I remember when the Internet first started to become mainstream in the late 1990s or so. I had recently started working as a writer/editor for a custom publishing company in Atlanta and was using the Internet more and more for the kind of research I used to have to do at a library.

As a fairly new Internet user, I was learning how to find the information I needed online using a tool called a “search engine.” A number of different search engines were battling with each other to become the go-to resource for the growing number of people who were using the Internet, but the main ones were Excite, Yahoo! and Google.

My Intro to SEO

A year or so after I started working for the publishing company, I attended a seminar session about something called “search engine optimization,” or SEO for short. Here, I learned that marketers were using techniques to ensure that their companies’ websites appeared high on Internet users’ search engine results pages.

Thus was my initial introduction to SEO nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades, SEO has become one of if not the most important disciplines in marketing. And the pace at which SEO has changed and evolved since these early days is astounding when you consider the relatively short history of this marketing discipline.

For example, during the primitive days of SEO, online marketers were able to use black-hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing, excessive tagging and link schemes to achieve high rankings. Over time, these techniques have been rendered ineffective (and even counter-productive) as the major search engines (primarily Google) adjusted and tweaked their algorithms to penalize websites for these practices.

Content is King!

The real tipping point marking the end of these primitive SEO practices was the release of Google’s Panda search filter update in 2011. Panda forced marketers to earn their high SEO rankings by publishing quality, user-focused content instead of relying on gimmicky tricks like they did before.

After Panda, most Internet marketers (or at least the ones who kept their jobs) realized that the days of keyword stuffing and link scheming were over. This gave rise to another new marketing discipline that has become just as important as SEO: content marketing.

In fact, SEO and content marketing go hand-in-hand. The best way today to achieve high SEO rankings is to consistently publish high-quality, user-focused and shareable content on your website. This content usually takes the form of articles, blogs, whitepapers, e-books and other materials that offer value-added, useful information to website visitors. When shared throughout the Internet and on social media, such content creates natural backlinks that build user engagement and thus help boost SEO results.

The Content Challenge

Of course, knowing they need valuable online content and generating this content are two different things for marketers. Most marketing departments aren’t set up or staffed to produce the kind of consistent, high-quality content that’s required for a serious content marketing campaign.

There’s no way I could have known it at the time, but when I decided to become a full-time freelance writer in early 2009, the whole content marketing thing was just about to kick into overdrive. In fact, this article I found tracing the evolution of SEO over the past 25 years marks 2010 as the beginning of “The Enlightenment Period” of SEO — when marketers were forced to “earn rankings through quality, user-focused content or face penalties in search,” as the article puts it.

As marketers search for solutions to keeping their content pipeline full and their content marketing engines humming, many are turning to freelancer writers to produce their online content for them. This makes sense for a lot of different reasons, the main one being that outsourcing content creation doesn’t commit a company to the high overhead required to hire a staff of content writers full-time.

Hiring freelance writers also gives companies more flexibility to hire writers during peak content cycles when they need them — and not have staff sitting around bored with nothing to do during non-peak content creation times.

Finding Good Freelance Writers

So how do you go about finding the right freelance writers for your content marketing needs? Well, I recommend starting with (surprise!) an Internet search. But be specific with the search terms you use because you’ll be better served if you look for a writer who specializes in your company’s particular industry niche.

For example, if you just search “freelance writer,” you’ll currently get 11.3 million results — running the gamut from freelance writing job sites to general interest freelancers. But if you’re looking for a freelance writer who specializes in the financial services industry like I do, enter “freelance financial writer” instead. This will narrow your results considerably and help you zero in on a writer who specializes in this niche.

And what about those freelancer job sites? I urge you to use caution here. On many of them, writers will bid for your content writing projects. You can usually find low-cost writers this way, but you will probably get what you pay for.

Also ask other marketers for recommendations of high-quality freelance writers they’ve worked with — especially other marketers in your industry or niche. Good freelance writers work hard to build solid relationships with their clients in order to ensure ongoing streams of content creation work and generate positive word-of-mouth referrals.

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