Is it Time to Upgrade From Freelance Writer to LLC?

Do you need an upgrade?When I made the move from freelancer to starting a content development agency, the decision of which type of business to form was an easy one. I went from being a sole proprietor to being the co-owner of a limited liability corporation (LLC).

Why we chose to go with an LLC had a lot to do with the state where we’re based — Texas. Say what you will about the state, but Texas is one of the most small-business friendly states. Also, there’s no state income tax. And we have awesome barbecue. But I digress.

Aside from the legal and financial reasons for making that choice, creating an LLC — and in general, becoming a more formal business entity — offered other benefits directly related to our business over and above our business filing. If you think you’re ready to upgrade, an LLC may be just the thing to help you gain more credibility, more clients, and yes, more revenue.

What’s the Difference Between a Sole Proprietorship and an LLC?

If you’re a freelance writer, you’re already a sole proprietor. (You’re paying your quarterly estimated tax, right? Right?!) Although you likely didn’t have to actually file any papers or pay any fees to claim that status, sole proprietorship is recognized by the IRS. It basically means you as an individual and you as a business are one and the same, and you’ll encounter few differences to how you file your taxes, aside from possibly having more deductions.

In order to be recognized as an LLC, you will need to file paperwork and pay fees. What kind of paperwork and how much in fees will vary from state to state. But the basic paperwork required regardless of state indicates the name of your business, its location, and who the members are.

Depending on where you form your LLC, you may also have to pay an LLC tax or, in some states, what’s called a franchise tax. I know — we’re not talking about franchises, we’re talking about LLCs. You weren’t really expecting tax law to make sense, were you? C’mon.

Forming a Foreign LLC

You’ll notice I said “depending on where you file your LLC.” Sure, this is because it depends on the state you live in, but something you may not know is you can file an LLC in any state you like, whether you live there or not.

Why would anyone do this? For lots of reasons, but the two main ones are:

  • to make the filing process easier, and
  • to reduce expenses

While forming a business can be a complex process in some states, when we did it, we filled out a form, sent it to the state capital, paid a few hundred dollars, and in exactly one week, we were an LLC. Just like that. Done. It couldn’t possibly have been any easier than it was.

As for expense, if you live in California, you’ll pay a fairly high LLC tax of 8.84%, and a minimum tax of $800, and income tax to boot. If you file your LLC in Texas, you’ll pay a franchise tax of just 1%.

(While I may be just a teensy bit biased toward Texas (Go Spurs Go!), it’s not the only state that offers benefit to those forming an LLC. But seriously — barbecue. That’s all I’m saying.)

Forming an LLC in another state — a “foreign LLC” — may also require the payment of additional up-front fees. You’ll need to do your own homework here to decide not only whether you want to make the leap from sole proprietor to LLC, but then whether to file in your home state or not.

Speaking of doing homework, I’m discussing these topics based on my personal experience, and from a general, educational point of view. But remember that we’re talking about legal entities here that have certain tax responsibilities. As I’m neither a lawyer nor a tax accountant, be sure to consult one or the other or both, or at a minimum, do your own research before making any changes to your business status.

Now, how can switching from a sole proprietorship to an LLC benefit you as a business owner?

More Credibility

Let’s be honest for a minute here. As prevalent and in demand as the freelance writer is, there’s still a pervasive attitude that if you’re a freelancer, you’re not a “real” business. You just have some free time on your hands, and you figured you’d make a few bucks while your kids were at school, or on the weekends. You’re not really expecting to make a living doing that, are you? So businesses can sometimes be reluctant to pay reasonable and fair rates for freelance work.

I’ve definitely been there. In fact, when I was freelancing, I took to referring to myself as an “independent professional writer” in an effort to be taken more seriously — and to have my rates taken more seriously.

That changes when you become a registered business entity. When you put an LLC (or an Inc., or whatever official designation you establish) after your business name on your website, people perceive you differently. I’m not going to lie to you and say companies immediately open their wallets wider to pay for web content because we still have a struggle with content mills, but that’s another post.

But when you can put a business name and logo on your invoices, you can begin to change how your clients interact with you and how potential clients see you.

It may also open up other opportunities to you such as speaking engagements, offers to guest post on well-regarded blogs and even press quotes (Are you signed up with HARO?).

More Clients

Those marketing opportunities are all fantastic, but the main goal of those activities is to get clients. You also know that some clients respond to perceived scarcity (a classic marketing tactic), and to perceived value (a necessary facet of your business). How better to bolster both of those perceptions than to move from being an individual freelance writer to an LLC?

Just as your industry colleagues may view you differently once you change your status, so too will potential clients. In fact, establishing your business as an LLC (or other entity) may even passively assist you with client pre-qualification. Some potential clients may infer that once you become a small business, you’re probably more expensive than a freelancer. Whether this is true or not, it may keep the more, uh, frugal clients out of your inbox, leaving plenty of room for those who are really serious about their content, and serious about hiring you at your possibly higher rates.

More Revenue

Well, this one just naturally follows the last one if forming an LLC brings you more regard and more clients. But if you do go this route, why not raise your rates a bit? In fact, you really should.

Even if you form a single-member LLC, you’re likely going to have a few more expenses than you had as a sole proprietor. You still may not have to worry about renting office space, but you may want to step up from using your Gmail address to a domain-based address that you access via Gmail. The best option for that is Google Apps, which, while very affordable, does cost.

Then there are business cards. Again, you can find affordable options, but now that you’re a business and not a freelancer, you need cards with your logo on them that make more of an impression than most free cards you may find.

And don’t forget your LLC or franchise taxes and other fees. As a business, you have other expenses you didn’t have before. Raising your rates may not bring an immediate raise in net profit. But if your new rates cover your new expenses while keeping your income status quo (at least at first), you’re coming out ahead.

You may also find it easier later on when it comes time to raise your rates again. Some clients won’t take it well, but that’s just another way of qualifying clients. Again, a post for another time.

Joining Forces

OK, now let’s think for a moment. If you’re going to form an LLC, you’re positioning yourself for more credibility, more clients and more revenue. Well, how are you going to handle all those new clients and new marketing opportunities by yourself? Maybe you don’t have to fly solo.

I never thought I’d go into business with a partner. My experiences as an employee with less-than-stellar bosses put me in a mindset of wanting to go it completely alone. Well, things happen, things change, and I did not only get a business partner, I became one. But it’s led our business to bigger and better things.

Think about it — two times the labor force. Two times the marketing. Where I’m weak, she’s strong, and vice-versa. And now that she’s moved back to her home state of Ohio while I’m still in Texas, we’re a national company with two locations! OK, we both still work from home, but you get what I mean. She’s making all new connections up there while I’m still working in our community here.

But the best thing? Those days when being an entrepreneur is hard, when clients are making us crazy, when we wonder what the heck we were thinking — those days, it’s wonderful to be partners who keep each other grounded, who listen to each other vent and then give each other that push we need to keep going.

The point is, starting a business is hard. Keeping it going is even harder. Doing everything all by yourself, well, that’s not always all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re thinking about making your business official, you can open yourself up to a lot of benefits. But don’t let the fact that, up to this point, you’ve worked alone, be the thing that stops you.

In fact, don’t let anything stop you.

About the Author

Michelle Lowery is a freelance book editor, provides website optimization for authors and wrote the book Self-Editing for Indie Authors. Learn more about her by visiting her site at

Connect with Michelle on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

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Photo thanks to kennymatic

23 Amazing 5-Minute SEO Copywriting Tips to Boost Site Traffic

Five minute timer

How many SEO copywriting tasks can you do in five minutes?

Are you looking for fast, five-minute SEO copywriting fixes?

Here’s a list of 23 amazing SEO writing tips that can boost site traffic, increase conversions and help you gain great Google positions. Best of all, trying a tip will take five minutes or less. Enjoy!

Change a Title

Is a page positioning well, but people ignore it on the search engine results page? It may be time for a Title makeover. Try keeping the same keyphrase focus, but tweak your Title so it reads more like a headline. Compelling Titles see great click-through rates, so experiment with what works.

Change a meta description

So many people ignore the meta description because it’s not important for positioning. Don’t be one of them! A great meta description paired with a killer Title is like a one-two marketing punch on the SERP. Why not tweak a boring description to something that screams “click me” from the search engine results page?

Check one page’s analytics

Some people immediately overwhelm when they log into Google Analytics. If you’re one of them (or if checking analytics keeps falling to the bottom of your to-do list,) try this SEO copywriting tip. Check the analytics for just one page (preferably one that’s important to your conversion flow.) Is the bounce rate too high? Should you change the Title? Make notes of what you’d change.

Brainstorm blog post ideas

The more post ideas you have in your back pocket, the better — especially for those days when you don’t know what to write. Take five minutes and brainstorm as many blog post ideas as you can. You may come up with 17 really bad ideas and three good ones. That’s OK.

Optimize an old post

Many companies started blogging long before they worried about optimizing their posts for SEO. If that’s the case for your site (or your client’s site,) spend five minutes optimizing an old post. It’s amazing how just a few optimization tweaks can make a huge difference in positioning.

Check out BuzzSumo for article ideas

I. Love. BuzzSumo. It’s a great way to discover new article ideas and see what’s getting shared. Plus, it’s a great way to see who linked to and shared a particular post. If you love geeky content data presented in a non-geeky way, you’ll love BuzzSumo.

Email an influencer

Most people contact influencers only when they want something. Instead, try writing a non-pushy note like, “Hey, I really liked your latest post/book/podcast. Thanks for taking the time to create it.” This tip won’t drive immediate site traffic, but it could be the start of a great friendship — and perhaps a site mention down the line. If nothing else, sending a nice note will make your favorite influencer’s day.

Experiment with blog post headlines

Have you ever written multiple headlines and choosing one was a challenge? Try KingSumo’s Headlines WordPress plugin. It lets you test multiple version of a headline. Once the data rolls in, the headline with the best response becomes the permanent post headline. Data-driven decisions are always way better than guessing.

Experiment with social post headlines

Are you cross-posting the same copy to Facebook and Twitter? That may not be the best move. BuzzSumo recently released a study outlining the most popular headline trigrams (three-word phrases) for Facebook and Twitter. Hint: What pulls on Facebook doesn’t work as well on Twitter. Check out the study — the data may surprise you!

Pick a post for repurposing

Did you pen a popular post? Don’t let it hide in your “archives” section. Instead, consider ways you can repurpose your post as a SlideShare PPT, tweets and more. Plus, you can increase your site visits if you link back to your original post.

Post to (or join) a new LinkedIn group

LinkedIn is fantastic (and often underutilized) for B2B marketers. If you’ve lurked in a LinkedIn group for awhile, post a question, a blog post or comment on another’s post. If LinkedIn has been off your marketing radar for awhile, log in and find a group related to your field. Sure, LinkedIn is often a long-play content marketing strategy. Yet, many people (including me) report receiving leads — and sales — attributed to LinkedIn alone.

Do some competitive sleuthing

You never want to copy your competitor’s keyphrase or content strategy. At the same time, competitive information is always nice — and may give you some ideas about how to move forward. A quick competitive analysis in SEMRush will provide lots of data you can deep-dive into later.

Follow a new thought leader

It’s easy to build an “influencer bubble” and forget to expose yourself to new experts. New, smart people are entering the industry all the time — and there may be some “old guard” folks you haven’t heard about. Pick one new person to follow on your social network of choice. You may pick up a bunch of great (and new) information!

Make a list of outstanding content tasks

What’s the biggest SEO content challenge? There’s so much to do and track. Instead of letting those to-do’s float around your head, spend five minutes and make (or update) your list. As an added benefit, you may not wake up at 3 a.m. freaking out about your content tasks any longer.

Add structured data markup to a web page

Don’t be afraid of structured data! Google makes marking up a page easy with it’s Structured Data Markup Helper. All you need to do is follow Google’s (easy) instructions — and Google will automatically generate the markup for the page.

Check for duplicate content

Many sites that have been “locally SEO’ed” have duplicate location-specific content pages. If this sounds like your site (or your client’s site,) count the number of duplicate pages and put rewriting them as a “to do” on your outstanding content task list. You’ll want to rewrite those pages as soon as possible.

Tweak an image alt tag

Is image SEO important to your site? Choose a page and see how you can make your good image alt tags even better. Remember a great image alt describes an image in a non-spammy way — so check for keyphrase stuffing and make any necessary corrections. (Thanks, Brandon John Smithwick)

Writing local content? Try this tip.

Do you write a lot of local content? Try a search using the ”(Activity) (Close to/ nearby) (Place)” formula.  For example, there are only four results for [Clubs near Mission Beach]? This tip can help you discover a lot of cool places which can, in turn, help fuel the creative process on future projects.(Thanks,  Jeremiah Malone )

Spot-check a site’s NAP

Do you help clients with local SEO? Make sure the site’s name, address and phone number (NAP) is consistent throughout the site and matches the Google business listing exactly. Any discrepancies can mess with a site’s local listing, so it pays to give a site a quick check.

Spot check Search Console

When’s the last time you logged into Google’s Search Console? Search Console is a treasure-trove of SEO content marketing data. You can check out click-through rates, positions, see your most linked content and more! You can glean a lot of information in just five minutes.

Read a trade publication post

Keeping up with industry news — whether it be SEO, your professional vertical or your client’s industry — is incredibly important. It’s also overwhelming. If you struggle with finding the time to keep up, try to read at least one article a day. Work up to as much time as you can comfortably carve out of your schedule. Chances are, you’ll learn at least one actionable traffic-driving tip you can use on your site (or a client’s site.)

Comment on the post

Granted, there is no SEO benefit here, but this tip could drive traffic. First, bloggers love (sane, well thought out, intelligent) comments. But more importantly, commenting can help you build a relationship with the blogger and other readers. Maybe not right away (because that would be weird.) But over time, people will get to know your perspective — and possibly contact you for more information.

Find question-oriented search terms

People type (and speak) questions into Google all the time. A great way to figure out what people are asking is by using the research tool Yes, you’ll see more data if you sign up for the paid subscription. But, you’ll still see a lot of tasty information if you try their “questions” tab for free.

What other 5-minute SEO copywriting tips would you add to the list? Post your comment below!

Want a handy checklist outlining all 23 tips? Fantastic — I’ve created a handy PDF guide just for you! You’ll get instant access if you sign up for my newsletter (plus, I share tips in my newsletter I don’t share anywhere else!)

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Photo thanks: Davooda |



On Viral Headlines & Bad Listicles: Interview with BuzzSumo’s Steve Rayson

Steve Rayson discusses viral headlinesSince our first interview with Steve Rayson in June 2015 — and only two years after he and co-directors James Blackwell and Henley Wing launched BuzzSumo — the SaaS company has grown by quantum leaps to become a leading content data and analytics platform. And it shows no signs of slowing down.

Nor does Steve, for that matter. We caught up with him to ask about his latest article sharing his insights into viral headlines, which closely parallels his year-end analysis of 2015’s most-shared content. (If you read through all that Steve has researched and published over the past year, you’ll appreciate just how busy he’s been). Enjoy!

In your recent BuzzSumo article reporting on the findings from your research into viral headlines, you break down the viral headline structure into five common elements: Is there one that is absolutely essential to a “clickable” headline?

I don’t think there is a single element. I think if I had to point to the most important element I would probably say the clarity of the promise is key: What will I get if I click through to your content?

I think one of the interesting aspects was how the performance of headlines varied so much from network to network. See the top three word phrases (headline trigrams) across FB and Twitter as an example. So you do have to craft different text when promoting content on the different social networks.


BuzzSumo just released research findings from its joint study with HubSpot on B2B vs. B2C content performance across all the major social networks. Did you find any surprises that relate to your viral headline study?

Not that relate to viral headlines per se, but I think it is interesting to see the importance of Facebook to B2B sharing. Whilst I understand the focus on LinkedIn, I think B2B marketers should not ignore Facebook as it seems to be growing in importance.

b2b-v-b2c-social-sharesIn discussing how well list and “how to” content formats perform across all social networks, you express reluctance in sharing your findings for fear that the web will be saturated with them – particularly in B2B marketing. Why are you especially concerned about B2B?

One concern is simply that we will see the same headlines again and again as people are lazy. My other concern is the appallingly poor quality of many list posts — I mean really poor.

For example, today I clicked to read a post on ‘10 Tips for a Successful Product Launch’. The post was one of those short list posts that add zero value. The advice recommended was that you should:

  • Plan
  • Set measurable goals
  • Launch a product your customers need
  • Define your key message
  • Beta test your product
  • Etc.

You get the idea. It is just a list almost anyone could sit down and write, but it is actually not helpful.

In fact, it is worse than not helpful as it wasted my time. I get frustrated when I click through to these posts. So much so that I am actually developing an app which uses a combination of algorithms and human filtering to suggest helpful or valuable content so you don’t waste time on these types of list posts.

This sounds similar to what Google does with its Panda algorithm and Search Quality Raters guidelines. Is this the case? Will the app be integrated into the existing BuzzSumo platform or will it stand alone as its own set of search returns?

It is called Anders Pink (B2B Marketing) and is separate from BuzzSumo. In essence, you set up an Anders Pink stream and our algorithm filters content for your team.

You can add RSS feeds, content shared by influencers or published by specific sites. For all of them you can filter by keywords; for example, “only show content shared by these 10 influencers about influencer marketing”. Then your team can rate, flag and comment on new content, so you can further filter it by the most highly rated by your team and ignore the rest.

So in the wider scheme of marketing things, what overall headline creation and content sharing strategies would you suggest? 

Headlines matter and you can increase shares by adopting the viral content elements and structure in your headline that I outlined in my blog post.

That said, I think you have to research and test what works in your area. As I always say, you need to be clear about your amplification strategy before you write content: who will share or link to the content, and why?

You also need to spend as much time on amplifying your content as creating it.

Finally, findings from a study of 3 million paid link headline click-through rates conducted by HubSpot and Outbrain (Data Driven Strategies for Writing Effective Titles & Headlines) seem to contradict BuzzSumo’s. Specifically, they report that headlines with the words “how to” and “amazing” all hurt CTRs by as much as 59 percent. What do you make of that? Is it merely a difference between “clicks” and “shares”? Or does it have to with the nature of the headlines studied?

This Outbrain study from 2013-14 was very different and was about the clicks through from headlines on Outbrain promoted content. Thus it was not about content headlines per se but the adverts that promote content.

I think this explains some of the differences but it is mainly about a different context. The Outbrain study is about Outbrain-promoted content and the headlines they use to get people to click through to a promoted article. Its headlines are the featured posts you see at the bottom of an article on say “Time” or a major publisher, as shown in the image below. This example is typical — the 4 ‘around the web’ stories are from Outbrain.

TimeThus Outbrain-promoted headlines occur in the context of an article someone is reading on a major publisher.

What are people looking for at the end of an article on say Time? I think it is very unlikely to be a tip or a how to post. Thus you wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘how to’ posts perform badly in this context. However, if you were on LinkedIn or a social site and browsing for ideas on how to improve performance, you are probably going to be much more interested in a ‘how to’ post.

So context to me plays an important role and explains the differences, I suspect. If you look at the article from Time on the Federal Reserve as an example, at the bottom OutBrain are promoting a set of articles that are not relevant to the post.

Personally I don’t like these article placements, but people say they work as you can get your content exposed on major publications.

So the Outbrain survey is very specific; it is not about article headlines but the headlines used in these article promotions. I don’t think this is typically how people find content, particularly when it comes to B2B content. I can see how entertaining content may work better.

And yes, the Outbrain survey was on click-throughs to articles while our focus of course was on the articles people shared, i.e., they were engaged with the content or felt it had enough value to share the post. There is a big difference between what motivates me to click through to an article advertised on Time and what motivates me to share with my audience. So you can’t really compare.

That said, Outbrain actually found “When used in the headline, the words ‘amazing’ and ‘photo’ increase page views per session”. This is consistent with our findings about these terms when it comes to engagement and shares.


OutBrain says “while ‘amazing’ may only attract a small audience, this is an audience that continues to be highly engaged.” Thus it seems to me that this is consistent, that this highly engaged audience is more likely to share the content.

I hope this explains my views.

Abundantly, thank you! And thank you for sharing  your time with us, Steve. 🙂

Connect with Steve on Twitter and LinkedIn

Photo thanks: Phoebus87 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Has Blogging Become A PITA?

Remember when blogging was fun? :)

Remember when blogging was fun? 🙂

Raise your hand if you’re feeling pressured to blog all the time.

Blogging is fun when you first start out. Then, for some people, blogging starts to get old. Writer’s block sets in. You learn that your 300-word posts won’t cut it in today’s Brave New Google World, so you have to write more. Your posts go up to 500 words. Then 700.

You start to get tired.

You read that it’s not enough to just blog anymore. You have to create standout content that truly differentiates yourself from the competition. Now, the magical blog post length is over 1,000 words.

And you don’t know how you’re going to do it (or pay for it) all.

My contrarian advice: Quit blogging so much.

I did. And it didn’t hurt my conversions one bit.

I went through the same blogging burnout a couple years ago. Once upon a time, my blog was publishing four days a week. My blogging editor was finding sources to interview and curating content, while I was writing posts, recording videos and developing the editorial calendar.

Suddenly, everything stopped. My blog editor quit and I realized I had an opportunity. I could stay on the content creation hamster wheel. Or I could jump off and try my own thing.

I took the leap.

About that time, I discovered Derek Halpern and read about his 80/20  blogging rule. Derek says, 20 percent of your time should be spent writing, 80 percent should be spent on promotion.

So I gave it a try. I sliced the blogging schedule down to once a week, I wrote longer, more in-depth posts and I spent more time on LinkedIn Groups and Twitter promotion.

The result: My conversions have actually increased.

For me, blogging less is actually better than blogging more.

I think this is happening for a couple reasons:

  1. I think the extra time I’m spending on content creation is paying off. The content is higher quality and clicks more with the reader. People enjoy reading it. It makes them want to sign up for my newsletter. It’s working.
  2. Extra promotion time means I’m driving more traffic to the site.

I mention my experiences to you, because you may be feeling the same blogging burnout. You may be cranking out blog posts for clients that fit their magical “write 750 words on X” requirements…but you know the posts won’t convert.

Or, you may work in-house and feel stuck. You may not have the budget to hire a full-time blogger, but you feel the pressure to blog constantly.

I’ve been there. If blogging less and promoting more sounds like a smart idea, consider these steps.

– Check your analytics 

You need to know exactly what to slice if you’re going to drastically reduce your blogging schedule. For instance, I’ve worked with firms that got a great response every time one of their engineers blogged. On the flip side, posts written by their PR department would fall flat (surprise!).

The results you find may be surprising. For instance, my content curation posts drove great traffic, but they didn’t help with any conversion goals (for instance, getting people to sign up for my newsletter.) They were also extremely time-consuming to produce. My decision: get rid of them.

–  Figure out a realistic blogging schedule

Now that you have a “do-over” chance, figure out what blogging schedule works best for your company. For my company, blogging once a week was perfect. For yours, you may need/want to blog more often. It’s OK to slice your blogging schedule down in baby steps to see what works.

– Consider how you can reallocate your time/resources to make your posts even better

Now that you have the additional blogging time, use it to create spectacular resources your readers need. Take a hard look at competing sites (whether local or national,) and consider how you can step up your blogging game. Can you write in-depth reports? Can you interview industry experts? This is a great time to check your keyphrase research, plus look at Quora and LinkedIn groups for content ideas.

– Build promotion into your editorial calendar

It’s not enough anymore to upload a post and watch for the Google results to roll in. Think about where you can promote your posts to get the biggest bang for your buck and set up a promotion schedule.

For instance, I post on various LinkedIn groups, Twitter and my Facebook page within a couple days of publication. If I cite an industry influencer, I make sure that I’ve mentioned her on Twitter or Google+. That way, she’ll (hopefully) share my post with her audience — and, yes, drive traffic to my site.

– Obsessively track your analytics

Confirm what’s working, what’s not and tweak your campaign accordingly. For instance, I like to track my weekly newsletter subscription stats and see how they relate to a blog post topic. If I get a lot of newsletter signups based on a blog post, I know I have a winner.

A special note for freelancers…

If a large part of your income comes from blogging, you may be thinking, “I can’t write fewer posts! I’ll lose money!”

That’s a fair point.

Instead of blogging more often, blog better. Consider offering your clients longer, more in-depth posts and pair those posts with some promotion. That way, your clients will see better results, and you’ll maintain your blogging revenue stream.

Do you love advice like this? I give away even more actionable SEO writing advice in my weekly newsletter. Why not sign up, today?

Photo thanks: © zenwae |

Discount Your Copywriting Rates? No Way! Try This Instead.

copywriting rate discount

Is discounting your freelance copywriting rates ever a good idea. Really?

How many times has this happened to you:

You sweat and slave over a copywriting proposal. Finally, you get an email from the client. Success! They want to work with you!

And then you read, “Your copywriting rates are too high.  We were planning to spend about half that amount. Can you bring your price down?”


Now, you’ve got a dilemma. Should you discount your copywriting rates and get money in the door? Or should you hold fast to your price and possibly lose the gig?

It’s easy to get in panic mode and immediately offer the discount. But that may not be the best idea. Here’s why:

Reducing your copywriting rates reduces the value.  Let’s say that you charge $250 per page – and the client wants to pay $150 per page. If you meet your prospect’s price, you’re telling them, “I was padding my bid by $100 a page. $150 is the true value.” Not the best first impression.

–  An initial rate reduction makes it hard to charge full price later.  After all, if the client got you for $150 a page, why would they pay $250?  Would YOU pay an additional $100 a page if you knew that you didn’t have to? Yeah. I didn’t think so.

– It’s easy to resent your low-paying clients. And by “resent,” I mean “flake out because you have bigger, better-paying jobs.”  The client feels burned because they know that they aren’t a priority — and you feel burned because you’re doing the work for less money. Think this won’t happen to you? It can (and probably will.)

Fortunately, there’s a way to handle this situation so your client feels heard – and you get paid what you’re worth. Here’s how:

– Are you bidding on a large project? Offer a small discount if the client pays the contract up front. This solution is a nice win/win for all.  The prospect gets the discount they want – and you get a big check before you start!

(You DO get a deposit before you start work, right? If not, you’ll want to check out this video.)

– Offer to eliminate a deliverable from the agreement. Rather than reducing your copywriting rates, you could slice a page from the agreement, or reduce the consultation time. This strategy brings down the cost without having to slice your rates.

– Just say no.  Sometimes, the only thing you can do is explain to the client, “Because of the time it would take to complete your project – and the experience I bring to the table – I have to keep the cost as-is. Are you sure that we can’t work something out? I have had many prospects come back with, “We want to work with you, so I guess your rate is OK.”  Whew!

And if you do need to walk away, that’s fine. You know you’ll land another client soon – plus, get paid your full rate!

What about you? How do you handle it when a prospect requests a discount? Is there any time when you will offer a price reduction?

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[Updated]Why Do Freelance Writers Hate SEO Copywriting?

“SEO copywriting is low-paying, demeaning work.”

“SEO copywriting is synonymous with unethical projects.”

“[Much of this] SEO content is written by non-native speakers.”

In the words of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, “What the what?”

I was amazed to read such angry posts in a LinkedIn group.  I knew SEO copy had a bad reputation in some circles. But I had no idea that some freelancers HATED the concept of SEO copy.

The sad thing is, their hatred is fueled by misconceptions. It’s true that spammy copy is out there. It’s true that some clients (still) insist on keyphrase-stuffed content (and will only pay $10 for 500 words.) And if you’re trolling Upwork or job boards for SEO copy gigs, well, you probably won’t find the cream of the money-making crop.

But here’s the thing: SEO content is good content, period. It was never – ever – supposed to be synonymous with spam.

Plus, profitable client relationships are out there. If you’re only getting paid $5/post, that’s not the industry’s fault — that’s on you.

Here’s how I responded to the “I hate SEO copywriting” LinkedIn comments…

First, I totally understand the feeling that some folks have about SEO copy. Companies like Demand Media have cheapened the concept and has given it a horrible reputation. It’s true that you’ll see ads promising $5 for writing 500 words – and those 500 words are mindless drivel, at best. It’s sad.

It sounds like what you call “SEO copy” is what I call “spammy copy.” *Real* SEO content writing – the type that Google likes (and doesn’t bounce out of its index) – isn’t like this. It’s always been about writing quality content for readers. Yes, you have to do certain things to help the page position in Google. At the same time, “certain things for Google” doesn’t mean copy that reads like, “Our cashmere sweaters are the best cashmere sweaters online. Buy our cashmere sweaters now for the best cashmere prices.”

Good SEO copy doesn’t read like this. It’s good copy first – and good for Google second.

I’ve been talking about SEO copy for 14 years – and I was a freelance copywriter before I entered the SEO space. It drives me NUTS when I see overly-optimized copy. Or I hear about clients who will only pay 10/page and they want something that’s keyphrase-stuffed.

Fortunately, Google is (slowly) bouncing those kinds of pages out of their index. The Panda update targeted thin, low-quality content – and sites like Demand got hit. That was a huge wake-up call for clients, SEO companies and writers. They were suddenly put on notice that bad content is…well…bad.

So please know that I’m with you when you talk about spammy copy. Also, please understand that there are many instances of good SEO content – Brookstone’s site is a prime example. Companies of all sizes have benefitted from good SEO content – I’ve seen it increase conversion rates, drive more traffic and help companies make significantly more money.

And there are many (quality) writers who are able to attract good, high-paying gigs. If it were all 10/page jobs, I would have boogied out of the industry a long time ago. 🙂

So, please know that not all SEO content is bad or spammy or repetitive. There are some “good guys” in the industry, too. 🙂


Fast forward to 2016, five years later.

A lot has changed since the Panda update. Google got smarter, content marketing is the hot marketing strategy, and SEO writers are being tasked with creating quality, 10X content. Keyphrase research is still an important component of SEO writing, but writers have way more room to move.

In short, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Yet, the misconceptions are still out there. A well-known freelance writing expert said SEO was on its way out — unless someone wanted to work for $5 a post.

No, no, no, no.

Clients WILL pay more than $5/post. Keyphrase research-based writing is still important (check out this Whiteboard Friday for Rand’s take on keyphrase research.)  The success stories from freelancers and end clients are out there.

I’d love to share some success stories with these folks – they’ve obviously only seen the “dark side” of SEO content. Let’s show them the light.

If you’re a business that has benefitted from SEO content, please tell us how you’ve benefitted. Did you make more money? Increase the number of leads coming to your site? How has SEO content helped you?

And if you’re a freelance SEO copywriter, I’d love to hear from you too! These folks need to know that it’s not all $10/page, offshore work. There are real writers making a real living as an SEO content writer.

C’mon guys. Let’s show the haters that SEO content (that is, GOOD SEO content) is a smart business move. You shared some great success stories in the comments when I originally published the post. Let’s do it again!

(And I’m looking forward to your comments – thanks!)

Did you enjoy this post? Subscribe to my newsletter — that’s where I share my favorite actionable tips, tricks and strategies.

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SEO Editing vs. Copywriting for SEO

Should you create original content? Or, should you SEO optimize a page that’s already on the site?

Freelance and in-house writers ask this question all the time. Their emails say, “My boss (or client) wants me to add keyphrases to this existing page. The problem is, the page isn’t very good. Will the keyphrases help? Or is better to rewrite it?”

That’s an excellent question that I address in the video  — or, you can read the modified transcript, below.

SEO copywriting and SEO editing — what’s the difference?

First, let’s go over the differences between SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing.

Keyphrase editing is also known as “on-page optimization,” “optimizing the text,” or “SEO copyediting.” The technique is to add keywords — either derived from the writer’s keyphrase research or received from an SEO — to existing text.

When a page is optimized (or edited,) the content is not rewritten. The writer may edit the page Title and meta description, but for the most part, she’s working with the existing content.

SEO copywriting usually refers to creating original content. The writer still conducts keyphrase research (or receives the keyphrases from an SEO.) However, rather than editing the existing content, she would write brand-new content and include the keyphrases (along with synonyms and related words.)

So you see, SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing are very different: one is working with existing text, and the other is throwing away the existing text and starting fresh.

Should you optimize your site? Or rewrite your pages?

So, when is a better strategy to edit existing pages rather than rewrite them?

It’s best to optimize a page (keyphase editing) when:

  • You (and your readers) already love the content
  • The page isn’t crucial to the sales process
  • The bounce rate isn’t too high

If you have content on your site you (and your readers) already love and it’s performing well, but it wasn’t written with keyphrases the first time around, the page may be a good candidate for keyphrase editing.

It’s also OK to edit the page when it isn’t crucial to the sales process. For example, I’ve worked with companies that have edited old blog posts and saw a great bump in search positions as a result. Editing FAQ pages and articles can offer the same benefit.

Finally, optimizing the page is OK when the time on page (or bounce rate) isn’t too high. You know that people are sticking around and reading the page once they’ve landed on it, so adding in some strategic keyphrases here and there is typically fine for that page.

An SEO content editor or an SEO copywriter usually handles the keyphrase editing. He may be someone you employ in-house, or a freelancer.

There are also certain times when it’s better to write original content, such as:

  • When the page is crucial to the sales process
  • When the page is a duplicate
  • When page conversions or time on page is low

If a page is crucial to the sales process, or is somehow intended to make money — like the home page, and subcategory pages such as products and services — it’s better to rewrite it.

You also want to rewrite the page if it’s a duplicate. This is common with  local landing pages, where two (or more) pages may be basically the same (outside of the city name.)

Also, when you know that the page isn’t working — you’re not getting conversions, the time on page is low, and people are bouncing out quickly —  rewrite it. Readers are telling you they don’t like the page by leaving as soon as they can.

Sure, you can edit the keyphrases into a poorly performing page and sure, hypothetically that page might position a little better, but it won’t help boost conversions.

Either a freelancer or an experienced in-house SEO copywriter can rewrite your pages. Also, an SEO content strategist could do the keyphrase research for you, as well as dovetail her research with the rest of your SEO plan.

Make sense? There’s clearly a difference between when you would write original content and when you can work with the existing content — and it’s smart to know those differences before you proceed.

(Editors note: I originally wrote this post in 2011. A lot has changed since then, so I updated the video and the transcript. I hope you enjoyed the post!)

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What Is SEO Copywriting and Why Is It Important?

Wondering what SEO copywriting is  — and if it’s important for your site?

SEO copywriting is a specialized form of online writing that:

  1. Contains keyphrases — words your target reader types into a search box to find the information she wants.
  2. Helps online content rank higher in search results (such as Google.)
  3. Drives qualified traffic.

SEO copywriting is quality writing. Period. The keyphrases shouldn’t make the writing hard-to-read, sound repetitive, or lose its conversion focus.

Want to learn more about the definition of SEO copywriting? View the video below — or read the modified transcript.

How is SEO writing different from traditional copywriting?

The main difference is: SEO writing contains keyphrases. For instance [blue cashmere sweaters] is a keyphrase.

Typing keyphrases into Google is what we do every day, right? We type words into Google’s search box to get answers to our questions.

But the thing is, SEO copywriting is much more than just inserting keyphrases into content: Google also wants to see authoritative content that fully answers your readers’ questions and stands out from competing content.

Some people believe you can shove a bunch of keyphrases into the content and still get a high ranking (commonly known as “keyphrase stuffing.”)

Not anymore.

SEO copywriting serves two masters

Google has gotten smarter, and things have changed. Now your content needs to be high-quality content for Google to position it in the top spots.

So in actuality, your content satisfies two masters.

On the one hand, your readers need to love it. Your content needs to be relevant and a resource your readers enjoy — something that educates, entertains or enlightens them.

On the other hand, Google needs to see the content written in a certain way to understand what the page is about. Understanding how to make this happen helps your content “compete” with other pages for rankings.

This is where SEO copywriting best practices come into play.

What helps content rank in search results?

There are many factors that influence search engine rank (how a page positions in Google’s search results.)

If you look at the periodic table (which you can find on Search Engine Land), you’ll see that most of the elements on the left-hand side focus on the quality of the content.

The research, the words and the freshness of content are all important to your SEO success.

So if you’re concerned that…

  • Your pages aren’t showing in Google
  • Your pages aren’t converting
  • Your content is outdated and you never really liked it, anyway
  • Your content was never optimized, and now you think it is time to do so

The good news is that SEO copywriting could represent a huge opportunity for you!

After all, as Seth Godin said, “The best SEO is great content.”

If you can create content that grabs your readers attention, answers their questions and drives incoming links, you can finally start seeing some tasty search engine positions.

And that is a very cool thing.

Want to learn more about SEO writing? Sign up for my weekly newsletter — and don’t forget to check out my low-cost SEO writing webinar series.

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Integrating Repurposed Content into Your 2016 Strategy

spring-849173_960_720With the flurry of the New Year behind us and the first quarter approaching its end, now is an opportune time to revisit our content plan for the year.

We would all love to consistently publish content that readers adore, but that’s simply not realistic or attainable for most of us. But what if there were a way to produce content we know readers would love? And how could we find that out?

Easy. See what has worked to date and then recycle or repurpose it.

The quickest and surest way to find our most popular content is by looking at our analytics.

Finding Your Best Performing Content

Google Analytics is a powerful tool that is not always used to its full potential. If you’re just looking at Audience > Overview, then you’re missing a lot of the most revealing details.

In the left-hand navigation, look for Behavior. From there, click on Site Content, then Landing Pages. This will show you a list of all landing pages for the site, sorted by most to least visits.

Google Analytics Data

You can further refine these results by clicking on +Add Segment and selecting Organic Sessions. As you remove the “All Sessions” segment, you will be left with only organic traffic data.

Choose the date range of January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2015. Google Analytics will now show you a list of the top organic landing pages on your site.

What to do with this information

Once we have the list of top URLs, we can further sort them by blog posts (those that contain /blog/ in the URL).

In the search box above the conversion data section of the Google Analytics chart (located to the top right), type “blog” (minus the quotes) into the search box and click the search icon:

Google Analytics Blog Search

This will provide us will all of our blog content. From this data, we can see which posts have had the most organic activity and then recycle that content in another blog post or repurpose it for different content formats.

Repurposing Your Content

Regardless of your niche, there is a lot of competition. The goal is, or should be, to stand out and be helpful. Repurposing your existing content in different formats will help to achieve that.

Now that you know which pieces of your content perform well, it’s time to see how we can reinvent them.

Reformat Content

Review each blog post. Are there any similarities among them? Formatting is important because it determines how a user will digest the information.

Suppose that the content provided is the best available and answers all questions completely. When reading it however, it’s single spaced and has no images. Chances are this page will not gain much visibility.

To ensure each post is scannable and visually appealing, make sure it has the following:

  • Images that correspond with the content
  • Bullet points for easy to read steps
  • Header tags to guide the eye and organize content into focused chunks
  • Internal and external links to create increased value and convenience for the user

If one of your high-performing posts from 2015 is missing one or more of these elements, consider revising and reposting it using this formatting checklist.

Leverage SlideShare

Aside from your blog, there are many other ways to reach your potential audience. For example, SlideShare is a great way to repurpose your content in a quick and easily digestable format. The LinkedIn-owned website allows people to upload or create slides on any topic. The presentation can then be shared on social media sites or embedded in blog posts, like this:

How to repurpose your content in 2016 by Joseph Rega

Add Infographics

By now we have all seen an infographic on one topic or another. Infographics are a great way to visually represent the data you wish to present. They are very popular and shared frequently.

Sample Infographic

Add the infographic to the post you’re pulling the content from and be sure to include social icons. This will make it easier for users to directly share your content.

Create Videos

Video continues to increase in popularity and will be an essential part of content marketing strategy in 2016. With video, you can have someone from your company, or your client’s company, discuss the topics covered in the blog post you’re repurposing. For example:

After the video has been recorded (and edited) it can be uploaded to YouTube with a link back to the post via the video description. The video can also be embedded in the blog post as a way to enrich the content.

Produce Podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to gain more exposure for your brand. A podcast will allow you to explore your topic deeper by allowing you (and your guest) the freedom to talk through different scenarios.

Like videos, podcasts can also be embedded in the blog post you’re discussing. Adding new media to the page may reduce the bounce rate since you’re providing users with more reasons to stick around.

Podcasts can also be used to link back to your website via the description on the platform, similar to YouTube.

Summing Up

It is important to pay close attention to your best performing content as this is what uses are looking for. Give them what they want and they will keep coming back.

Some ways to repurpose your best content are:

  • Formatting
  • Creating a SlideShare presentation
  • Creating an infographic
  • Making a video on the topic
  • Recording a podcast on the subject

You can choose any or all of these methods to breathe new life into your old, high-performing content.

If you have been successful with any other methods of repurposing your content, we would love to hear about them! Please share them in the comments.

Connect with Joe on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+

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What Is An SEO Copywriter? 23 Questions, Answered

23 SEO Copywriting Questions, AnsweredAre you wondering what an SEO copywriter is, how much you can make and if taking the career plunge is right for you?

I’ve answered 23 of the most common questions I hear about the SEO copywriting profession. Enjoy!

What is an SEO copywriter?

An SEO copywriter writes content with two end-goals in mind:

  • The content is strategically written to position well in organic search.
  • The content must “click” with the target reader and help her accomplish her micro-moment search goal. For instance, the reader may want to learn something new (“I want to know,”) or find something to purchase (“I want to buy.”)

SEO writing contains keyphrases — words and phrases a reader would type into a search box to find the information she needs.

What are some other common names for “SEO copywriter?”

You’ll see terms such as:

  • Digital writer
  • SEO writer
  • SEO content writer
  • SEO content strategist
  • Web content writer
  • Web writer.

Does “SEO copywriting” mean “repeating the same words over and over?”


A common misconception is SEO copywriting equals keyphrase stuffing. Although some (uneducated) clients and employers request this kind of writing, it’s not effective in Google — and keyphrase stuffing is not considered SEO copywriting best practices.

Good SEO copy is good copy…with just a few (strategically placed) keyphrases here and there.

Where do SEO copywriters work?

SEO writers can work in-house or freelance for clients. Some writers do both — they have a full-time job, and freelance on the side.

What skills should SEO copywriters have?

analyticsAt the very minimum, SEO writers need to know how to include keyphrases into their copy according to best practices (which do change over time.) Other important skill sets include:

  • Keyphrase research
  • Google Analytics
  • Title creation
  • SEO article writing (more commonly known as “blogging.”)

More advanced SEO writers (sometimes called SEO content editors or SEO content consultants) also understand:

  • Schema
  • Content strategy
  • How to conduct a content audit
  • Landing page testing
  • Advanced analytics
  • Setting the editorial calendar
  • Influencer marketing
  • Some programming (and/or have some technical expertise.)

What other tasks do SEO writers handle for clients/their employers?

It depends on the organization.

Many freelance SEO writers handle all content production for their clients. This can copywritinginclude:

  • Newsletter copy
  • Email content
  • PPC ad writing
  • Sales pages
  • SEO article writing/blog posts
  • SEO content strategy.

In-house writers typically write web pages (including product pages and blog posts.) They may have other writing duties as well.

What knowledge does an SEO writer need?

At the very minimum, you’ll need to understand how to intelligently add keyphrases into the content. Some writers learn this by taking an online SEO copywriting course. Other writers may receive one-on-one guidance from an experienced writer. In many cases, the more training you receive, the more you’ll be able to write content that outperforms the competition.

There are some SEO writers who learn via online guides and blogs. As SEO writing is extremely dynamic — and things change all the time — this method is not recommended.

What kind of tools does an SEO writer need?

The main tool you’ll need is something that will help with keyphrase research.

An SEO writer can easily start out using Google’s free Keyword Planner — just know that it’s not ideal. Eventually, you’ll want to invest in a subscription-based tool, such as SEMRush, Wordtracker or LongTail Pro.

Down the line, you can look at investing in other tools, such as HootSuite or Buffer (for social sharing,) CoSchedule (for editorial calendar creation,) or BuzzSumo (highly recommended.) You could also invest in content optimization tools such as Optimizely.

rp_Smart-Mouse3-Skills.jpgHow easy is it to learn SEO copywriting best practices?

“Easy” is relative. Most people pick up on the foundational SEO copywriting best practices fairly quickly. Keyphrase research tends to take more time to learn — but most writers master the process (and actually enjoy it!)

Once the foundational best practices are mastered, you can learn other aspects of SEO writing, such as Schema, strategy and more.

I’ve heard that things change quickly. Does this mean I have to relearn everything?

Not necessarily. It’s true that SEO copywriting best practices have changed over time. Having said that, many of the fundamentals have stayed constant.

The best SEO writers keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithm and “rules.” This way, when things change, you’ll able to tweak your tactics (if needed,) advise your clients and leverage current strategies.

Is it easy to break into SEO writing?

If you have some writing experience, breaking in is fairly easy — but it will take time.

If you’re a freelance SEO writer, “breaking in” typically means “landing a client.” The speed-to-market depends on many factors, including your niche, your experience level and how hard you hustle.

Some writers apply for in-house junior SEO writing or account management positions to get their foot in the door. More experienced writers can apply for SEO editorial jobs.

I’m a print copywriter. How easy is it to transition to SEO writing?

It’s fairly easy. There is a learning curve (especially around keyphrase research.) However, once you “get” it, SEO copywriting will be easy and almost second-nature.

briefcaseI don’t have any writing samples. Can I still get hired?

Yes, but you’ll need to show your prospective employer (or client) something — otherwise, they won’t be able to evaluate your work.

Ways you can generate samples include:

  • Volunteer for a non-profit and rewrite some of their content
  • Ask a business owner if you can write an article in exchange for a testimonial.
  • Find a mentor, ask her to offload some writing your way, and write for free (in exchange for feedback and training.)
  • Create a “hobby blog” and write about one of your passions.

What kind of companies hire in-house SEO copywriters?

The employment possibilities are endless. All types (and sizes) of companies, including B2B, B2C, and publishing companies, hire SEO writers.

Can someone specialize in SEO writing even if they’re not “technical?”


It’s true that the more you know about the “techie” side of SEO (and SEO copywriting,) the more opportunities that you’ll have. I highly recommend reading everything you can about SEO (including how to code) and upgrading your skills.

Having said that, there are many SEO copywriters who partner with SEO firms. The copywriter writes the copy – and the SEO firm takes care of the “techie stuff.”

I’ve heard freelance SEO writing = content mills and low pay. Is that true?

Not necessarily. It’s true that some companies will pay only $10/article. However, many companies pay freelancers anywhere from $50 – $300/hour. How much a freelancer gets paid depends on his knowledge levels, his niche and how well he markets himself.

tombstone_png_by_camelfobia-d5ichmgI’ve heard that SEO writing is dead. Is that true?

No. It’s true that Google has gotten smarter, which is a wonderful thing. Things are shifting to more conversational search, which means that it’s easier to “write naturally” and include synonyms, related words, etc.

Having said that, keyphrases are still important — and without them, a site may not position. Here’s proof that SEO is far from dead.

What are some typical freelance SEO copywriting rates?

The per-page rates are all over the board. I’ve heard of writers charging $25/post — and companies paying over $1,500 for a single page. Some freelancers barely clear $20,000 a year. Others make six-figures.

The factors that influence a writers’ income include:

  • Her experience level
  • The types of clients she serves. In many cases, B2B copywriting pays more than B2C (but not always!).
  • Her business savvy. For instance, is she building relationships with companies that could send her work?
  • Her past results. SEO writers who can show ROI are often more in demand (and are paid more).
  • How much she hustles for work.

Here’s some information about how to set your rates.

moneyHow much can in-house SEO copywriters make?

According to Glassdoor, experienced SEO writers can earn over $50,000 a year (of course, the salary depends on experience and the company location.) I know a few SEO writers/editors who are making around $75,000 a year (plus benefits.)

What are characteristics of successful SEO copywriters?

SEO writers love to write, love to research, love to learn and love working online.  They also tend to have a high tolerance for change – which is good, since Google (as well as other providers) love to mix things up on a regular basis.

Higher-paid SEO writers tend to have some “technical geek” characteristics. Those geeky characteristics help them understand the more technical elements of SEO writing — and liaison more successfully with an IT team, an SEO provider, and analytics experts.

If you are the kind of person who gets bored easily, SEO copywriting is a great gig. You won’t get bored. At all.

What’s the one thing an SEO copywriter MUST always do?

The scariest type of SEO writer doesn’t update his knowledge and uses out of date techniques. If you want to be in this industry, you MUST keep up with Google’s ever-changing whims. Today’s best practices could be borderline spam tomorrow.

How can an SEO writer make more money?

There are typically four ways:

  • Improve your craft — learn everything you can about neuromarketing, direct-response writing, SEO, etc.
  • Be able to showcase demonstrable results. For example, case studies and testimonials can help position you as an expert.
  • Offer more content writing services (for instance, here are some to try.)
  • Ask for more money. About 75% of the time, writers aren’t getting paid what they want because they set their rates too low. If you work in-house, you can ask for a raise.

In-house writers may also want to freelance on the side.

What’s the job horizon? Will this still be a “thing” in two years?


Besides, even if Google was suddenly able to read our minds and immediately understand the searcher intent, content will still be a “thing.” Someone will need to write those web pages, landing pages and blog posts.

Why not you?

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