For most freelance writers, the trend is turning more towards web based content than physical publications as more companies move into the digital realm with websites and social media.
While this doesn’t mean that the core of high quality writing should change in any way, there are some key differences between writing for the web and writing for traditional venues like newspapers and magazines. The biggest difference is the need to optimize the content for search engines, a process known as SEO.
This more than anything is starting to determine the value of a piece of writing, because its effectiveness is generally gauged by how many people are able to access it and find what they’re looking for.
Regardless of what specific type of web content an article is meant for, a basic knowledge of SEO is now critical for any freelance content writer.
However, as we roll farther into 2012 the specific SEO techniques are changing, not in the least due to the Google Panda updates that were put into effect in 2011.
It’s important to remember that SEO content isn’t about stuffing keywords in at random in an attempt to throw in a certain phrase as much as possible – that’s actually a good way to get your content ignored by Google completely.
With these changing SEO trends that we’re dealing with it’s a good time to take a step back and look at the most effective ways for freelance content writers to use SEO in 2012.
1. Use As Much Detail As Possible
In general, the longer and more detailed a post is the better it will be seen by the search engines. Google seems to have a love affair with lengthy posts that fully explain a topic. Content writers in the past have used 250-300 words as a good limit for articles and blog posts, but now a good upper limit is closer to 600-700 words.
The reason is that longer posts provide Google with more content, which in turn helps it get classified with greater accuracy. A comprehensive, in-depth 1,000 word article will be given more authority over a brief 250 word blurb, and as a result the page on which it is located will have a better chance of sitting higher in the rankings.
2. Optimize the Title Tag
There’s a lot of responsibility given to the title of an article. It needs to be catchy and exciting to snatch a reader’s attention. Most people browsing the web have a tendency to skim. When something leaps out and grabs them, they click through to that article.
Online writing requires yet another layer – the title has to be optimized so that search engines see value in it too. That means that you need to find the line between what’s captivating to a human reader and what’s relevant for a search engine. Search engines always like to see the main keyword for the article in the title.
3. Use Short Paragraphs with Headings
The behavior of the majority of the people on the internet has made a huge difference in how content needs to appear if it’s going to be read. Most people won’t take the time to peruse a giant block of text anymore – instead they skim through to find the specific information they’re looking for and jump back out just as quickly.
Breaking up your content into short blocks of information is the best way to ensure that more of it gets read. Even more effective is putting a bold heading at the top of the paragraph. This works like miniature titles throughout the article; a reader skims down through the page and stops at each heading because it grabs their attention for a second.
Search engines also give some weight to the <h2> or <h3> tags used to denote headings, but be sure you don’t abuse them. Some webmasters simply place their main keyword inside heading tags periodically throughout the page with no real relation to the paragraphs below them. Google dun’ like this, and they’ll slap you down hard if they catch you doing it. Use headings when they’re appropriate, but don’t go overboard.
4. Increase Your Social Media Presence
So you spend 2 hours writing an incredibly detailed, informative blog post, followed by another hour formatting it just right with an incredible title and short, spaced out paragraphs to keep your readers moving along. Whew! Time to sit back and admire your handiwork. Well, not quite yet…
Social media plays a huge role in the popularity of web content, which means you need to optimize for the Facebook and Twitter crowd now too. It’s no secret that the Google search algorithm has been going through a number of changes, and they recently announced that they are going to place more weight on links generated through social media sites when determining rankings. Freelance content writers have to keep this in mind when writing in 2012.
Putting the content out there is the first step to bringing social awareness to a page. The role of social media is on an upward trend that doesn’t appear to be leveling off anytime soon, so it’s imperative to keep this in mind when writing web content.
5. Keep Your Content Fresh
As a freelance writer myself, I know that most of us follow the same pattern with articles or web content – write it, and forget it. Google is on the lookout for fresh content, though, so for SEO purposes it pays to go back periodically and update your content.
Wikipedia is an excellent example of this; within hours of a huge event, the Wikipedia page is up to date with new content about what happened. It’s not surprising that they are near the top of most Google searches.
If you’re writing for an online news publication, it doesn’t hurt to keep your stories current when something new affects or changes what was written initially. Doing this just gives Google more content to use in their ranking determinations.