Here it is, at last: the ultimate, definitive guide to SEO for freelancers! If you read this article, and memorize every word, you will be able to get your site to the top of Google search results for whatever keyword you want!
Well, not really.
The above is an exaggeration, of course, but there is plenty of content out there that advertises itself as the ‘ultimate’ or ‘definitive’ guide to a SEO. As a freelancer, you’re not looking to become an SEO expert, or exploring the fascinating world of search engine optimization for fun (author’s note: I genuinely do find it fascinating!) – no, you’re just looking for guidance about how to “do SEO” so you can help get your name out there, grow your business and make more money. This article is going to try to help you do just that.
First things first: Research
SEO is an industry that requires research. Research about what keywords you should use to define your business or products or content. Research about what your competitors are doing, so you can do it better. Research about new tools and platforms that can help you maximize your SEO efforts. Research about what new changes Google is cooking up, to understand how to adapt your strategy to account for any notable changes. And, of course, research into what SEO actually is, and how to optimize your website for search engines.
The truth is that most of the content you encounter when searching for information about SEO, or “how to get your site on Google”, or “how to rank #1”, is good content.
But these SEO guides also say a lot of the same things! In fact, sometimes it can feel like you’ve read the same guide 3 or 4 times, just worded differently. That’s because SEO has some “universal” truths to it, primarily gleaned from extensive experience and based on guidelines published by search engines themselves.
So, rather than pretending to be able to offer you the ultimate guide to SEO, instead I’ve compiled a list of some helpful tips for freelancers and small business owners, that can set you on the right path to achieving some SEO success. And, if you want to learn more, I’ve included at the bottom of this article some reputable SEO resources that can help you deepen your knowledge.
Choose the right website builder
Most, if not all website builders / hosting platforms advertise the fact that their sites are “Google-friendly”. While it may be true that search engines can crawl a given website, you need to make sure that the platform you choose offers the interface and features (i.e. design and functionality) that you need to present a website your target audience will appreciate. Never lose sight of what the purpose of the site is for its visitors – aka your potential customers. Also make sure to understand the cost of designing and maintaining your website. You’ll be able to deduct the cost from your taxes, but still, it can add up.
Structure your website logically
This means deciding what pages your site will have and what determines its hierarchy, making sure there are no broken links and that the customer can navigate through it with ease. Develop a content strategy, making sure to build a logical, accessible flow between your pages, and build everything towards your end goal: do you want visitors to subscribe to your email or buy your product, fill a contact form or follow you on social media. And, make sure the website design supports your end goals. It should attract site visitors rather than scare them away! The quality of a site plays a big part in the way Google ranks it.
Create good content
Your content is the message you are sending to your audience, how you word your offering: is it clean or is it filled with typos? Is it unique or is it a copy-paste of other similar sites? Avoid boilerplate, repetitive, boring content. Consider the reader, and communicate your message clearly. Bear in mind that content is one of the strongest ranking signals for Google when evaluating a website, so it deserves significant focus. Your content is the basis for what Google refers to as your site’s E-A-T score (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) – not an actual score, rather a principle that is aligned with how Google’s algorithm evaluates a website.
Why not a blog?
It is important to keep your site active and relevant. While your main pages are largely static, having a blog gives you a chance to show Google and your audience that your site is a living, evolving source of information. You should also use each blog post as an opportunity to expand your website’s footprint in organic search, by researching and writing about relevant, lower competition subject matter. Additionally, you can leverage your blog to build an engaged community by adding a blog subscription option.
Check your site’s Google “Score”
From your site’s inception, you should be keeping track of its performance in organic search. This means opening accounts using Google’s free search tools: Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Google Search Console allows you to understand how your site is performing in organic search results, while Google Analytics provides you with insights about how organic traffic (and paid traffic) performs on your website. You should also monitor your site’s technical performance, as site performance is a significant ranking signal, not to mention that a poorly-performing site will prompt site visitors to stay away. You can use Google’s free Page Speed Insights tool, although understanding the generated report may require a bit more technical understanding.
Aside from the tools provided by Google, there is a multitude of free and paid tools available to assist you in optimizing and monitoring your site. While paid tools may require a hefty monthly or yearly payment, usually you have the opportunity to test the tool during a free trial period before committing any money.
Always Keep SEO in mind
Aside from on-page optimization and technical performance, a significant aspect of SEO is what happens outside of your website. This means incorporating SEO into any off-page marketing efforts, including PR, social media, partnerships, branding activities, offline marketing, etc. Something as simple as including a link to your site in all of your social media channels can bring in referral traffic, but more importantly, can help ensure that search results for your brand name will display all of your brand’s properties, increasing your business legitimacy and upping the chances that searchers click on your website from search results.
Take your time
Working through the process of search engine optimization takes time, and requires regular work – you’re not going to get to the #1 spot overnight. Naturally, the degree to which you concentrate on developing and executing your SEO strategy depends on available time and resources. It also depends on how significant a part of your marketing strategy your website is, of course. However, the important point to remember is that SEO is an ongoing process, whether it’s something you attend to daily, weekly or monthly. As long as you don’t forget about it and expect sustained levels of traffic from organic search over time. SEO is not a one-time project that you can forget about after some initial efforts. It’s an ongoing process that requires research, monitoring, maintenance and even experimentation.
As with many things in life, you get out of SEO what you put into it.
And as promised, here are some recommended SEO Resources
- The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz
- Moz offers a comprehensive guide that covers virtually all aspects of SEO. The content is tailored towards beginners and divided into chapters, allowing for a learning track that progresses you through all aspects of SEO. Over the years, Moz has updated and redesigned this guide, and the current version offers easy navigation that allows the reader to pick and choose the content that is most relevant to them.
- Search Engine Land
- One of the most authoritative SEO websites in the industry, Search Engine Land is a go-to resource for industry updates, webinars, white papers and marketing guides.
- The Ahrefs Blog
- The Ahrefs blog offers a wide range of SEO and marketing content, including tutorials to help you implement specific tactics, as well as case studies that can demonstrate the value of trying certain tactics.
- Rank Ranger Blog
- Rank Ranger’s blog is structured like a traditional blog, with new posts published weekly and focusing heavily on current subject matter and industry developments. The blog also offers extensive case studies, and produces a weekly SEO podcast.
These websites are not the only resources you should consider in your quest to learn more about SEO, but they offer high-quality, reliable content, and cover a lot of ground between them. They have helped me over the years, and I continue to rely on them for SEO knowledge.