How Much SEO Knowledge Do You Need To Write SEO Copy?

Just over seven months ago, I wrote my last regular blog post for, after a two and a half year stint as a regular contributor.  Since then, I’ve stayed in contact with Sharon and simply put, I can’t stay away any longer! [Editor’s note: and we’re happy to have you back, Dan!]

Google Hummingbird SEO for Writers

I’m not coming back on a regular basis (yet!), but since I’ve started working at Zine, I’ve realised I’ve got a lot of information to talk about that would be of use to writers – so here I am!

For those of you who don’t know, I work at the digital media agency Zine, developing and implementing SEO strategies based around the production of high quality, unique content.  SEO has changed drastically over the last two years in particular, almost going from a resource where there’s a check list-style process to follow to one that’s so focused on the customer experience and journey that in many ways, ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ is no longer an accurate term to describe the process.

So, how does this link in with you as a freelance writer?

When I first started freelancing, I wrote a lot of SEO-based copy.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was kind of ‘the way’ to get into freelance writing and so there was a lot of this type of work available.

Generally speaking, it worked by the client giving you a keyword and you would produce a minimum of 400 words around it, with the keyword in the title and mentioned twice within the copy, linking back to a specific website from at least one of them (with the keyword as the link’s anchor text).  The content would then be published on a website and the more articles produced, the more links were created and subsequently, the greater the impact on the SEO strategy.

Today, although content and link building are still vital to success, these style posts don’t really work anymore.  Google has changed its focus (for the better) and as such, writers don’t necessarily have to have as great of an understanding about SEO as they once had to.

And instead, they need to hark back to their knowledge and experience as a writer.

I work with several writers in my current position, some in-house and some freelancing and they all produce content for different reasons for the SEO strategies we’re delivering.  At all times, however, I stipulate that quality must be the more important consideration than anything else when we’re looking at the content.

It genuinely doesn’t matter how many keywords are included in the copy, where the links point to or what the anchor text is if the quality of the copy isn’t good enough – you need to think of the customer / reader first and foremost and then work backwards.  Just by naturally writing about the topic on an in-depth level you should be including any suitable keywords and links, but if you haven’t, when you’re proofing the piece, see where – and if – you can work them in without jeopardising the overall quality of the copy.

What’s interesting here is that this, in many ways, isn’t a SEO technique, but a writing one.  When you’re producing content, you want to feel confident that the reader understands exactly what it’s about, gains something valuable from it and subsequently knows what or where to action – and if you focus on this when you’re writing a ‘SEO’ piece of content, the results should be as you and your client expect.

So, to answer the question in the title, it’s very little – as long as you have enough writing experience and understand just what your audience wants, any SEO factors should fall into place perfectly.

Ah, it’s good to be back!

Photo credit: MrClean1982

About Dan Smith

Dan Smith is a seasoned freelance writer, currently working as the SEO Specialist for digital media agency Zine.  With a strong focus on developing strategies that are based heavily on high quality content, Dan always has one eye on the customer experience and has a distinct (dis)ability of being unable to say no.


  1. Hi Dan

    Google’s recent updates must be music to a writers ears?

    Obviously the demand for your services must be increasing and no doubt you would prefer to write something in depth than ensure you’ve got certain keywords included?

    • That’s exactly it, Mark. Writers have always been good at just that – writing – and SEO has always had to come as a secondary consideration. The more Google (and consumer expectations’) develops, however, the more the focus is put on delivering content that’s readable and engaging, meaning it’s generally a more favourable route for writers.

  2. Yay, Dan! Good to see you back. I like this method so much better. 🙂 To be honest, I have never been focused on SEO – aware of – but not focused. I guess I was ahead of my time. LOL! 😀

    Great post, Dan (per usual).

    • The thing is, it should have always been this way. Google have never come out and said “you need to stuff your content with keywords”, for example, but it was found to work at one point and so that’s what’s happened. The fact you’ve never been swayed by the thought goes to show you’ve always truly had the reader at the front of your mind!

      And it’s good to be back, Cathy. Thanks for the positive feedback 🙂

  3. I really like that the recent Google updates stress quality so much, it helps the surfing experience.

    You make a really good point about focusing on just the quality and the best audience experience when writing, and only think about adding keywords afterwards while proofing the piece without jeopardizing quality. I will use this approach from now on. I actually used this unknowingly at one of my websites and it greatly improved my rankings.

    • Great to hear you’ve seen success (albeit unknowingly!) with this approach, Pau. It’s all about delivering the best user experience possible – do this and everything else should fall into place!

      It is worthwhile pointing out that keywords don’t necessarily have to be included at all, at least not in their exact state. Google is becoming clever enough to work out what a certain piece of content is about and so as long as you’re talking about ‘freelance writing’ and ‘book offers’ within your piece, you should find your rankings increase for keywords such as ‘freelance writing book offers’.

  4. Hi Dan
    Great to hear that we have to focus less on SEO than we thought, although I must admit I have been having some great success with doing the opposite of late.
    But you can never really know then can you. Perhaps I better call Matt Cutts and ask :>
    thanks for the post

    • I don’t doubt at all you’ve seen success by doing the opposite, Ashley, but it’s important you’re aware of the potential pitfalls.

      For years, backlinks were generated on a ‘quantity over quality’ basis and great results were seen. However, starting last year, Google became switched on to this approach and started penalising websites based on poor link quality. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before Google begin to really, really clamp down (even more than they have now!) on content that doesn’t offer a first-class customer experience.

  5. Dan – Welcome Back!

    This update is great news for those of us who want to just focus on providing quality content and forget most of the SEO techniques. Do you foresee Google pushing through additional updates to continue to reward quality content or was this recent update a “long-term” fix?

  6. I definitely agree, and it’s good to see Google making changes so people write more for humans, as opposed to machines. However, I do think that having a proper keyword phrase in both the post title as well as a matching one in the title tag still pays dividends.