In the days before the Internet, freelance writers often picked up extra work by creating short factual pieces called 'fillers' for magazines and trade journals. These articles were usually between 250 and 600 words, which made them suitable for readers who skimmed pages for fast information. Today, many websites also use shorter pieces of fact-based content to attract and retain visitors. The hope is that visitors who view these articles will also participate in revenue-generating advertising methods such as Google AdSense. In order to generate more traffic to a particular website, however, the site needs to be ranked as high as possible by the various search engines.
This is where freelance writers often coordinate their efforts with Web-savvy designers and webmasters. A relatively new style of content writing called SEO has become very popular in recent years. SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, a technique used by website owners and webmasters to boost their rankings in search engines. Writing SEO articles requires some knowledge of how search engines rank individual websites, especially when it comes to keyword density and meta tags. Meta tags are pieces of code webmasters use to help search engines define each page. Within each meta tag are a list of keywords and key phrases related to the page's content. For example, if a webpage is devoted to singer Britney Spears, the meta tag might include 'Britney Spears, pop singer, musician, sexy, dancing'. A successful SEO writer can work for a number of clients willing to pay for this specialized service.
Here are some tips for writing fact-based articles according to the principles of search engine optimization.
- With SEO articles, the mantra is 'keyword density.' Search engines use a complex series of algorithms to rank websites, but one criteria they all use is keyword density. Keyword density refers to the number of times a common word or phrase is used in the content section of a web page. In order to receive a higher ranking in the search engines, SEO writers make every effort to use keywords and other common phrases as often as possible without deliberately overstuffing the article. SEO experts suggest that writers keep their keyword density between 5 and 10 percent, but others believe that a keyword density of 20 percent will still be effective. To give you some idea of how to stay within reason when writing SEO articles, imagine this paragraph's main key phrase was 'keyword density.' Count how many times that particular phrase was used, compared to the total number of sentences. Good SEO writing is about using keywords without disrupting the flow of the article.
- Do not use unrelated keywords for attention. One temptation with SEO articles is to attract more traffic with popular but unrelated keywords. Search engines do penalize webmasters for deliberately cramming unrelated keywords into their content. If your assignment is to create SEO content for a lawn care website, it does you no good to write sentences such as 'If Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears ever needed their yards mowed, Acme Lawn Care would be there in a second." This would be seen as a gimmick by most search engines, and the client would receive a much lower ranking as a result. When in doubt, use other words and phrases related to the main keyword. A better sentence in an SEO article would read "Whether it's a lawn mower, a sprinkler system or a hedge trimmer, Acme Lawn Care can handle all of your lawn care needs."
- Use shorter paragraphs than print-based articles. Internet users tend to skim web pages for specific information, which means they prefer not to wade through dense paragraphs. SEO articles should be factual and tightly written, with the most important information featured 'above the fold', meaning in the first screenful of text before scrolling. Think in terms of three or four sentences per paragraph, or even two sentences if the point is brief. Bullet points and numbers also help to break up SEO articles into more digestible pieces.
- Stay focused on the specific topic. Many SEO articles end up archived on encyclopedia-style web pages for future reference. It might help to think of each assigned piece as an entry in a large public compendium of knowledge. Achieving maximum keyword density is much easier when the topic is narrow and specific. SEO article writers need to be comfortable with incorporating significant amounts of research into the finished piece. Combining information from other sources into an SEO article is very common. The trick is to paraphrase and rework this existing material into a unique article created by the author. Website owners are often very concerned about copyright infringement, so they may employ several methods to insure originality and proper crediting of sources.
Some freelance writers find the transition from traditional to SEO article writing to be a challenge at first, especially the incorporation of keywords into the flow of the article. Professional SEO companies do offer training and educational materials on the specifics of SEO writing techniques, although many writers learn the basics through on-the-job experience. Many SEO content providers assign editors to work with beginning writers to improve their keyword densities and overall tightness of their articles.