When I tell friends and family that I write freelance for a living they all seem very impressed. Their eyes light up with interest and their smiles widen—like freelance writing is the coolest job anyone could have on the planet. So glam! Of course London writes freelance, am I right? They almost always have questions about who I write for, where I get my ideas, and how I find jobs. It all sounds so chic and interesting to them. But the reality? My freelance career is pretty mundane.
In the Shire, a Long Time Ago…
When I first started writing SEO based content I was still in college. I went to classes, did mounds of homework, attended a writing group, and felt like I was completely losing my mind. I was already working a part time job in accounting (choking sounds), and suddenly one of my group mates asked me if I wanted to write freelance for him. It sounded like The One Ring of Power to me too, back then.
Me: “Sure, if you think I am good enough.”
Him: “I’ve seen your stuff. You are good enough.”
Me: “What kind of writing?”
Him: “SEO based web content on a variety of topics.”
Me: “Um, ok. What is SEO content?”
Him: “Don’t worry, I will teach you.”
And he proceeded to give me assignments with super clear directions on keywords, how often I should use them, and what the content should look like. I wrote about spaghetti, going to the zoo, iPhone cases, and treadmills. I wrote coupon pages for pizza, and pasta. I wrote about a colon cleansing diet pill. By the end of school I had thought I had it down pat. I was basically tricking Google into thinking I had good content because I used certain words a certain number of times. No big! I felt as slimy as Gollum. But then, that was pretty much what SEO meant. To get that first slot in search engines, you just needed a lot of the right words—the right words in the right places.
Then this friend dissolved his company, but recommended me to someone else I could write for. I picked up another job, and another. I figured out how to use Elance.com. I picked up more jobs and got more direction along the way. Then I specifically wrote SEO content for an SEO company about what it meant to write SEO. It was crazy, and a little stressful, but I gleaned a ton of information about the craft. Here I am, almost 10 years later and SEO has changed dramatically. There is no tricking or sidelining anymore. Effective SEO is absolutely here to stay, and you better know how to do it right.
Effective SEO Rules for 2016
You cannot drive traffic by packing the right keywords in headlines and filling the rest of the content with shiz. Search engines are smarter now, and they won’t allow sites and pages to play dumb. Instead, if you want to join the fellowship, you have to follow these rules:
Back when I first started, the most you were looking for out of a page was to get “the click.” Now the search engines are the Eye of Sauron. They watch how visitors interact with your site to see if they come back, where they click, how long they are there, and if they find what they are looking for. It isn’t just the first click anymore, but the post-click activity that has more value. So your SEO content not only gets them there, but must also keep them there if you want to maintain your place at the top of the results page.
As said before, keywords were the be-all, end-all. Now, not so much. Instead search engines are good at interpreting meaning. So while it is still good to mention, “Horn of Gondor” on your page, if that is what you want to rank for, it isn’t the only set of keywords you should use. Google also looks for other words you might expect, like “death of Boromir,” or “Stewards of Gondor.” This gives the content authority and helps bring up rankings. Also, because 75% of queries are between three and five words, you might want to keep all headlines to that same length as well.
Original content ranks higher than ever. So images, videos, and text need to be the best possible content—things people want to read, like, and share. Ultimately, this means you need to care about what you are writing. Or at least care enough to keep it original, readable, and useful.
Another thing to note, longer articles get more attention. On average articles with 1,200 to 1,500 words rank higher on search engines than those with just 300. However, with so much text in one place, SEO writers need to break up the content. Most web-writing pros suggest you use sub-headings, bulleted lists, and more images. This makes them easier for readers to digest.
It isn’t just Pippin with a palantir in his pocket. Now, more than ever, people have a smartphone that goes with them everywhere. They use it to read news, check social media, find physicians. As such, Google not only needs to understand content on a website on a desktop, but also understand content within an app on a mobile device.
Of course there are more trends and more to it, but this is what SEO is right now. There are a few other things involving the rise of voice search and “direct answers,” but I will save those for another post, another time—if there is any interest. Basically, this is what I do as a freelance writer, and why SEO is still the King of Gondor, and why Sauron never wins. And yes, I am such a geek!