A guide to the basics for those just starting a career as a freelance writer.
How to create great content as a freelance writer
For you to start freelance writing and creating great articles you will need quality content that is relevant to your readers.
Even as a new freelance writer you can create tons of articles. You can write short or long-form content, and make it as detailed as you like.
Studies show that content that includes data tables, graphs, and charts ranks well in search results.
Articles around 1000 words have proven effective and can keep your audience engaged, but many of the posts in the number 1 spot are much longer.
Make sure that whatever you write it is tailored towards solving a problem for your audience.
This way, you can create interest and have your website visitors coming back for more.
Creating compelling headlines
Make sure this is short, catchy, and relevant to your piece. Readers do not want to start reading your article to discover that it is about something different from what they thought.
A good freelance writer will put some thought into their titles or use a title headline analyzer like Sharethrough.
This free tool will give you a headline quality score, engagement score, and an impression score. You can change and tweak your headline until you are happy with the score and the nice thing about this tool is that it is completely free.
Give it a try HERE.
Format your articles for maximum readability
Some simple formatting can make your content into a neat, readable article that’s simple to navigate, instead of a solid mass of block text. This is a great tip for new freelance writers
Readers typically scan down the page so it is important to make your text as easy to read as possible.
Use sections, bullet points, titles, subtitles, and eye-catching images. Make sure that everything is laid out and formatted in a visually appealing manner. It’s a simple thing but it can make a huge difference to your content design and readability.
Limit your paragraphs to 2 or 3 sentences max so articles are easier to read on a mobile phone.
Most people will access your site using mobile devices, around 80% of them in total so it’s important that freelance writers optimize content for the cell phone or tablet user.
Breaking text into short paragraphs helps with the readability as users scroll down the page on their device.
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Use H1, H2 headers
When writing your content and breaking sections into smaller ones, make sure you are using clear, bold titles on each section. If the section is longer than a paragraph or 2 then add some subtitles to help with the flow of the section.
It will help the reader follow the order of topics as they scan quickly down the page.
Make sure your headings can be clearly read by using h1, h2 tags where appropriate, and keep the headings short and relevant.
Keyword research for freelance writers
Seasoned freelance writers know that keyword research is vital to the success of any new post and ranking high and fast on Google. Whether you want to optimize a page, product description, or service, keywords cannot be ignored.
So, how do you find keywords that are relevant to your content?
There is a powerful tool called Google Keyword Planner. This is a great start if you are a new freelance writer who is looking to optimize content for SEO.
Other tools include Answer the Public, Google Trends, and Ubersuggest. This is a free tool included on Neil Patel’s website and is great for checking search terms, keywords, and competition.
Once you have found the keywords use them throughout your article – be careful not to overdo it though. You want to rank fast on Google – not be penalised for keyword stuffing. If you are a new freelancer writer, don’t fall into this trap.
If you are using an SEO plugin like Yoast it will advise if you are using your keywords too frequently in your article.
Google is always on the lookout for ‘keyword stuffing’. If you are a new freelance writer you will need to watch out, too much keyword use can actually hurt your ranking, so be selective.
When a user searches for your keywords, your content will rank on the search engine results.
This method is called ‘content indexing.’
Using relevant keywords throughout your content helps you rank quickly on Google for those words or phrases on search engine results. The trick is to find keywords relevant to your article that people are searching for.
A freelance writer should consider keyword research as the first step in optimizing their site.
Without proper keyword research, you will be left with an underperforming website and will never rise up the Google ranks.
When going head to head with large and established players in your industry you need to be able to compete. There are many reasons why freelance writers should select relevant keywords before writing your content
- Relevant keywords help you stay organized and focused on your content strategy.
- Selecting your keywords BEFORE writing increases your chance for SEO success.
- Curating the RIGHT keywords will prevent wasting time on the wrong promotion strategies, or writing about the wrong topics.
- Website ranking will improve because relevant keyword selection is an ingredient that will boost your rank on the SERPs.
The importance of the correct keywords cannot be underestimated.
Careful planning on the front end removes the guesswork from your SEO objectives.
This process involves effective brainstorming and freelance writers will need to make use of available research tools in order to target the best results.
Use the correct fonts
There are a huge amount of fonts to choose from ranging in size, shape, and style. Make sure when creating your content that you are using one that is clear and easy to read.
The rule of thumb is that sans serif fonts are much easier to interpret. Fonts like Roboto, Arial, and Noto Sans will lend themselves to an easy-to-read and cleaner-looking article.
Some fancier fonts can be useful for highlighting specific words but they should be used very sparingly.
Don’t write entirely in a flowing script or brush font, it is too hard for your reader to decipher.
You know what it says, you wrote it. But your reader is not going to take the time to figure it out.
Use high-quality images
Now you have completed the design steps like breaking apart your text blocks, using short paragraphs, adding bullet lists, and creating subtitled sections, make sure to add some high-quality images to your article.
Make sure that you are using images that are relevant to your content.
Images should be of good quality but not so large that they slow down your page load time.
Slow loading will make people ‘bounce’ off your page and can put off a potential reader.
Content colour choices for article creation
One of the best design tips for freelance writers is to keep your background light and your fonts dark and simple. By ‘light background’ that means white with a TOUCH of grey or another colour to make your text stand out.
Your text should be easily visible and not blend into a strongly colored or highly colored background.
The same goes for any highlighted text or link colours, make sure they are easily visible and not garish. The aim is to provide a pleasant reading experience for your site guests.
Not to make their retinas ache!
It is also worth bearing in mind that colours create psychological associations and feelings, so depending on what your site is about your choice of colours can give you a strategic advantage.
Here is a breakdown of what some popular colours represent.
Gifs and animations
You may feel the pressure when handling your first pieces as a freelance writer to make the article look interesting with graphics or images. Gifs and animated images fall into the same realm as fancy fonts; use them sparingly.
A whole load of moving gifs or photos will only serve to make your piece look messy and confusing. They may even slow down your page speed substantially.
Keep it clean and uncluttered, if it’s absolutely necessary to use these items to enhance your content or to illustrate an important point then go ahead.
As a freelance writer, you will need to be discerning and make sure it is adding value to your article.
Understanding ALT text as a freelance writer
This is an alternate text that search engines crawl when they look through your website. It is a descriptive text that helps to describe on-page images.
It helps the search engine index your images properly and is useful for visually impaired users.
When uploading images to your WordPress site there is an Alt text box where you can enter a description of your images.
Beware of ‘keyword stuffing’ again here or being spammy. Google is smart and can detect such things and it may hurt your article’s ability to rank.
If you think that descriptive text for your photos isn’t necessary, you would be wrong. Freelance writers that have been creating content for a while will take full advantage of descriptive text.
Search engines are becoming increasingly visual and searching by image is on the rise.
Think about the impact and popularity of Pinterest and Instagram!
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Once all tasks like keyword selection and alt texts are complete it’s worth running a couple of checks just to ensure that your punctuation and grammar, as well as sentence structure, are on point.
Grammarly is completely free and will ensure that everything is spelled correctly. It will even pick up nuances between US and UK English and can be set to monitor several different languages.
Hemingway Editor is also a free tool and will check the construction and readability of your sentence structure, detecting any that appear too complicated so that you can rephrase them.
Basics of SEO for freelance writers
Simply put SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the steps that a website developer or freelance writer takes to ensure they have the best chance of ranking their website as high as possible in search engine results.
Rankings are based on many variables and no one knows truly what the exact ‘secret-sauce’ is made up of, but what we do know is that it is a balance of elements including –
- Keyword Density
- Alt Text
- Domain and Page Authority
- Meta Descriptions
- And more besides
This list is some of the main target items that go into making sure your pages are Google-friendly but overall there are many more that go into making the complete picture.
It is estimated that there are more than 200 items that affect site rankings.
The ability to improve SEO comes with time and practice but if you are just starting out as a freelance writer, it is worth focusing on the main components until you become adept.
As many freelance writers promote their services using a website, it is worth knowing how to fully optimize it so you can gain more clients.
Devise a growth strategy
If you decide to have a website designed to promote your business or freelance writing services you will need to know how to attract traffic.
When you launch your website you will learn that getting daily visitors is great, but not always easy.
You will need to reach your audience to keep the numbers increasing.
This is where you need a growth strategy; a plan or roadmap to lay out your overarching goals and targets to grow your business as a freelance writer, and the steps you will take to achieve them.
Maybe you decide to post and share a number of articles on your site and promote through specific channels, or perhaps you have certain lead generation steps in mind.
Maybe you want to target specific keyword groups. Whatever your goals, you need to define them and map out the ways you intend to reach them.
One of the simplest things you can do to help your site rank is to focus on Keyword Density, so if you want your page to rank on Google every time someone types ‘best freelance writer in Birmingham’ you need to include that phrase several times throughout your website and articles.
This is known as an SEO Focus Keyword.
You can use different keywords for different posts or pages so you can rank for different things. Don’t be tempted to overdo it though. We have already covered the dangers of over-optimizing for keywords. Google can detect overuse of key phrases.
That said, if you want to sell your services as a freelance writer online, keyword research is important for your website optimization.
You need to plan your SEO campaign to identify good target phrases. This will help you target the keywords you are most likely to get traffic for and help you to learn what your competitors are doing.
Create a list of relevant topics that are related to your website or content. Match the list with keywords and keyword phrases.
To elevate your Google ranking, perform research on the related terms that appear on Google’s search suggestions.
Look for a mix of subjects and long-tail keywords and check the search volume for each.
Make use of keyword planning tools such as Google Adwords planner or Bing keyword tool to narrow down your keyword list.
Monitor your competition and find out they rank for those keywords.
- Choose keywords and keyword terms related to the subject.
- Search engines make use of an IQS (internal Quality System) algorithm to check for relevance of the keyword to the website. A non-relevant keyword will not rank your site correctly in the result page.
- Highly competitive keywords will be harder to rank for on first page results, while keywords that have no searches at all will bring no traffic.
- Making use of related and long-tail keywords can be an effective strategy.
Optimizing your website for the most relevant keywords will help you in achieving search results.
A good tactic is to search for related keywords in your specific area or niche that have low competition with a high volume of searches. This may include terms like ‘freelance writer, content writing, copywriter’.
Some tools you can use to help with your searches are –
- Google Keyword Planner
- Bing Keyword planner
- Adwords Planner
- Google related searches (phrases below Google search results)
Best SEO Plugins for freelance writers
Once you have your WordPress site up and running, get a good SEO plugin to help you optimize your pages. There are loads on the market but the favourite of many website designers and freelance writers is Yoast.
It comes in free and premium versions and walks you through SEO functions step by step giving you a ‘green light’ when you have successfully completed the steps, so you can easily tell when your SEO is up to standard.
Yoast is the go-to pick for many website owners, but a recent and upcoming plugin that offers much versatility and helps to educate the user on SEO is Squirrly. It’s not quite as easy to get to grips with but once you get used to the interface it offers more function at the free level than Yoast does. There is also a premium version of this plugin too if you want to upgrade.
All-in-one-SEO is another extremely popular plugin with over 2 million downloads. If Yoast or Squirrly don’t work for you then All-in-one-SEO is a good alternate plugin to use,
Readability of your writing
Another nice function of Yoast is that it scores the readability of your posts, articles, and website pages. For freelancers, this can be a good indication of the quality of the written article.
The better the score, the easier your website visitors will find your writing to read.
Readability is another variable that Google takes into account when ranking your pages. Badly written or poorly formatted text just won’t make the grade so if you are hitting consistently poor scores you may need to improve your skills as a freelance writer.
Yoast keeps you on track by identifying sentences that are too long, or sections that don’t contain appropriately constructed text.
Useful pointers and sections can be chosen to highlight the exact text or sentences that require attention.
Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
Your website’s page titles need to be formatted correctly and include SEO keywords where possible.
The same goes for meta descriptions – the 2 or 3 sentences that you see after a website’s name, highlighting the contents, in the search engine results.
Meta descriptions should be explanatory and informative so that your visitor knows exactly what he/she is going to get when they click on your page.
Be careful not to make them too long. The trick here is to be concise as search engines will cut your text short if there are too many words or characters.
In the wake of recent Google updates site speed has emerged as one of the top-ranking factors. Google is committed to creating quality for users and returning sites that load fast is a big part of that experience.
Did you know that if your site takes more than 3 seconds to load, most visitors will leave the page and go elsewhere?
Putting it in those terms makes it clear why site speed is so essential.
To check your site loading speed go to Page Insights for a clearer picture.
Type in your domain name and the engine will report how quickly or slowly your site takes to load. If the speed is slower than you would like then there are several things you can do.
- Limit the use of large images or animated photos, they look beautiful but they will take up a lot of load time.
- Use a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache, this will help the speed and function of your website for new visitors and returning visitors.
- For the images that you do have on your site make sure that they are as compressed to take up as little space as possible. Try the plugin Smush to reduce your image sizes.
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Build your brand as a content writer
Business branding means more than having a recognizable logo or a pretty colored website. A brand is an instantly recognizable symbol or motif that identifies your business. As there are thousands of people performing work as a freelance writer, it can be beneficial to set yourself apart.
Business branding is defining the way that people perceive your company or product.
Along with recognition, business branding should help you convey a message that people know and understand. Business branding should project the ethos of your business and inspire a feeling or state within the people that use your service or products.
Once you have decided on your overall image and design, you need to build your brand around that concept.
Draft a buyer (or user) persona
Before you can successfully engage in business branding you will need to identify your target customer base. You may be a freelance writer, but knowing exactly who your brand serves means that you can position yourself accordingly in the marketplace.
You should be able to define the basics of your buyer persona without too much trouble.
A buyer persona is an outline of your IDEAL customer
Most people in business will know the age, gender, and income level of their customers. But a good buyer persona requires diving a bit deeper to gain a true understanding of your customer and their motivations.
Being able to understand your customers on a deeper level will give you better insight.
It will show you how to reach them, create services or write content for them, and address their needs.
Develop your mission statement
A key component of any business branding strategy is to develop your mission statement. This concise and effective statement should communicate in a short couple of sentences about what your brand is about.
Your mission statement should convey who you are, what you do, and why you do it. In the case of working as a freelance writer, you may want to incorporate any special skills or expertise.
It not only communicates your company’s message to customers but it can also focus you or any employees on your company’s goals.
Don’t write an essay, but create a statement that captures your company’s mission, shows value, and is based on long term goals.
A mission statement should be impactful, informative, and concise.
Create a brand story
Brand stories are being used increasingly as a method for companies to reach out and connect with customers. Stories are becoming an essential component of business branding.
A good brand story creates empathy, builds trust, and inspires a connection.
Be mindful of how you compose your story. This is not an advertisement or a sales pitch.
Brand stories should be real, compelling, and authentic. A well-written brand story shines with personality and conveys information about the company, why it exists, and how it started.
A brand story identifies a problem and explains how your business found a way to solve it.
It describes the success that has been achieved in addressing the problem. Your story shares with enthusiasm how you plan to continue sharing that success.
Traffic generation for freelance writers
New freelance writers often fail because they can’t get their site to rank fast enough on Google.
It can be a tough problem to face, Google keeps the details of their algorithm secret so it can be a balancing act to get your site to the top of the page.
Websites that rank on the first page of a search receive the bulk of the traffic, sometimes thousands of visitors every day.
The sites that rank fastest on Google leverage this volume and use several different ways to successfully monetize their sites.
A website that can get and maintain a top rank for a search term is in a dominant position because of the large volume it can receive. Getting your site to rank fast on Google will provide you with a lot of traffic.
Websites with a low ranking get only a small traffic share and little chance of capturing leads.
There is not much point in having content on your website that nobody can see. To get views it has to rank in the search results.
The aim of creating content is to meet the needs of your audience, and, if you do it right, you can build enough traffic to capture leads and drive conversions.
Many business owners and freelance writers fail to realise that their website can have great marketing potential, just by adding some well-structured content.
And you’re a writer right? So that shouldn’t be too difficult!
Once you have the ability to rank your site higher on Google it can open up a lot of opportunities for freelance writing and potentially other content or copywriting work.
When you link to an external site from your own, there’s a chance they will link back to you, this is called ‘back-linking’. It helps your site rank higher and faster on Google and other search engines because it builds Domain Authority.
This is a scoring system that ranks your website based on the level of quality content it has. The higher authority scores your domain has, the faster it will rank on Google.
If you want to build your site into a real authority in your industry or niche, you will need to spend time building backlinks.
One way to effectively do this is to reference other authority sites in your written posts.
If you are lucky they will return the favour and give you a reference from their website. A more effective way is by backlink outreach.
The process of contacting authority sites directly to try and persuade them to link to your site.
This is a time-consuming process that involves a lot of outreach, but the benefits are worth it. Backlinks, or ‘link juice’, are a key component in getting your site to rank fast on Google.
Social media promotion as a freelance writer
Along with getting your SEO in order and ranking your site on Google, you may want to think about promoting your freelance writing business site via social media channels. This does 2 things,
- It is a great place to share and promote your work or new content
- It allows you to connect with people and build an audience or community
Depending on what your company does, different social media platforms might work better for you than others.
If the content you write is mainly about finance and investing then Twitter and Linkedin could be the better place for sharing your work.
If you are creating content around beauty products or writing about artists and photographers then Instagram or Pinterest might be the best place for you.
Some quick facts –
- Instagram reaches a younger (millennial) audience
- Pinterest user base is 70% women
- Facebook reaches an older demographic with males and females in equal amounts.
The best advice is to pick a platform that you think works well with your brand and focus solely on that one.
As you build your audience and increase the engagement you can think about expanding to other platforms.
Facebook, while its organic reach on business pages is virtually nil, a great place for freelance writers to connect with other people is by using Facebook groups.
Groups are a great tool for networking, support, sharing, and meeting like-minded people, or other freelance writers that can help you on your content creation journey, and it’s FREE.
Using Google Search Console and Analytics as a freelance writer
When you are ready to launch your content and are comfortable with your design, content, and SEO you will need a way to monitor traffic to your site.
For this, you will need to use 2 tools.
- Google Search Console
- Google Analytics
Connecting to these 2 services will help you monitor things like organic traffic, search terms, and page views as well as allow you to drill down into actions taken on your site.
This will help you determine what is working and what isn’t.
Along with powerful reporting tools you have the ability to create dashboards of your own to monitor the information you want.
Connect your site to both and it will help you to identify the type of content that is resonating with your users.
Basic analytics reports
While the Google Analytics dashboard can look a little overwhelming to the uninitiated it is helpful to begin with the basics.
When first using Analytics keep things simple by focusing on just a few different reporting areas.
Real-time – displays users on your page in real-time and provides information about their location and methods of accessing your page – i.e desktop, mobile, tablet – along with where they came from – social media channels, organic search, etc.
Audience – gives you an overview of your users by the hour, day, week, or month as well as the duration of engagement and demographic information of your audience.
Acquisition – tells you where your visitors come from, organic search, social channels, or referrals.
Behavior – details views per page, landing, and exit pages. Here you can obtain information about the loading time of individual pages. (Useful as speed is a big ranking factor currently)
Google Analytics provides much more information than these few basic menu items. It is possible to drill down into your site and visitors’ information at a highly detailed level.
But for those who are just starting out as a freelance writer, the items listed will provide enough information to give an overview of your site’s traffic.
Whatever you want to achieve from your freelance writing career this article will help you to get up and running quickly and efficiently so you can start to write great content and promote your services. Use this as a reference guide for website design, SEO, and structuring your articles and you will be marketing your business and writing compelling, high-ranking content in no time.