There are many kinds of writing for hire available. Though many terms are used interchangeably, they all have specific meanings. Today, let's discuss one particular branch of freelance writing: SEO Content Writing.
We need to break it into parts to understand SEO content writing entirely. The easiest way to start is by defining what content writing is (and isn't).
Content writing is writing content, where "content" has a specific meaning.
Content writing is generally part of the overall world of content marketing. That means content writing will be aware of target audiences, buyer personas, keywords, and other factors that make a piece of content a persuasive part of a marketing plan.
What isn't content? These are generally written by copywriters, not content writers:
What is content?
Depending on who is doing the definition, some forms of writing may or may not be considered content.
Social media posts may be content or copywriting, depending on the writer's preferences. These all rely on the presentation and expectations of voice, language, and formality. A more casual white paper or press release can be considered content.
When you add SEO to the mix, things take off.
"Search engines" can be broad, too. Google is the big one, but other popular search engines include Bing and DuckDuckGo. Other countries also have their primary search engines, like Baidu, Yandex, and Naver. More specific search engines may be relevant, including Amazon's product search, YouTube's video search, or a "deep web" search like Yippy.
Thus, SEO writing requires that the writer understand which search engines readers will use to find the content, how those search engines work, and how to produce content that has the maximum chance of being found through that search engine.
Of course, a lot goes into SEO that isn't part of writing. Your writer won't be responsible for building links, performing outreach, or optimizing your website's speed and response times. However, they have to keep SEO rules in mind when they produce content and consider keywords, use of language, and negative SEO rules like those against keyword stuffing and over-optimized anchor text.
With an awareness of content writing and SEO awareness, you can put the two together.
SEO Content Writing is not product descriptions, short-form content, sales-focused content, or ad copy. While some generalist writers can handle all of the above, it's often better to hire two specialists (an SEO Content Writer and a Copywriter or Ad Writer) to work their magic.
To sum it up:
The two are not mutually exclusive. A good content team includes both. Your content writer creates long-form marketing content using SEO to draw in new users and potential leads. Your copywriter creates the "second stage" content that attracts those leads and pushes them towards conversion. You can think of content writing as the top and middle of the sales funnel and copywriting as the middle and bottom of the funnel.
The above is our best definition, based on our experiences in writing and marketing. Of course, we'll add a disclaimer here: many different professionals in writing, marketing, and SEO will have differing opinions. Online discussions bring this to the fore; some people claim there's no difference and that copywriting is just a fancy word for writing. Others will draw more specific lines between the two, and any two marketers will likely place the line in a different location.
This question is tricky because the pricing for content writing varies so wildly across the industry. So, instead of pinning down a specific cost, let's talk about various price ranges and what you'll get hiring someone in that price range. First, though, we need to discuss pricing structures.
There are four ways to pay writers to write for you.
The first is per word. A writer sets a per-word rate, and you order X number of words according to your needs. The writer produces precisely that much, no more, no less. It could be a 1,000-word landing page, a 2,000-word blog post, a 10,000-word eBook, etc. In some cases, you can set a word range, and the writer will invoice for the finalized cost when they submit.
The second is per-project. The writer may define what a project is (a single landing page, a single blog post, a single eBook, a chapter of an eBook, and so on) and a rate for the project. The rate may be negotiable, depending on how easy you are to work with as a client, the potential for regular ongoing work, and more.
The third is per hour. The writer may track how long they spend working on your projects and bill you for your time. Hourly billing is relatively uncommon in writing, as the per-word and per-project rates are often more favorable and easily trackable. It's more common when hiring a writer as an employee rather than hiring a contractor or freelancer.
The fourth is salaried. You can hire a writer as an employee rather than a freelancer and pay them a fixed salary, which is their compensation regardless of the volume of work they are required to produce in that time.
We'll generally discuss the price rate for freelance writing using the per-word or per-project structure. So, keep in mind that these prices vary within their pay structure and differ from other arrangements.
Basement-tier content writing sounds insulting, and that's because it generally is.
This type of content is the worst writing you can buy. It's incredibly cheap – often under a penny per word – and you get what you pay for.
The writing you get at this tier is, to put it simply, poor. The writers are either low-skilled, aren't native English speakers, or they may be using tools to "assist" with their writing. Such software may include article spinners or AI writers, often off-base and poorly developed. In some cases, the content is stolen or patched together from other sources.
In rare instances, you can find desperate writers who produce decent content for these rates. Many writers dislike these people because they incentivize companies to underpay. Luckily for the entire industry, writing is generally valued more than ever before, and rates are rising enough that this doesn't happen.
This type of writing is not a "real" tier for SEO content writing because the writers producing content for these rates don't care much about quality or SEO. They aren't going to care about your audience, they aren't going to research your topic more than a 5-second Google search, and they certainly aren't going to learn deep SEO rules and lore. They only make a living by spending as little time as possible on the work, and the results you get will make that clear.
Low-end content writing is content writing that is serviceable but perhaps not very good. It may have a basic understanding of SEO rules, like keyword usage, but doesn't have a nuanced understanding of how search works.
Writers in this tier may still be ESL or of poor quality, but a higher percentage of them produce decent content. However, it likely won't be deep or written from an expert point of view. Again, this is generally because the rates are low enough that quickly completing projects is the only way to make a living.
Rates range from 1 cent per word up to 3-4 cents per word. A 1,500-word blog post would then cost between $15 and $60. These are rates that used to be considered decent, though not great, a decade ago. The value of content writing has increased, and these rates are now the lowest you can pay and have any expectation of getting usable writing out of the deal.
Mid-tier content writing is the broadest category by far. Writers in this tier tend to be more aware of SEO and how it all works and may start to ask questions about your target audience and the purpose of the content. They will also be able to write with more detail and authority and have a better idea of how to research a topic if you're not providing all of the information they'll need.
Pricing is the broadest here. At the low end of the middle tier, you can see 5 cents per word, which works out to be $75 for a 1,500-word blog post. Mid-tier content writing can stretch up to 20 cents per word ($300 for that same 1,500-word blog post).
This writing tier is also where you will often find content marketing agencies specializing in specific niches. They may charge a little more than the rates above because some go to overhead, management, and the agency itself instead of directly to the writer.
These are the people who have a deep awareness of how SEO works. They'll want a content brief with plenty of details about keywords, target audience, voice, tone, style, and everything else they'll need to produce high-quality content. High-end content writing is where things start to get truly expensive, but the results are worth it.
These people will produce some of the best content money can buy, and they're often an excellent choice for ongoing writer relationships. For per-word rates, they may charge around that 20-cent figure above, up to $1 per word. For those keeping track, that's $1,500 for a 1,500-word blog post.
These people also specialize in ongoing relationships and high-end projects. They're the ones you turn to when you want an eBook written or a weekly blog post on an ongoing basis.
In some cases, you can get a cheaper rate for these writers by allowing them a byline rather than paying for ghostwriting. Some high-end ghostwriters will value a byline to build their reputation, furthering their careers.
With writing, the sky is the limit.
The best of the best writers – the people featured on Forbes, who have professional relationships with industry giants, and who ghostwrite for household names – can charge pretty much whatever they want. $1 per word is just the start; they might charge $2 per word or $5 per word.
At this point, per-word pricing is generally not used. You often see per-project writing, where a project can be complex and multi-stage. An eBook, for example, might have a down payment, payments for each chapter produced, and a final payment when it's all complete and edited.
Additionally, professional content writers of this caliber are experts themselves. They are SEO and marketing experts, and they are also often industry specialists who have deep knowledge of their subject, whatever that subject may be.
On top of that, these writers may handle more than just the writing. They may produce graphical content, optimize all of your metadata, and write every aspect of your marketing; it varies from person to person.
So, as you can see, the pricing can vary quite dramatically. It depends on what you want, what you're hoping to get, and how much you're willing to pay for skill and expertise.