SEO Content Writing: Do You Land More Gigs If You Specialize?

Night before last, I received the following email from someone interested in the SEO Writing / Upwork Course e-class. Sometimes, when you’ve been doing for so long, you assume that some things are automatically known by everyone. That’s why I thought this was a very good question that those unfamiliar with writing SEO content might not know. Read more »

SEO Content Writers: What They Do, How Much They Earn, Skills Needed, Where the Jobs Are & More

As the founder/manager of an online (SEO) writing company, I receive questions all the time asking, “What is SEO writing?

Usually, the questions come from those who are interested in freelance writing as a career and have heard about “writing for SEO” or “writing SEO content,” but they don’t quite know what it is, the skills needed, the salary they can expect to earn, etc. This post will address all of these questions – and more.

SEO Content Writing: 3 Major Changes Since 2012

This post was first written in August of 2012. Here’s the updated version. Three of the biggest changes that have happened since then are:

  • How SEO content is written: No more keyword-stuffed copy; writing for the web is much more nuanced now;
  • Salary/rates: These have gone up — in some cases, significantly; and
  • Opportunity: Thanks to the popularity of content marketing, the need for qualified SEO writers is greater than ever, as so brilliantly explained in this post on Kissmetrics.

Read on for full details.

What Does “SEO” Mean?

First, a couple of things: (i) SEO is the acronym for search engine optimization; and (ii) SEO content writers are also known as SEO article writers, SEO copywriters, SEO writers, SEO content writers, digital writers, online writers, web copywriters, online content providers and search engine optimization writers (among a few other variations).

What Does a SEO Writer Do?

In simple layman’s terms, a SEO writer produces copy written in a particular way to increase a website/blog’s visibility in search engines.

There are specific guidelines they use to generate “search engine optimized” content.

And, these guidelines change from time to time, as search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing are constantly tweaking their algorithms in order to keep their search results relevant for web surfers.

Learn more about what SEO writing is.

Why SEO Copywriters are Necessary

Let’s explain by way of an example. Let’s say a client has a website about “organic recipes for vegetarians.” They want to show up on the first couple of pages of Google when a web surfer is looking for this type of information.

Why the first couple of pages? Because of the following:

90% of clicks on the first page of Google’s search results are made on organic links, and the other 10% go to paid ads.

What is more, only 8.5% of web traffic makes it past the first page. When broken down, each page receives the following traffic:

  • Page 1             91.5%
  • Page 2             4.8%
  • Page 3             1.1%
  • Page 4             0.4%

Searches that make up front page spots 6-10 are clicked on, combined, about 12% of the time. Compare that to the top three spots, which rake in 50+% of the clicks. [Source: Infront.com]

Editor Note: I’m ready to start my freelance SEO writing career right now!! Learn more about the course instructor,

Being on Page 2 or 3 of Google a Good Ranking?

While being on the first page is great, as these statistics prove, it is practically impossible for every page to achieve first-page results. There are only 10 results on the first page (the way most people have their browsers configure), so again, it’s impossible for every business shooting for a Page 1 listing to get there.

That’s why I believe that being anywhere on the first two to three pages is good — even though the amount of traffic is significantly less.

But Yuwanda, why would you say that? It doesn’t seem worth it to be on Page 2 or Page 3 of results. Nobody will find my business?

My answer to the question just above is this, when people are serious about making a purchase search, they are likely to dig deeper into results (ie, search past the first one or two pages of Google). I do. When you search, don’t you – if you’re serious about buying?

So being on Page 2 or 3 of Google will definitely bring you less traffic, but potentially more serious buyers. And again, not every business can be on Page 1 of Google. It’s a mathematical impossibility, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get found online. You can — and being on Page 2 or 3 isn’t so bad.

How SEO Writing Can Get You on Page 1 of Google

Now, back to the client who has a website about “organic recipes for vegetarians” and is striving to get on Page 1 of Google. Let’s say that right now, the highest this client’s website shows up in search results is on page 7 of Google. So, they may hire an internet marketing firm – who will employ an SEO writer – to produce copy that will help push their site onto the first page of Google.

The Type of Writing a SEO Content Writer Produces

There are many different types of content these profesionals produce – everything from web articles and blog posts, to SEO press releases and product descriptions.

FYI, the word “content” also includes photos, videos, slides and infographics. Web writers, depending on their employer, can be responsible for making sure that all of this is “SEO’d” before it’s uploaded to a website.

What Does “SEOing” a Piece of Content Mean?

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Identifying keywords and putting them in the proper places (eg, title/headline, subtitles, sprinkled throughout the copy, in anchor text, etc.)
  • Using long-tail keywords;
  • Knowing how to write clickable (aka clickbait) headlines;
  • Not keyword stuffing; and
  • Writing with “web content“rules in mind (eg, no chunky text, breaking text up with headlines that “guide the reader” to what they want to know quickly, writing shorter sentences, using links where appropriate, etc.).

Writing content for the web is different from producing it for other mediums. One reason is there’s so much content on the web. A good headline has to catch a web surfer’s eye before they will click, hence the need to be a good headline writer.

Also, web sufers tend to scan instead of outright read a piece of content. Hence, the need for SEO writers to know how to write “scannable” copy, instead of chunky blocks of texts that turns many readers off.

SEO CONTENT WRITERS: QUALIFICATIONS NEEDED

A good online writer knows all of these rules related to producing quality, search engine-optimized content, and employs them in every piece of content they produce. Speaking of employing rules, following are the skills needed for this profession.

(i) Foundational knowledge of SEO

You don’t have to be an SEO guru, but you must have a foundational grasp of what SEO is all about and how “content” fits into the overall scheme of it. This means knowledge of concepts like keywords, how to conduct keyword research, blackhat and whitehat SEO tactics, what themed content is, the impact of SEO updates like Google’s Hummingbird, etc.

(ii) Good communication skills

You will be responsible for communicating with clients and various departments/freelancers (eg, the web design department, the marketing department, the videographer) via phone and email about project particulars like deadlines, content needed, etc.

(iii) Excellent research skills

Usually, the SEO writer must conduct their own research for copy to be written, including conducting interviews with clients, forming angle pieces are to be written from, sourcing stats, etc.

(iv) Be organized

As a SEO copywriter, you’re pretty much given an assignment (whether you freelance or work full-time, in-house for a company) and are left alone to do it. So, you must be organized and self-motivated in order to meet deadlines.

SEO writing is a deadline-intensive profession. This is because a project can’t proceed beyond a certain point until the “copy / content” is produced. So the duties of many others depend on you meeting your deadlines.

Also, as a content provider, you’ll often be working on multiple projects at one time. If you freelance, this is particularly true. You may have standing orders from five different clients due in a span of three or four days, so the ability to keep it all straight – and attend to back-end office functions like billing – means that you have to be highly organized.

(v) Comprehensive writing ability

Many clients will expect you to write with certain guidelines in mind, eg, Chicago style or their own in-house style. Of course, copy must be grammatically and factually correct, suit the “tone” of the organization; have good editorial flow; and be informative/helpful to the end user.

(vi) The desire/ability to self-educate

Search engine optimization is mercurial; it is not a static field. As search guidelines constantly change, you have to be conscious of staying on top of what the latest rules and trends of the field are. This means bookmarking certain publications (eg, SeoBook.com, SearchEngineLand.com) and reading them on a regular basis.

Also, you should know about the latest SEO tools like keyword research tools, rank checkers, etc.

FYI, while learning SEO – and staying abreast of the changes in the industry — can seem overwhelming, it’s really not once you grasp the foundation of it. Then, much like reaching a goal weight when you diet, it’s just a matter of maintaining.

Writing for SEO: Industry Resources All Web Writers Should Know About

Following are 5 sites that you can consult to stay on top of what’s going on in SEO. Bookmark these for future reference.

  1. Google: Because it is the number one search engine — by far; as of this writing, returning almost 4 times as much traffic as its closes competitor, Bing. So when pople are talking about “optimizing a site for search engines,” Google is the one they’re really concerned with. And, who better to get the rules from than the people who make them, no?
  2. SearchEngineLand;
  3. SeoBook;
  4. SearchEngineWatch; and the
  5. Content Marketing Institute: This site talks about “content marketing;” not search, per se. But if there are significant changes that come down the pike that affect how web content should be written, it’ll be discussed on this site. And this is why every online writer should bookmark this as a go-to resource.

SEO Content Writers: Education Requirements

If you’re seeking a full-time, on-site position, some companies require a BA degree, usually in an English-related field like journalism, public relations, or communications, along with a few years of writing experience (eg, 2-4 years).

If you freelance, you’ll rarely be asked for a degree. Oftentimes, clients just want to know if you understand how to write SEO content. They may ask for references from other clients and/or writing samples to prove you CAN write this type of copy.

No Degree? No Problem When You Freelance

As an aside, when I first started writing SEO content, while I did list my educational background on my website, I didn’t in the marketing emails I sent out to clients. All most of them wanted to see were some SEO writing samples.

In fact, I landed my first client without any SEO writing samples. I pitched them on my experience as a real estate/mortgage writer. When they asked for samples, I sent them some articles I had that weren’t SEO samples. They liked them, but asked if I could “SEO” them. I did (to prove that I knew what SEO was), and got the gig.

FYI, in my SEO copywriting course, I discuss how to land gigs with no degree and no prior experience, and a whole bunch of other things you need to know to start this type of freelance writing career.

How Writing SEO Content Catapuled My Freelance Business to Another Level

This was with a search engine optinization firm in Canada. Over an 18-24 month period, I wrote hundreds of articles for them — if not a few thousand. They gave me so much work within the first couple of months that I had to hire help. That was in 2007.

Since then, I haven’t looked back. My freelance writing busincess took off like a rocket. I formed a full-service online writing company in 2008, and these days, it’s practically the only type of writing I do for clients.

Not only that, knowing how to write SEO content taught me more about how to market online — it’s different than traditional marketing in a lot of ways. Once I realized this, a whole new world opened up. I wrote and self-publsihed ebooks — and they sold! All because I knew the “tricks” to getting eyeballs on my site(s); ie, how to get found online.

Then, I created e-courses — and they sold. This gave me another stream of income that I’ve built over the years. These days, if I never land another freelance writing gig, I can survive just off the info products and services I’ve created and sell online. And all of this happened because I learned how to write SEO content. It’s that important if you do business on the web, in my opinion.

SEO Content Writing: Salary Expectations

I did some research, checking everything from what companies were offering for full-time, on-site SEO writers, to freelance job sites and those seeking article writers via free classified ad sites like Craigslist.

I’ve been tracking SEO content writing salaries since 2009, and let me tell ya, they are all over the place — just like most niches in freelance writing. I agree with an assessment of what a SEO writer can expect to earn on SeoJobsFinder, which puts it at between $35,000 and $75,000. The site sums it up in the following manner:

[SEO] Content Writer
$35,000 – $75,000
A great content writer is a critical part of an SEO firm, particularly with the focus on linkbaiting campaigns. Writers, like link builders, can grow in value over time, but since it requires a much less specialized knowledge, there is far more supply in the marketplace (hence the lower salary ceiling).

One caveat: As a freelancer, you can earn more because you can tailor your service offerings – and your rates – to achieve whatever income goals you may have. For example, social media account management is an easy add-on service that many online writers provide, and it can up an invoice by 25, 30 or 40 percent or more.

My firm offers it because since we already produce the content, it’s easy to offer to distribute it for a client. In my experience, 10 to 15 percent of your clients will take you up on this offer, if it’s priced right.

Factors that Affect SEO Content Writing Salaries

There are many elements that affect what an SEO writer is likely to be paid. Some of them are:

  • Types of projects (eg, blog posts, web content, press releases, etc.);
  • Niche you may specialize in (eg, medical, legal, fashion, finance);
  • Whether you freelance or work as a FT employee;
  • Years of experience;
  • Educational background;
  • Writing samples / writing ability;
  • Longevity of project (if you freelance);
  • Type of client/company you work for/with;
  • Marketing ability and consistency (if you freelance);
  • Location (this can vary greatly for an SEO writer in the Philippines from one in the U.S., for example); Note: Gain more insight into how to land SEO writing gigs as a “foreigner” (and really, aren’t we all in one form or another).
  • Etc.

Just be aware of all of this going in.

Cheap SEO Article Writing Gigs Disappearing?

This article was first published on August 16, 2012. When I updated it in 2017, one thing that’s changed over the years is that the rate for SEO writing jobs has definitely gone up. You used to see a lot of $3 for 500 words-type SEO writing jobs listed on sites like Craigslist.

While there are still a lot of these, a (still sucky) rate of $10 for $500 words is kind of a bottom-of-the-barrel rate these days. For those who are really serious about their brand and know they have to pay, $25-$35 seems to be the bottom rate, with $40 to $70 for 600 to 750 word articles somewhat of a norm.

Also, since 2012, long-form content has become a thing. Google ranks it higher, and hence more companies are investing it it. This means freelance SEO writers can — and are — charging more.

SEO Content Writer Interview Questions

If you’re applying for a full-time position, you’re going to be interviewed. Following are some questions you can expect to be asked:

  • What do you do to make your writing more SEO-friendly?
  • What are some SEO writing no-no’s?
  • What is a blackhat tactic?
  • How many 750 word articles can you produce in a day?
  • What is social media writing?
  • What are some SEO writing guidelines that should always be follow?
  • Do you know how to conduct keyword research?

These are right off the top of my head. If you’re applying for a freelance SEO writing position, most companies won’t ask you any questions at all ohter than:

  • How much do you charge?
  • Can I see some writing samples in my niche? and
  • What’s your turnaround time?

I ran across a great hub on Hubpages entitled, Content Writer Interview Questions and Tips. The writer had been interviewed 11 times in 14 days for this type of job. She listed some common interview questions you can expect, and gave the answers to them. Some of the questions include:

  • Do you know something about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?;
  • Why did you choose content writing as a career?; and
  • What do you know about Social Media Optimization (SMO)?

And here’s another article on Upwork regarding what employers want to know about writing SEO content, the #1 freelance job site today. Some of the questions they advise clients to ask freelancers is:

  • What do you do to make your writing more SEO-friendly?
  • How do you tell a credible source from a not-so-credible source? and
  • How do you make sure work gets done on schedule?

As you can probably tell from these two sources, clients who hire freelance writers are more concerned about getting work done on time and if the writer, indeed, knows how to write SEO content. Those looking for full-time writers go a little more in-depth.

How to Find SEO Writing Jobs: 3 Ways

1. Bid-for-Pay Sites

When I first wrote this article in 2012, here’s what I said about bid-for-pay sites:

Let me say up front, I have a personal dislike for sites like this. I find the pay to be too low, the competition too stiff and the demands from clients too outrageous to make it worth my time. For example, I ran across the following ad on one of these sites: Talented SEO Article Writer needed, $2 per 800 words article.

I no longer believe this. As the SEO industry has evolved, so have the service providers around it, and that means sites like Upwork. In the spring of 2015, Elance and oDesk merged to become Upwork. It’s now the largest freelance marketplace online.

While there are still a lot of low-paying assignments there, if you know how to “work the system,” you can make a fortune, as one freelancer — Laura Pennington — proved. She landed a $50,000 editing job there, has worked with hundreds of clients (yes, hundreds!), and gets retainers of $25K or more (yes, five-figure retainers)!

Laura is, obviously, a six-figure freelance writer. And how has she earned that much since starting her freelance writing career in 2012? By leveraging Upwork. It took her just 18 months to reach this level, and she teaches others how to do the same in her Guide to Killing it On Upwork as a New Freelancer course.

In fact, Laura and I partnered to offer our individual classes as one package. I dubbed it Learn, then Earn because you can learn how to write SEO content (my course), then start earning quickly by snagging gigs on Upwork with Laura’s system.

The need for online writers is so prevalent that our course offering was a natural fit because Upwork is one of the easiest places to find googobs of online writing gigs you can apply for. Thousands are posted there daily.

FYI, here’s a detailed post that Laura wrote outlining why newbies in particular might want to start their freelance writing careers out on Upwork.

2. Go Direct

If job sites aren’t your thing, one of the best ways to go about finding SEO writing jobs is to contact companies who may need your services directly. These include SEO companies, web design firms, digital marketing enterprises, etc.

This is what I did when I first started in 2007. I landed 14 gigs within a week or so. In my SEO writing course, I detail exactly how I went about it; included is the email I used, as well as a ton of other helpful advice.

3. Content Marketing Agencies

Another way is to sign up with content writing firms directly, eg, Constant-Content, ClearVoice,  Contently, Skyword,  and iWriter come to mind. There are new ones springing up all the time because content marketing is so hot.

As you can see, there’s no right or wrong way to find content writing jobs. Many freelancers utilize a multitude of marketing forms to get gigs. These days, most of mine come from referral, but I still query companies from time to time if I see something that is really appealing.

SEO Content Writing Is a Flexible, Work-from-Home Business

This is one of the reasons I love writing SEO content – it’s a business that can be run “on the go.” As an avid traveler, I’ve worked everywhere from a friend’s kitchen table in Minnesota; to an internet café in New York City; to a beachside bar in Jamaica.

In 2012 when this post was first written, there was an article on Yahoo’s education channel entitled, Switch Careers To Be Happier (it has since been taken offline), but it illustrated the flexibilty of  SEO writing as a career. It stated:

Having the flexibility to control your hours and design your work day doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.  … Though becoming an entrepreneur is far from easy, starting your own business is one way to give yourself more flexibility [and]. There are plenty of careers with flexibility built in.

Flexible Option #1 – SEO Writer: Understanding how you can target your copy to attract search engines and more eyeballs is what search engine optimization (SEO) writers do every day. Whether you’re freelancing or working from home at odd hours, flexibility is often a hallmark for SEO writers.

Majoring in subjects like English or creative writing is helpful, as is studying marketing and communications. According to a SimplyHired search in May 2011, the average salary for SEO writer positions is $60,000 (emphasis added).

I hope this in-depth post has answered many of the questions you may have about starting a freelance, SEO content writing business. With the advent of content marketing, the opportunities in this profession have exploded — and the salary has increased from around 56,000 in 2009, to almost $70,000 today.  And you can do it as a freelancer, or with the right qualifications, as a full-time employee.

Why There Will Always be a Need for SEO Copywriters

Learn more about why there’ll always be a need for professional SEO content writers (the points made in this post haven’t changed). And, good luck if you decide to pursue this fascinating career.


Note: Inkwell Editorial is the parent site of Seo Writing Jobs.