Starting Out

What is SEO, and Why Does it Matter for Writers?

When I broke into freelance writing, I was oblivious to all the technical jargon that exists in this industry. Between having to learn copywriting terms like call to action, branding, byline, and evergreen, there was this seemingly negligible acronym that kept cropping up: SEO.

Don’t be fooled. SEO is one of the most important concepts you’ll have to understand as a freelance writer. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, yes and no. To further complicate matters, SEO is a dynamic concept that’s always changing, and to a new writer, it can feel impossible to keep up.

What is SEO, and Why Does it Matter for Writers?

What’s SEO, Exactly?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In a nutshell, it’s the practice of manipulating content in a way that improves a site’s search engine ranking. This is the ultimate goal of any online marketer or blogger because increased search engine visibility translates to more visitors, which equals more revenue and a prominent Web presence.

How content is manipulated has evolved over the years, and approaches to SEO have had to change along with it. This is because search engines like Google are always updating their algorithms, which are the formulas that determine a website’s ranking.

What Does this Mean for Writers?

When I started freelancing, keyword stuffing was still a major SEO player, even though it was beginning to get a bad reputation as an unethical technique. If you’re not familiar with keyword stuffing, it’s probably a good thing, so let’s just say it involves a lot of repetitive words and phrases that can make content difficult to read. It was also a pain to write. Google soon developed better search algorithms, and the keyword stuffing technique was on the outs, which lead to some websites being banned from search engines for continuing to utilize it.

I say all this to offer a piece of advice for newbies: be willing to stay up to date with the ever-changing rules of SEO. You never know when a method you’ve gotten used to will become obsolete. Clients may also be resistant to change and request outdated SEO methods. It’s up to you to stay informed so you can provide them with quality content that makes sense by today’s standards.

SEO Basics

Today’s best SEO advice is to write for your audience. This means creating effective, engaging content with quality links that people will want to read and share. Modern search engine algorithms look for high-quality content, so you’ll want to focus on:

  • Optimal keywords. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What search terms would you enter if you were looking for the kind of content you’re creating? Include these keywords in the page URL, headline, and body of the article, but do so naturally. In other words, don’t stuff!
  • A strong title. Users are more likely to click on something that catches their eye, so get creative. You don’t necessarily have to create a clickbait headline, but it should generate interest. Always deliver the promise you make in your headline.
  • Link building. Search engines crawl the web looking for a number of things, but a relationship between sites is a biggie. Linking your content to quality websites is a great way to increase a page’s value and relevance, which can boost its ranking. Just make sure you’re building links ethically as Google looks down upon spammy practices.
  • Quality images. Search engine optimization isn’t just about text. Relevant images generate a ton of traffic from search results (think Google Images), so use your keywords in your file names and image captions for maximum exposure.

Why Does it Matter for Freelance Writers?

With how complicated and dynamic SEO can be, you may want to ignore it altogether. But even when you think it doesn’t matter, it does. First, you’ll use SEO techniques when writing for your clients, and you’ll want to make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest rules and algorithms to maximize your content’s potential.

But what if you don’t write online content? What if you’re, say, a magazine writer? Then it’s still a smart idea to market your services online, and a writer website can help you do that. Understanding and using SEO techniques can boost your own search engine rankings and therefore increase your client base.

Much more can be said about today’s accepted approach to SEO — in fact, there are entire books written on the subject — but as long as you have a grasp of the basics, you’re well on your way!

When Jennifer McKnight realized it was more fun playing with words at 3 am than holding down a traditional 9-5, she set up a home office and never looked back. Though her educational background is in creative fiction writing, she's been able to use her creativity to develop content for businesses across industries. Find out what Jen's currently up to at

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You had me at “hello.” Your first sentence encapsulates exactly what I am going through right now. Thanks so much for a clear, informative piece on SEO!Reply to Lisa
Your post is a wonderful introduction to SEO. I especially like that you mentioned images as an SEO content tactic. Many writers seem relunctant to add images and videos too, even though many studies indicate that readership increases up to 60 percent with their use. Thanks for a great read!Reply to alan
Jennifer, Great intro to SEO editorial. I’m learning more an more about it and about SMO, or social media optimization. Many new businesses are seeking a writer that can generate traffic from both search engines and social media. So, knowing how to integrate semantic industry related keywords effortlessly while still generating buzz on the big social media platforms, will help you secure more writing gigs. Thanks for the intro!Reply to Elna
Thanks Elna! I’ve also been learning a lot about SMO and ASO (app store optimization) this year. Things change so fast in this industry, but at least it keeps things interesting!Reply to Jennifer
Anyone who writes for online publication should learn at least the basics of SEO. It’s kind of surprising just how far you can get with just a basic understanding of how search engine rankings work — I think a lot of people avoid it because it can get very complicated, arcane, and jargony very quickly. This post is a great place to start. Look for “SEO 101” and “SEO basics” guides, and it’ll help a LOT!Reply to KeriLynn
Nice, easy-to-understand answer. Thanks for sharing with us, Jennifer!Reply to Alicia