When you work as a freelancer, finding clients isn’t always a guarantee. That’s why it’s so important to market yourself.
Typically, that begins with your website.
Your website is your online business card. It showcases who you are, what you can do, and why people should hire you to work for them. But if they can’t find your website, what good is it?
What’s perhaps harder than finding clients as a freelancer is ranking on Google.
Many websites struggle with getting their content or even homepage on the first page of Google, and if you’re a freelancer in a small niche, the task might feel impossible.
The good news is that it’s not impossible. Here are 5 things you can do to get yourself ranked on Google so that clients have an easier time finding you online.
1. Choose SEO Keywords Based on User Intent
Keywords are the first thing you will hear about when you start exploring the depths of SEO.
The words someone types into Google’s search bar — and whether or not they’re found in key places on your site — are one element that determines whether or not you show up higher in the search rankings.
But choosing the right keywords is tricky, and you can’t just put one keyword on your site and expect to rank. There’s more to it than that.
While you want to put in some effort researching the most important keywords for your niche and audience, you also need to understand how Google’s search algorithm will affect those keywords.
One of the biggest changes Google has made to their algorithm in the past year or so is the emphasis on user intent, or the “why” behind the keywords.
If someone searches for the keyword phrase “mosquito bite” do they mean they want an itch relieving medication for a mosquito bite, or do they want to know why mosquitoes bite? Google’s algorithm is trying to figure that out.
Without further context, Google will give you a mishmash of answers.
When you’re developing your list of keywords for your freelance website, you need to consider user intent.
This means using contextual, long-tail keywords to help clarify to your clients that you’re the answer to their search inquiry.
For instance, the keyword phrase “where to find a web developer in san francisco” or “web designer near me san francisco” has more user intent than just “web developer san francisco.”
If you decided to use the keyword “web developer san francisco” your site would already need to be fairly authoritative to show up on the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
If you’re not sure where to start with keywords, try looking at the suggested keywords at the bottom of Google’s SERPs for inspiration, and then building out long-tail keywords from there.
2. Create Fresh Content and Publish to LinkedIn
To truly build your website’s authority (ranking power on Google), you need traffic.
While you can always use paid ads and keywords to generate some organic traffic, if your website is new or you’re in a niche, it may be harder to get traffic on those two things alone.
The best way for a site to get consistent traffic is with frequently updated content, which, in most cases, means a blog.
Additionally, blogging gives you more indexed pages, meaning that Google has more opportunities to rank your site for various keywords. Websites with a blog have tend to have 434% more indexed pages on average, which is a huge SEO boost.
So if you don’t have a blog yet, consider starting one.
If nothing else, consider publishing content to sites like LinkedIn, whether it’s blog content or simply content designed for that platform.
For one, 80% of B2B marketing leads sourced from social media come from LinkedIn.
If you’re looking for clients, LinkedIn is a great place to start.
Besides that, when people engage with your content on LinkedIn, it’s more readily seen as an endorsement from those people or brands, and shared content from LinkedIn tends to generate more lead-based traffic.
This makes LinkedIn, for freelancers, a better social channel to publish content, because more potential clients will see what you’re producing.
Even if your website’s page authority isn’t high enough to warrant a #1 SERP ranking, the right client might spot your content on a platform like LinkedIn and hire you anyway.
In other words, don’t rely only on Google SERPs for your marketing when you can branch out to social media.
3. Skip “Contact Me” and Add an Actionable CTA Instead
Another big factor for SEO is bounce rate.
Last year Google announced that their algorithm would focus on two important things:
- How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
- The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)
If someone is coming to your site (you’re getting traffic, there’s a decent amount of dwell time) but not engaging with you in a real way (no click throughs), Google registers it as a bounce.
Too many bounces, and you lose favor with Google’s algorithm.
So how do you fix that?
In order to improve your click through rates and reduce bounce rates, you want to create something actionable for people to do on your site.
This means having a strong Call-to-Action (CTA).
Replacing a phrase like “email me for a quote” with a contact form, for example, can improve your click through rates.
Even something like “Learn More” can help people engage with your website in a way that helps your Google ranking.
So, if you’re finding that your site isn’t performing well on Google, add more opportunities for users to engage on your site, specifically with clickable CTAs.
4. Get More Backlinks
Another ranking factor that helps your site look trustworthy in the eyes of Google is backlinks.
Backlinks are simply links from other sites that refer back to a landing page on your website.
They help your SEO because they show search engines that your website is credible and, therefore, valuable to their users. Over time, the more credible backlinks you have, the better your rankings will be.
The thing to remember with building backlinks, however, is that they have to be from credible sources.
Google will actually penalize your site if you have bad links, to prevent websites from violating their Webmaster Guidelines with black hat SEO.
In other words, too many people were paying for links so they would have higher rankings and higher authority. You don’t want to do that.
Instead, create a solid link building strategy that includes backlinks and focus on getting your content and website’s landing pages shared by reputable sources.
You can always check how your backlinks are doing using Google Search Console (Google Webmaster Tools).
This will allow you to view a list of websites that link to your site and see how they stack up in terms of quality.
5. Optimize Your Website’s Sitemap
You’ve probably already done this at some point when setting up your website, but if not, you need to optimize your sitemap.
A sitemap is essential for ranking well in Google.
Your sitemap links directly to other pages on your website to allow for the search engine spiders to crawl each individual page and rank every single one individually.
While you can technically rank without one, it makes it much easier for Google to help you out when you have a good sitemap for your site.
This is also the easiest thing to do on this list, since there are plenty of sitemap generator tools out there, like Yoast SEO and the aptly named Google Sitemap Generator (you can get both from the WordPress plugin repository).
By default, the plugins will include all your website pages, posts, tags, archives, media, and so on.
But you should also manually include any pages that currently get a lot of traffic, and exclude pages that contain duplicate content.
Optimizing your sitemap will give Google a push in the right direction. Which, on top of everything else on this list, will give you your best shot at ranking on the first page of SERPs.
Another thing you should consider when trying to get your site to rank is how long your site has been active. It will usually take longer for a new site to rank.
Keep in mind that your site needs to be active in order for Google to index it, meaning that a site that’s been sitting untouched for years might still be considered “new” to Google. So keep updating it with fresh content.
The goal is to keep your site as active as possible. Post blog content. Get traffic from social media. And keep your sitemap up-to-date.