How to become a freelance SEO expert
SEO is a rapidly growing industry. Here's how to turn your expertise into a career
An SEO strategy is essential for any company with an online presence, and getting to know SEO basics is a smart move in a world where more than half of website traffic and over 40 percent of revenue is generated by organic search.
If you have hands-on SEO experience and training, you could be a valuable asset to businesses as a freelancer. But how do you make yourself a force to be reckoned with and build a career as a freelance SEO expert?
Understanding SEO and its value to companies
The main goal behind SEO is to help websites achieve a high ranking on search engines (primarily Google) to attract clicks. This can have a direct impact on sales and increase revenue over time.
Good SEO drives more “organic” (as opposed to paid) traffic to sites, makes them easier for search engine indexers to crawl, and ensures users searching for specific products or services find a company’s relevant results.
Here’s one stat I’ve used to wow clients with in the past: almost 80 percent of searchers ignore paid ads appearing on results pages. That means it’s worth investing more into SEO than PPC campaigns.
What skills do you need for a career as an SEO expert?
Obviously, if you’re considering going it alone as a freelance SEO expert, you should understand the core concepts. That’s a given. But the role demands more.
One way to get a competitive edge is to educate yourself on website design and coding. This might seem daunting, but if you can find a course or tutor who works with beginners, the process should be more straightforward than you expect.
Beyond this backend knowledge, an analytical mindset is crucial. Helping businesses to improve their SEO will often involve assessing data and measuring performance using analytics tools, before explaining how this relates to their ranking.
Good communication is a plus, particularly when articulating more difficult SEO practices or metrics to novices.
What are the most important SEO elements experts must know?
Anyone with experience of optimizing websites for search engines knows there’s a fair amount of technical elements to be aware of. Freelance SEO experts should be versed in the following:
Search engines index websites by using crawlers, also known as indexers or spiders. These analyze sites and determine their ranking based on such factors as keywords, title tags, links, alt tags, and more.
Relevant and competitive keywords
Keywords are a core SEO element, and research is vital to match the right ones to a business based on its products, goals, and audience.
An SEO expert should be able to find out which keywords are most valuable to a client, using tools such as Google Keyword Planner.
Popular websites have more authority than less-popular ones. A business can usually gain more authority in search engines by publishing high-quality content offering optimal relevance and value to users.
Links may come from other websites that approve of a website’s content and link to it, while some will be generated by guest-blogging or related strategies. If search engines see a website has been linked to often, and by quality sites, they will be more likely to consider it an authoritative presence.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
Latent Semantic Indexing applies to Google’s process for searching and indexing sites determined by their keywords. But the context of those keywords matters, and search engines are getting better at recognizing the meaning of a specific search. This delivers more accurate results for searchers.
These elements can take time and research to understand in detail, but that’ll pay off when you can help clients achieve tangible results they’re happy to pay for.
Which SEO tools should you use?
There are some fantastic tools available to help freelance SEO experts, covering everything from keyword research to traffic analysis.
As a major force in the SEO community, Moz offers a worthy toolset offering performance tracking, backlink analysis, and site audits. The Moz website is an impressive resource, with plenty of in-depth articles to check out. I’m on there often, scouring the latest updates.
One of the best SEO tools I’ve personally used is the GrowthBar from Growth Marketing Pro. You can add this to Chrome for free, and gain access to information on competitors’ Facebook ads, backlinks, keyword suggestions, and more. In my opinion, it’s one of the best SEO Chrome extensions out there.
Another tool to consider is SEMrush, an all-in-one visibility and content marketing suite. Its SEO features include competitive intelligence, backlinks audits, technical SEO audits, and position tracking to name a few.
Experiment with these tools to learn more about what makes high-performing websites tick and how clients can boost their rankings organically.
How can you hone your SEO skills?
Don’t be afraid to start creating your own websites to see how far you up the SERPs you can take them. Set up a WordPress site for your SEO business, for instance, and put your hard-earned knowledge to good use (but niche down—find a specific market you want to serve, because SEO sites are some of the most competitive in the SERP world). Over time, you should be able to direct clients to your site and these other sites you play with to demonstrate your capabilities.
Also, try writing guest blog posts for SEO or digital marketing websites. Aim to start at smaller blogs and sites to gain visibility before building up to those with wider readerships.
Finally, browse freelance platforms (such as Freelancer.com) to find jobs. It’s a competitive field, but again, start small to earn a reputation first. Generating good feedback gives you an edge over other newcomers, and can keep driving interest in your skills.
Digest the tips and take advantage of the tools and resources available to develop your capabilities. Stay up to date on the latest developments and study pieces from industry thought-leaders (such as Rand Fishkin or the Search Engine Journal team).
Over time, your hard work and commitment will position you as a valuable choice for businesses looking for a freelance SEO expert.