This post has been updated as of September 2019 with updated information on SEO strategies, mobile changes, and more resources on how to become an SEO freelancer.
The first real business I had online was working as an SEO freelancer. This was a few years ago, and obviously, in the last 5 years search engine optimization has changed a lot.
This post was originally published in 2011, but it’s been updated a couple of times since then because let’s face it, we all hate finding the perfect resource only to find out that it’s incredibly outdated.
SEO for Beginners in 2019: The Complete Overview
Are you just starting out in your SEO journey? Them before you can even think of becoming an SEO freelancer, you need to learn how to do SEO!
This video walks you through in total detail all of the basic components of the process and is a great jumping off point for growing your SEO knowledge:
How to Become an SEO Freelancer in 48 Hours
So is it really possible to become an SEO freelancer in 48 hours?
Well, yes and no.
Here’s the thing about SEO…
The only way to actually get good at it is to dig in and practice on your own sites.
You can read all of the books in the world, but until you try it out on your own sites and test yourself, you’ll never truly be able to have the confidence to be an SEO freelancer.
So the goal of this post is to give you all the resources you need to get started.
I suggest you take a weekend, review all of the resources and strategies mentioned, and get started.
If you take this seriously, within a few months you’ll be able to start seeing what works and what doesn’t and truly be able to start making a living doing freelance search engine optimization work.
And if freelance SEO seems a little too daunting and technical? Then you might look into starting out as a freelance writer first.
So are you ready to jump into this, and start the process to becoming an SEO freelancer (or simply become more knowledgeable so you can apply the concepts to your own website)?
What is SEO?
For those of you who don’t know what SEO means, it stands for Search Engine Optimization.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website to rank as highly as possible in search engines for keywords that are related to the content on your website. Essentially, if you create good content that is SEO optimized, you have a much better chance of landing on the first page of search results than people who don’t pay attention to SEO.
Google is by far the most used and important search engine to focus on for SEO purposes. So, in this post, we’re going to focus on that.
One of the mistakes people make when they’re looking to start a business is they think they have to know everything there is to know about a subject.
This is false.
You just have to know more than the person paying you to do the work.
I’ll never know every single intricacy of search engine optimization (in fact, no one will), but I know enough to add a lot of value to businesses or individuals.
There are a lot of skills out there that you can become proficient in very quickly if you:
- Spend the time to learn the techniques.
- Have the resources necessary to get you there. This is the case with just about every single computer related job out there.
You don’t need special training or fancy degrees. You just have to be willing to learn, able put in the hours to learn the basics, and not be afraid to ask for help from time to time.
Note: I want to make this very clear up front. You can Google the answer to just about every SEO problem out there. Don’t forget this.
So we’ve got 48 hours to get you to the point where you’ve got the skills necessary to do basic SEO related tasks on a freelance basis.
First things first, what exactly are we trying to accomplish and what are the components involved?
As mentioned earlier, the overarching goal is to rank your client’s (or your own) websites as highly as possible in Google for specific key terms.
Let’s look at everything that goes into a successful SEO campaign:
This is the process of sorting out the good key terms the bad.
You may rank first for “the best freaking blog in the whole entire world” but if no one is searching for that – it means nothing. At the same time, you don’t want to try and rank for the term “blog” because you’ll never succeed – there’s too much competition.
In the keyword research phase of the process, you figure out which keywords have the best combination of attainability and sufficient traffic, allowing you to see positive results
This is one of the most important components when you’re doing work for a company who has pretty strong competition.
You want to do this because it will help you see where you stand with your keywords and it will also help you spot some opportunities too. Somes, you’ll find a competitor might rank for a keyword you never even considered, you can try to start ranking for these too.
Essentially there are two major types of SEO: on site and off site.
On site is everything that you can control on your site. This can include things like page titles, optimized sitemap, meta data, content, optimized photos etc.
Off-site is everything you can’t control. The primary aspect of this is incoming links from other sites. Links are the currency of the internet, and we’ll expand more on that topic later on.
By reviewing and making changes to all of the things you do have control of on your own site, you’ll be making big progress towards favorable rankings, more traffic, and in turn, more revenue.
Let’s break this down in the most simple blanket statement possible: more links = better rankings. Think of links like a positive vote. A link from another site to yours is basically that site letting Google know your site is good.
The higher the quality of links (meaning links from large and relevant sites) you can obtain, the more likely you’re rankings will improve.
Psst…You Don’t Need to be an Expert in Everything
One thing to take note of, you don’t have to be an expert at all of these things. There are people who specialize in link building or keyword research. You won’t be able to make as much money from each client, simply because there is less work to be done, but becoming an expert in one of these fields could be a less daunting route to take in the beginning.
However, regardless of the route you take, you still need to understand the basics of each SEO discipline and how they all work together.
Free Resources for SEO Basics
Here are four of the most important free resources that you should read in depth as it relates to SEO basics. Seriously, go grab a beer or a coffee or whatever will keep you awake, and read these posts. If you don’t have time now, make sure you bookmark this and come back to it later:
- Moz Beginners Guide to SEO: This free course covers a lot of the theory behind SEO and will help you to understand the hows and whys of the field.
- WebConfs SEO Tutorial: This one expands into some of the individual SEO disciplines a lot more than the Moz guide, and is one of the best overviews that I’ve gone through.
- Search Engine Land’s Guide To SEO: This is a multi-part series from Search Engine Land’s Guide. Don’t miss it.
- SEO Book SEO Glossary: SEO Book is one the leading resources on the internet, and this is a really in depth glossary. It’s worth reviewing for key terms, and bookmarking for easy access later on.
- Source Wave – Be prepared to be sold things around every corner on this site, but frankly, his free SEO content is really solid. So it’s worth spending some time reading it and watching some of his videos.
By now you should have a good general sense of what SEO is all about.
Enjoying this? Go even more in depth with our free SEO starter guide.
How We Doubled Our Search Traffic in 12 Months
Along with everything in this post, this video gives a good overview of how we took many of these strategies to drive real results on this website:
SEO Competitor Analysis
When I start I do my competitor analysis and keyword research a bit hand in hand. A lot of people skip this step, but its really important to know how your competitors are doing in order to help create your own SEO strategy.
You are going to get a few benefits from doing this:
- Seed Keywords: By looking at other similar sites you’ll discover potential keywords to target that you may have missed otherwise.
- Level of competency: Some companies have spent thousands of dollars optimizing their websites. Others didn’t even know you could. By understanding the level of SEO competency your competitors have, you’ll have a more clear idea of the job that’s in front of you.
- Weaknesses: One of the most successful campaigns I’ve run has been due to learning from my competitor’s weaknesses. They had a few good key terms I hadn’t come across, but did an awful job implementing them – right down to misspelling the words! Word of advice – don’t do that. It wasn’t hard to knock them out of the top spot for a few long-tail key terms.
- Backlinks: Checking out your competitors can be a goldmine full of backlinks too. You can discover all sorts of sites that are linking to your competition and make a list of those that fit to do an outreach campaign and get some links too.
So now that you understand the basics of why, let’s look at the how.
- How to Do a Competitor Analysis for SEO: This post gives you a general overview of some of the components involved in looking at your competitors. It also has a good template you can use for your own purposes, so spend some time reviewing.
- Raven Tools Competitor Analysis Checklist: Raven posted this checklist to market their other optimization tools, but the fact remains this is a really useful checklist to get started with. If you use this and create a spreadsheet analyzing your 3-5 biggest competitors, you’re going to be way ahead of the game when implementing the rest of your process.
Before we dive into keyword research, let’s take a minute to talk about keywords, because let’s face it, these form the basis of search engine optimization.
Basically, there are three types of keywords you’re going to focus on:
- Short tail: A short, one or two word keyword, these are usually really popular and very hard to rank for. Example: golf
- Medium tail: These are two to three word keywords, they aren’t as hard to rank for, but are still pretty popular. Example: golf clubs
- Long tail: These are where you can really see a lot of success, these are four, five, or six word keywords that are very specific. Example: Mizuno T7 golf clubs.
Check out this chart:
You can see, it’s super hard to get those short (fat head) keywords. Where you really want to pick up a lot of traction is with the medium, and especially, the long tail keywords.
A few things that I’ve done to see a lot of success on my golf blog are to target a different long tail key term on each post I do.
By doing that, I’ve been able to rank #1 for dozens of golf-related key terms that individually get limited traffic, but when you add them up, send me dozens of hits a day.
Look at this example:
Type “golf Christmas gifts” into Google and Breaking Eighty is ranked right at the top with the featured snippet.
Here’s another example with the long tail keyword “Bushnell Pro X2 Rangefinder Review.”
Now, the cool thing that comes with these long tail keywords is a lot of them show a buyer’s intent. This is important for Google. Buyer’s intent means someone is looking for information about a product or service because they want to buy.
So keywords with words like ‘reviews’ mean people are getting close to buying.
A huge part of the success with all of this stuff comes with keyword research.
SEO Keyword Research: Your Secret Weapon
This is arguably the most important part of a good SEO campaign. The bottom line is that if you select the wrong keywords you’ll have wasted a lot of time optimizing, and see little in the way of results.
If you choose keywords that are too competitive you’ll spend way too much time trying to achieve high rankings, and you may or may not ever get there. And if you choose keywords that get very little traffic, you aren’t going to see much traction either.
So how do you come up with high quality keywords?
The very first thing I do when I’m analyzing a site is to check the Google Analytics for “seed keywords.”
By looking at the keywords that people are already using to find the site, you’ll have a great idea of where to start. There are literally millions if not billions of keywords out there.
Over the last few years, Google has started giving you significantly less data on this, but you should still have enough to get a sense of what some of your highest traffic keywords are.
And pay attention to even tiny variations. For instance, “HDR Photo” can result in some different results from “HDR photos.” So when beginning your research you want to be as thorough as possible.
Here are some of the best tools for coming up with your initial keyword list:
- Google Keyword Planner: This is the de-facto free keyword tool out there. When I need a free solution for keyword research, this is the first place I go and where I recommend you go as well.
- Bing Keyword Research Tool: This is Bing’s Keyword Research website, and there are actually a few pretty useful resources on this site. Definitely, take a look around and get familiar with what’s offered here.
- Wordtracker Keyword Suggestion Tool: Like a lot of SEO Tools out there, Wordtracker has a lot of premium tools available for a lot of money. However, this is a useful tool nonetheless, and signing up for a free trial will give you access to their basic tools for no cost.
- SEM Rush – I used to use standalone tools like Market Samurai and Long Tail Pro for my keyword research. However, I’ve found using SEMrush to be a much better experience. It makes it easier to find new keywords, and track the ones that are most crucial to my success. There’s a monthly fee associated with it, but they do give you limited access for free which can get you started. Here’s our full SEMrush review that details how we use it for Location Rebel.
- I’d also check out this post. It’s a huge list of almost 200 free and paid SEO tools that Brian Dean of Backlinko personally tried and tested.
Sweet, now you’ve got an arsenal of tools, but they won’t do you a whole lot of good if you don’t know how to use them.
We have our own guide inside Location Rebel Arsenal, but here are a few resources that will help get you started with keyword research essentials.
- Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide: Brian Dean from Backlinko has an amazing in-depth guide that covers everything you need to know about keyword research. You do not want to miss this one, so spend some time reviewing.
- Market Samurai Dojo: Whether you buy Samurai or not, this keyword research tutorial is awesome. It helps you understand various niches and markets, and their 4 golden rules still form the basis to much of my keyword research. Highly recommended.
- Make Your First $100 online in 45 Minutes: This is an extremely in-depth guide that focuses on SEO for affiliate marketing. I think it can be a little intense for beginners, but there’s some fantastic info in there. I’m including it now because I think the keyword research section is particularly useful for what we’re talking about here.
- How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: This has some good easy to follow information that makes it a really useful resource, and it’s even better if you use Aherfs as a tool.
If you take a look at these three tutorials and practice the techniques, you should have all the information necessary to start successfully researching your own keywords.
Note: There’s one service I swear by, SEMrush, that makes all of this stuff incredibly easy. At the very least I’d check out their free trial. If you’re serious about doing freelance SEO, this tool is your new best friend.
On Site Optimization: One of the Easiest Ways to Improve Your SEO
If you haven’t been able to tell already, a successful SEO campaign doesn’t rely on any one aspect of the process. Each piece plays an integral part in your overall results. That said, you could have done the best keyword research job ever, but if your site isn’t at least somewhat optimized – you’re screwed.
There are a ton of aspects that go into successful site optimization, but to get started and get you up to speed on what you should be looking for.
Take a look at this:
- WebConfs 15 Minute SEO Check: This is a fantastic checklist for your on site optimization, and how I get started with most of my projects. It tells you exactly what you need to look for as well as tells you the importance of each site component. WebConfs also has a variety of other useful tools that can be found here.
- SEO Workers Site Analysis: There are a lot of SEO site analysis tools out there, and most of them aren’t that great. I like this one because not only does it do some basic analysis of your site – but it tells you whats good and whats bad. When you’re just starting out, you’ll need all the help you can get when trying to figure out what you should really be focused on. Running this before doing the previous 15 minute SEO check could a good move.
- Moz SEO Tools: Moz and SEO Book are the two biggest SEO sites out there. They each have an incredible amount of good information, expensive premium membership fees, and great free/premium tools. There’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be signing up for a basic Moz account to get access to their free tools.
- SEO Book Tools: SEO Book has everything mentioned above, but it has a special deal for subscribers. It offers three premium Firefox plugins: SEO Toolbar, SEO for Firefox and Rank Tracker (try this tool if you’re on Chrome). I’ve found SEO for Firefox to be the most useful as it includes great SEO information right in the search results. I also used Rank Tracker for awhile before I started using the rank tracking features in Moz Pro.
If you’re going to be successful as a freelancer or with any of your personal sites, you should get really familiar with these techniques and start putting them into use on your own site right now.
The best way to get started is to take all of your starting keywords and run your site through rank tracker. Make a spreadsheet of the results and rerun them once a week so that you can see your progress.
Start by optimizing all of the “+3” items on the 15 Minute SEO Check. Track your changes and see how your rankings change in the next 2 weeks.
It’s totally possible to learn the basic skills needed in order to do SEO freelance work in a weekend, however, if you’re really going to be successful with it as a business you’ll need to be able to prove you know what you’re doing.
So think of your personal site as your SEO resume. The higher your rank for main key terms, the better the chances of you finding work!
And, don’t forget to focus on optimizing for images too.
By ensuring you optimize images on your site with key terms, alt tags, and meta data, you can get increased traffic from Google and Bing Image search as well. For a bit more on images, Yoast has a great post up that shows you how to optimize your images for SEO, check it out.
Link Building for SEO: It’s Hard, but Can Pay Off
Link building is something that you need to tread very carefully with.
To grossly oversimplify things the basic premise of SEO hasn’t changed in years: the more links you have pointing to your website, the better your rankings will be.
There are lots of ways to get links, however, and not all links are created equal.
This is where a lot of people have run into problems over the last years. They’ve tried to game the system, and done some potentially shady things that have led to Google penalizing their site and thus killing their rankings.
I always advocate white hat ways of linking building, and still think guest posting is a good way to build high-quality links and send traffic to your site (see more on this below).
That said, if want to form the basis of a solid link building campaign, here’s where I would start:
- Link Building: The Definitive Guide: Once again Brian Dean of Backlinko has an awesome guide at the ready. If you’re starting to get the feeling that he knows his stuff, you aren’t mistaken. This takes you through nine chapters full of actionable advice and case studies. Don’t miss this one.
- The Bootstrapper’s Guide to Link Building – This is one of the most honest accounts I’ve seen on how to start building links in a way that isn’t super spammy. Travis is one of the best SEOs I know, so I always place high value on his advice.
- SEO Moz Beginners Guide to SEO: This book covers a lot of the theory behind SEO and will help you to understand the hows and whys of the field.
There are a couple of other major ways to focus in on building links too, so keep reading.
Don’t forget you can tap into sites like Quora, Reddit, Hacker News, and Inbound.org all as places to build up links as well. Of course, the key here is to not just jump in and spam everyone with your links, that’s a fast track to getting kicked out.
This is more of a long term strategy, you want to build up a bit of influence in these communities by sharing information, helping others, and posting frequently. Then you can start dropping your content in these sites as content that is going to help educate and provide value.
The same goes for your social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If you’ve got a daily or weekly vlog that you show on YouTube, be sure to rank your videos for SEO as well, these can all lead back to your main site.
If you’re a blogger this one is a no-brainer. But even if you have a more traditional website, and are an expert in your industry, guest posting/writing for other websites can be a good way to get high quality, relevant backlinks back to your site.
You can (and should) not only guest post on relevant blogs in your industry, but also look for complementary blogs, and find any major sites who will accept your posts as well. If you aren’t sure what sites to target, use a tool like AllTop find your niche or keywords and then check out the blogs that are listed (you can also submit your own blog there).
For a killer, in-depth action-packed guide on the exact strategies you can use to land high-quality guest posts read How Complete Newbies Can Land Killer Guest Posts: The Ultimate Guide.
For example, if I was targeting “Honduras HDR” – I’d register hondurashdr.blogger.com – and I’d spend an hour or two building a blog around the keyword.
I’d then add high-quality blog posts and content to these resources, with links pointing back to your site. This can border on spammy, so you want to make sure if you go this route you actually take a little bit of time to create content that is actually useful for someone who lands on these sites.
Mobile First Indexing
In 2018, you need to ensure any website you’re working on or SEO purposes must be optimized for mobile. Recently, Google launched Mobile First Indexing.
In the past, Google’s bots crawled the desktop version of websites first. Now, it’s all about the mobile version, which will be crawled first and then the desktop version will be crawled next.
So, if you’re working with a brand on SEO and they don’t have a mobile friendly website, there is a chance they could actually lose some of their keyword rankings because they aren’t mobile optimized.
Clearly, this is something that’s really important to pay attention to now and into the future. Mobile is a ranking factor in SEO, it matters!
A Few More SEO Strategies, Tips, and Tools
Now that you understand some of the basic strategies to successful link building, how about a couple tools and strategies that have worked extremely well for me:
- HARO: This has been a great tool to get not only links on really high-quality sites but tons of free publicity and traffic as well. You should absolutely sign up for HARO and start submitting ASAP if you want more info read a HARO case study here.
- WordPress SEO: I have a ton of respect for what Glen has done over at Viper Chill and this post is an incredible guide for people doing SEO on WordPress sites (which if you’re reading this, is probably you).
- 21 Actionable SEO Strategies: This is another really good post from Backlinko on the SEO strategies that are working right now, in 2018. I’d definitely take a read through this and put a few of them in practice!
- 75 Actionable SEO Tips: Ahrefs has a post with 75 SEO tips you can use on both your site and for clients, so check this one out too.
How to Create a Website to Practice Your SEO Skills
So all of these resources are great, but if you don’t have a website of your own that you can actually practice this stuff with, it’s not going to do you any good.
The good news is that it’s easy to get started and you can have your website up and running in just a few hours.
Here’s what I’d do:
- Decide on Your Domain and Hosting. I generally recommend Bluehost for people just starting out. But here is a thorough review of the best hosting companies for a new blog.
- Install WordPress and Do Basic Blog Setup. This isn’t as daunting as it might sound, and I walk you through every single step for how to do it in this step by step guide.
- Optimize Your Site for Visitors. You want to make sure everything looks good and doesn’t make people run away as soon as they land on your site. This blog audit will help with that.
- Optimize Your Site for Search Engines. Now it’s time to use your new site to start practicing and testing! Start with the “on site SEO resources” listed in this post above.
Now that wasn’t so hard now was it?
Finding SEO Work
Ok, so once you’ve built your SEO skills, and feel confident with your results, how do you go about marketing your SEO freelancing skills to the rest of the world?
Good question, but the best advice I have in the beginning is to read this article: How to Get More Clients on Upwork. Is Upwork the only way to get SEO clients? No. Is it even the best? Probably not.
But this post does a good job of making you think about some of the most important aspects of figuring out your branding and offer.
Also, don’t forget to put it out there that you’re looking for work. Check out this post on strategies for freelancers to find more work.
So what are you waiting for?
Now is your chance to get started. Looking to get into another industry and don’t know how? Let me know what it is, and we’ll find you some answers.
Why SEMRush is the Single Best Tool for SEO Freelancers
So over the course of the last 5,000 words you’ve learned all of the basics. You now have all of the tools you need to be able to start doing SEO successfully on your own sites, as well as on sites of new clients.
But if you’re serious about becoming an SEO freelancer, to be perfectly honest? Free tools aren’t going to cut it.
Some of the paid tools out there, are awesome, and nearly every single SEO competitor of yours is using one.
That said, these days some of the services that are out there make things unbelievably easy to find and track keywords, optimize your site, find link opportunities, do competitive analysis and track everything.
We’ve spent the last 6 months doing a complete SEO overhaul of our site, and there’s one tool I relied on more than anything else in order to do it.
It’s one of the big three all-in-one mid tier SEO options (the others being Moz and ahrefs) – but I found SEMRush to be the one that had the best bang for the buck, and was the one I enjoyed using the most.
At the very least I recommend signing up for their free trial and giving it a shot. If nothing else you’ll be able to use it to get a ton of information for your own site and start to see how these types of tools can be helpful. Check it out, and let me know if you have any questions or want to know more about why it’s what we personally use here at Location Rebel
Other Resources to Help You Become an SEO Freelancer
- How to Make $3,000 in 60 Days with SEO Writing – Don’t want to become a full blown SEO freelancer? Start with SEO writing, which is much easier to get going with.
- How to Build Your First Online Asset in 48 Hours – Want more handholding with building your first site for SEO training purposes? This post will help.
- How to Build a Niche Site that Brings in $500/Month – Just want to learn SEO to apply to niche sites or your blog? This post goes into detail on how I do it.
- Our Beginner’s SEO Starter Guide – We walk you through every step of learning SEO and beginning the process of becoming a freelancer and building a lifestyle business around it.
Want your hand held every step of the way as you build a new freelance business? Check out Location Rebel Academy. Where you can learn exactly how I grew my SEO business, get my tools and templates I used in my business, and more!