a regular basis, or you can use your clients’ accounts (which is what I do).
To begin your research, enter the keyword in your preferred analytics tool to access an overview of relevant information. This should include the number of searches per month, the “keyword difficulty” (how hard it will be to rank for this keyword), and most importantly for our purposes, the related terms and top-ranking results for this particular keyword.
Here’s where those note-taking skills come in. Jot down common user questions and other related terms; in the SEO business, we refer to these terms as “long tail SEO” because they’re usually longer and more specific than the main keyword you’re targeting. Think of them as boosters for your keyword — and pay close attention to longtails with search volumes of 100/month or more, as these can be extremely helpful in getting your content to rank! (FYI, this is how much time you should spend researching your topic before you write any article.)
Once you’ve noted all the longtails for your keyword, navigate to the SERP (search engine results page) overview section of your analytics tool. What you’ll want to examine here is the first page of organic search results, i.e. everything that shows up after the ads, including the featured snippet at the top. Open the top five to six results and start pouring over their content.
Now, not everything you’ll find in these results should actually go in your piece. Though massive “skyscraper” posts were once all the rage, today’s conventional SEO wisdom dictates that relatively short articles are more effective — around 1,500 to 2,000 words seems to be right in the sweet spot (though this may vary depending on which niche you’re tackling). So no need to absorb everything about the results on the SERP, but do take note of the following aspects:
The more frequently you see a certain element among the top results, the more crucial it is to include in your own post. For example, I recently worked with colleagues to write a post targeting the keyword phrase “how to market a book”, and noted that the top three results on the SERP had 8, 9, and 11 tips/steps respectively. So when structuring our post on how to market a book, we ensured that it had a similar number of steps in order to “fit in” with those results.
Speaking of which, the next step in this process is to…
Now that you’ve gathered all that data, so to speak, it’s time to synthesize it into an outline. Those top pieces of content should have given you a pretty solid idea of what your piece should look like: how many sections and subsections you should have, what the proportions of those sections should be, which longtails to hit, and so on.
That said, sometimes the SERP isn’t entirely consistent. If you find the top results to be disparate (what my colleagues and I call a “mixed SERP”), you should base your structure on the pieces most relevant to your client’s goals and target audience. For instance, say you were writing for a beginners’ cooking blog and researching the keyword “homemade lasagna”. You might find half the recipes to be simple and the other half to be quite advanced. Because you want your own piece to attract beginners, you’d probably imitate the simpler recipes (but feel free to throw in an ingredient or two from the others, to make your recipe unique).
It’s impossible to say what your structure should look like without knowing the exact keyword(s) you’re targeting. However, in my experience, the best SEO posts fall into one of the following categories:
As you might expect, that last type of post is the trickiest to execute, especially when you’re trying to keep things concise. This is why outlining before you write is so vital; otherwise it’s all too easy to disregard something important, only to have to awkwardly squeeze it in at the last minute.
Here comes the moment you’ve been waiting for as a freelance writer: actually writing the post! At this point, it’s mostly a matter of turning your outline into something more detailed, yet readable. In accordance with Yoast SEO guidelines, I try to keep most of my sentences to 25 words or fewer, and rarely have a section (under a heading or subheading) longer than 300.
If you find this part of the process extremely difficult, you probably haven’t done enough research or put enough thought into your structure. Though I know it can feel like the research and prep process is very time-consuming, my experience is that it always saves me time in the long run — sometimes even by a matter of days! So if you feel yourself running into brick walls as you’re writing, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.
Something else that helps my writer’s block is to work on a completely different aspect of the post for a while, like the visuals. I like to pick out and edit my own stock images to accompany my pieces, and sometimes create custom headers or infographics for them. Even if the client hasn’t asked you to create images, it’s still nice and creatively stimulating to experiment with your ideas visually. And you don’t even need Photoshop — I use Canva for templates and Skitch for arrows, captions, and other small bits of graphic design.
In terms of other writing tips, all I can really say is: don’t get discouraged. Writing SEO posts is supposed to be a bit of a challenge! After all, it requires much more strategic structuring and careful writing than simply spouting an interesting thinkpiece. You shouldn’t feel completely lost and frustrated, but you should feel like you’re putting your nose to the grindstone.
Finally, you’ll need to do something that just about every writer dreads, no matter what they might claim: asking for and incorporating feedback.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a group of fellow freelancers to proofread your piece before passing it on to your client. Bonus points if they’re also SEO writers! Their feedback should be constructive and always in service of clarity. Feel free to ignore anything you feel doesn’t work with the piece, but do take their suggestions seriously, especially if more than one person says the same thing.
Dealing with client feedback can be somewhat tougher. Sometimes, clients who don’t know much about SEO will request changes that either don’t add anything of substance, or are actually detrimental to the post. (For example, they might ask you to make a section unnecessarily long, or to remove the step-by-step structure that breaks up the post into digestible pieces.)
Here you have two options: You can either try to strike a compromise between their ideas and best SEO practices — for example, by adding a new section for the content they want, rather than expanding an existing section — or you can make an informed, professional case for keeping the piece as-is. I’m typically inclined toward the former, as it’s more diplomatic and gives you a better chance of working with that client again in the future. However, if you feel strongly that their suggestions would hurt the post’s chances of ranking well on Google, you can express that; again, just keep it professional.
After incorporating everyone’s feedback, proofing the post carefully for typos (or better yet, having someone else do it), and formatting with any images you want to include, you’re ready to submit and invoice the client! Once you’ve completed that first SEO post, every post hereafter should get easier… until you’re a bona fide SEO expert who’s writing your own guest posts for other bloggers about the SEO writing process. Good luck to all of you, and happy optimizing!
Tags: content marketing, content marketing clients, freelance, freelance rates, freelance writing tips, freelancer, guest post, search engine optimization, seo, six figure freelancing, writing advice, writing tips
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