Search engine optimization, better known as SEO, involves more than just integrating your freelance blog or website with keywords and building up links that point back to your site. While a searchable website or portfolio is certainly a bonus, it's actually not a huge factor in helping you build up your freelance business.
Your connections are your best asset in building your business, and the best way to build up connections is by increasing your visibility and popularity on the web, even if you don't have a professional keyword-rich website.
The main function of SEO practices is to help search engines find you and rank you accordingly. However, a very important side function of SEO is building up your network. If you build up the amount of links that point to your site, then you are more likely to be seen by a wider audience.
Apply Cutting-Edge SEO Techniques
More links also mean that more people are sharing your links, which means that they like what you have to say or share. Keep in mind that building up this network is not done through shady SEO tricks. In today's era of Google's updates, such as Panda, no business can afford to simply purchase a bunch of links.
Ethical search engine optimization is the best way for you to market your freelancing business online. It's what will make your page rank safe against future Google updates. And even more importantly, it's what will help your target audience take notice of you. And this is the ultimate gold nugget in freelancing because it's what will make clients contact you, rather than you spending valuable time finding them. This is also why you may not need to create a professional website as of yet. If all you have to link to is your Facebook page or your Flickr portfolio, you can still build yourself a killer network.
The following is a run-down of some of the best (and latest) SEO freelance tips. Since I have started using these strategies for myself, I've not once had to contact clients. They come to me in an eerie, "build it and they will come" sort of way.
Included below are some new terms you may not yet have heard - social signals, co-occurrence - and some old terms but with a new twist - guest blogging and keyword phrases. All are quite simple, but do keep in mind that ethical search engine optimization takes time. Eventually, though, with a lot of hard work and the right tactics, you will build yourself a freelance business that can't be ignored.
Also known as social votes, "social signals" is the common term used for the buzz that surrounds you on social media and even in blog posts. In the world of SEO, social signals are much better than traditional backlinking, because they are "organic" links.
Think of it like this: every time someone retweets your post, they are endorsing you as an expert in your field.
Organic is another term that has grown in popularity (especially since Google's Panda update) that refers to any SEO tactic that helps increase a page's ranking due to relevant connection with search terms, rather than links or ads that you purchase. Because social signals are organic, Google and other search engine giants now list social media posts in search results, sometimes even higher than some of the top optimized sites for those searches.
Okay, enough with search engine talk, what about building up your network? Well, as a user of social media yourself, you probably only share, retweet, or repin those posts that really impress you in some way or another. Other social media users do the same, as you could have guessed, which means that social signals are much more trusted than, say, an ad at the top of a page. Think of it like this: every time someone retweets your post, they are endorsing you as an expert in your field. They are telling their friends that they trust you.
Social Signal Best Practices
To really take advantage of SEO social signals, you will need to first find out what your target market likes - and by target market I mean both your current social media connections and your ideal clients. Do this by looking at what competitors post, and notice how much activity they get from these posts. You can also look at your current fans, followers, and such and see what they seem to share or comment on the most.
The idea is to focus on quality, not quantity, which includes several considerations. First of all, consistency is key. Even if you only post once a week, make sure you don't miss a week. And update when your followers are most active. With Facebook and other social media sites, these times are usually early in the morning, in the evening, and on the weekends. For Twitter, you can be much more concise by using a resource such as Tweriod, which tracks your connections' activity.
Consider each social media platform when deciding on the frequency of your posts. Facebook and Google+ may only need to be updated once or twice a week. With Twitter or Pinterest, however, you may be able to get away with updating several times a day. And for Twitter you can even tweet the same post more than once, especially if your followers are from different time zones or if you notice their time on Twitter to vary quite drastically.
Also, make sure you have accounts on more than one social media site, since different crowds prefer different sites. Of course, spend the most time on the site that you see the most action from, but remaining involved in multiple social media sites simply increases your networking reach.
According to SEOmoz, anchor texts are dying. What is replacing them? A mouthful of a term called co-occurrence. As described by Rand Fishkin, co-occurrence happens when your brand name is mentioned alongside of your brand keywords within relevant content. No links necessary. Search engine algorithms can now detect frequent occurrences of brand names in conjunction with keywords and they take note.
Keep in mind that anchor texts are still necessary but with less frequency. And anchor texts risk being hit by Google updates, while co-occurrence runs no such risk. In fact, because these are usually highly relevant to the context, they are very valuable.
Even better, though, is the fact that co-occurrence builds your freelance brand name. The more social signals you receive for posts that include your freelance name, the more that your target audience will see and take note of you or your business. And as readers see you mentioned in articles, they will see you as a source of authority, an expert in your field.
Co-occurrence in which other blogs and authors mention you is much harder to gain organically. As you build your network, and provide quality social media updates for users, you are much more likely to have authors mention you in their articles.
If you notice writers that you've connected with retweeting or sharing your posts quite a bit, you can simply contact them to let them know you'd be willing to do an interview. Or offer to help them with a review of their freelance business for free if they simply mention you in the content.
Finally, you can write guest blogs (see more on this below) or even some posts you publish on your own blog on topics in which you can relevantly mention your freelance business name and one of your keywords in the content. Just make sure that the reason you mention yourself is highly reasonable, otherwise blogs won't be willing to post your article. Google, too, can tell how relevant the mention of your brand name and keyword is to the content.
You may already know about guest blogging. It is a great way to get links leading back to your site or social media page, especially if the blog owner allows you to place a link within the actual content. If they don't, then try co-occurrence. And if you can't work a co-occurrence into the context, then you still have the author bio in which most blogs allow at least one link. However, to really gain the most from guest blogging, avoid just throwing out crap articles to crap sites and post some quality content on quality blogs. The big picture for this tactic is a higher amount of social signals per post.
Guest Blogging Pointers
According to Neil Patel in an interview of him by SearchEngineWatch, the more articles you post on a single site, the less traction you gain.
In fact, it can even hurt your page rank after too many posts on a single site, simply because a repeated link on the same domain looks spammy. So really you should only submit about 1-3 posts on low traffic sites. However, Neil points out that there is a much more valuable point to guest blogging: gaining visibility and expertise.
Look for sites within your industry for building up your reputation as an expert, but also look for sites that your clients visit.
Let's say you spend the amount of time necessary to write a really amazing article and a huge website or blog picks it up. Let's say this blog has tons of traffic and each post on the site gets tweeted hundreds of times and each post also gets lots of relevant comments. Wouldn't you want to keep submitting articles to this site and probably way more than your limit of 3? Neil says definitely, don't worry about your Google rank taking a hit in this case since your networking gains are worth it.
Another point to keep in mind when guest blogging is to submit to those sites that are most relevant to your services or products as a freelancer. Look for sites within your industry for building up your reputation as an expert, but also look for sites that your clients visit. For instance, a web developer would want to submit tutorials and how-to articles to blogs on web development. But he or she could also submit articles to business blogs on simple web development tips (and working into the article a blurb on "if you want to take this to the next step, you will need a professional"). You could also post your own experiences as a small business owner. Or you could post on sites like FreelanceSwitch and connect with other freelancers that may need your services.
Finally, be conscious of how you use your keywords. Of course, make sure that your keyword phrases are actually ones that clients may use to search for you. You will probably want to use Google's Keyword Tool to look up the popularity of different keywords as well as to see related keywords. You may also want to check out these keyword tips from Thursday Bram.
But once you have your list of top keyword phrases to include in your content, make sure to switch up the order of the phrase, such as using "professional web development," "web development professional," and "professional in the field of web development" in your posts. Changing up your keyword phrases now and then keeps the content fresh for Google, safeguarding you from a picky algorithm.
All of these SEO practices - social signals, co-occurrence, guest blogging - have a key element in common: quality content. If you wouldn't repost your own article, then don't write it. If you have nothing to say, don't write it. If your fans and followers wouldn't find it to be helpful, then don't write it.
Yes, it will take time to build up your network if you follow the right methods. But if you follow the right methods, you will eventually get to a point where your network almost builds itself. And that is when you may have to hire help to keep up with all of the new client inquiries.