What is Professional Writing and What Does it Have to do with SEO?

If there’s one thing that I learned from being a professional writing major it’s that no one knows what a professional writing major is.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Oh so you’re going to write a book?” after telling someone what I studied in college. Don’t get me wrong, I do like writing, it may even be what attracted me to the major in the first place, but I think it’s far from being an accurate name for the major.

I hope that by the end of this post my major’s connection to SEO will be more apparent, but first I feel it’s important to do my best to explain the uncommon, yet commonly misunderstood, major that is professional writing.

One of the simplest ways of describing professional writing is to say that it is applied communications.That’s why, if I don’t have time to explain professional writing, I often just say I majored in communications. Professional writing, however, puts more focus on the process of delivering an actual product that people will read, look at, or use, whether that be a press release, an infographic, a memo, an app, or a style guide.

Professional writing classes cover a wide range of disciplines, teaching skills in graphic design, web authoring, and various forms of multimedia communication. The common goal throughout these classes is to learn and be aware of who the audience is that you are writing or designing for and to deliver a finished product that best fits their specific needs.

Past graduates have gone on to do many different jobs. Some are technical writers for software companies, some are magazine editors, and some go into public relations. Whether you focus on internal or external communications within an organization, a professional writing degree will prepare you for applying various communication skills in just about any workplace situation.

To break it down a little further, professional writing majors at Michigan State University (my alma mater) are split into three separate tracks:

  • Editing and publishing (AKA grammar nerds)
  • Communities and Nonprofits (AKA “good people”)
  • Digital and technical writing (AKA wannabe nerds)

I fell into the latter track, so, although I was studying professional writing, I rarely ever had to write any long papers like you might imagine. My focus was more on how people interacted in digital spaces. I learned basic web design which was important for familiarizing myself with the challenges and limitations a designer will face when building or improving a website. I was also taught about improving user experience through appropriate use and management of the content on a site.

Part of the beauty of professional writing is that, because it is so versatile, you never really know what job or career you might find yourself in. I certainly never pictured myself doing search engine optimization while I was studying at Michigan State, but I can already see several ways in which I was being prepared for it all along.

Knowing Your Audience

Professional writing teaches students the importance of knowing your audience. In SEO the goal is to optimize a particular website so that it is found by a specific audience that the owner of that site is trying to reach.

This means that knowing this group’s search intent is extremely important. When doing keyword research you need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to determine what terms they are most likely to search for in Google if they are looking for the services offered on the website you are optimizing.

Thanks to tools like SEMRush we have data on these keywords such as search volume and competitiveness, but you still need to input keywords first to receive this data and that’s where knowing your audience and thinking like a consumer really comes in handy.

Effective Content

Content creation is something every professional writing major is familiar with. A large component of SEO is making sure that a website has quality content. For one thing, more written content means more opportunities to include relevant keywords that search engines will use to determine what a page is about.

However, it’s not enough just to have a lot of writing on a page. Search engines have become smart enough to look for content that is of actual value to the user. This means a website’s content should include quality writing that accurately describes the services and products in a way that is easy for anyone to understand. This is especially important for companies that specialize in areas that most people aren’t familiar with like medical technology or complex computer software.

These are just two specific examples of how professional writing prepared me for SEO. I think one of the more general, and perhaps most useful ways, I was prepared is due to the fact that professional writing covers so many different areas of online communication. This gives me a large well from which to draw new ideas from in relation to SEO.

Going forward I hope to continue to using the skills I already have in new and different ways, but, without a doubt, there is always more to learn.