At some point in your writing career you’ll be asked about finding keywords or SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is a marketing skill, which writers may or may not have. I say it’s a good idea to become acquainted with the concept as it will make you more valuable to your clients.
Finding Keywords for SEO
Most freelance writers spend time researching different topics online, which is good news because finding keywords involves the same skill: research. And, in fact, there’s a good chance you’re doing keyword research as part of your regular workflow. Brainstorming writing ideas, building content calendars or working on branding all involve some aspect of SEO.
This can be as simple or complex as you make it. I like to keep things simple.
- Answer questions your audience is asking
Think about the audience you serve and the types of questions they’re asking. Then take those questions and answer them. If you take the time to figure out what questions your target audience, customer or reader is asking, the more you increase your chance of them finding your answers. It’s amazing stuff.
If you don’t know what questions are being asked browse through forums and Facebook groups. These are a gold mine when doing customer research. And if that fails, talk to some real people. Find out what they’re confused about and try and help clarify.
- Figure out three or four main topics for your website
If you’ve done any type of editorial planning then you understand how this is done. If not, think about the main themes or categories of the product or service you’re writing about. Then break those main ideas down into smaller topic ideas or sub-categories. Continue breaking the ideas down into smaller and smaller ideas until you’re as focused as possible. You now have a HUGE amount of on-topic keywords to build articles and content around.
- Look at what others in your industry/niche are writing about
Browse their websites and see what topics they’re addressing. Is there anything missing? Can you offer more information about one of those topics on your site? Can you go deeper on any of these themes? See what your competitors are doing and improve on it.
If you don’t know who your competitors are you can open up an incognito browser and Google your theme or topic. See who ranks in the top (not counting ads) and check out the articles. Ask these same questions and see how you can improve on what’s already ranking well in search.
And my favourite keyword hack
One last tip: Tech Tools
If you’re stumped for ideas online tools like Wordstream’s Keyword Tool or Google Trends will help you brainstorm ideas. They will also give you a good indication of how many people are searching for the term so you don’t waste your time answering questions no one is asking.
A few years ago my website was quite random and unfocused. I spent a lot of time writing about whatever struck my fancy and not much time wondering what people would like to read. One day I realized I was ranking as the number four search in Google for “DIY Chocolate Bubble Bath.” I thought that was pretty great until I realized I have no interest in the topic, offer no services or products on that topic and no one ever actually searches for that topic. Oops.
The closer your keywords are to the actual topics you cover and services you offer the better your SEO ranking will be. Part of your website’s value comes from how long people spend on your site. If you show up in search and people click on your link only for them to leave a second later, this tells Google the search result wasn’t relevant to the user and over time your ranking will go down until it disappears altogether.
There is a bit of a learning curve to figuring out keywords and SEO but if you keep it simple and think about what your audience is searching for online, you’re on your way to optimizing your writing.