A guest post from Freelance Heroes member Jack O’Carroll:
SEO on a Budget: A Do-it-yourself SEO Strategy for Freelancers
SEO is a great way to grow your business online as a freelancer without paying per click (e.g. for ads) and without a large time investment (social media).
What’s more, search engine optimization doesn’t have to be expensive. Freelancers can lay the foundations and start seeing results without paying for dodgy SEO services* and expensive tools.
Read on to learn a simple keyword research method and how to create an SEO content strategy in 5 minutes. Plus, how to test if your search optimisations are working. All for free.
* Yes I did say dodgy SEO services, and that’s coming from an SEO professional. However, that’s not the only reason SEO has a bad rep. Many businesses paying for SEO services don’t get a return on their investment because they don’t have clear goals and expectations. My advice to freelancers is to learn some basic SEO principles then establish SEO goals for your business before seeking professional help. It will help you find and negotiate with SEO service providers if you do decide to hire an agency or freelancer.
Why SEO is better than other marketing channels for freelancers
Organic search marketing (as opposed to paid search ads) is free traffic. With a small investment in time and learning basic principles, freelancers can save a lot of money that would have been spent on paid campaigns.
SEO traffic also tends to have higher conversion rates than any other channel, because users are actively searching out your services. Furthermore, SEO is a more consistent source of traffic than channels like social where you have to put in a lot of effort to get a viral spike in traffic.
Basics: What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation, which means optimising your website for search engines (namely Google) so that it appears when your target customers search certain terms in Google.
Generally there are two areas where a business can optimise their website: 1) on-page, and 2) off-page factors.
On-page SEO refers to things you can change on your website:
- Keywords and phrases used in your titles and copywriting
- User experience – How easy to read and use is your page?
- Quality – How well written and in-depth is the information you provide?
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to external factors like backlinks to your site from other websites. It can also refer to your business location and reviews for local SEO.
The focus of this post will be on-page SEO (primarily keywords), which you can use to lay the foundations for your overall SEO strategy. For off-page SEO like link building tactics, see my upcoming post.
How do I find the right keywords?
Perhaps the most fundamental part of how Google works is by matching keywords used in the search box to relevant pages on the internet. For SEO novices, this means you need to think about what keywords your customers might be using.
How to find keywords for free
Keyword research is the process of matching your target customers with the keywords they are likely to use in Google. You can pay for an expensive tool to do it, or you can do it for free.
For example, if you’re a business coach, your customers might type “business coach” into Google and find you, but chances are you won’t appear for this highly competitive term.
Another aspect of keyword research is finding those more unique keywords that make your business distinct. For example, “business coach for women” or “business coach for artists”. This also requires understanding who your target audience is for business coaching.
When it comes to SEO strategy and keywords, targeting a small specific audience is always going to be easier than a broad demographic. Plus, by creating content targeted just to that group it will be easier to sell your services to them.
You can find long tail keywords like this using Google’s auto-complete, or looking at suggested searches at the end of a search result page. For example, search for “business coach for therapists” and then look at suggested searches to get other suggestions.
Beyond this you can use a free tool like answerthepublic.com to generate a list of keywords from a seed term (e.g. business coach, life coach, etc) that will generate ideas for content.
The 5-Minute SEO strategy
More often than not, SEO is about developing your audience profile and creating content to serve them. So taking the “business coach for therapist” audience, you can build a content strategy around that profile:
- Business coach for therapists (homepage)
- Therapist business plan (blog post)
- Therapist marketing strategy (blog post)
- Online therapy business model (blog post)
I created this plan in 5 minutes using Google’s auto suggest and people also ask results to generate ideas. The plan includes a head term, and three keywords that can be used to create content for your target audience (while also promoting yourself as a business coach).
What about search volume and keyword difficulty?
You can get advanced metrics like this from paid tools (Ahrefs for example). They help with finding lower competition opportunities. My advice: Don’t worry about this. Take action, then review. If it worked, great. If it doesn’t you can start to dig deeper and try a different approach.
How do I write the content for Google?
Quick answer: don’t write for Google, write for readers. Most SEO resources give you templates and rules to follow for writing content. In my experience this puts beginners off writing anything. Use your keyword to write a title then write your page how you think it should read.
How to write a strong SEO title (aka Meta Title)
Your meta title is what shows up in Google’s results pages. It’s worth thinking about how you’re going to make it stand out from the crowd.
Most people will just use their chosen keyword as the title, and nothing else – very boring. Try to add something unique that makes your title stand out from other results.
For example, Forbes’ title below suggests a different perspective than most of the results for “business coach” whilst opening a question about which coaching isn’t a waste of time.
Here’s another example of adding something extra to the title. Ok, so not the most attention grabbing tagline, but it’s better than nothing and might inspire the searcher to click when competitors have just stuck to the same boring keywords.
You have limited space for your meta title so use a tool like Mangools to see how your title will look in the SERP (search engine results page). Mangools also lets you preview on Desktop and Mobile.
How do I know if my strategy is working?
Google provides the data you need to review your SEO strategy for free via Google Search Console. This tool gives you all of the keywords that searchers used to find your website. Install it as soon as you can and it will start tracking your data. Give it a week before making any changes so you have some historical data if you didn’t have it already.
Need help installing Search Console? Feel free to reach out to me, or look for a service on PeoplePerHour or Freelance Heroes who can help for around $10.
Google Search Console data explained
Search console metrics to look at closely:
Queries: The keywords used by searchers to find your site in Google.
Clicks: How many visitors clicked to your site and what keyword they used.
Impressions: How many people saw your site in results, and for what keyword. This tells you the wider popularity of the term (but only if you are ranking). Look closely at the average position, because if it is above 10 then you won’t see as many impressions, because users did not go past the first page of results.
CTR: This refers to the click through rate. It is the number of impressions divided by clicks. CTR’s vary depending on your position (p1 gets the most clicks usually) but also vary across different industries and topics.
Average position: Where you rank in Google’s search results. If it’s above 10 then your site is on at least page 2 of Google for that term.
To analyse a specific keyword, click on the query you want to look at. Then look at the blue (clicks) and orange (ranking) lines to see how this has changed over time.
How long does it take to see results of my SEO strategy?
Here’s the downside of SEO (but also an advantage for those who get through it as I explain below). It can take days, weeks, months, even years depending on your site and the size of the market.
You might find that there is no significant change resulting from your strategy. If you’re a very new website, without many backlinks and small amounts of traffic, then you still have some work to do to build authority within Google.
I didn’t say SEO was easy or quick to see results.. It takes time, requires strategic thinking and there is work involved. This is what Seth Godin calls “the dip”; the difficult stage where most will drop out. Persist through it and you have a competitive edge over those that didn’t.
Free SEO tools for freelancers
Here are the free SEO tools mentioned in this guide. There are plenty more tools out there too but you can do a lot (and not get overwhelmed) by using just these four if you’re just getting started.
- Mangools SERP checker – Preview your title and description in Google.
- Answerthepublic.com – Generate related search terms based on a seed term. Keyword research tool.
- Google Search Console – Get all your keyword data straight from Google. The most reliable source of SEO data for your site.
- Google Trends – Very powerful if you get to know how to use it. Check trends for your keywords & discover new ones.
Coming soon: Off-page SEO & Link building on a budget. How to build your site’s authority and start ranking on page 1 of Google.