Written by Anne Dorko on July 27, 2017.
Freelancer bloggers are often hired with the goal of increasing organic traffic from search engines by building authority through content marketing. You may find it difficult to land a serious writing gig without knowing how to optimize your posts for search engines.
SEO is a valuable skill to add to your freelance writing repertoire. Understanding the concepts behind content marketing and how it connects to SEO will help you land new clients. Additionally, you’ll stand apart as an expert when you can recommend (and use!) the top SEO WordPress plugins for your clients.
In this post, I’ll introduce you to the concepts behind content marketing and SEO for freelance writers. Then, I’ll introduce you to the top SEO plugins for WordPress and how to use them on the job. Let’s get started! Keep Reading
Written by Anne Dorko on July 20, 2017.
When you first get started as a freelance writer, you may be shocked to find out you are expected to format your own posts within WordPress. As WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms, your clients assume you can submit work completely ready to publish.
Not to worry! WordPress features an easy-to-use editor. The trick is to be familiar with the interface before diving in headfirst. By understanding blog formatting standards and their options in WordPress, you’ll be a pro in no time.
In this article, I’ll show you how to format your first WordPress blog post. By the end, you should feel confident to offer formatting services to your next paying client. Let’s get started! Keep Reading
Over the past month Leaving Work Behind has attracted nearly ten thousand visitors from search engines. Of those ten thousand visitors, almost half entered the site via the same post — a relatively inconspicuous guide to finding your first freelance writing job.
I discovered a few weeks ago that the post was ranking #2 in Google for the term “freelance writing jobs”, which attracts in the region of eighteen thousand exact match searches every month. It’s a pretty popular keyword — certainly more popular than anything I’ve ever ranked for before. The post has stayed at #2 (excluding the occasional fluctuation) for over a month now.
The success of this post has raised all sorts of questions in my head. Why does it rank so high? How did it manage to rank for a keyword I wasn’t even targeting? Why haven’t other posts in which I have focused equally on onsite SEO not performed as well?
In this post I intend to discover the answer to those questions in the hope that I can duplicate the post’s success. Read on to find out whether I did!
There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you!
The Power of One Post
As you will know if you are a regular LWB reader, I write about freelance writing here on a pretty regular basis. After I released my freelance writing guide back in November 2012, I realized that in theory I could boost sales by attracting search engine visitors through freelance writing-related posts.
So over the period of several months I published a number of freelance writing posts that targeted specific keywords relating to freelance writing. Here are a handful which you can find on this blog:
A couple of these posts do okay — one attracted 700 visitors in the past month, another attracted 250. But for the most part they don’t bring in a particularly high number of visitors; especially compared to the beast that is Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job.
That post alone attracted 4,500 clicks in the past month — almost 50% of total search engine traffic:
As you can see, the second most popular post (which also covers freelance writing) attracts just 700 clicks per month. Its contribution is puny by comparison. If the top post were to lose its rankings tomorrow, my monthly search engine traffic would drop by approximately half.
The performance of this post is a bit of a mystery to me, but there must be some underlying cause. Most importantly, if I can understand the cause I can attempt to replicate it, which means more search engine visitors.
The Big Picture
First of all, let’s see how Leaving Work Behind has fared in terms of search engine traffic over the past year or so.
It’s worth noting that me and Google have rarely got along. This blog was “Google slapped” back in April 2012 (ironically, the same month that my monster freelancing post was published). In that month LWB attracted just 1,408 visitors from Google.
Search engine traffic actually declined from that point to a low of just 1,052 visitors in July 2012. But later in the year referrals began to pick up and gained momentum from then on:
As you can see, from December 2012 search engine traffic has been consistently on the rise, increasing by 360% up to the end of June 2013. That’s a pretty impressive climb relative to the stagnancy that preceded it.
So it’s not like my monster post led the increase in search engine traffic — after all, it only attained its lofty rating for “freelance writing jobs” around six weeks ago. It seems that Google has been growing more and more comfortable with my site over the past ten months or so.
But that’s not all — Google seems to have been growing more and more comfortable with my site specifically as a resource for freelance writers. How do I know this? Simple — just check out the top queries by the number of clicks over the past fourteen months:
Five of the top ten queries relate to freelance writing, and three of the remaining are branded keywords. If you exclude the wild card at number seven (boring? Me?) you have to go down to number ten to find the first non freelance writing related keyword that I have specifically targeted in a post (this post). It has attracted just 90 clicks in over a year.
I have written plenty of non freelance writing posts that target specific keywords for SEO purposes, but barely any have managed to elevate themselves into a position of any real relevance. Consider for example the top landing pages from search engine referrals in June 2013:
Three of the top four landing pages are about freelance writing (with the other being the homepage). Both the first and second post are in fact the same post — I changed the permalink to optimize it further. Fifth and sixth are non writing related, but then seventh and eighth spots are taken over again by more freelancing posts.
Out of the top ten landing pages above (excluding the homepage), non writing related posts account for just 11% of total clicks. Furthermore, writing related posts accounted for 56% of total search engine traffic in June. With the subsequent higher ranking of just that one post, I can expect the proportion to be much higher in July.
It’s not like I haven’t targeted other keywords — I have targeted all sorts. Furthermore, my onsite SEO methodology has remained largely unchanged for the past year or so. The logical conclusion therefore is that Google considers my blog to be more of an authority on freelance writing than it is any other. While it is possible that I have selected a healthy handful of freelance writing keywords that happen to have performed relatively well for me, the performance of freelance writing related posts compared to others seems more than just a coincidence.
However, Google’s favor certainly isn’t all that is at play here. After all, if we strip out the most popular post, the proportion of search engine clicks that are freelance writing related drops to just 34%, which is far more representative of the balance of search engine optimized content on the site.
It would seem to me that there is something special about that one post in particular. But what?
Examining a Winner
The post in question is a guide for beginner freelance writers to finding their first job. I think it’s a good post, but no better than many other freelance writing posts I’ve written on LWB. At 1,636 words it is relatively long, but again no longer than many other posts I’ve written here.
Let’s examine the guts of the post, SEO-wise. It gets the green light from the SEO by Yoast plugin and enjoys decent ratings on various criteria:
As you can see, there is only one red light, a couple of ambers, one yellow and a whole bunch of green. Quantifiably speaking, it’s a pretty well optimized post. In reality though, it was never that well optimized for the keyword in question (“freelance writing jobs”) as I never actually optimized it for that keyword! It was however a derivative of that keyword, so one could argue that the effect is largely the same.
Speaking of the keyword, how competitive is it? Let’s take a look with Market Samurai:
There’s my post, listed in third place behind two aged domains with far more content and referring domains than me.
It’s a relatively competitive keyword — although onsite optimization and backlinks to pages aren’t massively intimidating, you’d want to have a domain with some weight behind it to hope to rank (at least, that would be my thinking).
The site linking to the page is simply a content aggregator — it’s not adding unique content.
It also links to two other posts on my site — neither of which have experienced anywhere near the same amount of success.
Having examined the above evidence, it seems that a pretty unremarkable post, with unremarkable SEO (both offsite and onsite) has managed to rank for a pretty remarkable keyword. And after all of this I feel like I am no closer to understanding why.
So, it’s time to move onto the next step.
I figure that if there is something special about this post, perhaps it will stand out when put side-by-side against others. So, I made a list of ten posts from LWB, all which were written to target a specific keyword, and set out to produce a table that would quantifiably compare them. Here’s what I came up with:
When comparing the highly-ranked post against others on this blog, it is utterly unremarkable. Both the word count and keyword density are almost bang on average and it actually performs pretty poorly in terms of other optimization factors.
So no magic formula is unveiled there. So how about the competition of each of the relevant keywords pertaining to each post? Using Market Samurai I compiled the totals of relevant offsite and onsite factors for the top ten pages of each keyword. Here were the results:
Don’t worry too much about that mess of numbers — what I was really interested in was the average of each field compared to the results for “freelance writing jobs”. The results were interesting. Some of the numbers were within ~20% of the average and thus were relatively unremarkable, but there were a few discrepancies:
Index Count: 32% of the average
Referring Domains to Pages (recent): 49% of the average
.edu / .gov links to Pages: 22% of the average
Keyword in header: 71% of average
However, there were much bigger discrepancies the other way, such as:
Referring Domains to the Domain (historic): 135% of the average
Referring Domains to the Domain (fresh): 159% of the average
Page Backlinks (fresh): 169% of the average
Domain Backlinks (historic): 187% of the average
Domain Backlinks (fresh): 276% of the average
But over all, and just like the onsite SEO factors I covered above, my high-ranking post is almost bang on the average for both onsite and offsite SEO factors collected by Market Samurai when compared against another nine posts on my blog.
Obviously that is an extremely small sample size, but I am nonetheless left completely clueless as to what is causing this one post to rank so well.
Over to You
So now it’s your turn.
I am appealing to all SEO experts out there to unload their wisdom in the comments section. As a relative SEO amateur I have done my very best to uncover the reason(s) as to why just one single post on this blog has ranked so highly for such a relatively valuable keyword, but I have come up with no answers.
If you think that one of your Twitter followers may be able to solve the mystery (or if you just like challenging people ;-)) then tweet the following out to them by clicking on it:
If you’re not an SEO expert then please don’t feel like I am excluding you from the debate; please feel free to chime in with your comments and questions below too! As always, I look forward to hearing from you all 🙂
The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!
There are many different elements that make up a successful authority site, but the content you create is perhaps most pivotal.
The words you publish play a huge part in defining the success of your site (tweet this) in many different areas such as search engine rankings, social media exposure and user engagement. As search algorithms become more advanced and social media becomes even more relevant to everyday Internet users, content will only become more important.
With that in mind, the content strategy for my authority site is something I have spent a great deal of time on. It has evolved drastically over the first 41 posts I have written for the blog, and will no doubt continue to evolve in the future. In this post, I am going to show you my exact step by step process for creating SEO optimized content for the One Hour Authority Site Project.
There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you!
Authority Site Update
But before that, as always, let’s see how my site is getting on.
My last update was only a couple of weeks ago, but there has been some curious movement in the rankings since then:
Notice that I said “curious”, rather than “exciting”. Still no first page results, but all of the rankings you see above are for taxonomy pages (i.e. tags and categories). According to Market Samurai, none of my actual posts are currently ranking anywhere in Google. Also, some of the ranking pages are not directly relevant to the keyword ranked for. I have no idea what to make of this and would welcome your theories in the comments section.
Beyond that, traffic is still all but non-existent:
That’s right folks — a grand total of four visitors since my last update. I’ll look back at these figures and chuckle 🙂
As I said in my last post (before I went on vacation), my focus for the next few weeks will be getting to the 60 post mark before I move onto stage 2 of my plans. I hope to progress things quickly so I can get started with conservative link building/procurement as soon as possible. Although I am in no rush, I think it’s about time that my rankings and analytics figures looked a little more respectable.
Writing SEO Optimized Content
If you have been following the series so far you will know that I have already covered how I set up my SEO optimized site and how I research and analyze keywords. It’s now a case of picking a keyword to write about and running through my system for writing new posts.
The overriding principle that guides my content creation strategy is quality. Once I have hit Publish on a blog post, it will remain on the web for the months and years to come, and has the potential to attract thousands of visitors in its lifetime. As such, I treat each post with the respect that such potential deserves.
So, keep that in mind as we run through each step of producing an SEO optimized blog post below.
I cannot understate the importance of a post’s headline in defining its success in terms of attracting views. The vast majority of potential visitors will only see a post’s headline, and as such, they only have that to persuade them whether or not they should click.
Therefore, a headline should be clear, direct, informative and intriguing. For the One Hour Authority Site Project my headlines are largely guided by the long tail search keywords that I am targeting, but I often tweak them based upon the above key principles. Ideally, the most relevant keywords should be placed at the beginning of the post.
My headlines are typically no more than 65 characters (I use this plugin to easily keep track) to ensure that they are displayed in full on search engines results pages. When it comes to capitalization, I use title case (as most professional bloggers do).
Above all else, I make sure that my headlines are natural to read. I would never sacrifice readability in the hope of boosting my search engine rankings. As always when it comes to optimizing my content, humans comes first (not search engines).
In case you don’t know, the “slug” is the unique URL for your blog post:
This post’s slug as shown on the WordPress backend.
It should be packed with relevant keywords. This helps search engines to better ascertain the relevancy of your post to your targeted keywords. Unlike a headline, a slug does not need to read naturally, although it is useful if it serves as an indication of what the post covers.
Something I like to do is vary keywords between the post title and the slug. Say I was writing a post on throwing a curve ball. My title might be, “How to Throw a Curve Ball”, and my slug might be “how-to-pitch-a-curve-ball”.
Optimizing My Posts for the Search Engine Result Pages
I have SEO by Yoast installed on my site and consider it absolutely indispensable. It adds a meta box to each post page that allows you to specifically optimize each post for the search engine results pages (SERPs):
A version of this post optimized for the SERPs.
I define a focus keyword for each post and ensure that it is included in all of the important parts of my post:
I may add an SEO title if I want to display a headline that is different to what is displayed on the actual post. Finally, I add a meta description. Although Google says that it has no bearing on a page’s ranking, creating a manual meta description is a great way of boosting the organic click through rate to your posts.
I’m going to preface everything I say in this section with one simple recommendation — purchase a copy of the Yahoo! Style Guide. If you publish content online in any form, I consider it required reading. It is by far the most comprehensive resource I have ever come across on writing for the web.
Taken straight from the guide are the following key pointers I bear in mind when writing content for my authority site:
Write in an easy-to-read, conversational style
Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs
Use bold to emphasize key statements and italics to emphasize particular words (as you would when speaking them)
Use plenty of graphical elements: media, lists, blockquotes, tables, graphs, etc.
Break content up with keyword rich and relevant sub-headers
Focus on quality above everything else
You can see all of these elements in action on this post — my general writing style for all blogs is led by the above principles.
Most importantly, each post you write should set out to resolve a very specific question posed by the headline (note — the headline does not necessarily need to be phrased a question, but the question should be implicit). I don’t just write the posts for the sake of having content on my site — I want to provide a genuine service for people in search of answers. If I follow that mindset, I should eventually have a valuable asset (rather than a bunch of posts that no one actually wants to read).
I use Compfight (a Flickr search engine) to source the vast majority of the images I use in blog posts.
When it comes to sourcing free images for my writing, I use these resources only. I include at least one image per article (more is preferable), and always endeavor to make them relevant to the subject matter.
My posts’ featured images are always slightly less than half width and floated to the top right of the content (as recommended by Derek Halpern). Each image has alt and title that seeks to strike a balance between accurately describing the image and including relevant keywords.
Video is not something I have included on the site, but it is something that I may well concentrate on in the future. Including relevant videos within your content is rarely (if ever) a bad thing to do.
As you may already know, there are two “types” of linking: internal and external. I include internal and external links on every post I publish. You should not be fearful of linking to external sites — search engines like to see you do it, and if you link to relevant sites, it provides more context with which they can rank your site appropriately.
I take every opportunity to link to relevant blog posts on my own site, with at least two internal links per page. I also have a rule of linking out to one external site per post.
Categories and Tags
I have covered my taxonomy strategy in detail here and here, but there are a couple of things I should make clear in this post.
First of all, I only ever link a post to one category. It’s just a little rule of mine — it seems sensible that a post would only be associated with one broad category. When it comes to tagging, I draw selectively from a list of existing tags, and only create new tags if I feel that it will be used relatively regularly.
Never Forget the Importance of Quality
That’s it — my complete strategy for creating SEO optimized content for my One Hour Authority Site Project!
If I could leave you with just one thing, it would be a reminder that once an article is finished, it sits on the web in perpetuity. As such, you should not rush to publish content — make sure that each post is properly optimized and has the best possible chance of success.
I’d love to know what you think about my strategy, so please open fire with questions and comments!
The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!
It has now been fifty-two days since I launched my new authority site.
In that time I have written 41 articles, each in excess of 500 words. Every single one of those articles has been carefully crafted to target a specific long tail keyword, in the hope that each will eventually rank on the first page of Google.
In this post I want to go into my keyword research and competition analysis strategy in detail. I will show you the exact process that I have followed to pick keywords to base articles around. If you are currently building your own authority site, you may be able to take some of my ideas and adapt them for your own strategy.
In the last post in this series I had nothing of great note to report. It was encouraging to see that the number of keywords the site was ranked for had increased from 8 to 11, and I also had a ranking on the first page. So what’s changed since?
Just like a whole host of other sites across the web, my site was hit by the recent Google algorithm updates. My site now only ranks for three keywords, and what little progress I had made in terms of rankings has been all but wiped out.
My theory is that Google was previously ranking the site in part because of the partial keyword match domain, but they have now reduced that as a ranking factor. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest — it’s an algorithm change, not a penalty.
As for traffic, there hasn’t been a single visitor to the site since September. Google is certainly aware that the site exists, but doesn’t yet deem it worthy of the first page. And as you no doubt know, if you’re not on the first page, you’re unlikely to get any traffic.
Am I worried about any of this? Not in the slightest. Whilst I feel that ranking the site without building and curating links is going to be all but impossible, I have plenty of ideas up my sleeve for when that time comes.
Finally, I am starting to run out of SEO-optimized article ideas for the site. Whilst I have lots of blog post style ideas, most of the long tail keywords that I haven’t yet written posts for are:
Too close in terms of subject matter to existing content, and/or
So from a picky point of view, I am running out of ideas. But there are still plenty of things to write about — it might just take longer to rank them, or they may not attract as much traffic as other articles.
So that’s the latest — now let’s get onto the meat of the post!
What Can Long Tail Traffic Do For You?
I love long tail keywords — they are a wonderful source of traffic. I think that any well-established blog can generate a considerable amount of traffic by targeting long tail keywords. I know that Leaving Work Behind certainly could be receiving a lot more search traffic if I produced more posts that target specific keywords.
Take one post in particular as an example: Entry Level Writing Jobs — 5 Top Resources. When I wrote the post, I wanted it to rank for the keyword ‘entry level writing jobs’, which according to Google, attracts 390 exact match searches per month.
The post currently ranks 3rd in Google for the keyword, and received 60 referrals in September from search engines via that keyword. However, there were an additional 85 alternative searches that referred people to that post during September. Well over half the total referrals were not via the targeted keyword, but contextually relevant alternative long tail keywords.
Whilst ranking one post for a keyword with a low search volume may not seem like a worthwhile endeavor, you should consider two things:
You have the potential to rank for multiple long tail keywords with each post
Creating multiple articles can result in a considerable amount of traffic
Alright — so you’re either sold on the concept or you’re not. If you are, the theory is simple — find long tail keywords that you can rank for and write high-quality articles based around them. I split that process into two steps — keyword research and competition analysis.
What I love about my process is that you can follow it at absolutely no cost. Whilst I am going to recommend that you use two particular apps to make your life easier, you absolutely do not need to purchase them to make use of my strategy. Their involvement is more for convenience and efficiency, as opposed to functionality that could not otherwise be utilized.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that my process is in no way proven. So if you do decide to incorporate this strategy into your own, you do so at your own risk. I hope that in time I will be able to refer back to this as a pivotal element of a successful project, but until then, I can offer no assurances.
Before we begin, you may want to read my free guide to keyword research and competition analysis. If you are relatively new to the world of SEO (or even if not) you may find it useful, and it is obviously highly relevant to the topic at hand. Just enter your email address here and click “Sign Me Up!”:
Step 1: Keyword Research
As you will know if you read the first post in this series, the content strategy for my authority site is based upon Google autocomplete search phrases. You may want to read that post (and the other posts in this series) if you haven’t already.
When I started the site I was searching for article ideas manually by literally typing in, “[keyword] a”, “[keyword] b”, “keyword [c]”, and so on. Each search would display different potential post ideas:
This wasn’t particularly efficient, but I didn’t know of a better way. Then Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income made a suggestion in the form of an app called Keyword Researcher (thanks Pat!). It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.
In a nutshell, it makes generating an enormous list of potential long tail keywords relating to your niche a piece of cake. It actually has a whole bunch of useful applications outside of creating authority sites, but it was perfect for my needs too.
With Keyword Researcher I was able to compile a list of long tail keywords in just a few minutes. I’ve demonstrated how in the video below.
There is a free trial available, but at the time of writing, the full version of Keyword Researcher will set you back $45.97. It is absolutely not a necessity, but it won’t half make your life easier (as the above video demonstrates).
Step 2: Competition Analysis
Alright, by this stage I had a whole bunch of long tail keywords — the issue then was determining which were worth writing articles for.
I started by picking keywords indiscriminately, but soon realized that I could easily write 50 articles for competitive keywords without even realizing. Although long tail keywords are generally less competitive than those with a higher search volume, there are still those that are extremely difficult to rank for.
So I would consider competition analysis, even on long tail keywords, to be extremely important. Spending a few minutes up front picking viable keywords should help achieve far more beneficial results down the line.
Although competition analysis can typically get quite tricky, I actually stuck to a pretty simple process for my authority site, which I have shared in the video below. As always, I use Market Samurai for competition analysis. Given that this particular process is relatively straightforward, you could get away without it, but I would always recommend it as an awesome SEO tool anyway.
Once you have your list of keywords and know which ones are worth targeting, the next step is of course content production. And that is exactly what I am going to cover in the next post in this series — all of the methods I use to optimize my posts.
Whilst you might not go too far wrong by simply writing and publishing your posts without much thought for optimization, I do believe that you give yourself a better chance if you take the time to prepare each post accordingly.
Until then, I’d love to get your thoughts on my keyword research and competition analysis process. Do you agree with my methods, or would you recommend an alternative approach? Let us know in the comment section!