SEO Content Writer Onboarding

Dobis means doing business. I’m open for business, baby.

This guide is intended for those thinking about writing and editing with _fiicient, but you might find it interesting for other reasons too. …Or not.

Every search engine optimization minion knows content is king. I’ve been doing this SEO thing for others since 2004; time for an article about how I start a relationship with a new writer. I’ve already written about optimizing hiring and applicant screening, but that article doesn’t help me train writers. This one will!

What to discuss first when talking to a prospective writer?

Sometimes the work is not sexy. E.g. If you’re writing for a headphone manufacturer month after month, after a while you’ll realize there are only a few dozen different types of articles worth writing. There are only so many guides, how-tos, and top-fives one can reasonably muster without performing ‘original research’. While that’s not true for all accounts, being aware of potential ‘running out of topics’ frustration ahead of time is a good discussion. I outline strategies to avoid it when possible, and to deal with the dread of the alternative. If a writer burns out and can’t possibly write about headphones, mesothelioma, industrial lubricants, or whatever, for another month, I’ll try to accommodate by finding another burnout in the _fficient content corps with whom to do an account swap. It’s important to note that some writers stick with accounts for many years.

There are other struggles, especially at first.

  • SEO writing is an odd nexus of technical and creative writing; many good, seasoned writers aren’t accustomed to SEO-writing peculiarities.
  • I note that the gig is more ‘content maven’ than ‘writer’ because a substantial chunk of the work involves improving existing content through the SEO lens.
  • Some writers initially struggle to come up with article topics, and I’m willing to spoon-feed only so long.
  • Etc.

I also share several anecdotes about current and past writers who’ve struggled with various other elements of the gig and how we did or didn’t overcome those challenges.

I try to remember to mention the good stuff about SEO writing.

I’m fine if you want to stay on a single account, or if you want to gradually grow to foster content for a dozen clients. The pay’s decent. The compensation is better on some accounts, if you’re qualified. Assignments are due 30 days after I send’em, so you have plenty of time to sneak the work into your schedule. You can work in your pajamas while enjoying a Paso Robles red blend or chewing gum. I don’t care if you work for other people. And so on.

Have I scared them off yet? No?

I send writer candidates a few articles to review:

  • A boilerplate mutual non-disclosure agreement, the same one I send to potential clients. E-signing is easy. A few clicks later and we’ve protected trade secrets.
  • SEO Writing 101 – A gripping piece about a wooden AI and its lust for great content? Written for a general audience, but most of it’s relevant to the _fficient content maven position.
  • Titles and Descriptions Guide – A love letter to Matt Cutts or a rant about John Mueller? No need to dive deep into it until you decide you wanna do this stuff with me.
  • The official _fficient SEO writing guide. (Requires permission. No access for you, Jane Q. Public!) Far more pedantic than the blog post linked above, and includes boring administrative stuff like: How to invoice. How to cite on your resume. How to communicate about work. And other edge-of-your-seat zingers.
  • …Like a lorem ipsum example of a typical deliverable. (No link for you, John Q. Public!)

Time to reflect, expound and ask questions. Are you still on board? Yes? Awesome. We do a call if desired, and then…

I email you more stuff!

  • Client’s website URL
  • Credentials to _fficient reporting console
  • Client style guide, if they have one
  • A link to hemingwayapp
  • If it’s not a new-to-me account, I send a couple examples of documents from the previous writer/s, always noting something along the lines of, “Just because this passed muster in the past doesn’t mean it’s best practices now.” I’ll often send predecessors’ first documents instead of the later, more refined deliverables, because the fledgling stuff is more heavily marked-up by me and the client with hopefully helpful feedback.
  • I note that I’ve written about a bunch of other SEO bits on this blog, emphasizing that much of it’s not relevant to their tasks and that they’re in no way required or encourage to read any of it that doesn’t seem stimulating to them. Also, some of it’s old and dated :/
  • The first assignment. It’s in your lap now. What’s next?

We often have another conversation here, questions, answers, and more free-form rambling from me. We might quickly discuss the notion of campaign keyword as ‘keyword bucket’ and the nuance of verbatim vs. synonym. Yep, we’ll probably do that, if we haven’t already. We delve into how to find actionable information in the reporting data and learn some Google syntax-fu, e.g. site:client.url a keyword, and how to use it for great SEO.

I encourage writers to send me a sample of their assignment ASAP to make sure we’re meeting minds. When I get the completed assignment, I edit, send to the client for review, and share the feedback with the writer. Rinse and repeat.

Closing vetting note:

I often have to screen writers via a shorter, paid tryout before officially assigning them to an account. Clients in regulated industries like: financial, legal, medical, gambling, or organizations with esoteric, subtle, or confusing topics, or even clients who are just particular about their messaging for other reasons need to sign off on any team members, and sometimes review every word, every month. Conversely, many clients are able to give me carte blanch with all SEO writing. It depends.

Every relationship is different.


Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and UX. He’s trying to find a national campaign finance reform organization for whom to volunteer professional services. Please network with him, and/or try to tolerate some of his noise at synthband.com. XOX

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