A Writer’s Guide to Working With Keywords (Without Tearing Your Hair Out)

When you became a writer, you no doubt had some fantasies about life as a professional wordsmith. You’d wake up– never before 9 a.m., mind you– and spend all day crafting cutting-edge prose in your pajamas. Your writing would break the heart, soothe the soul, engage the mind, and draw the unwavering attention of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

These fantasies never included all of these pesky rules, however. Short sentences? Subheadings? Bullet points? Not being able to use that English degree vocabulary? Preposterous!

But the worst of all is those pesky keywords. Your writer fantasies certainly never included prose like SEO keywords are very important for all SEO practices and SEO strategies. If you want to succeed in SEO, you need to use as many SEO keywords as possible. I love SEO. SEO. SEO SEO SEO!

That last paragraph may be an exaggeration, but it’s true that tiptoeing around your required keywords can be an exhausting task. It’s incredibly frustrating to be forced to use someone else’s words instead of your own. Here’s the thing, though: Keywords don’t have to be your worst nightmare.

Keywords Are Not Your Enemy

Week 20: Writer's BlockImage Credit: Eric Lukavsky via Flickr

Search engines use site content to learn what a website is about. An informational site about rabid squirrels is going to use the phrase “rabid squirrels” way more often than, say, a fashion blog, right? Those keywords say to the search engines, “Hey! This is what our site is about!”

Your clients require keywords because they want to make sure they’re sending the right signals to the search engines. But never forget why they’re hiring you in the first place: to communicate something to people. Readers. Humans. Not search engines.

Write for your audience first, and your search engine keywords second. Here are some tips to keep you from tearing out your hair over those required keywords.

1. Write Your Content First

Look over your list of keywords. Put ’em in the back of your mind. Now write your content as usual.

Write for your target audience, write well, write concisely. If you’ve got a natural spot to put in your keyword, do so. But don’t stress over those keywords yet– just write.

2. Now That It’s Written, Grab That Keyword List

Count how many times you used your keywords naturally in your content (your browser’s or Word’s Find tool works great for this). If you come up short, go back over your writing and see where you could naturally insert keywords. Look for easy keyword insertions and substitutions like:

  • Plural/Singular forms (replace “rabid squirrel” with “rabid squirrels”)
  • Pronouns (replace “They can be dangerous” with “Rabid squirrels can be dangerous”)
  • Subheadings (“So You Think You’ve Been Bitten by Rabid Squirrels”)
  • Passive voice (Replace “Hundreds of unsuspecting pedestrians are bitten every year” with “Rabid squirrels bite hundreds of unsuspecting pedestrians every year”)

3. Read Your Work Out Loud

If a keyword placement sounds awkward, find another spot for it. Watch out for keywords spaced unnaturally close together (two keywords in the same sentence, two consecutive sentences that start with the same keyword, etc.)– this will read like keyword spamming to both readers and search bots. If your content sounds awkward when you read it aloud, it’ll sound just as awkward when someone reads it silently.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Your Client

High-quality content trumps SEO every time. If you’re faced with an impossible keyword or an unreasonable amount of required keywords, talk to your client. Show him how unnatural your writing looks with those keywords. If the client insists that’s how he wants it, your hands may be tied (though you may want to politely direct him to Google’s own quality guidelines or keyword stuffing policy). More often than not, though, you’ll find a client who’s willing to work with you to produce the best quality content possible.

Now Go Write That Cutting-Edge Prose

Stop sweating the keywords. SEO is just another tool in your bag of writing tricks. Good, solid writing should always be your first priority– everything else (yes, even those keywords) comes second.

About the author

Nicki Porter