5 things your client needs you to know about keywords
They don’t know what they don’t know
In any freelance niche, SEO writing is highly valuable. Businesses are fully onboard with the magic of search traffic, and they want content optimized to bring it to their site.
The problem? Their actual knowledge about SEO.
You might write for a publication with a dedicated SEO team and the latest tools to give you exactly the information you need to write a post that answers a reader’s every question and ranks in search.
Or, you might work for a tiny local business, where your contact for content is the owner, who has a sales background and doesn’t have time to devote to keeping up with Google’s fleeting tastes.
The latter needs your expertise more than they realize.
They’ll hire you to write SEO content, and it’s your job to know how to do it right — not to just take ill-fitting directions and write any old post. Learn the right way to write for SEO, so you can spot these issues and know the questions to ask them to write a post that achieves their goals.
5 mistakes clients make when assigning you an article for SEO
1. The keyword is too broad
I see this most from clients who aren’t content people.
They’ll assign you a post of “tips to keep your sales team happy,” and they hope to get a bunch of search traffic. So you, wise freelancer, ask for the keyword, and they say, “sales team.”
A: That phrase is so widely used by so many sites the competition is off the charts, and your just-getting-into-SEO small business just won’t rank for it. And two — what on earth is a post about “sales team”? It’s unlikely someone searching with that term is looking for tips to have a happy sales team.
If you get a broad keyword, do some quick research yourself with a free tool like UberSuggest, and recommend a more fitting option.
2. The keyword is in their brand voice
This is a less common issue, but I’ve seen it with creative clients. They get the idea of specificity but have no concept of keyword planning or research.
Their keyword is something like “how to know when your sales people need more from you.”
That might be a catchy topic for a social media post or their next webinar, but would you ever type it into a search bar? Remember: You can’t be found for something no one searches for.
Take their topic suggestion to heart, so you can write an article that fits their brand. To find and recommend a proper keyword, ask yourself what the phrase means to them and what a reader would search to find that information. Run those by the client to make sure you’re on the same page before you start writing.
3. They don’t consider the audience
A quick look at the results for a keyword tells you exactly what Google believes readers want to find through that search. It’s a slap-your-head simple way to get inside the reader’s head.
You can also use your common sense as a content creator. Consider the keyword a question from the reader. Does the article you’re assigned answer that question?
Say the client gives you the keyword “sales team tips.”
Google that quickly, and you’ll see most of the results are about managing a sales team and keeping them productive. You might recommend something like “happy sales teams,” for which results are much more in line with the suggested article topic about keeping sales teams happy.
4. They don’t tell you the purpose of the article
Without context, a keyword doesn’t mean much. What does the client want to get out of this article?
A misunderstanding or misalignment of goals can be a problem even if they give you a spot-on keyword. They hand you “how to manage a sales team,” which aligns with their desired topic and sits within reach for ranking.
Then they tell you they hope to get people who visit this article to click directly over to their product page and buy their customer relationship management software on the spot.
Yikes. That’s a big leap.
Get in the reader’s head again. When they type in “how to manage a sales team,” they’re in search of advice and information to help with that task. They’re probably not in a buying mode. Buyers type things “sales software.”
When you get a content marketing assignment, ask the client to name a clear purpose for the content. Then work with them to plan for content that’s fit to achieve their goals.
When the client has achievable expectations, they’re more likely to be satisfied with the results — and more likely to keep hiring you.
5. Their article idea isn’t aligned with the keyword
Some clients are chronic micro-managers. Betcha knew that. They might be super in love with this blog post idea they’ve had, but know they’re supposed to focus on SEO.
They hand over a full article outline or “some ideas” they jotted down for the post, plus a keyword. Great keyword, great post idea… but the two are worlds apart. You get an outline filled with their favorite quotes about sales, and the keyword “how to manage a sales team.”
Start by asking for those goals we talked about in No. 4. What does the client want to achieve with this article?
Use your judgment to determine whether their original idea or the one that fits the keyword can best achieve their goal.
If it’s their original idea, suggest a more fitting keyword. If it’s the keyword, do your SERP research, and recommend an outline to include what readers are actually looking for under that keyword — and include their ideas throughout for added color and to set it apart from competitors.
🧡 Keyword Research [Beginner's Guide to SEO] (Moz): From this ultimate SEO writing guide, here’s a comprehensive overview of how to choose keywords for your articles.
💚 How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: A Beginner's Guide (HubSpot): Here’s another guide to keyword research — I like this one because it’s a little more actually beginner-y, and it includes a clear list of what makes a “good” keyword.
💜 5 things your editor wants you to know about SEO writing (Notes): Yes, from this newsletter, here’s my post about SEO writing (the most popular post yet!).
💙 40 Questions You Need to Ask Every Copywriting Client (Copyblogger): This exhaustive list isn’t specific to SEO, but it’s a great primer to get you in the habit of getting all the info you need from clients to have a happy working relationship and help them achieve their goals.
💛 5 Tips for Communicating with Freelance Clients (Miranda Marquit): Questioning a client’s judgment isn’t easy. Here’s some advice for smooth client communication, including how to feel out whether they’re open to feedback.