Writing programs should teach us how to make a living writing in today's world.
We’re supposed to be starving, poor, and working for tips (not that working for tips is anything to scoff at, but you get the idea). We’re not supposed to be making a decent living with what’s 1) relatively easy for us 2) what we love doing (okay, I don’t always love what I write about, but it’s a lot better than any other job for me) and 3) what we’re good at doing. Maybe what it comes down to is it just doesn’t seem fair—to others and ourselves.
During the first few years of starting my business, I had friends and acquaintance routinely sending me job announcements for anything that looked remotely manageable for me. This included jobs with non-profits because that’s what put me through undergraduate school. There were jobs that paid less than half of my annual salary, jobs that were in other states, and jobs that paid minimum wage. I’m admittedly not very forthcoming when it comes to income with my friends (because, well, common sense), but it became very clear a lot of people thought I was desperately flailing about.
It’s been five years since I founded MehtaFor: Writing and Editing, and in those four years I’ve also had five books published via traditional publishing houses. There’s also been a smattering of accolades, a lot of publications in magazines and journals, and the steadfast growing of a business. However, the business of writing in the Digital Era amidst mobile readiness and ever-changing search engine optimization (SEO) best practices isn’t what a lot of creative writers imagine when tasked with dreaming up a career as a writer. If that last sentence sounds like ridiculous tech jargon, you’re not alone. I thought the same thing when I started.
Here’s what I’ve found: The vast majority of writing programs, whether undergraduate or graduate, don’t teach students how to make a living writing in today’s world. Written communication has quickly become the first impression of every business. Every business needs an online presence including a website, perhaps a blog, maybe social media presence, and that’s just the bare bones. That means every business needs a professional writer skilled not just in creating specific types of content but who’s also skilled in SEO, layout for mobile readiness, and knows how to whip up a good meta tag.
Yes, I’m a writer, but when someone’s really curious I tell them I write content that helps websites show up higher on Google search results. That’s the very simple definition of what the writing aspect of SEO entails. Research shows that almost nobody looks beyond the first page of search results (“search results” and “Google” is used synonymously in America since Google is by far the most popular search engine). Most people don’t look beyond the first handful of results. If a business’ website doesn’t shot up in the first few results, they may as well not exist online—and if you don’t exist online in the Digital Era, you almost don’t exist at all.
When you Google something like “dog groomer Portland,” there’s a reason certain websites pop up first. SEO. “Dog groomer Portland” is an example of a key phrase or “long-tail keyword” with a geo-target (Portland) attached. The more specific a key phrase, the less competition and the more likely your site will be matched with a great searcher. A very broad key word like “books” is nearly impossible to compete against for small or mid-sized businesses.
As an SEO writer, I follow SEO best practices and write content that’s more likely to place at the top of a business’ best key phrases. It’s kind of like piecing together a puzzle, but making it look beautiful in the process.
Do you consider yourself more artist or entrepreneur, and how have you found balance between these two roles?
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