Before starting as a freelance web designer I worked for 8 years at a couple of web agencies. My "only" job, as a web designer, was to make the design and from time to time convert them to HTML. I had an SEO department, a marketing one, development department as has every (or at least must have) firm in the field.
I wasn’t worried about getting the clients, promoting myself or the agency. At that point I didn’t know that much about SEO except that it is very important and Google is the king. I had a whole department taking care of that part. So for me it wasn’t that hard to take the freelance path (at least that’s what I thought) thinking that the life of a freelance web designer brings you freedom in your work, no boss, no boring 8 hours office life without that much effort. I was wrong.
Only after taking that step will you realize you'll have none of the support departments that you as a web designer can rely on in a agency. You don’t have the SEO department to promote you and your work, you cannot rely on the marketing department to create contacts and the “no boring 8 hours office” becomes a stressful 10 plus hours at home.
You realize how important it is, for a web designer (especially for a freelancer), to know SEO, or at least to have a basic knowledge of it. Of course you don't need to know everything about SEO, but having the basic knowledge can help you (and it’s mandatory) if you want to pursue a freelance career especially when you’re starting out and you don’t have thousands to spend on SEO specialists.
SEO is a very complex process and to explain it all in one post is impossible. But there are a few simple tips/steps that you can apply that will improve SEO on your website and search engine rankings.
We can break down SEO into three main areas:
- Keyword research
- On-page optimization and Website content
- Link building
Keyword research to optimize your website is the first and one of the most important steps in SEO. If you don’t do this part right you might never rank for what you want. So here are some tips on searching and choosing you main keywords:
- Search for keywords that are relevant for your business. Don’t choose keywords only based on search volume, that are totally irrelevant to you.
- Try to search for relevant long tail keywords (keyword phrase that has at least three words in the phrase) for example – web designer in NY, best web designer... It will be easier to rank for these kinds of keywords especially if you are just starting.
- After finding the right keyword(s) choose a domain with at least one main keyword in your domain name. This will help your rankings for that keyword.
A good place for keyword search is Google Keyword Tool. It’s one of the best free tools available, and research keywords.
Tip: Create a Google account and you’ll have access to some free useful tools from Google.
On-page Optimization and Website Content
After finding your main keyword(s) and choosing a domain name comes another important part of SEO – on-page optimization. There are a lot factors to take into account when optimizing your website, but here are the most important ones:
Meta Titles and Descriptions
It’s not that important for SEO lately, but it’s a good way to attract visitors if you have an exciting and interesting Title/ Description.
<title>Freelance web designer</title> <META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Freelance web designer - description goes here, make sure…">
Many people might not know, but the keywords tag has NO effect on rankings. Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking so don’t bother with them.
Header tags ( H1,H2,H3 )
Try to, when possible, include a keyword in these tags, but make sure it looks natural and you shouldn’t use more than one H1 tag on the same page:
<h1>I am the best freelance web designer</h1> <h2>How to be a freelance web designer</h2> <h3>It’s hard to be a freelance web designer</h3>
Keywords in the content of your pages
First of all and the most important thing for ranking is to have GOOD QUALITY and ORIGINAL content. Use the keyword(s) throughout the content on each page. Don’t overpopulate your content with keyword(s) - keyword stuffing. Try to keep a 2%-4% keyword density in your content - keyword density check tool. Use
em emphasis and bold for your keywords, but don’t apply bold or
em to every keyword (not good for rankings and for your visitors) just use them naturally.
Sometimes it’s hard to populate your pages with text content (your portfolio website) so a good strategy will be to make a blog where you will post your content with your keyword(s) and interlink (I'll explain a little later) it with other pages from your website.
Use the "alt" tags for your images
Another good ranking boost is to use your keyword(s) in your images
<img src="#" title="Freelance web designer headquarters" alt="Freelance web designer headquarters" >
Internal linking strategy
Link your internal pages one to another. For example all web design pages should link to each other. In this way all your link/PR "juice" will be shared between your pages (like in the blog example that I mentioned earlier). For example:
<a href="portfolio" title="check out my Portfolio">My Portfolio</a>
Write semantic and clean code
Semantic code tends to improve your rankings, as it is easier for the search engine spiders to understand it. Always validate your code through Markup Validation Service.
Website loading speed
Google included website speed as one of their ranking factors. Loading speed of your website is not only important for SEO, but mainly for your visitors. Try to use smaller and optimized images, clean code and be sure that your host/server is properly optimized.
Even though a website full of flash might look interesting it can slow down or decrease your rankings. Even if Google is trying to read flash content it’s still not very advanced in this area so a flash website is like a big image to search engines. So try as far as possible to avoid using flash.
Google Webmaster Tools is one of the best tools to help you to improve rankings. You can submit your sitemap, monitor your keywords, ranking and a lot more. Another must have tool is Google Analytics. It helps you to analyze your website traffic.
Link Building is the process of increasing the number and quality of the incoming links to your website in order to increase the website rankings for specific keyword(s). The best strategy in link building is to mix them up. Here are top low cost methods to create back links:
- Web Directories – You should submit to high page rank directories that are related to your website/theme.
- Article Marketing - Write unique and good quality articles related to your niche and submit them to high quality websites.
- Social Bookmarking and Networking – These are very popular networks with millions of subscribers (like Twitter, Digg, Reddit...). Join the most popular ones and submit your content with your website links.
- Authority Sites – This is one of the best link building strategies. Find authority websites in your niche and request a link exchange partnership. Your link popularity will get a real boost.
- Web 2.0 sites – These are websites (WordPress, Squidoo, Blogger, Weebly ...) that allow you to post content with links to your own website. This can be a good way to get free back links to your website.
Here are some interesting blogs full of SEO resources and information that will help you in learning and improving your search engine optimization skills.
As a freelance web designer you will have to learn a lot of new tricks and skills that you had no idea that you would need when you were working for an agency. One of the most important is promoting yourself like never before that’s why you can’t ignore SEO. At the beginning of your journey this can be your only way to get new clients. If you have questions or suggestions don’t hesitate to post them.
So go learn at least the basics of SEO and build your empire.