What do freelancers need to know about SEO?

How to be found in all the right places

"Build it, and they will come" worked okay for Kevin Costner in the 80s.

But building online is different... Because there are no maps, landmarks, or signposts. You can build anything you want at minimal cost and no planning permission needed - but if nobody knows it's there, they are not going to stumble across it any time soon.

And today, our stumbling grounds are infinite.

Well, at least they're worldwide. If you're offering digital services in a global marketplace. It is fantastic to be able to work with clients anywhere in the world, wherever you're located - but it also gives you potentially infinite competition. That's tough, even if you know you have a unique edge that sets you apart.

Someone might find out what you're doing and tell their friends, perhaps the word will get out that way, especially if you catch the attention of the right influential people. You can do this organically, through networking and social media, or you might be able to pay for it for quicker results: advertising, sponsorship, and so on. The relationship building matters, and so does the way you promote yourself, because people do business with people (a cliché which has stood the test of time better than the Field of Dreams one.)

But whatever you are offering, you can't ignore the power of search 🔎🔎🔎

You know this, because you use it yourself, every time you want to find the answer to something knew or unknown. You start with Google, right? Or Siri, or Youtube (which is also Google...) That's why freelancers need to understand a bit about SEO.

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It's the process of getting your website to rank higher in Google search results than other websites that offer similar products or services. This is important because it means that when people are searching for something on Google, they'll see yours first—and hopefully click through!

Unless you know someone (personally or online) who is the absolute go-to expert on that thing you want to discover, you will probably start by typing or speaking an open question into a search engine, to find out what you need to know.

So that's why I consider search engine optimisation (SEO) one of the baseline skills that every freelancer needs to grasp at some level - along with social media, basic bookkeeping, PR, and all the rest. It's one of those force multipliers, that if you do it right, will enhance the effects of all your paid and earned promotional activities too.

NO, you don't necessarily have to do it all yourself, because there are experts who can help you. But to buy in the right help you need to understand enough to not get ripped off or misled, and to be able to see to the essentials for yourself.

SEO Writing

Now, as a writer, I have to own up to a certain snobby sniffyness about the whole idea of 'SEO copy' - write for the search engine spiders, instead of the human beings? I'll have you know I am an author and journalist, and I am not interested in helping you trick eyeballs onto your page!

But I needed to learn that this was completely the wrong attitude, and also simply showing my age 😁

When I started freelancing on the side many years ago, "SEO writing" really was about tricking and gaming the search algorithms, by all sorts of weird practices - keyword stuffing, and dodgy backlinks.

Then there was article spinning, where you rewrote and republished content with certain words or phrases {replaced | substituted | alternated | interchanged | switched} - yes, people used to hire copywriters to transform one rubbish clickbait article into 45 different versions in this way.

There was even a theory once about keywords being used on the page in a kind of pattern or shape... Or else, crammed into a footer zone in the same colour as the background, so people ended up somewhere completely different to where they expected.

SEO has changed!

Those algorithms (and misunderstandings about them) remain secret and proprietary, but the good news is they are a lot more sophisticated now, and a lot better at aligning with what HUMAN readers want.

Good SEO writing has to be clear, and answer the questions expressed in the search intent, by providing detailed, accurate, and insightful knowledge to the reader.

It makes total sense, that however much people sometimes freak out about changes to algorithm which might change their ranking in the search results, the goal is to get the right people to the page - not necessarily the most people. The ones who want what you are offering, or need the solution that you have.

I knew I needed to learn more, so I was glad to invite my client and colleague Zoe Nguyen onto the podcast this week, to help unpack it all. Because Zoe is my client contact at Xolo for the content I write there, I have already learned so much from her, about how to structure and approach writing, with BOTH audiences in mind... The humans who want to know the answers to their questions, and the search engines who will connect them to the stuff I am writing.

This is good news for you too, if you're offering a product or service that people want, especially if you're doing so in a unique and special way.

You can write about it online in a way that helps people discover you right when the need you most, and you can learn to do this, using the simple tools and approaches that Zoe describes - without having to know what an algorithm is or what to do with one.

You can learn see what's going on with your website, and see for yourself the impact of changing and experimenting with different things. As Zoe points out, content is not just written copy either - you need to make sure things like images and other page elements are correctly set up as well.

But with free tools, you can fix things which are turning people off and making them bounce away from your site if they do click through - such as site loading speed, because Google sees sites with higher load times as more reliable and trustworthy, and rewards them with higher rankings.

So whatever your freelance jam is, you need to know a bit about this stuff, and I daresay, a little more than you already do. Because it's only going to get ever more competitive, particularly as search moves more and more to voice. Siri is never going to show you the whole Google page of 10 top results, so to get a mention you need to be the number one answer, for those searching for things only you can

Have a listen to Zoe and see what you think, hit reply and let me know if any insights were transformational shoe-dropping moments for you as well.

With very best wishes,

Maya Middlemiss