Do SEO Writers Need Technical Skills?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought SEO writing was “too technical” to learn and involved too much programming and geeky terminology.

Yup. That’s totally normal. And it’s certainly true that SEO writing has geeky-sounding elements.

Heck, I remember trying to wrap my head around what a Title was when I first learned over 22 years ago. Throw in weird terms like “meta description” and “H1” and “image tag,” and it’s enough to make some writers nope out of SEO writing.

(Obviously not you. You’re much braver than that.)

At the same time, one common question I get is — how much technical information do writers need to know? In other words, how geeky do you need to go?

The answer? Well, it depends.

For instance, if you’re new to SEO writing, you don’t need to bury yourself in programming blogs and code.

In fact, you only need to know the geeky bare minimums.

What are the bare minimums? I’d argue that a beginner SEO writer should understand:

• What a Title is, and how to structure one for maximum click-through.

• How to write a meta description.

• How to put keyphrases in the copy without the text sounding weird or stilted.

Is more knowledge better? Sure. The more you know, the more you can help your clients and the more you can earn. But when you’re just starting out and getting your SEO feet wet, you don’t need to immediately dive into the geeky side of the pool. It’s OK to stay in the shallow SEO end.

When does knowing geeky information come in handy?

Sometimes, smaller companies look to their SEO writers as their overall SEO expert. They know the SEO writer isn’t a programmer or coding ninja — but, they rely on the writer’s SEO expertise to at least point them in the right direction.

For instance, one of my clients had two versions of their site in Google — a www version and a non-www version. They thought their previous programmer had redirected the site…but it didn’t happen.

Although I wasn’t the one fixing the issue, I did flag it and show why it was a problem.

Should I strive to be an expert content writer and technical SEO geek?

Not necessarily. Most people I know are good at one or the other. Not both.

For instance, my brain tends to gravitate towards the content side. (Surprise!) It’s true that I did help a major site figure out their technical Title strategy once upon a time, but that’s because it was easy for me to translate their issue into content terms.

I know enough to communicate with technical teams and when something may be wrong. But I’m not going to program a site. If I look at my brain in Donny and Marie Osmond terms, my brain is a little bit technical…and a whole lot of content rock and roll.

(As a side note, I’ve met just one person who is equal parts technical and content. He’s like a unicorn, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster rolled into one.)

Which skill is most important as an SEO writer — content skills or technical?

Well, you know how I’m going to answer this one.

In fact, this is one of the questions SEMRush asked me during their Twitter #SEMRushChat. I posted my answer below.

Q3. Creative skills or technical knowledge: which skill would come first for an SEO copywriter, if you had to pick only one?

A3: Creative skills, hands down. Writing smart copy is a unique skillset. In fact, a @conductor study said that 81% of SEO jobs require content skills. Having said that, a smart SEO writer who understands writing to sell and technical SEO is a powerful combination. #SEMRushChat

So yes, technical knowledge is a smart thing to have. You can do a lot to drive traffic if you understand the SEO strategy behind the words.

But let’s face it — the SEO may drive traffic to a page, but it’s your words that will cause people to convert.

And that’s a powerful skill.

What do you think?

How many of you remember Donny and Marie Osmond? (Sometimes, I have to throw in something for the old folks, you know?) On a scale from 1-10, with 10 being a super-level technical geek, how geeky are you? Leave a comment and let me know!

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