How to Get Paid More for SEO Writing

Carol Tice

SEO Writing Helps you Stay on Target

As promised, I have one more question to answer this week from MALW reader Gina, who asked earlier about niche blogging vs general blogging. Today, we discuss SEO and high-paid writing. Her question:

Carol, I’m curious what you think of SEO writing. There are many SEO companies that charge big dollars to provide readable SEO articles and content to clients. How many upscale online writers do or don’t write with keywords in mind? I know search engines are becoming less keyword driven, but they are still a reality. Just wondering what your thoughts are on copywriters and SEO.

Let’s start by saying there’s SEO writing, and then there’s “SEO writing,” as in all the ads you see that are looking for an “SEO writer.” In my experience, this latter title in an ad usually means “I’m looking for someone who will quickly cobble together something from a few other similar topic pages they find online and use a lot of keywords to help our rankings. We don’t care if the writing’s very good.” A threat that all content will be run through Copyscape to make sure you’re not plagiarizing is the hallmark of this genre.

And the pay is crap. And established, professional copywriters have names for what this is — names like “retyping” and “article spinning.” When you say it’s “readable,” in my experience that doesn’t mean it’s usually something anyone would ever actually want to read. These are articles created primarily for search engines to read. Whether people ever read them seems to be a sort of secondary consideration.

I know what you want to tell me, Gina — you’re different and special. Your SEO writing is great copy. If so…you’re being ripped off and underpaid for what you’re delivering. Stop writing for SEO houses if you want to earn more.

Well-paid copywriters sell themselves as capable of delivering knockout information in compelling ways, so that customers of their client Web sites will be excited by what they offer, come back often, and buy products and services. These articles are written for people first, and search engines second. That’s the difference. Not everybody can write something people want to read…the pool of possible writers is smaller…and pay is better.

Do top-flight copywriters care about SEO and use keywords in online content they create? Absolutely. We try to work them into our headlines and first paragraphs, for sure. But we’re not looking to use them at some crazy ratio where they’re every third word of an article. I’m often given keywords to use by clients. The key word there is “use,” not overuse. As you note, search engines are getting smarter about keyword-dense text. Keyword density isn’t most important to most good-paying clients — their top priority is to have mind-blowingly helpful information on their site and compelling sales materials that establish them as the authority in their sector and helps them sell.

As far as the “many SEO companies that charge big dollars,” I’m not sure that’s a reality. It’s a very cutthroat industry and I think their markup isn’t that different from that of any other type of copywriting agency or middleman. Stop worrying about how much profit SEO companies are making off you, and find your own clients to earn well and learn how to make money writing the correct way.

Photo via Flickr user smemon87


  1. gina


    Thanks for following up with my question and also for pointing out that top copywriters do, in fact, use keywords to an extent. That has been a pending question for me.

    I'm so aware of the crap writing out there and the outsourcing traps. Mostly I'm hearing from you that I need to market my good writing and think less about SEO. I hear you in that context.

    Perhaps it is more the journalist in me and less the copywriter who is intrigued by understanding the world of SEO practices on the Internet. It's like being in the Wild West. There's a certain thrill encountering the unruly recklessness of it all. it's almost sublime.

    The fact is I have a peculiar fascination with online keyword writing. I'm fascinated from a literary standpoint. Repetition of words can be a source of subtle poetry and solid structure. Of course, I know it needs appropriate discretion depending on the venue. So my obsession with exploring keyword writing is ultimately a personal literary pursuit–playing with media.

    Your perspective actually encourages me to take my unique approach and market my work on my terms.



  2. Brian V. Hunt

    Keywords are still important but they only help get the potential customer to the Web site. No matter how many keywords you stuff into a headline or body text, if the copy is not compelling enough to get the reader to keep reading and ACT, it's a waste of time. Customers who take the time to read a web site are looking for one thing: "How does this solve my problem and make my life easier." Web copy needs to convince them that they're in the right place.

    Our clients sometimes need help in understanding what we bring to the table. We're the experts when it comes to distilling and communicating the client's reason for being and uniqueness to their customers. Not just any words will do that and not just any writer can find the right ones.

  3. Lee Lefton

    Carol and Brian,

    I couldn't have said it better myself. No need for keywords here.

  4. gina

    Keywords help get potential customers to a Web site. But the great copywriter knows how to integrate those keywords into great copy–regardless if it's one keyword in a title or a number of keywords. That should be a given.

  5. Carol Tice

    Well, actually, Lee, there are some! SEO, and freelance writing. The thing is that you really don't have to write something that uses your key words on every line to build traffic. As companies wake up to this, the pendulum is swinging back to caring about the quality of the articles on a comany's site…hooray! I personally have three small-business blog clients running right now where the whole emphasis is on standing out with really newsy, analytical stories. Expect to see more of it as 2010 goes along…


  6. gina

    Just thought I'd mention I feel like the mystery is finally solved regarding industry rates for SEO Web copy writers. I've been learning that the average range is anywhere from $25 to $300+ per hour. I also saw similar rates today listed in reference to the Web Price Index Rate Card used for Web standards, but now I can't find the link where I saw that.

  7. Carol Tice

    Right, Gina…but that doesn't really solve anything, now does it… $25-$300 an hour! That's like saying pay ranges from living under a freeway overpass to living in Bel-Air. So it could be anything.

    The bottom line is you're sure to make a better hourly rate with your own clients than you will through a third party that's taking a big fat cut off the top.

  8. Tess

    I've taken the liberty of posting your blog to my website which is educating writers about the financial side of writing. Hope you don't mind.

    You're also welcome to post on my website.

  9. Gina

    Carol, Don't you think it helps motivate a person who is trying to establish a freelance business to have a perspective of how much third parties are taking off the top across the industry? If more struggling copywriters realized how much they were losing through middlemen, the conversations on the Internet would be radically different. More copywriters would launch their own businesses just from the shock of understanding the realities of the industry.

    I am a bit of an activist underneath my questions here. Right now there are the "successful" copywriters, many of them charging people to learn how to "break in"–which is fine, but there is no entry for people who can't afford to pay the insiders. Then there are the struggling copywriters who work for nothing because they just don't understand how much they are actually being taken by contractors. The reality is, a so-so copywriter can set up a landing page and be making good money pretty quickly with a little intelligent marketing. I have always been motivated to ultimately work for myself, so that has never even been a question for me. But I can't see how it is not valuable and even necessary for copywriters to have a perspective on the cuts on rates at all levels in the industry–SEO or not.

    As far as SEO goes, I would hope anyone in a serious freelance forum would agree we all aim to produce quality work. I've seen the crap SEO writing. It's breathtaking. But then I've seen the non-SEO writing that can be just as bad. I've gone in circles with the whole SEO keyword issue. I have determined I'm an advocate of good SEO writing. I love how SEO allows me to focus on using keywords like a device for repetition that structures a piece. Repetition goes back to the earliest etchings on rock. And people use keywords to search and I don't see a way around that.

    Anyway, I'm totally for a free market enterprise, so I hear you.

    One issue is about the value or lack of value in SEO writing–which I have discovered is quite contentious. The other conversation is about pay.

    I was curious what have come to the conclusion came was trying to make the point that SEO writing can indeed be "real" writing.

  10. Gina

    Disregard the last two strings of nonsense. 🙂

  11. Brian

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Miriam Cohen, Carol Tice. Carol Tice said: RT @TiceWrites How to Get Paid More for SEO Writing […]

  12. George

    […] This post is a continuation of a comment I made on Carol Tice’s blog. […]

  13. Carol Tice

    Gina —

    I think all you really need to know is — when you work through an intermediary…they take a cut. You always make less than the full rip.

    It's always better to find your own clients. In some situations, it's not always possible — for instance, I've worked through contractors in order to work for major corporations, including Microsoft and Dell. I would likely never have accessed these clients without that mediator, so it was well worth it to me — and I was still well paid. I guess that's my bottom line — if I feel I'm being paid appropriately and pretty close to a par with what I'd get independently, I'm OK with it.

    The question is still the same — am I being paid a professional rate? Usually the answer when you work for a third party is no…which is why I try to keep them a small part of my client mix.


  14. Carol Tice

    Gina —

    I don't understand your comment 'there is no entry for people who can't afford to pay the insiders." Can you elaborate?

    Because as far as I know, the world of copywriting is wide, wide open. You are free to call on businesses and get writing jobs from them directly, any day of the week! No inside info required.

    I get that you're on some kind of crusade to 'expose' that SEO houses make money off you. Consider it exposed! But also realize that it's never going to change, which is why I don't think it's a productive use of time to spend energy obsessing on it, hating intermediary SEO houses that hire you, etc. That's what they do — they make a cut because they have the clients and you don't. The only way it changes is by going out and marketing your business and getting your own clients.


  15. Marshall Melancon

    Would it be alright if I link up to this webpage, from my webpage? I'm wanting to collect as many pieces of information as I am able.

    • Carol Tice

      It would be fine! Appreciate your asking. In case anyone has questions, it's always OK to link over to one of my blog posts…just not OK to reproduce it on your own site without permission.

      Thanks —


  16. Gina

    Carol, Maybe I need to work on my writing skills because based on your responses it seems I haven't made myself clear in one post yet. I'm not on a "crusade." Crusades wear me out. These type of conversations wear me out.

    I'll just say that I have observed a disproportionate number of bottom-feeding conversations on the Internet with copywriters–many of them seasoned journalists in transition–who are fed up with unfair pay. They somehow never bring into the conversation how much of a cut is being taken off the top of their pay.

    I agree completely with you that the goal is to work for yourself. That has been my premise from the start, so I don't know why would keep being reiterated here.

    I have long believed the ultimate business model and freedom of the Internet is that everyone can work for his or her self. Obviously, there is a plethora of work to be had. But a lot of people struggle on some level with the transition from working for contractors to working for themselves. They don't always have the money to pay someone to coach them though the process of transitioning. So, they can feel like they can't get "in"–or they just can't get straight answers to basic questions. A couple of days ago I talked to a copywriting coach who told me she vowed to herself after she "made it" in the business she would help other people do the same, because she had experienced such an attitude of a "secret society" among copywriters. That seems so odd to me, considering how much text and copy exists on this planet.

    I've circled around this stuff enough now. I'm headed where I need to go. Thanks.

  17. sandfan332

    How about another article like this? Pretty good. I learned a little technical writing back in school, and this has the two most important things of a good article, engaging and fun to read. Cheers.

    F. Wilson
    Halloween cookies

  18. Roland Stapley

    The Warrior Forum has a new article section opening. The question is, should you use it? Will you get any results from it? Is it worth the cost of admission?

  19. Eva

    Hi Carol!

    I’m a budding freelance writer.
    Is it necessary to know SEO to make it as a freelance writer?
    Are the courses out there worth it?


    • Carol Tice

      It is necessary for writing online, and here’s what you need to know:

      Use words and phrases your prospective reader might use to search for your type of content. You can use tools like Google’s Key Word research tool to find good phrases to use. Don’t overuse them, but write naturally about the topic, or Google will hate on your article.

      The end.

      SEO is becoming less and less important as Google keeps changing its rules — and writing useful content readers love to get is more important, Eva.

      • Eva

        Hi Carol!

        So I don’t necessarily have to do an SEO course to be able to subtly
        incorporate key words into my writing when the job calls for it? My
        common sense and Google’s Key Word research tool should be enough to
        satisfy the quality client’s SEO component of a particular job?


        • Carol Tice

          In my opinion, yes. But it really depends on the sorts of clients and work you’ll be doing.

          If you’re writing things for people to read, rather than things for robots to read, SEO is a fairly minor concern at this point. The quality of your information and your ability to write it in a compelling way is what matters most.

          Let’s put it this way — I’ve never taken one, and I recently discovered Freelance Writers Den ranks on the first page for the search “freelance writer.” I’ve done nothing really SEO-focused for that site at all — it’s just the wealth of relevant information that’s making it happen.

          • Eva

            That is great news. Thanks Carol!


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