Take it from me: There are signs that a client isn’t worth it. If you’re being paid to write content specifically designed to trick search engines, you’re most likely working with a business that doesn’t put its content first. This type of client won’t value your creativity as much as they should.
If you’re like most WordPress users, you have some talent to spare, so chances are good you have considered freelancing. It takes time to build a portfolio, so it’s tempting to do every single project you’re offered when starting out. I’ve worked as a freelance copywriter and SEO blogger for about a year and a half, and in my experience I’ve learned that if your client wants to use bad SEO, they aren’t worth your hard work.
Unless, of course, you can convince them that they should improve their website’s content, instead of relying on black hat SEO. If you’re not sure what constitutes bad SEO, Google has a simple rule of thumb – are you writing something exclusively because search engines exist? You can always re-focus your efforts on making your content better, rather than more search-friendly. It’s also possible to write straightforward, informative content that will simultaneously look good to a search engine. Breaking up information and giving sections solid headlines not only makes your work searchable, but easy to read.
Make sure you’re proud of what you’re creating. Don’t waste time writing content that won’t improve your portfolio. If a client asks you to do any of the following, then maybe it’s time to move on.
You’re probably already familiar with how backlinking works – the more web pages that link to your site, the more your site looks like an authority to a search engine.
As a writer and content creator, you’ll probably have a client who wants you to pose as a casual consumer on various forums, oh-so-casually inserting links to your client’s website. Obviously, you don’t want forum users tracing your spammy promotions back to you. Next thing you know, you’re creating email addresses under different names, like a furtive Internet bandit trying to create a new identity.
Ok, so maybe backlinking doesn’t work for SEO. But people might still click on the links, right? Typically, not only do these links not fool the Google algorithm, they also don’t jibe with people trying to get useful information from the forum.
But even if backlinking worked in the short term, Google’s 2014 Penguin update can detect most kinds of backlink spamming. And Penguin is only going to get more sophisticated.
Keyword density and outdated SEO
Some clients still labor under the misconception that repeating a keyword over and over will get them more search engine hits. Google’s Panda algorithm began the process of taking websites like these out of search engine results in 2011. Updates to this algorithm have all but eliminated sham websites that sacrifice quality content in favor of unreadable, repetitive quagmires. If your client has an outdated understanding of search engines, chances are slim that they’ll curate an attractive website with quality content.
If you’re working for a retail business, be prepared for a request to write a fake review. You’ll frequently see ads for this type of work in the Writing Gigs section of Craigslist. Trust me – your Yelp reputation isn’t worth these types of clients.
If someone is willing to deceive consumers to build traffic on their site, chances are good they’re dishonest in other ways, too. My client who wanted me to write fake reviews (a request I refused) went on to fail to pay my final invoice, which could have covered half of my rent.
How to salvage your client
It doesn’t hurt to start with the benefit of the doubt – maybe your client is under a lot of pressure to make their website a success, and isn’t thinking too hard about the consequences of black hat SEO in the long term. Explain to your client that you’re not just a writer, but someone experienced with search engines. Tell your client how years ago eHow, BMW, and J.C. Penny all fell dramatically in their search engine ranking once Google determined how much of their web traffic came from spammy backlinking.
Get your client to think about what will happen if Google’s hammer of algorithm justice comes crashing down on their unscrupulous SEO practices. Once Google removes you from their index, you have to clean up your site and submit it to Google for a review before you can appear in their search results again.
Even the most talented content creators sometimes take on sub-par projects because, well, they needed the work. Most freelancers have been there. But if you’re only working on projects that require you to sacrifice some part of your creative integrity, invest more time in drumming up new projects. Your future portfolio will thank you.
Molly Kendrick is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger based in Austin, Texas. After graduating in 2010, she worked as an administrative assistant in the D.C. suburbs for 3 years. One day she packed up her Toyota Camry and headed west, in search of somewhere more hip. She has been writing her way to professional freedom ever since. Molly chronicles her freelancing, culinary mishaps, and travels on her blog, Contemptible Impudence.