Dur­ing the first part of this cen­tu­ry, non­fic­tion writ­ers had it much eas­i­er than today.

Back then, SEO needs from writ­ers were either non-exis­tent or extreme­ly min­i­mal.

Fast for­ward to today and SEO is essen­tial to writ­ing, which presents a frus­trat­ing sit­u­a­tion for mod­ern writ­ers who are not trained in SEO.

I’m not just talk­ing about blog or arti­cle writ­ers, but also PR, ad, social media, and prod­uct writ­ers.

You get the point.

I felt this pres­sure around 2005 when I began work­ing exclu­sive­ly as an online writer with dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing teams and busi­ness­es.

SEO was new to me, and I had to revamp my think­ing total­ly. This wasn’t that hard, con­sid­er­ing I was always trans­form­ing as a writer.

I ini­tial­ly start­ed writ­ing fic­tion, then obit­u­ar­ies, then news sto­ries, then blogs, and all oth­er mar­ket­ing mate­r­i­al.

In the past 15 or so years, I have con­tin­ued to trans­form as a writer with SEO in mind. I can’t do one with­out the oth­er, though writ­ing should always be first.

SEO guide­lines are need­ed, but my agency still works with writ­ers who know nada about SEO, so we have to add some extra steps to our strat­e­gy phase.

But we aren’t tar­get­ing an audi­ence of con­tent strate­gist here; instead, we’re talk­ing to the writ­ers or mar­ket­ing heads who need to edu­cate their writ­ers into 2020 and beyond.

The fol­low­ing list is a hybrid of what I feel is most impor­tant from both a cre­ative and SEO per­spec­tive to improve the qual­i­ty of your online writ­ing for today’s world.

The tips include thoughts on craft, on-page SEO, phys­i­cal and men­tal training/practices, and man­ag­ing time, among oth­ers.

Also, notice that there are 13 not to-dos, and 12 to-dos. It’s always the things we shouldn’t do as mod­ern writ­ers – and mar­ke­teers in gen­er­al – that offer the largest rewards.

The Writing Not To-Dos

1. DON’T Copy Competitors

This is first because I see new and sea­soned writ­ers copy and rewrite con­tent across every indus­try, from here in the world of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing to motor­cy­cles to finance to real estate to bio­hack­ing.

I had to let a few free­lancers go through­out my career as both an agency own­er and head­ing con­tent efforts for oth­er busi­ness­es and agen­cies.

Everyone’s strat­e­gy is going to be dif­fer­ent and speak to a dif­fer­ent audi­ence.

If you sound like the com­pe­ti­tion, you can’t be orig­i­nal and pro­duce val­ue as a unique voice for your­self or the busi­ness.

When it comes to writ­ing, the only time you should pay atten­tion to your client’s com­peti­tors is for key­word rank­ings and top link­ing web­sites.

My agency reverse engi­neers the lat­ter for clients and pro­vide our free­lance writ­ers with the guide­lines need­ed to cre­ate some­thing that will rise above the prover­bial noise.

And in regards to writ­ing, there’s much noise in every indus­try.

2. DON’T Avoid Keyword Research

The non­fic­tion writer’s life before key­word research was amaz­ing.

When key­word research became part of my duties, I was frus­trat­ed.

But now it’s sim­ply part of the writ­ing, and I’ve become quite obsessed with it due to see­ing what the key­word efforts – not crazy amounts of work any­more due to today’s tools – are capa­ble of.

Except for the one- or two-off pieces we get request­ed for cer­tain clients, most are under long-term cam­paigns.

As a result, key­word research is embed­ded in the con­tent strat­e­gy, which is typ­i­cal­ly cre­at­ed for each upcom­ing quar­ter with room to change things based on the lat­est service/products or news-sen­si­tive items.

For these cam­paign pieces – ser­vice pages, blogs, white papers, etc. – all key­word research is com­plet­ed for each piece and hand­ed off to the writ­ers via SEO guide­lines.

Many of our writ­ers are not SEO experts, and we don’t need them to be. But we sup­ply them with what’s required to opti­mize any piece com­plete­ly.

3. DON’T Forget to Be Remarkable

Search Google for [Seth Godin Remark­able] and you’ll get 86,000 results.

He reit­er­ates that the only way to dom­i­nate is to cre­ate a remark­able prod­uct or ser­vice – and remark­able mar­ket­ing.

This also equates to cre­at­ing remark­able writ­ten con­tent.

When I’m train­ing writ­ers, I always say, “leave no word behind.” This is an essen­tial adage for cre­at­ing a piece of con­tent that’s remark­able.

You must make every word count.

If some­thing doesn’t make sense or add val­ue (what is what many con­sid­er “fluff”), kill it and write some­thing new, or rewrite the exist­ing piece.

Put equal amounts of ener­gy into every piece of writ­ing, whether it’s a 160-char­ac­ter meta descrip­tion, 2,500-word blog or 100-word prod­uct copy.

4. DON’T Forget to Focus on the Headline

Your head­line is one of most – if not the most – impor­tant ele­ment of your writ­ing.

Put as much time into cre­at­ing your head­line as you do into each piece of con­tent.

This is noth­ing new to most, but always use a tar­get key­word, and appeal to emo­tions.

Don’t make the head­line an after­thought; give it the cre­ative ener­gy it deserves.

5. DON’T Be Inconsistent

For blog­ging cam­paigns, my agency keeps upload­ing sched­ules con­sis­tent.

If we are doing two blogs a week, they are sched­uled the same times on the same days based on ana­lyt­ics of when that web­site typ­i­cal­ly gets its most traf­fic.

Writ­ers should also thing this way.

Train your­self to write at the same time every day, and you’re mind/creativity will adapt – and quick­ly.

Words will flow smoother, and those who say they need to wait for a cre­ative streak are just undis­ci­plined.

6. DON’T Procrastinate

Due to the world of whacko fic­tion writ­ers and artists of the 20th cen­tu­ry, many writ­ers assume they must wait for those cre­ative moments to arrive and start draft­ing when this cre­ativ­i­ty sur­faces. Then, and only then.

These moments are amaz­ing, but if you train your­self to get into full cre­ative modes at cer­tain times every day, your cre­ativ­i­ty will adapt. And you’ll do much more qual­i­ty, um, remark­able work and more often.

Don’t pro­cras­ti­nate as you wait for a cre­ative moment.

Rather, train your cre­ativ­i­ty to sur­face on call and at your dis­pos­al. That’s the sign of a true artist.

It’ll also help kill that damn cliché of the “starv­ing writer.” I thought that way around the turn of the cen­tu­ry, but real­ized I was just lazy.

There are thou­sands of writ­ing jobs avail­able, and tech­nol­o­gy makes them super easy to find. You can also find exact­ly what type of work you desire.

Even if you’re writ­ing that next best-sell­ing fic­tion nov­el, you can still make a liv­ing as a free­lance writer in the world of non-fic­tion.

7. DON’T Be Perfect

Work­ing until a piece of con­tent is per­fect is just anoth­er form of pro­cras­ti­na­tion. Noth­ing will ever be per­fect.

I still have to remind myself of this when­ev­er I am wrap­ping up a piece of per­son­al writ­ing. As an edi­tor, it’s much sim­pler to ship; as a writer, though, espe­cial­ly before the last edit, many seek per­fec­tion.


Imper­fec­tion will save you much grief and ener­gy, allow­ing you to put more time into your next piece of great con­tent.

8. DON’T Plagiarize


I lit­er­al­ly had to split ways with sev­en free­lancers in my life of free­lance man­age­ment due to pla­gia­rism.

One actu­al­ly copy/pasted para­graphs from dif­fer­ent writ­ers and sub­mit­ted it.

This start­ed a Copy­scape fren­zy.

I trust 99% of my free­lance staff now and don’t wor­ry about this. But going for­ward, when­ev­er I’m work­ing with a new writer, I dou­ble-check at least for the ini­tial five or so pieces.

Les­son learned.

So, as a rule of writ­ing, nev­er ever pla­gia­rize.

The word spreads quick­ly, and you’ll nev­er find work.

9. DON’T Focus on Immediate ROI

Explain­ing to a prospec­tive client why my agency’s ongo­ing blog cam­paigns (after some heavy SEO work) are a min­i­mum of six months is one of the tough­est parts of my job.

Many want to see imme­di­ate ROI, or expect it with­in a few weeks.

I don’t want to work with clients that have a short-term mind­set.

For the ones with a long-term mind­set, there’s still much work to explain how this all works.

I have to:

  • Estab­lish trust and show results from pri­or clients.
  • Prove that the results will arrive – but that they must remain patient.
  • Talk about van­i­ty num­bers, like why Likes are less impor­tant than build­ing a loy­al audi­ence.
  • Con­tin­ue the momen­tum with a strat­e­gy that will con­tin­u­al­ly work.

Writ­ers must think the same.

You won’t see imme­di­ate ROI with many of your SEO writ­ing pieces.

Many look for that “viral” piece (“viral” is a term I’m try­ing to erase from my work­force).

Some will do what­ev­er it takes for a viral post, and not focus on a real strat­e­gy that will give back long-term, but instead loads of crap con­tent for that one good piece.

It may work; it may not.

I don’t like to gam­ble with my client’s mon­ey.

Instead, I engage in only long-term strate­gies that work.

Do the same with your writ­ing.

10. DON’T Be Intimidated or Influenced

You’ll see some suc­cess­ful writ­ers who try to intim­i­date or influ­ence in neg­a­tive ways.

These are typ­i­cal­ly the ego-dri­ven peo­ple that you don’t want to be asso­ci­at­ed with any­how, the ones who say “you’re not ready to write that book” or “that busi­ness is a tough one.”

The same is said by depart­ment heads of both busi­ness­es or agen­cies like CMOs or CEOs who may intim­i­date you into writ­ing in ways you don’t see fit for the client.

Some­times these writ­ing ways are not eth­i­cal, either.

Don’t be intim­i­dat­ed or influ­enced by these types – but make sure you explain why you’re going to write the way you should, and have a plan or strat­e­gy ready to explain.

11. DON’T Write JUST for SEO

This is cru­cial. I worked with many busi­ness­es and agen­cies that need­ed writ­ing to please the search engines and not the actu­al read­ers.

They want­ed quick tips with a bunch of key­word­ed head­lines, and would even ask to add com­plete BS just to please an inter­nal link­ing strat­e­gy.

That’s not cre­at­ing con­tent that caters to the audi­ence. And it’s cer­tain­ly not any­thing remark­able.

Always write for the read­er first and fore­most.

You need the SEO strat­e­gy for what con­tent is required, but don’t only focus on SEO – it’s vital, but the sto­ry told must always be the focus.

DON’T Write JUST for SEO

12. DON’T Forget to Outline

When I help train free­lance writ­ers, I stress the process por­tion as much as I do cre­ativ­i­ty. Part of the process is cre­at­ing an out­line – and an effort­less out­line. Some­times it’s just the act of writ­ing “Intro” or “Con­clu­sion” to get the ener­gy flow­ing.

Let’s take a blog, for exam­ple. Each piece will have a dif­fer­ent out­line based on the top­ic but take this one. First, I wrote all 25 sub-titles, along with the intro.

After I filled in each sub-title, I walked away and rewrote a day lat­er. Then came the con­clu­sion, fol­lowed by anoth­er walk away and final edit.

Some­times I write the con­clu­sion first, fol­lowed by the mid­dle, and then the begin­ning. I always have an out­line before any piece of writ­ing. The process is nev­er the same – but the out­line is always there.

13. DON’T Sit – Stand!

I bought a stand-up desk two years ago, and it was one of those things “ I should have done” much ear­li­er in my writ­ing career.

My ener­gy lev­els are much high­er, and I found I can keep my focus longer.

If stand­ing and writ­ing were good enough for Ernest Hem­ing­way, it’s def­i­nite­ly good enough for the rest of us.

The next addi­tion that came ear­li­er this year was a ground­ing mat.

I’ve got deep­er and deep­er into bio­hack­ing since launch­ing my agency in ear­ly 2017, and ground­ing has become a sta­ple.

I’ve used a ground­ing mat every day since I got it, some­times for 10-hour peri­ods.

Sure, it feels weird being bare­foot on calls, but it has also helped with my clar­i­ty.

14. Don’t Forget About Mental & Physical Health

If you don’t feel good both men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly, you can’t pos­si­bly write at your full poten­tial.

I remem­ber con­stant­ly writ­ing with hang­overs back in my 20s – the qual­i­ty was super poor because I wasn’t pro­vid­ing my full poten­tial.

Of course, this pairs with the pro­cras­ti­na­tion part of cre­at­ing “art.”

The worse sit­u­a­tion pos­si­ble – and it often hap­pens across all ages of writ­ers I know – is the crunch­ing last minute to fin­ish a piece.

Many involve alco­hol, and then they attempt to edit or rewrite while hun­gover.

That sit­u­a­tion is dis­as­trous.

Late­ly, I’ve been more and more of a bio­hack­er, though I still enjoy my vino.

But lime water, cel­ery juice, cof­fee, and about 40 sup­ple­ments a day, along with ground­ing mats and stand­ing desks and oth­er things many things weird (cold show­ers!) help keep my mind and body sharp to per­form my best in busi­ness and writ­ing.

Find what works for you and get phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly fit.

The Writing To-Dos

15. DO Learn Patience

Patience is the ulti­mate dri­ver of any suc­cess in life, from rela­tion­ships to build­ing a busi­ness and, espe­cial­ly, for writ­ing.

Good writ­ing takes time. And most of this time involves edit­ing.

Learn patience to write, edit, and rewrite as many times as need­ed, and you’ll become a much bet­ter writer.

And, again, per­fec­tion­ism is pro­cras­ti­na­tion.

16. DO Become Discipline to Mastering Craft of Writing (Though Mastery Is Truly Impossible)

I still believe mas­ter­ing any­thing is impos­si­ble, and this is a pos­i­tive thing.


Because the process keeps us striv­ing to be the best we can be at what­ev­er we’re try­ing to mas­ter.

This is beyond the truth in writ­ing; look at some of the most rec­og­nized writ­ers in his­to­ry, from fic­tion to non-fic­tion.

Think Hem­ing­way, Delil­lo, and Twain in fic­tion. They were super dis­ci­plined to mas­ter the craft.

But be warned – mas­tery is impos­si­ble; it’s the act of try­ing to mas­ter writ­ing that made these writ­ers so amaz­ing. Their con­tent will sure­ly be around hun­dreds of years from now; will yours?

17. DO Rewrite Every Thing

Write. Edit. And Rewrite. Then edit and rewrite again.

Dur­ing rewrites, cut out every­thing unnec­es­sary, and sim­pli­fy things.

When I guide my writ­ers, I tell them to out­line, then blow out the first draft with zero wor­ries about slop­pi­ness, gram­mar or spelling issues. It’s the rewrit­ing stage where the mag­ic hap­pens.

But again – remem­ber not to edit to “per­fec­tion.” You’ll dri­ve your­self insane, and you’ll nev­er deliv­er on time.

18. DO Study & Master Subject Authority

What­ev­er you write about and are pas­sion­ate about, study it. Read as much as pos­si­ble, or do what­ev­er works for you – pod­casts, audio­books, doc­u­men­taries – what­ev­er it takes.

The more edu­cat­ed you are about the sub­ject, the quick­er the words will flow, and the quick turn­around times you’ll get.

This equates to not only estab­lish­ing your­self as the expert writer with­in an indus­try or niche, but one peo­ple want to work with because of the quick turn­around time of qual­i­ty writ­ing.

19. DO Learn On-Page SEO

Learn on-page SEO. This will help ease things for a busi­ness, whether they have an SEO team or not.

Learn about inter­nal link­ing struc­tures to pass link equi­ty to pages you want to high­light for both read­ers and search engines. Learn to for­mat your on-page SEO for inclu­sion in snip­pets, such as:

  • Break­ing the con­tent up into head­ings.
  • Using bul­let points.
  • Empha­siz­ing words or sen­tences with bold or ital­ics.

Also, if you’re doing page or blog con­tent, learn how to write remark­able 160-char­ac­ter meta descrip­tions. They can help sup­port that equal­ly remark­able head­line you wrote.

And the busi­ness or agency you’re work­ing with will love you even more.

20. DO Strive to Write for Authority, Reputation & Trust

This is anoth­er thing writ­ers can do to sur­face among the noise – always write for what I call ART – Author­i­ty, Rep­u­ta­tion and Trust. I wrote a piece for Search Engine Jour­nal where I once called this TAR to sym­bol­ize a stick­i­ness in con­tent cre­ation but have since trans­formed it to ART.

Leave no word behind and cre­ate each piece so peo­ple under­stand that writ­ing as an author­i­ta­tive, rep­utable and trust­wor­thy piece with­in that indus­try.

Read­ers can rec­og­nize crap and quick­ly. If you always write to estab­lish ART, the ROI is end­less.

21. DO Keep Creative Chunks of Time Within Your Limits

I also wrote about this in “11 Habits of Con­tent Cre­ators Who Optime Their Cre­ative Spend.” It’s worth repeat­ing that we only have a lim­it­ed amount of hyper­fo­cused cre­ativ­i­ty time, which may be three hours for some, and a half-hour for oth­ers.

Regard­less, find yours. You’ll feel your­self wane or dis­tract­ed from the task at hand. If this hap­pens, take a break.

And just like every­thing else in life, you can train your­self to expand your cre­ative chunks of time. This goes back to point num­ber 5 above; if you put away a chunk of time every day for just writ­ing – read, just writ­ing and noth­ing else – and stick to the sched­ule, with­in a few days you’re time to remain in cre­ative focus will grow.

I once could only go about an hour straight through with pure focus. There are days I set away five hours straight now, where I can remain entire­ly focused on what­ev­er writ­ing I’m doing. It’s that prover­bial “zone,” and it’s a high like no oth­er.

DO Keep Creative Chunks of Time Within Your Limits

22. DO Read Daily on Writing & Subject

This goes back to point num­ber 18 about study­ing your niche and is worth anoth­er per­spec­tive. Besides study­ing the niche you’re writ­ing about, also read dai­ly about that niche in respect­ed pub­li­ca­tions. Find estab­lished blogs with strong writ­ers and fol­low their lessons.

Do the same for writ­ing. A sim­ple Google search of “writ­ing tips” deliv­ers over a bil­lion results. You’re sure to find some­thing there, whether from col­leges or some less­er-known blog­gers.

23. DO Read ‘On Writing Well’

If you are seri­ous about writ­ing, read William Zinsser’s “On Writ­ing Well”.

If you’re not seri­ous about writ­ing, but still cre­ate emails or any oth­er form of writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion, read “On Writ­ing Well”.

The themes of the book are based on sim­plic­i­ty and con­tin­ued writing/education.

Writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion is stronger than ever but also slop­pi­er than ever.

On Writ­ing Well” can help shift the care­less ways to sim­pler and clean­er writ­ing, which eas­es com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ulti­mate­ly saves time.

24. DO Optimize Downtime

With all this talk of actu­al writ­ing, an equal amount of ener­gy should be focused on get­ting away from the writ­ten word.

This is espe­cial­ly true after a mas­sive chunk of cre­ative time.

You need to walk away from every­thing and let that work set­tle in your sub­con­scious. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, the ener­gy will return quick­ly, and you’ll cre­ate much more qual­i­ty work in much less time.

The prob­lem here is with society’s stan­dards of work­ing – which stemmed from the dot.com boom and work­ing extend­ed hours before a project was fin­ished. Red Bull, cof­fee, greasy piz­za, not show­er­ing, etc. – that Sil­i­con Val­ley dream.

Don’t do this as a writer.

Walk away when you know your work sucks. Come back to it with a fresh mind.

This is why time man­age­ment is vital to good writ­ing.

If you have a piece sched­uled for 10 days, don’t wait until day nine and “crunch write” – rather, spread it out, even if it’s only a half-hour every day.

Write in chunks and always return with fresh eyes.

Your audi­ence will thank you, as will whomev­er you’re writ­ing for.

I have some sta­ples for opti­miz­ing my down­time when I want to keep things cre­ative – typ­i­cal­ly an after­noon bath with music and read­ing some­thing unre­lat­ed to the work I’m com­plet­ing – usu­al­ly fic­tion.

This brings me back to the project with ener­gy and helps me refo­cus with full intent soon­er.

25. DO Take Time to Explore the Unknown & Write About It

I learned from some of the world’s best entre­pre­neurs that explor­ing the unknown helps keep the mind fresh and charged.

The same is true in the world of author­ship.

When we force our selves to write about some­thing that we don’t know or ini­tial­ly under­stand, the work fresh­ens the mind and keeps it ener­getic when cre­at­ing every­day words for either work, a book, or indus­try that you write with­in.

For exam­ple, I con­tin­ue to write about motor­cy­cles dai­ly. But I con­tin­ue to chal­lenge myself by tak­ing on some ghost­writ­ing or per­son­al projects that are total­ly out of my norm (ethno­graph­ic research, any­one?).

This work requires intense study, and the out­come is well worth that study. And the best part is com­ing back to the day-to-day writ­ing because your brain rec­og­nizes just how effi­cient you are with your favorite sub­ject and words flow.

Plus, the best way to learn is through writ­ing.

Back to one of my favorite non­fic­tion authors, Zinss­er, he wrote an entire book ded­i­cat­ed to this top­ic, apt­ly named “Writ­ing to Learn.”

Concluding Thoughts

Non­fic­tion online writ­ing is much more of a chal­lenge than it was in years past.

Sure, you can con­tin­ue to write with­out think­ing about SEO, the audi­ence, or con­sis­tent­ly rewrit­ing every­thing you cre­ate.

That work will like­ly be aver­age.

Aver­age writ­ing doesn’t build loy­al­ty.

With­out loy­al­ty, you’ll just become anoth­er online writer.

As this online noise con­tin­ues to strength­en in 2020 and beyond, you’ll need to strength­en your skills as a writer equal­ly.

Try focus­ing on these 25 tips that are a hybrid of thoughts, from best prac­tices in SEO to craft to time man­age­ment, and work hard at pro­duc­ing some­thing remark­able.

SOURCE: Search Engine Jour­nal