How to Break into SEO Writing as a Freelancer: Advice for a Newbie

Last Friday, I received the following question from a new SEO writer. He’s made a little bit of money, but is struggling on the marketing end a bit (very common BTW) and wanted some insight. He wrote:

Currently, I’m trying to break into SEO writing, I have a few clients and have made around $200 so far, but I’ve also sent over 400 emails! Ahh!

I’m thinking about buying ‘How to Make $250+/ Day Writing Simple, 500-Word Articles’. I already have my website up, but I’m having trouble finding high-paying clients.

Most responses I’ve gotten so far think I charge too much and that $10 per article is better. Do you think this guide will help me? Or is the SEO writing market just too saturated?


SEO Writing Advice for New Freelancers


I wrote back to him, saying:

First, thanks for writing in and considering our products. Much appreciated!

In answer to your question, without knowing a lot of intangibles (eg, how you market, how often, your writing ability, your rates, etc.), it would be impossible for me to say if the SEO writing ebook will help you.

I have addressed the question of “is the market oversaturated” on before. Here’s the post: It contains some key insights that may help.

Good luck with your online writing career. Just know, there’s plenty of work out there. You just have to be very proactive in consistently going after it.

A Bit More Insight: 5 Tips on How to Land High-Paying SEO Writing Jobs

I just want to shed a bit more light on this, because it seems that so many struggle with marketing for freelance writing jobs.

Editor Note: Wondering if freelance writing is a viable career option for you? Take the Freelance Writer’s Assessment Test. It’ll give you some great insight upon which to make an informed decision.

1) Be proactive (not reactive) with your marketing: This means consistently marketing – not hit-and-miss marketing, as was discussed so eloquently in this post by Lizz Shepherd.

2) Get Specific: As in, take the time to tailor your marketing pieces to whatever specific job you’re apply for; don’t just send a blanket email.

3) Target a niche: I’ve talked about this until it seems I’m blue in the face. Carving out a niche for yourself as a freelance writer not only means you can charge more for your specialized knowledge, you earn more because it cuts down on the amount of research time you spend on each piece of content.

You see, when you consistently write within a genre, you learn it inside and out. You know where to go for stats, quotes and other pertinent info. All of this adds to your bottom line as a specialist, instead of a generalist.

4) Never Let’em See You Sweat: To borrow a phrase from the Dry Idea deodorant commercial people. As I said, there’s plenty of work out there:


According to a study by Content Marketing Institute in 2012, more than 68% of Chief Marketing Officers of B2B companies planned on increasing their content marketing budget this year. And they have by almost 10%. . . . [and] 62% of companies today outsource their content marketing — that’s up 7% from last year! [Source:]

These stats DIRECTLY affect how companies are spending their online marketing dollars – and who benefits from it. And in a lot of cases, it’s freelancers.

As the uber-popular online marketing and social media specialist Jeff Bullas says on his blog in the post, Unlocking the Secrets to Finding Great Writers to Produce Your Content:

Finding writers isn’t easy, and finding good writers is exponentially harder. It’s much easier to retain a good writer once you have him, than it is to find another one once he moves on to greener pastures. Find yourself a writer that produces above average content and do whatever it takes to keep him happy. In the age of content marketing, it’s a writer’s world; we’re just living in it.

Or put another way, “Dude . . . we’re kingmakers!”

5. Check Job Listings: Every Monday, we provide a list of freelance writing job leads on, this site’s parent site. Don’t forget to check in.

Hope you’re having  a good one!

P.S.: Earn Thousands Extra Per Month by Offering Social Media Account Management Along with Your SEO Writing Services

How to Become an SEO Consultant

P.P.S.: FYI, did you know that the average salary of SEO writers increased by $10,000 in a 7-month span (Sept 2012). It did! Proof?

SEO Content Writer Average Salary, Fall 2012

Remember, when you learn how to write SEO content, you learn so much more than this one skill because it gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your life.


Insight into How One Freelancer Grew Her SEO Writing Business to the Point Where She Quit Her 9 to 5

This past Monday, I received the following post on New Media Words’ Facebook page from a freelancer who had grown her freelance SEO content writing business to the point where she quit her full-time job. Monday was the first day of her “independence,” so to speak. Here’s the actual note she sent me . . .

I just wanted to thank you for all of your advice over the past year and featuring so many of my questions on your blog. I am happy to say today is my first day working totally for myself! I recently read your book about signs its time to leave your full time job and it spoke to me so much!

4 Things This Freelancer Did Right That Allowed Her to Make the Transition from Her Full-Time Job to Freelancing Full-time

I’ve been corresponding with this freelancer for probably a year/year and a half. I went back through some of the emails she sent me, and following are some insights I wanted to share about her success with you.

Freelancing: 4 Tips on How to Transition from Your Full-time Job to Freelancing Full-time
1. She Got Started: Although this is a basic, it’s the hardest step for many. They may research career opportunities until the cows come home, but they never pull the trigger on anything. If you stay stuck at the starting gate, that’s just where you’ll be – ie, stuck – stuck in a career you hate; stuck living a life you’re unhappy with; stuck not pursuing your dreams.

As I wrote in the post, Freelance Business Advice: “I’m Planning My Exit from the 9-5 Work World? Should I Take a Class If I Have Very Little Experience Freelancing?:

If you want to freelance, all you have to do to get started is take some kind of TANGIBLE action. The reason I capitalize tangible is because just doing “research” online is not doing something. You have to do something that moves you out of your comfort zone and that you have to MAKE time for, eg, start learning how to build that WordPress blog, sign up for that SEO writing class, start putting together your writing portfolio, etc.

When you take tangible action like this, you start to get invested in – and hopefully excited about – the goal of starting your own freelance business. Once you take this first step, it’s usually much easier to take the second, then the third – and before you know it, you’ve landed that first client and are on your way.

But, if you don’t take tangible action that moves you out of your comfort zone, you’ll probably never start freelance and will forever be waiting until “x”.

2. She Sought Help: As I said, I’ve been corresponding with this freelancer for a while now. She’d send in questions as she encountered problems along the way, and when possible I’d answer them.

Some advice I’ve responded to involve how to handle clients who don’t pay; outsourcing work to other freelancers; what to put on a freelance writing website; and ebook marketing.

The mistake many freelancers make is not starting their freelance career until they “have all the answers.” That will never happen. You’re going to encounter situations where you won’t know what to do. Reaching out and asking for help from more experienced freelancers is one of the best ways to get the answers you need.

Note: Realize that everyone you reach out to may not get back to you quickly (or at all); successful freelancers are busy freelancers. But, there are tons of online freelance writing forums where you can find answers you need. Following are a few.

Popular Freelance Writing Forums

Facebook4Freelancers: It is “a place for freelance writers to find researched jobs and to network with other writers. Managed by Brian Scott of Page has over 22,000 likes as of this writing.;; and


Regular Guest Posters Wanted: Here are the details. Note: is this site’s parent site. Posts you submit may be published here, or on Inkwell Editorial.

3. She Formulated a Plan – and Worked It: Growing a business to the point where you can afford to quit an existing job doesn’t just happen overnight. You must have a plan to achieve a lofty goal like this. And, while this freelancer didn’t tell me that in her email, I know she had one because she did it – and it didn’t take five or 10 years.

This is why I advise all freelancers to have a life plan. Without one, you will constantly be churning your wheels; never getting anywhere. A life plan is that map – that map that keeps you on the road to your destination (fulfilling your dreams).

4. She Did Two Things at Once: While it may be exhausting, achieving a dream more often than not means doing two things at once. As I explain in the post, Freelance Advice: How to Transition from a Job into Freelancing Full-time and/or From Writing for Clients to Writing for Yourself:

For a while, you’re probably going to be burning the candle at both ends. I did this for about a year – working on client projects mostly during the day, then in the evenings and on the weekends I worked on my stuff.

I worked all the time it seems because I had to keep all my financial balls in the air to be able to meet my monthly obligations (mortgage, utilities, car insurance, etc.). If you can live rent free, or have a spouse to support you, or can tap a 401K or other savings, then you might not have to do this. But I didn’t have many options, so I did what I had to do.

Obviously, this freelancer was working a full-time job while she was building freelance business on the side.

Related Post: Starting A Freelance #Writing Business: 5 Habits Of Successful Freelancers


As this freelancer’s success illustrates, building an SEO writing business to the point where you can quit your full-time job is not a pipe dream; it’s a reality.  And it’s something anyone can do – if they’re willing to put in the work.

Share Your Thoughts?

Is freelancing full-time a goal for you? What do you think is stopping you from achieving this goal? If you’ve successfully transitioned, what advice can you share to help others? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below.

Personally Speaking . .  .

Now that jury duty is over, I can get back to regular work.

This was my third time serving on a jury – if you ever have occasion to do it, do so (even though I grumbled about it all the way). It gives you a first-hand look at the American judicial system, which happens to be the best in the world (not perfect, but as close to it as one can get IMO).

How’d the case go? I was chosen as jury foreperson. We found defendant not guilty on all three counts. Being around the legal system made me wished I’d gone on to law school (as I’d planned), or finished my Masters in Criminal Justice. The law still fascinates me.

Hope your week is going well.


P.S.: Earn Thousands Extra Per Month by Offering Social Media Account Management Along with Your SEO Writing Services

How to Become an SEO Consultant

P.P.S.: FYI, did you know that the average salary of SEO copywriters increased by $10,000 in a 7-month span (Sept 2012). It did! Proof?

SEO Content Writer Average Salary, Fall 2012

Remember, when you learn how to write content for search engines, you learn so much more than this one skill because it gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your life.


Freelance SEO Content Writers: 6 Things You Need to Do to “Penguin Proof” Your Writing Samples

I was conversing with a new SEO writer a few days ago. She’d taken the SEO copywriting e-course about a year ago and wanted answers to some last-minute questions before she officially opened the doors of her freelance writing business (which is today!). Note: Good luck Jen!

Anyway, as I was giving her feedback, I noticed that her writing samples didn’t reflect the changes that went into effect with Google’s most recent algorithm update, ie, Penguin 2.0.

Google Changes Its Algorithm – a Lot!

FYI, this is one reason it’s important to get properly trained as an SEO writer – and to stay abreast of the industry because Google changes its algorithm all the time. How often?

SEO Writing Samples: 6 Changes to Make Post-Penguin 2.0
According to the search giant itself, it makes between 500 and 600 changes per year to it. So, even though we only hear about the major ones (like Penguin and Panda), just know that it doesn’t mean nothing is going on. Things are constantly changing in search engine optimization, which means that it’s imperative for online writers in particular to stay on top of their game professionally.

BTW, here’s a list of all of Google’s algorithm changes (it’s worth it to bookmark this page and check it frequently).

How to “Post-Penguinize” Your SEO Writing Samples: 6 Changes to Make

Following are six things to check your writing samples for. You can use the same ones, just make sure that you change the following to stay in compliance with the most recent SEO writing guidelines.

I. Check Your Titles and Subtitles: Be sure not to overuse the same keyword; vary them – use secondary and tertiary keywords to get some variety.

II. Check Your Anchor Text: While using a keyword for anchor text is still recommended, I’d stay away from grammatically incorrect keywords (eg, exact match anchor text).

The reason is, a lot of exact match anchor text contains spelling and/or grammar errors. But, this doesn’t stop a lot of webmasters from using them (spammers in particular) because they get a lot of searches. Now Google is cracking down on rewarding content that has exact match anchor text.

III. Check Your Keyword Density: FYI, this is a concept that is dead in SEO writing. So if you targeted a certain keyword phrase in your writing sample and repeated it, for example, 8 times in a 500-word article, go back and rewrite it.

Generally accepted wisdom these days is that keyword density should be in the 1-2% range. And again, this is no longer something that’s discussed when it comes to writing SEO content because it’s not something you should be actively striving for.

Nowadays, the copy my firm produces is mostly themed SEO content and a rule of thumb I use to achieve the industry-accepted 1-2% keyword density naturally is NOT to repeat a keyword phrase more than once every 100 to 150 words.

IV: Cite a Source(s): Why is this important? As I wrote in the article, SEO Writing Post-Penguin 2.0 Checklist: 10 Things to Check Before and After Hitting “Publish:

Google wants to return “usable, credible” results for web surfers and this goes to the issue of quality when it comes to content. Citing authority sources gives your content more credibility, which makes it more likely to be usable to the end user.

A note about citing sources: When you write for clients, they’re most likely not going to want you to link out to sources that are going to be competitors. So when you cite sources, be sure to use industry organizations, not other businesses.

For example, if I was writing for a realtor, I would not link out to an article on a competitor’s site – even if it did contain great info.

I would, however, link out to articles on the National Association of Realtor’s website or the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. That’s because these are highly regarded industry associations that don’t compete with any realtor – they are a resource for ALL of them. See what I mean?

V. Create Your Google Author Profile: I explain why this is important in the post, What Is SEO Writing in a Post-Penguin 2.0 World? What Online Writers Need to Know to Stay on the Right Side of Google, writing:

Google authorship is really, really important to the search giant. They want to know who you are. Hence, make sure you have created your Google author profile and use it in the bio section of your guest post so the search giant can verify – and give credit to – you/your brand.

How does this help? Think of it as creating your web footprint. For example, if you see an article written by Joe Schmoe at The New York Times, you know that he’s a reputable writer, right? You probably don’t question his credentials and you can find stuff written by him all over the web.

Same thing with your profile. If you create great content regularly in your niche that gets shared a lot, Google wants to give credit to you. They’ll ostensibly reward your content appropriately in search results when it shows up because you’re (and your blog are) a “verified”, reputable content producer.

The web writing samples you create and post to your site will be indexed by Google and other search engines. By creating your Google Author Profile, you decrease the chance that content thieves (or heaven forbid, potential clients) can steal your samples and claim them as their own.

VI: Check Grammar/Spelling: While this is obvious, I’m still amazed at the number of writing samples I receive from freelance SEO writers who pitch me that have grammar/spelling mistakes.

I tend to be pretty lax on things like guest posts that have an error or two here or there. To me, they’re a sign that you’re a busy writer – and you just can’t catch everything if you’re writing 3,000 or 5,000 or more words per day. I speak from personal experience here, which is why I’ve adopted this attitude.

But your writing samples are a whole other ball of wax. They should be letter perfect. See #5 in this list of SEO writing guidelines, which were inspired by Google’s Panda update in 2011.

Spend some time on this list. In my opinion, it summarizes beautifully the quality we should all try to achieve as web writers.

Note: How would you like to train for a career where you can earn $50,000 to $75,000 per year? As an SEO content provider, you can earn this (or more) — all from the comfort of home. Proof? The average salary for SEO writers increased by $10,000 in a 7-month span; it now stands at $66,000!

Related Post: FYI, learn three reasons you should update your SEO writing samples.

Share Your Thoughts?

Have you made changes to your SEO writing samples since Penguin 2.0 went into effect in May? Are there any other changes you’d add to the list? How has business been since the changes took effect? Please share in the comments section below.


P.S.: Earn Thousands Extra Per Month by Offering Social Media Account Management Along with Your SEO Writing Services

How to Become an SEO Consultant

Hiring Freelance SEO Writers / Independent Contractors: Which Tax Forms Do I Need?

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs/articles, you’ve read the story of how — when I first started my SEO writing career in 2007 — I got so busy within the first couple of months that I had to hire outsource help. It’s the one thing I love about this type of writing – the work can come “fast and furious,” to borrow a movie title.

When you hire others to help you in your freelance business, it opens up a whole new world of necessary paperwork; namely dealing with the IRS. And if you don’t do it right, you can wind up in big trouble with Uncle Sam if you don’t do things right, as I found out one year when I owed a whopping $17,000 in taxes.

This post was inspired by a question from another freelance writer recently asking me about this.

Her email disappeared from my folders, or I would have copied it verbatim, but basically she wanted to know if she needed to issue a W9 or 1099 to those she hired. Note: The following info is for those required to pay U.S. taxes. The issue of hiring foreign contractors is addressed briefly here as well though.

Hiriing Freelance Help: Insight on IRS Forms W9 and 1099

Hiring Freelance Help: The Difference between a 1099 and a W9

One form (a W9) is what the freelancer will give you at the beginning of your working relationship; the other (a 1099) is what you will issue them at the end of the tax year. Following is the difference.

What is a W9 Form?

The W-9 form gets the information employers need from freelancers to correctly issue a 1099 at the end of the tax year. On it, the freelancer / independent contractor will fill in their name, address and Social Security number or Tax ID (EIN) number. Here’s what a W9 Form looks like.

These forms are free (all federal U.S. Tax Forms are) and you can get all of them from the IRS’s website and

FYI, I’m asked for this form from clients my SEO writing company does business with. So I keep a signed one on file as a pdf; that way when I’m asked for it, I can easily send it along.

Penalties for Submitting Incorrect Info on a W9

Penalties for submitting incorrect info can range from $50 to $500, depending on if the IRS feels it was intentional or not.

If they feel that it was an honest mistake that was not intended to defraud the government, the fine is only $50 as of this writing. In cases where it’s evident that it was done to deceive and/or defraud the government, not only could you be subject to a $500 fine, you could be also face jail time.

Learn more about W9s and the penalties for not filling one out and/or filling it out incorrectly.

What Is a 1099?

This is the form that an employer issues to a freelancer / independent contractor at the end of the tax year to show how much they paid them. Here’s what a 1099-MISC Form looks like.

At the time of this writing, if you as a freelancer / contractor earn more than $600 in wages/compensation from any one employer/source, you are required to report that income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – on which you will be taxed.

Should You Issue 1099’s to Freelancers Even if You Pay Them Less Than $600 per Year?

Here’s a follow-up question I received about the $600 limit.

I just hired 10 new writers and had no idea what to do! I 1099 everyone right.? Even if they make less than $600?

And the answer is, yes, you should get W9s and send out 1099’s to every freelance writer you hire, even if you pay them less than $600. And the reason is, you don’t want to have to pay taxes on this money yourself. Now, whether or not they report the less-than $600 you pay them to the IRS is up to them (they’re not required to). But as a business person hiring freelancers, it’s just good business practice to get in the habit of issuing a 1099 to every independent contractor you hire.

Penalties for Filing a 1099 Late

If you fail to issue 1099’s to freelancers/independent contractors you hire, you must pay a penalty, which ranges from $30 to $250 per form ($500,000 maximum per year), depending on how long past the deadline you issue them. These were the following penalties as of tax year 2012:

$30 penalty for filing a 1099 not more than 30 days late;

$60 penalty for filing more than 30 days late, but before August 1;

$100 penalty for after August 1st;

$250 penalty for intentional failure to file.

Remember, these penalties are per infraction (per form).

FYI, most independent contractors won’t claim the income you paid them if you don’t issue them a 1099, so the IRS will never know.

HOWEVER, again, that’s income that YOU will have to pay taxes on. And if by chance one of them does report the income and you haven’t issued a 1099, then the IRS will come looking for you (never a good thing!) – and who knows what else they may find if they do – not that you’re doing anything wrong, right?

So, just do the right thing and get in compliance by asking for and issuing the correct forms from jump, ok?

Why It’s Important When Hiring Freelance Help to Get a W9 & Issue a 1099

This is why it’s important for you as the hiring entity (employer) to get a W9 from a freelancer when they start working from you. You have all the info you need to report that income you paid out to the IRS.

If you don’t report to the IRS that you paid out this income to a freelancer/independent contractor, it will count as income YOU earned and you will have to pay taxes on it (instead of the freelancer).

This means your tax bill could be higher and/ or tax refund lower.

Hiring Foreign (Non-U.S.) Freelance Outsource Help

“I need to issue a 1099 to a foreign subcontractor. Do I still send out a W-9 Form?”

No. Form W-9 is used to gather information only from US persons and businesses. If you have a foreign contractor working for you, that person will need to fill out one of the several Form W-8 documents. Forms in the W-8 series are designed to indicate how much, if any, of payments made to a foreign person or business should be withheld for US income taxes.  [Source:, What’s Form W-9?]

Outsourcing: The #1 Way to Grow Your SEO Writing Business

While dealing with the IRS is something most of us try NOT to do, it’s a necessary part of growing your SEO writing business – and it’s a heck of a lot easier than dealing with employees (where you issue W2s and are responsible for a whole host of things you don’t have to worry about when dealing with independent contractors).

And, hiring others to help you with your business is one of the surest signs that you’re growing. That’s another wonderful thing about this type of freelance business – you can grow it as large or keep it as small as you want. It’s all up to you!

Related Posts

How to Outsource SEO Writing Jobs So You Earn More as a Freelance Writer: The Ultimate Guide

An SEO Writer Asks, “Is it a good idea to be a freelancer who only takes on outsourced jobs from other freelancers?”

Learn more about hiring outsource help in The Freelance Writer’s Outsource Package, and . . .

Happy Independence Day to my American friends!


P.S.: Get 25% off the SEO Content Writing Package thru this Sunday, the 7th.

P.P.S.: FYI, did you know that the average salary of SEO copywriters increased by $10,000 in a 7-month span (Sept 2012). It did! Proof?

SEO Content Writer Average Salary, Fall 2012

Remember, when you learn how to write search engine-optimized content, you learn so much more than this one skill because it gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your life.

P.P.P. S.: Avoid freelance writing dry spells by making extra money as an affiliate marketer: Learn how to make money online fast ($50-$150/day) in the best-selling ebook, How to Make Money Placing Ads on Free Classified Ad Sites.

Copyright © 2013: All material on this site is copyright protected and cannot be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the editor’s written consent (linking to is fine).