So you’re in the midst of starting your first freelancer website, now what? Does it just sit there in the vast chasm of the Internet waiting for visitors to flock forward? Do you get your mom to tweet it using her egg avatar and three spambot followers in the hopes that it’ll rocket through Google’s rankings?
Unfortunately, this is not the way to approach SEO. Over the last seven years, I have seen a significant shift in the way sites are ranked. Not only does it feel as though you jump through a fresh set of burning hoops every ten seconds, but you also don’t ever really know what Google wants from you. But, there is good news; SEO basics will almost certainly remain the same.
Google often behaves like that significant other who expects you to know what they’re thinking. When you get it right, great! Your cup overflows with SEO rewards. Getting it wrong? Google may decide to throw a tantrum, and your site will consequently suffer.
But, there are some SEO basics that you can utilize as a freelancer. They’ll always stand as the cornerstones of the SEO game. In practicing them, you at least have fairly steady foundations for your otherwise rocky relationship with Google.
Want to know more? Then read on.
Make sure your content is relevant
Even if you’re not a freelance writer, you’re going to grow sick of the phrase “content is king.” Unfortunately, it’s true and it’s arguable one of the most important SEO basics for you to nail. But, what is content king of, exactly?
Your site’s content ranges from the text on your homepage through to the blogs you post every week. It’ll also include product and service descriptions; if you have them.
You can make sure content is relevant by thinking of a keyword that relates to your industry and then producing content that is relevant to it. Once-upon-a-time, in a faraway land that existed only a few years ago, you could throw your keywords into any old text and success would likely come. Sure, Google would penalize you eventually, but you would have a fleeting affair with excellent site traffic.
Today, your content must relate to the keywords you’re writing. For example, as a freelance writer, I can’t expect to throw the words “freelance writer” into an article about geese and hope that I’ll rank highly for said article. I may love writing about geese. I might want to experience the quick and lazy route to great search engine rankings, but, my approach won’t work.
However, if I focus on topics that include freelance writing and use my related keyword, I am creating relevant content. It’s not always exciting, but it’s what Google wants to see. Mostly, what keeps Google happy also satisfies your freelancer business.
SEO basics that are tempting to ignore: your site’s usability
I will happily hold my hand up and admit that I used to love ignoring my site’s usability. In my little ostrich-style head, it was okay to plod along creating content, while ignoring everything else on the SEO basics front.
But, if your site isn’t accessible for the Internet’s surfing community to use and there are lots out there like it that are, with just as relevant content, why should Google chuck traffic in your direction? It exists to serve the surfer, not your ego.
Or mine, sadly.
Your site’s usability includes:
- How long it takes to load
- Whether it’s easy to navigate
- How useful it is when you’re operating a smartphone
- If there are any broken links
- Whether it’s a credible site
If you take a step back and consider them carefully, none of the above factors are unreasonable. Why? Because:
- If you want to get information, you want it quickly too
- You also don’t want to spend forever and a day navigating your way around someone else’s site
- You probably use your smartphone to browse, shop and learn as much as everyone else
- You too walk into a storm of frustration when a seemingly promising article headline leads to a broken link
- You also don’t trust those who create sites that lack credibility
So, how do you go about making your website usable for your visitors?
Three ways to make your site load quickly, now
Let’s tackle the biggy: how long it takes for your site to load. If it’s slower than your great-aunt Mabel on a family outing, your bounce rate will increase. What is a bounce rate? It’s the number of people who visit your site and then bounce away after viewing one page.
Start by analyzing how quickly your site loads
Google provides a free tool that analyzes how quickly your site loads. It then spews out a rating, along with jargon that aims to enlighten you as to why your site is slow or fast. You might not understand this jargon right now, but it does give you a starting point for increasing your site speed. When your knowledge of SEO basics grows, you can start figuring out what these terms mean. Just get the smaller elements right, for now.
Optimize your images
If you’re already swimming in a sea of freelancing advice articles, you’ll know that blog posts without pictures don’t keep readers happy. However, if you don’t optimize your images, you won’t keep Google happy either.
Usually, doing this means adding an ‘alt’ tag featuring your keyword. But, in this context, I mean reducing their size. Again, there’s a free tool for that. Use it before adding images to post, and go back to old ones to reduce image size if you need to.
If you’re a WordPress user, throw in a free plugin
And chuck out some old ones you no longer use. The beauty of WordPress is, you can tweak and make changes until you identify plugins that slow your site down. Then, you can throw in all-in-one options that speed it up.
JetPack is useful, but it does require some experimentation in itself. Remember, every time you make a change, leave it a few minutes before analyzing your site to see changes again.
Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes: is your site easy to navigate?
Visit your site as though you’re a client or reader. Imagine what their goals are and what they want to gain from their visit. Is your website easy to navigate? Or, are you creating a mission that requires them to break out maps and consult air traffic controllers? Don’t worry, I’m not trying to push you into a different field. Site navigation is one of those SEO basics that’s easy to ignore and equally simple to master.
If your site isn’t easy to navigate, Google will not like it. Here are some ways to make sure it is:
Make sure navigation is consistent across all pages
Making sure navigation is consistent across all pages involves:
- Creating a clear home button, they can click from any page or post
- If you have a search bar, make sure it’s accessible everywhere
- Ensure your menu is evident no matter where your site’s visitor is
Navigation titles must be clear
Don’t fall into the trap of prettifying elements such as your “about me.” For example, I visit lots of freelancer sites where they’ll change “about me” to “learn.” Learn what exactly? Keep all titles clear.
Making categories is especially essential if you’re a blogger. Let’s say a visitor stumbles across your site and they love the fuck out of a post. By including tags and categories, they can visit posts that are similar and you’ll streamline a lot of your navigational SEO basics.
See what your site looks like from various smartphone browsers
Most people will browse using their smartphone. So, if your site looks like shit when they arrive it at via their mobile-friendly version of Chrome, they will click back off. The above tool from Google will also analyze your site’s smartphone loading speed. It’s a free and vital SEO basics tool.
That aside, the only other way to see if it is smartphone friendly is to visit it from various browsers. Either look at its usability objectively or get some friends to pitch in with their opinions.
Google also provides a Mobile Friendly tool that analyzes your site. After it finishes digging into it, it’ll make suggestions you can take on to improve how your site loads for mobile users.
Add a decent ‘about’ section to your freelancing site to make it credible
Moments before continuing to write this post, I watched a BBC news show on Internet credibility. Few ombudsman exist to identify whether a user will have a safe experience or not. Therefore, Google has to find ways to establish whether you are a real and trustworthy person.
While this is sometimes an uncomfortable experience for freelancers, it’s a good idea to provide contact information. You don’t have to go throwing your mobile number on there, as there are ways of purchasing redirect numbers online so that spammers don’t have access to your details.
If you’re not sure whether your ‘about’ section is good or not, try following HubSpot’s guide. It comes with lots of handy examples to work from, including stealthy SEO basics for about sections.
Find your keywords and figure out how to use them
I touched on keywords a little in the first section. The long and short of them is that they are words your prospective visitors will use to find you.
Some keywords are exceedingly popular. There are millions of freelance writers worldwide, so focusing solely on ‘freelance writer’ is unwise, as it’s beyond peak saturation now.
It, therefore, makes more sense to find keywords that relate to your freelancing business, but that have fewer searches. When they have fewer searches, there’s less competition.
Now, I don’t mean you should pour all of your time and effort into a single keyword that attracts 400 searches per month. Instead, find those that have roughly that amount per day, bear in mind what I said above about relevancy, and incorporate them into your content wisely.
There are a couple of ways to achieve this. You can use Moz’s keyword analysis tool to find the keywords that have less competition. It even tells you how difficult the keywords are to tackle, which gives you a good indication as to whether they’re worth your time. Follow that up with a tool like Yoast that analyzes the use of your keywords in each post and text, and you’re golden.
Link to yourself and get links from others
Even when your traffic sources aren’t reliable, linking to your own content is crucial. Why? There are several reasons:
- If the content you’re linking to interests your reader, it engages them for longer. As a result, they spend more time on your site, which means more opportunities to sell products and services.
- It also makes it easier for the bots that crawl your site to index it in Google. What does this mean? When you link to another post using descriptive text that matches its content, Google understands what your site is about. Then, it becomes easier for Google to match it to the right search terms.
- Internal linking makes it easier for others to navigate their way around your site. For example, I use one of my affiliate sites to direct others to relevant content.
Internal linking is different to external linking, and it’s a crucial element of SEO basics. As you probably know, external linking involves creating links from other sites so that search engines recognize:
- How relevant your site is. If a site that has a lot of credibility links to yours using a specific search term, Google will see this as a sign that it’s relevant to the keywords you’re targeting.
- The more backlinks you have, the more important your site appears to search engines. When it looks more important, it ranks higher in search terms against your competitors.
- When potential readers or customers or clients visit other sites, you gain their attention through traffic.
How do you build external links exactly? While there was once a time when you could pay someone to produce a litany of them for you, this will now result in Google penalizing your site. In other words, it’s smart enough to recognize that you’re taking the easy way out and will push you to lower down the rankings.
The first rule of building external links should return you to my original point: creating great content. If your content is stellar, others will link to it naturally, plus they’ll share it on social media.
Other ways to achieve this is through sharing on social media yourself; see my post on which social media site is best for your freelancing ventures. Similar methods include guest posting and taking part in link parties.
Whatever you do, don’t try to forcefully generate lots of links at once. Again, this leaves Google feeling as though your site is spammy, resulting in reduced SEO outcomes.
Make sure your website has a clear focus
In a world where lifestyle blogs reign supreme, sometimes it’s difficult to avoid the temptation that comes with not having a clear focus. Unfortunately, successful lifestyle blogs are few and far between. Also, if your aim is to promote your freelance business, your relevant to non-relevant post ratio should remain seriously high if you want to win on the SEO basics front.
I did recently blog about ten things I am grateful for as a freelance writer. I class that particular post as a lifestyle one. However, I still recommend ensuring that for every one ‘irrelevant post’ you write, create five or six that work towards your website’s clear focus.
Failing to do so confuses Google. Sure, the search engine is clever in lots of ways. But, if you don’t send a clear message regarding what your site is about, they’ll begin behaving like a confused new beau and rank you as low as possible for your target term. Google has self-respect, you see.
I am not trying to say you shouldn’t write an irrelevant post ever. As a freelance writer, I love to take a creative approach, which is why I don’t mind advocating for the occasional ‘pointless’ blog. But, do stay clear on what you’re trying to achieve – for your sake and Google’s.
As time goes on, do what I am constantly attempting: try to build on your SEO knowledge. Follow blogs such as SEO Moz, network, and sign up for Google alerts. With time, you’ll refine your SEO game and bring more organic traffic to your freelancing venture’s site.