How I Get Copywriting Clients Through SEO: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Guest Post)

by Peter Bowerman on August 14, 2012

I don’t quite remember when I stumbled upon commercial writing as a viable freelance profession, but as soon as I did I was sold. My background was in event marketing and sales, which I enjoyed but wasn’t necessarily passionate about.

I have always loved writing and I knew I wanted to do something using my business background, so combining the two was a natural fit. Although I didn’t have any professional training, I decided to make the leap to starting a freelance copywriting business in January 2010.

I did two things from the start that have been game changers for my business: first, I put up a website on WordPress, an incredible website content management system; second, I took the time to optimize my new site for the search engines (a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization or SEO), even though I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing at the time.

After getting my site up, I hit the pavement hard trying to land those first few clients. I networked like crazy, attending any free or low-cost event I could. I also spent a considerable amount of time reaching out to my network and getting involved on Twitter and LinkedIn. After a few short months, something interesting started happening. I started getting emails that looked like this:

Slowly but surely, SEO overtook networking as my #1 method of developing new business. Pretty soon I stopped going to networking events, slowed down my social media activity and stopped marketing almost entirely because I had so many projects lined up from clients who had found my website.

Now that 2 ½ years have passed since I started my freelance business, I’m astounded by how a small investment into learning and applying SEO has had such a profound effect on my business. Although most of my experience is positive, I do have some warnings about SEO, which I’ll share in a moment.

How I Optimized My Freelance Copywriting Website
I want to explain exactly how I used SEO effectively to drive traffic and prospects and ultimately convert web visitors into paying clients. I did the following six activities, which contributed to my current page-1 Google ranking:

1. Identified and selected my keywords using Google’s free keyword tool
2. Wrote keyword-rich title and description tags for my primary website pages
3. Blogged and kept blogging using my keywords a few times a month for the first two years
4. Promoted my blog posts on Twitter and LinkedIn
5. Learned to love Google Analytics as a way to see what keywords people used to find my site and other key metrics that helped me refine my strategy
6. Used WordPress to update my pages and keep my site fresh with new, timely content
7. Slowly started getting backlinks due to securing speaking gigs and workshops and through meeting other bloggers at networking events

The Effects SEO Has Had On My Business
While SEO has been incredible for my business, I’m the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. And despite its obvious benefits, I’ve allowed it to unfortunately limit my business. Here are my insights into the good, the bad and the downright ugly effects of SEO:

The Good:

• I rarely find myself in a bidding situation. For some reason, maybe because I’m on the first page of Google, when clients reach out to me they’re ready to do business immediately.

• I’ve met some incredible contacts through people finding my site: direct clients, referral partners (tons of website designers), marketing consultants, colleagues who recommended speaking gigs for me, fellow writers I’ve hired for overflow projects, and even an intern.

• Getting on the first page of Google happened very naturally for me by doing just the few simple, but consistent, activities I outlined above.

The Bad:

• SEO does not necessarily manifest the clients you want. Renowned copywriter Bob Bly has said that potential customers who find his website via SEO are never his best prospects; they require too much education, hand holding, and aren’t as willing to pay his fees as customers are who buy his information products or hear him speak at an event.

• SEO is not for everyone. Some copywriters might not need to spend time optimizing their site if they’re able to generate business through, for instance, books, speaking gigs, repeat clients, referrals, etc. Spending time optimizing their sites may not be the best investment if they’re staying busy thanks to other lead-generation efforts.

The Ugly:

• SEO has made me a very lazy business owner because I’m now used to prospects coming to me. It’s caused me to commit the cardinal sin of running a business: I have almost entirely stopped proactively marketing my business.

• SEO does not consistently bring me high paying prospects. It’s so easy to work with clients who approach me, I know I’m losing out on higher income clientele by not proactively pursuing those who might have more money or bigger projects. It’s rare that a corporate client will find me via SEO….most of the time my traffic is comprised of web designers with referrals, micro-business owners, service providers or solopreneurs.

• Ever since I landed in the top spot on the first page of Google, I have to work hard to maintain my ranking. It’s made me slightly obsessed with SEO since I have other business owners and freelancers constantly nipping at my heels for the top spot.

While SEO does have its downsides, the good has far outweighed the bad. Succeeding in SEO for my own site has led me to writing my first information product, garnered me a slew of speaking gigs, and might someday be a good niche for me, even though now I’m very much a generalist.

Weigh In On Your SEO Efforts…

What has held you back from getting started with SEO?

If you have taken the time to optimize your site, has your experience been similar to mine?

Any do’s and don’t’s you can share from your own experiences?


Jenny Munn is a passionate freelance copywriter in Atlanta who blogs about DIY SEO strategies for non-techies and small business owners. She’s the author of How to SEO Your Site: A DIY Guide for Small Business Owners, and offers a free keyword research report, 7 Simple Steps to Effective Keyword Research, at www.jennymunn.com.

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

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Understanding SEO
August 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Nichole Bazemore August 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Great post, Jenny! Thanks for openly sharing the pros and cons of SEO copywriting.

Brandy Nagel August 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Good points about the upside (and downside of SEO) Thanks Jenny!

John Unger August 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Very interesting:) At this early stage in my own writing career, I’ve worked almost exclusively off referrals from old business associates, with most of it being either ghost-writing or magazine articles, both of which seem to depend on having the right contact. As a result, I haven’t yet taken the time to build a web presence for myself. It’s nice to have an inkling about how you cultivated yours, and encouraging to see how rapidly you established it.

Thanks for all of your help!

Alison Law August 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Jenny, thanks for this detailed post. I’ve had luck with optimizing my site for search, but not many people who find me online are willing to pay my hourly rates. It’s almost as if there’s some weird association: “I found you online, so you must be inexpensive.” Still, I have gotten at least two clients who found me strictly from search and that’s enough to convince me that the minimal amount of time I’ve spent on SEO is worth the investment.

Mike Sweeney August 14, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Fabulous tips Jenny, thank you! One question: do you think that if you didn’t obsess so much over the SEO of your site that you would at least retain ranking in the top 10 after all the years of effort you’ve put into your site? I guess I’m asking if SEO is a constantly moving target / game you have to play.

Peter Wise August 15, 2012 at 2:42 am

Excellent post, Jenny, especially as a lot of it mirrors my own experience.

I started out as an agency copywriter here in the UK. I turned freelance a long time ago, but still mostly worked with agencies. About ten years ago, I got my own site and started to optimise it. Over the years it climbed the rankings and built up to the point where, apart from referrals, I get nearly all my income from it. I hardly ever do work for agencies now, apart from a couple of small ones who found my site; it’s nearly all direct clients.

The nature of my work has also changed. The most common project for me now is to write someone’s website and help get it up near the top of Google. Which given that they found my site on Google, gives me an in-built advantage.

Yes, there can be a quibble about rates sometimes, yes there’s often some hand-holding, but there are ways round this. For one thing, I firmly believe that most small to medium clients do not need an SEO agency – getting the content right and a bit of basic DIY SEO (for which I provide my own guide) suffices.

So when clients mention SEO companies promising ‘ to make them number one Google’ (yeah right) or to register their site with hundreds of search engines (totally unnecessary) or to suddenly generate hundreds of links (counter-productive), I can honestly tell them to save their money. Which makes them more receptive to spending decent money on the copywriting.

Lots more I could say, but that will have to be for another day. Thanks again – an interesting and stimulating post.

Don Sadler August 15, 2012 at 7:46 am

Good stuff, Jenny. My experience is similar to yours. Within a few weeks of doing some very basic SEO copywriting work on my site last year, I started getting a steady stream of calls and emails from prospects. At first, they were mostly tire-kickers looking for a cheap writer, but now most of them are legit prospects with budgets for a professional writer.

Like you, I now get enough leads this way that I don’t do much other marketing — just a monthly newsletter. Prospects usually don’t question my SEO copywriting abilities when I tell them that’s how they found me!

Lori August 15, 2012 at 7:56 am

What’s held me back is the very thing you describe, Jenny – the slight obsession that I know would come from trying to get my website up through the Google ranks. Plus SEO is something I use in slap-dash fashion, not something I think I need to know much about (can I be more wrong?).

My experience with SEO in terms of clients has been frustrating. So many clients who hire me to write for their sites think that if I can stuff a keyword or phrase into the content six times, they’ve mastered SEO. I get a little tired of explaining that good content matters, too.

Peter Bowerman August 15, 2012 at 9:48 am

Thanks Jenny,

And thank to all of you who’ve weighed in so far.

Great stuff, Jenny! I (and I think most would agree) sincerely appreciate the detail you provide here. SEO, it seems to me, is one of those things like, say, learning Spanish, or cooking – it’s fairly easy to learn the basics but mastering it for maximum yield takes a lot more effort.

As Lori accurately points out – it’s not just about stuffing your copy with keywords. And given the changes Google’s put in place in the last year or so, that sort of keyword-packed copy – that ends up virtually incoherent – will deservedly be de-emphasized in organic searches. So, that strategy won’t fly anymore anyway, which is as it should be.

In that same vein (and this was always the case, not just since Google’s changes), any good SEO expert (and there are plenty of not-so-good ones) will tell you that good copy trumps keywords: start with the ideal copy you want to write, as if SEO wasn’t an issue, and then go back and add in keywords. AND, yes, I’m grossly simplifying the process, and do NOT dare to pretend I’m an expert… ;)

There still is the issue (as Jenny and a few others here point out) of SEO seeming to attract the tire-kickers and low-ballers. Not sure why most folks who find one of us through an organic search would necessarily assume we’d work for a low wage, but if I had to guess, and at the risk of a “duh,” I’d say it speaks to the kind of people who search for a writer via Google (as opposed to having networked contacts already): they don’t have a lot of experience hiring commercial freelancers (and the hand-holding hinted at here and there in the post and comments would back that up), and as such, fall prey to twin misconceptions: 1) the whole “starving writer” thing; and 2) the idea that writing is something anyone can do…

But all that said, I think if you look at SEO as one part of a multi-pronged strategy for generating leads (though it’s very cool, and encouraging to hear from several of you saying it’s become the only way you do so), then I think most of us would agree that we’re happy to be in the position of sorting through what comes our way with little effort to generate those leads other than our original SEO efforts.

Yes, any given commercial writer might turn down many of them for being too low-paying, but we’ve all found ourselves a bit slow at times, and if we can work for a bit less (and perhaps establish our value in the mind of new writing-buyer, and work towards a higher wage with them on future projects; and/or get on their radar so they can refer us to others if they hear of a need), we may decide we’d rather work for less than not work at all. Obviously a totally personal decision, but having the option to decide is a good thing.

Thanks for your comments Don! And in case you missed it, Don wrote a great piece for the ezine this past April chronicling his own successful SEO efforts. Check it out!

PB

Jenny Munn August 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

Thanks for the great feedback all!

@Mike: Great question – as more copywriters have started basic optimization using the same keywords as me (variations of “Atlanta Copywriter”), it’s difficult to say with 100% certainty that I would retain my position in the top 10. However, because I love blogging and have committed to blogging as a marketing tactic, I think I can safely say “yes I would retain my position in the Top 10″ as many of my competitors on the first page don’t blog or refresh their content on a regular basis. So to get – and stay – in the Top 10 spot for your keywords, you have to do just as much (if not more) than the competition there. As long as your keywords aren’t overly competitive, getting and staying in the Top 10 doesn’t have to be a huge challenge.

@Peter W – good to know your experience is so similar to mine! I agree there’s a way to make sure you get the rates you’re entitled to.

@Don – You are definitely one of the examples I provide often of a copywriter who chose great keywords and who only needed to do some basic on-page optimization to see fantastic results. Thanks!

@Lori – I definitely understand your hesitation, but I would really still encourage you to give SEO a try. The secret is in choosing good keywords. Don’t optimize for “copywriter” as that is way too competitive. If you can niche it down and do basic on-page optimization, even that can produce some amazing results. I really only became obsessed with SEO after it provided me with a LOT of return and a lot of profit. So get started and don’t worry about obsessing with it until you start seeing significant return! And I understand about client frustrations because they misunderstand SEO 99% of the time. Depending on the competition of their market, they possibly have to do a LOT more than just stick keywords into copy (although good SEO copywriting is definitely the first step).

@Peter B – your comment is right on target. Good copy trumps everything! Regarding the clientele who find me via SEO, while 65% may be a little shocked initially at the rates and the process, the 35% who can afford me and hire me immediately make the SEO investment absolutely worth it as I’ve gotten some very lucrative corporate clients. Thanks for the opportunity to guest post! :)

@Nichole, @Brandy, @John, and @Alison – thank you for your comments and insight!

Joshua Monen August 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Great post Jenny! This is a good reminder for me to optimize my website. I do have a blog but I’ll admit, I haven’t really done any optimizing.

And I have a question about targeting keywords…

Would you recommend only targeting a few short geo-specific keywords like:

- portland freelance copywriter
- portland copywriter
- portland writer

Or would you suggest casting a larger net and target, say 20 different long-tail keywords? I realize they wouldn’t get as much traffic but do you think it’d be worth it (my thinking was that they would be easier to rank for too).

For example, I was considering targeting:

- top email copywriter in portland or
- financial services copywriter in portland or
- best blog writer in portland or

Thanks Jenny.

Jenny Munn August 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

@Josh – that’s a great question. First, I would take each of those keywords and plug them into Google (make sure to log out if you are logged in to YouTube, Gmail, Google+, etc.). Do some competitive analysis on EACH of the keywords you’re considering to see who the competitors are on the first page and make sure you can out-seat them.

In general though, I would use a mix of both geo-targeted keywords (perhaps for your home and about page) and then also a few long-tail keywords for your interior pages (or blog posts). If “top email copywriter in Portland” is a good keyword, you can use it on a services page. Or, consider creating an “email copywriting” page specifically around this keyword if it doesn’t make sense to use for any of your current content.

I have a client who gets GREAT leads with the keyword “top marketing agency [city name]” as it is a keyword that’s highly searched but not competitive at all in his city.

Thanks for the great question and comment!

Joshua Monen August 16, 2012 at 11:12 am

Thank you Jenny! That’s really helpful. I just added that to my to-do list. I’m going to make a some landing pages for my specific services and link to them from my services page. Sounds like that should help.

Katherine Andes August 17, 2012 at 7:02 am

Good post, Jenny. It’s worked well for me, though I get more work from networking and article writing. I’ve gotten some excellent work from search results, but way too many low-ballers. Perhaps it’s my semi-rural area.

Jenny Munn August 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm

@Katherine – thanks for chiming in! I’ve never tried article writing as a business development tactic before, so that’s interesting you get so much work from it. I agree that with SEO it’s hit or miss as far as getting the rates you want. But at least it has the potential to bring in steady leads! Thanks again.

Right copywriter August 23, 2012 at 3:30 am

Good read! Great tips for best SEO copywriting. Thanks for the post.

Heather Herrig August 28, 2012 at 11:51 am

Great insight, Jenny! SEO is something I’m really interested in exploring further, so I loved this post as a great introduction.

Martha Retallick September 5, 2012 at 11:34 am

I had an eBook sales site that was #1 ranked in Google for several years.

And, sorry to say, I found that my SEO experience was similar to Bob Bly’s. The buyers who came straight to my site from the search engines were the ones most likely to demand a refund.

OTOH, the people who came to the site and then signed up for my e-zine were much more loyal customers. They weren’t just parachuting in to “borrow” the eBook.

The above being said, I’m not against SEO. Not at all. It can be quite useful for some businesses. And, who knows, I may even start picking up clients who want me to do SEO copywriting. It’s something I’d really like to get into.

Right now, I’m a rookie freelance copywriter who is working with a client on a website sales page. How did I land this client? Well, she’s a longtime client with whom I’ve worked on design projects. I recently mentioned that I’d been getting into copywriting, so if you need any help in that area…

Guess what — she did.

So, don’t overlook those longtime clients you’ve had while doing another type of freelancing.

Star September 10, 2012 at 11:03 am

You emphasize geography–do clients want to be in the same city? Do you have to go to in-person meetings?

Jenny Munn September 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm

@Star – I emphasize geography, but that’s because I chose to go local as my copywriting niche. It’s much easier to rank for “Atlanta copywriter” than “copywriter.” While I still work with clients across the country, I chose to go with a local keyword strategy as the competition was a little less. So about 80% of my clients are located in Atlanta, and I would say about 40% of the time I meet with my clients in person. Thanks!

vinodh September 15, 2012 at 9:30 am

Hi Jenny,
Vinodh here. I bought your seo ebook.
good analysis on leads after seo .
regards
vinodh

vinodh September 15, 2012 at 9:46 am

I believe my efforts on seo will yield results only after I write sufficient number of blog posts

Matt Brennan November 10, 2012 at 10:03 am

Great post Jenny. As a freelance writer SEO has brought me some great clients and some not so promising leads. For some reason it seems to attract the very clients who are causing writers to race to the bottom of the barrel for competition. The “I’ll write your website copy for $5″ crowd. Once you can weed out the legitimate from the not so legitimate, it becomes an effective tool.

Jenny November 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

@Matt: thanks for your comment! And I totally agree about understanding how to weed out the legitimate from the not so legitimate SEO leads.

I recently had a revelation: I try to go above and beyond for leads that have come my from a referral, but sometimes these leads just aren’t the best fit either and I have to be better about turning them down instead of trying too hard to make them work. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m letting 2 people down – the lead and the referral source. Anyway, back to the subject at hand… :)

Thanks for the comment!

Neil November 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

Hi Jenny,

I’ve been a freelance print writer (magazines, newspapers) for years but as times got tough much of my work dried up and I have now turned to the business world for new clients. I have also dipped my toes in online waters with mixed success.

For me SEO is a new technique for me to learn and while I’m sure it’s not rocket science I think there is quite a lot to pick up but most of all you must be methodical, it’s way too easy to not optimise, find the best key word or do the other things that you need to do to be successful.

Sometimes you miss the simple things like optimising for your geographical region. I mention that because I noticed your screenshot email said, “I came across your site doing an internet search for an Atlanta based…” I have not optimised my site for my geographical region.

Although I live in a much smaller country than the US, my geographical region is really important, how could I have missed it!!

Thanks for your post I have learned something new today.

Jenny November 21, 2012 at 11:21 am

Hi Neil – thanks so much for your comment!

Absolutely – geographically targeted keywords are one of the best way to start ranking for keywords that aren’t so competitive. Choosing “Atlanta” based words is a niche I went after because the keyword “Atlanta Copywriter” is much less competitive than “Copywriter.”

While I certainly accept clients in other parts of the country (or the world), pursuing a smaller keyword niche has worked for me. That’s definitely a tip for starting out in SEO – choose niche keywords and work your way up to more broad ones. Good luck!

Jenny

SEO Services Gold Coast March 3, 2014 at 12:59 am

Hi Jenny! I totally agree with your post. SEO has been a big help for you. It’s really great! Thanks for sharing some about the world of SEO.

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