Freelancing is increasingly a digital profession, especially when it comes to marketing your services.
From writers to designers to coders, most of us spend our lives sitting behind a computer screen with a constant connection to the net.
Even if what you do is rooted in the real world, such as gardening, home help, or construction work, getting clients for your business means engaging online.
One of the best ways to get potential clients to check out your services is having a high search ranking on Google.
Around two thirds of online searches are conducted through Google. That means if you want potential clients to find you easily, your business must show up in Google's search results. Being on the first page of search results is essential. Research by online advertising network Chitika in 2010 found 94% of traffic from Google comes from being ranked on the first page.
Because of this, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a huge industry in online marketing. Until recently, this was often a sleazy "dark art" involving keyword stuffing, backlink building and automated content. Changes to how Google ranks web pages in search results have fortunately put these techiques on the shelf.
That said, there's still an art to showing up on Google's front page. Ranking high on Google is now all about producing quality content that's useful, entertaining or inspiring to your readers. It's also, increasingly, about engaging socially, and Google Plus is the most important social network in this respect, because it's the network owned by the search provider.
SEO is no longer a system you can game with cheap tricks. Rather, it's about being authentic, engaged and socially active.
That's great news for you, as a freelancer, because it means you can spin search results in your favor without using any high-risk or high-cost SEO tactics.
Let's take a look at some of the top ways you can use Google Plus to boost your search rankings as a freelancer.
Get Listed in Local Searches
If you offer physical services in your local area, such as hair dressing, landscape gardening, or carpentry, Google Plus can help you find more local clients. In fact, this technique works with anyone who would like to promote themselves locally.
Marketing your services locally using Google Plus is an easy way to get found.
Marketing your services locally using Google Plus is an easy way to get found. Almost half of Google searches are local, and local searchers are usually looking for local businesses.
What's more, search engines consider local searches high value, because they're more likely to convert into sales. As such, Google gives high priority to local business in its search results. Local businesses often show up at the top of search results in the form of a map.
However, Google can only give priority to your freelance business if it knows that you're a local business. Google Plus provides the tools you need to let Google know your location.
To get listed locally, you'll need to create a page for your business. When creating your page, choose "Local Business or Place" as your page type. You'll be asked to fill out your business information, including your business name, telephone number and address.
Once your page is set up, you can add more information about your business, including opening hours, a link to your website, and a list of your services. The more relevant information you include, the more often your business will show up in search results.
Get +1's On Your Content
With the rise of social networks, Google has started using social media data to deliver more relevant search results.
That means Google watches what you do online, such as who you follow on Twitter, your Facebook friends, and what you share on social networks, and uses this information to give you a better search experience. The more a website is shared on social media, particularly among your friends, the more likely it is to show up in your search results.
Of course, Google gives priority to its own social network. As a result, social sharing on Google Plus carries more weight with Google compared to other social networks.
What does all this mean for you as a freelancer?
If you engage in content marketing, then getting +1's on your content is important for your search rankings.
Even more significant is that when a person +1's a page on your website, that page gets highlighted in the search results of their Google+ connections. That establishes immediate trust, meaning more traffic to your site, and quicker relationship building with potential clients.
Exactly how +1's impact your search rankings is known only to Google. Google refuses to give precise answers, but it does go into more depth here.
Get As Many Followers As You Can
As a consequence of social search, the more followers you have on Google Plus, the better it is for your search rankings.
That's because when someone follows you on Google Plus, any content you've shared (such as your website, articles you've written, videos you've created) gets a ranking boost in search. In other words, when someone adds you to their circles, your content is more likely to show up in their search results.
Even if a potential client never engages with you on Google Plus, but just adds you to a circle then forgets about you, you're more likely to show up in their search results when they need your services.
As Mark Traphagen puts it, "the larger and more influential your Google network is, the more search results you affect."
Here are top tips for getting more followers:
- Ask your followers on other social networks to circle you on Google Plus;
- Link to your Google Plus profile from your website;
- Engage in Google Communities;
- Put your Google Plus profile in your email signature;
- Circle people who you'd like to circle you;
- Share insanely useful updates.
Comment on Breaking News
Sharing your opinion on breaking news in your niche is always a good social media strategy, but it's especially so on Google Plus.
Post a Google Plus update to say what you think about a news story, and when one of your followers sees that story on Google News, your comment shows up directly below the news story.
You can find out more about how this works in this article on Google Plus as a back door to top search results .
Become the Official Author of Your Content
Google Plus allows you to claim "official" authorship of your content, such as blog posts, articles, videos or images in Google search.
When you claim authorship, your name and profile picture show up in search results alongside the title of your content. This raises your profile as an author or media creator, and effectively acts as an endorsement from Google about the quality of your content, helping to build trust. What's more, when your name shows up in search results, people can add you directly to their Google Plus circles from their search results, so your network will grow faster.
When you claim authorship, your name and profile picture show up in search results alongside the title of your content.
There are two ways to set up Google Authorship. The simplest way is to verify the offical email address from the domain you publish on. For example, if you write for wired.com, then the email address you need to verity is firstname.lastname@example.org. For an in-depth guide, and to verify your email address, check out Google's instructions here.
However, often you will not have an official email address for websites you write for. When this is the case, you can set up authorship by linking your content to your Google+ profile using basic html code. Google's guide for doing that is here; scroll down to option two for the relevant instructions.
Make your profile picture as eye-catching as possible. If your picture grabs attention, people will look at your article first, even if its third or fourth in search results.
Authorship can take a while to show up, so be patient after setting it up.
Getting Steady Footfall
Ranking high on Google is the 21st century equivalent of having a shop front in the heart of main street. Hitting the first page of Google means you'll have more people walking by, noticing your "store" looks interesting, and having a peek inside.
Ultimately, that means more clients and more sales, which is only a good thing for your freelance business.