Podcast Episode 5: SEO for Freelance Writers – Attracting the Right Kind of Attention with Onsite SEO
Here is episode 5 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast. In this episode we discuss on-site SEO, i.e. the things that freelance writers can do on their professional websites to attract the best kind of search engine attention.
Have a listen, and let us know what you think!
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We always try to provide a transcript, to make the podcasts as accessible as possible, so here is the transcript of this episode.
Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode Five of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, where two freelance writers talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and there you can find all the links you need. You can subscribe to the RSS feed, you can subscribe at iTunes and Stitcher Smart Radio. There’s also a link to our Facebook page. I’m Philippa Willitts…
Lorrie: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today we’re going to be talking about how to improve your SEO. So this is SEO for freelance writers, and how to make sure your website’s attracting the right kind of traffic.
Philippa: So keep listening for tonnes and tonnes of information. Before we start, we wanted to mention that we’ve had amazing feedback from the last episode. Looks like talking about being asked to work for free really touched a nerve with a lot of people. And it wasn’t even just writers and editors – we even heard from a professional cake decorator on Twitter who was asked to bake and decorate a cake in return for the ingredients. Like we talked about, she felt her skills were really devalued, just being asked to do that.
Lorrie: Well, you would if someone’s suggesting that years of study and expertise is worth the same as a few eggs and some flour. You’d feel pretty ticked off by that, I’d imagine.
Philippa: Exactly – I’m good at baking cakes but I’m useless at decorating them. It’s really hard!
Lorrie: No, mine always end up an absolute disaster zone, so I generally end up going for the rustic, undecorated cake.
Philippa: Yes, deliberately.
Lorrie: Of course, yes. Through choice! I’m actually in talks with a number of writers and copywriters at the moment on the subject of working for free and being asked to work for free, so I’m pretty sure that, listeners, this won’t be the last you hear on the subject from us.
Philippa: It will go on and on, because it’s an issue that goes on and on – that’s the thing.
Lorrie: It does go on and on! I was asked, just after recording this, whether I’d be happy to translate 26 pages from French to English on a military skirmish!
Philippa: I saw the tweet – it was horrifying!
Lorrie: In return for gratitude!
Philippa: And then he posted another tweet, saying something sarcastic about, “Oh, it looks like translators are trying to earn some money!” as though that’s a really unreasonable thing for them to want to do.
Lorrie: Yeah, I think his tweet was something along the lines of, “I didn’t realise there were so many cash-strapped translators out there!”
Philippa: That’s it!
Lorrie: I’m not strapped for cash – I just don’t want someone taking the mickey!
Philippa: And then he was really passive-aggressive, like “Oh, I suppose I’ll have to do it myself now…”
Lorrie: “It won’t be very good, but I guess it’s the only way.”
Philippa: You can’t be upset that other people won’t do it if you’re then going to complain that you have to do it.
Lorrie: Well this is it – it’s not even our work, is it? You don’t want to do your own work for free, but you then expect someone else to do it for free – it’s just ludicrous. I listened again to Episode 4, and the number of times I used the words ‘ludicrous’ and ‘ridiculous’ was…well, ridiculous!
Philippa: Both of us are quite bad at ‘definitely’ and ‘absolutely’ as well. We should just pick one at the beginning of each episode.
Lorrie: What, a word to include or a word to ban?
Philippa: A word to include. Every time we agree, we should say, “Indubitably” for the whole episode.
Lorrie: I think I’m going to avoid doing that.
Philippa: Really? You’re no fun.
Lorrie: I know, I’m a drag…anyway, what I was going to say before we went off on one of our now famous tangents, is that, listeners, if you do have a story or opinion you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you. You can find all our contact details at the bottom of the page at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com
Philippa: Do it – we want to hear from you. Now, today we’re going to talk about SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimisation, and whether you’re British or American depends on how you spell it; we spell it with an ‘s’. It describes the things that a website owner can do to help their site to show up in the search engine results. This is increasingly important because, the higher you up in the search engine results, the more clicks you are likely to get for people who search for relevant terms to your business.
Lorrie: That’s right – after all, nobody wants to search for a copy-writer in their area – either their geographical area or their area of expertise, or the subject they want covering – and find you, the perfect person, eight pages down in the search results! They’re not going to look that far down, so you need to make sure you’re easily spotted.
Philippa: Yes, there are statistics that I don’t have my hands on right at the moment, but basically, if you’re number one, you get 60% of the clicks, then #2 and #3 get 20% and 20%. After that, it’s mainly hopeless.
Now, there are two types of SEO – on-site SEO and off-site SEO. So, first of all, we’re going to talk about “on-Site SEO”. This means the things you on your website to help Google and other search engines to understand what your site is about. This includes the content you post and how you post it, and a few other ‘behind the scenes’ things that can be a bit annoying but are definitely worth doing.
Lorrie: That’s right – we’re going to focus on some of the easiest and most effective techniques for SEO in this podcast.
Lorrie: Because there are people who make a career out of telling you that they have a magic recipe to get your website to the number one spot on Google and keep it there, but at the end of the day, there are about 1,000 things you can try and you’d spend all day at it if you’re not careful. Or, you can end up paying someone a fortune to do it for you.
Philippa: Because, also, there are very reputable SEO companies but lots of really dodgy SEO practices that will not only not help, and will waste your money, but they can actually damage your site’s position in the search engine rankings. So even if you just have an understanding of what’s needed and you still decide to go with an SEO company, you can still question them in relation to what needs doing.
Philippa: Now, to build a website, there are lots of different content management systems – or CMSs – you can use: WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, that kind of thing. We are both most familiar with WordPress, so this next bit is mainly relevant to that.
If you do use WordPress for your site, there are lots and lots of free plugins available to help you manage your on-site SEO. They will mainly help you to create the right tags and description for every page of your site, so that the search engines have a clear idea of what your intentions are.
My current favourite SEO plugin, and it’s a very well regarded one, is called WordPress SEO by Yoast, which is spelt like ‘toast’ but with a ‘y’. Now, this plug-in is really comprehensive, and it can look a bit intimidating at first but it has instructions are clear to follow. The other bonus with this particular plug-in is, because it covers several areas of SEO, it also avoids the need for having several different plugins all doing different bits of it, because plug-ins can sometimes clash and slow your site down, so the fewer you have, the better, generally. If you use other plugins other than that one, you want to make sure that they will help you to firstly, set meta tags for your posts and pages; secondly create a sitemap and thirdly control how the outbound links from your site – so the links that you place to other places – are perceived by the search engines.
Now, what those things exactly mean would be too complex to go into for this podcast, but in the show notes at the Podomatic page, I will add some links that will explain what all that means. For now, you just need to know that that’s what needs to be done, really.
Lorrie: The transcript for this post will be available as well, so you’ll be able to look through it and find exactly what we’ve been talking about.
Philippa: Good point.
Lorrie: As Pip points out, content is one of the most important things to consider when you’re trying to improve the SEO on your website. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not just for SEO purposes that you have a website, it’s so that people can visit, have a look at the services you offer and get in touch with you. So in terms of content, you need to balance search engine optimisation with readability, and a good yardstick for doing this is to ask yourself why you’re writing something.
Now, new, relevant and regularly updated content will help your website’s SEO – it’s undeniable. However, if you’re writing something and you’re thinking to yourself, “There no point to this except for improving my SEO.”, you’re going to risk producing text that’s really reader unfriendly, and that’s going to be copy that’s unusually wordy, horribly long sentences and really unnatural sounding ‘keywords’ like, for example, “Manchester copywriter” stuffed in the middle of a sentence, is unlikely to attract or keep the attention of a potential customer. They’re going to get bored, or confused, or they’ll know what you’re up to and will feel patronised, so it really is important to find a balance.
Philippa: Yeah, I think people underestimate just how obvious it is when someone’s done that. If you get to a website that says, “If you’re looking for a freelance writer in Sheffield, I’m a freelance writer in Sheffield, who can do your freelance writing in Sheffield because I live in Sheffield and I’m a freelance writer!” And yes, it’s full of freelance writer and Sheffield keywords but nobody’s fooled and, for goodness’s sakes, you’re trying to sell yourself as a writer – if nothing else, you want your website to read well.
Lorrie: This is true. So, a few quick ideas on SEO content for your website: it’s a good idea to keep your keyword rich content higher up on your web-pages. So, this has got a couple of benefits – it does make it easier for the relevant parts of your web-page to be picked up by search engines, and – while this isn’t SEO, it’s still a good thing – it does help to maintain reader interest. You’ve got your most relevant content at the top, it’s easy for the reader to find, your whole web-page isn’t stuffed to the gills, you know, you can spread these keywords out a little bit.
Equally, it’s a good idea to include bullet points on your pages rather than horizontal lists. So instead of embedding a list of services in a sentence, like, as Pip said, “I’m a Sheffield copywriter, and I offer copywriter, proof-reading, editing, whatever else…” – rather than popping those in a horizontal list in a sentence, it’s worthwhile including them in bullet points to make those a little bit clearer for your reader and help them get picked up by search engines.
Philippa: Definitely. Headings throughout a piece of text are very useful too. They do help readability because they break the text up, but also, Google looks out for the h2 and h3 html tags that indicate to the browser that these are headings. And, search engines will give more importance to text which has been highlighted with these tags. So get your keywords in that kind of context and that will help.
The title, as well, that you give to blog posts and the pages of your website are very important too. Be clear, in your titles, what the post is about. Basically, help Google to help you!
Lorrie: Absolutely. Don’t sacrifice keywords for…charm, really. Just as I’ve said “Don’t sacrifice readability for keywords.”, it’s important to be practical about it as well. A lot of writers are tempted to be quite literary and witty, but if you’re being witty and wordy and wonderful at the expense of keywords in your headers and titles, you’re going to lose out.
Similarly, include some links in your content, and make sure the anchor text – which are the words your reader can click on, what you’ve highlighted and turned into a link – is actually relevant. So, if you’re wanting to link to a site about graphic design, for example, make sure your link is something specific like “Graphic designer in Manchester” rather than what everybody puts, which is “click here”!
Philippa: Yes. What’s quite funny is that, if you google ‘click here’, the top result is for Adobe Reader for PDF documents, because every time anyone offers a PDF on their site, they say if you don’t have the right software, you can get it if you ‘click here’, and use that as the anchor text.
Lorrie: Haha, that’s brilliant. So, unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious today and you’d like to compete with Adobe on clicking services, and offer your clients the best clicks, do make sure you keep your links relevant. It’s fine to include a few words in your link – it doesn’t have to just be one word; you can link a phrase or short sentence rather than a single word – but make sure it’s not too long.
Philippa: And also, mix it up a bit. Don’t always use “Manchester copywriter” or the same anchor text, because it doesn’t look natural to the search engines and that will make them suspicious. The odd ‘click here’ can actually help with this, making it look more natural. But as Lorrie says, don’t make that your primary anchor text of choice!
Lorrie: True – Pip’s completely right. If you highlight every single instance of ‘Manchester copywriter’ or ‘SEO copywriting’ on your website and turn it into a link, people start to get the impression, even sub-consciously, that you’re a bit of a spammer.
Philippa: Yup, it’s true.
Lorrie: It’s not nice – people don’t enjoy reading if they’re constantly interrupted by the same phrase being highlighted – because linking a word or phrase does highlight it – then, they’re going to lose focus on what you’re trying to sell to them, so just be a little bit careful.
Philippa: Definitely. Another good way to approach your SEO is to ask yourself what people might be searching for if they want your services. So, use that, or a of it that’s perhaps more natural in your headings, titles and meta-tags. So, if someone was trying to find you, what might they search? They might search for “Freelance editor in Scotland” or “web design specialist”. Make sure you get those words in, like Lorrie said, not in the spammy, keyword-stuffing way, but naturally. But do get them in.
Lorrie: Definitely. There are plenty of techniques out there that people will a little bit sneakily try and use to get their site ranked highly by Google. One of these is to fill the site with content that’s searched for regularly (and you can use your imagination as to what this is) and to try and disguise the fact that they’ve used this on the website.
Philippa: Yes, and there are sites you can go to to see what the most searched terms of that day are. It’s “Kim Kardashian” a depressingly high number of times – I don’t even really know who she is – or whatever the news story of the day is. Or, slightly ruder things.
Lorrie: Yes, usually slightly ruder things. I believe that Kim Kardashian has a link to slightly ruder things.
Philippa: That may be part of why, then, yes.
Lorrie: So, if people are wanting to artificially boost the content on their website by including lots of exciting, naughty things that certain people search for, this can either be done by ‘hiding’ the information in the metadata, so, back-stage on your website, or by inserting it in teeny-weeny letters at the bottom of your page. Or, by masking the content against a background by using a font of the same colour, so it’s effectively invisible – so, white text on a white background. This white text might read, “Free porn” or whatever.
I cannot suggest strongly enough that you do not do this. Google and other search engines have algorithms that will pick up on this kind of thing extremely quickly, and your site will end up black-listed. In the meantime, you’ll be attracting all kinds of irrelevant traffic, and possibly dangerous traffic.
Philippa: Yes, because even if you did somehow magically make it on to the front page of Google for people who are searching for Kim Kardashian, what use would that be anyway? People would click your link, see that it wasn’t about Kim Kardashian, and navigate away again. I mean, the chances of that Kim Kardashian fan also having an urgent need for a freelance writer right at that moment is pretty low.
Lorrie: You watch, this time next week, I’ll be blogging for the Kardashians and you will be eating your hat.
Philippa: Will I?
Lorrie: Possibly! YouTube video, actually: Copywriter eats hat.
Philippa: That would get hits, actually. Anyway! Last year, in a bid to get rid of the spammier sites, Google introduced an algorithm update called Google Panda. And what this did was start to reduce the search engine rankings of sites which had low quality content. This might mean badly written content, or content that’s copied or spun from elsewhere, or those sites that, thankfully you don’t see quite as much of nowadays thanks to this, with just one page of very sparse content. On the positive, good quality, original content is rewarded by search engines now more than ever.
Lorrie: Definitely – and as a freelance writer, you have absolutely no excuse. Not from a search engine point of view, and not from your readers’ point of view either. It really is worth just getting some decent content on your website.
Philippa: Absolutely. And another quick point about on-site SEO is internal links. Use internal links – that is, links from one page of your website to another page on your website – use them, use them carefully, don’t overuse them. But say, for instance, on your homepage, as Lorrie said, you’re using bullet points to describe that you offer proof-reading, copywriting and editing. What you’d want to do, for each of those keywords, is link to the relevant page of your site. So, your proof-reading page, for example.
Lorrie: Yes, that’s what I’ve done.
Philippa: Yes, me too. This obviously helps with usability. If someone comes to your site because they want your editing services, and they see a reference to your editing services, they don’t want to have to navigate to the top of the page again to find the link. But it also – going back to the anchor text we mentioned earlier – is useful to get a relevant anchor text with a link. Obviously, internal links don’t count as much from Google’s point of view as external links – as we’ll go on to explain – but they are useful, and use them wisely. Don’t over-use them, as with anything really.
Because SEO is such a complex topic, there’s way too much to cover in just one episode. So, in this episode, we’ve given you plenty of ideas to make a start on helping you with your on-site SEO. Tune in on Friday for Episode 6, in which we’ll discuss off-site SEO, which includes things like getting links to your website from other places, and making a good impression.
Lorrie: So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. As ever, thank you for listening. If you want any more information on either of us, you can go to the bottom of our Podomatic page and all the links are down there. So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…
Philippa: …and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next time!