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SEO is critical to the success of any online business, so how do you start building your own authority as an expert in this field?
In this blog, we explore the digital skills and acumen you need to develop to become a successful freelance SEO specialist.
What is SEO and why is it important?
SEO is about ensuring your website ranks highly on search engines such as Google for relevant searches, which should in-turn increase your sales. It’s the key to generating traffic for your website and it’s the backbone of any good digital marketing strategy. As the baseline indicator of how well a website is performing, it’s an essential component of any digital business.
While there are many ways of driving traffic to your page, it’s important to note here that SEO refers to organic traffic – in other words, unpaid advertising. It represents how people (or businesses) are searching and finding a product or service on their own terms.
What are the required skills for an SEO professional?
Most digital professionals understand the core concepts of SEO, but what are the elements that take you from a generalist to an expert ready to go it alone in the industry? As a starting point, you might want to consider taking a course in coding or web design to develop a thorough understanding of how the backend of a website behaves.
And as for soft skills, SEO is really something that requires an analytical mind. You’ll be gathering, measuring, and investigating data on a continuous basis, so it’s important to get a clear picture of how to sort, organize and visualize different types of data in your problem-solving. You’ll also need to be naturally adept at higher-level decision-making and problem solving to really excel in this field.
Must-know SEO concepts
SEO is a technical field with its own language and best practices that influence beyond your website and page visits. Below are some of the key concepts that you'll need to master in order to build your reputation as an SEO expert.
The concept of authority refers to how powerful and popular your site is in comparison to others in similar searches. Since the race to the “top” of the search rankings is a never-ending one, everyone is in constant competition.
Authority is measured either through the domain or your website's pages. It’s difficult to actually determine without getting too technical, however in a broad sense, the key to ranking higher than your competitors is to provide quality content that is relevant to your user's search query, keyword research plays an essential role in this process.
Search Engine Spiders / Crawlers
Each search engine has a different set of “bots” that are constantly “crawling” the net to analyze and index websites all over the world. Some things that they focus on when they’re “deciding” on a website’s rank include title tags, keyword tags, heading tags, and hyperlinks. They will also be searching for on-page ranking factors that contextualize your web pages (like alt tags) and clearly define what they're about.
One thing to note about crawlers is that the rules can shift regularly in order to punish people who are trying to cheat the system and so legitimate websites with quality content are rewarded.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
LSI refers to the way that Google searches and indexes sites based on keywords and how the words fit into the context of a search or a specific batch of content. AI advances are making it possible for search engines to understand the context of specific searches in more and more detail, so it may be that long-tail keywords, for instance, hold more “meaning” for search engines in the future than they have in the past.
Writing for high-level SEO value is really all about how to use keywords. As you blog, you can use a feature like Yoast for WordPress to help discover the basics of how SEO behaves in the context of content. You can also use something simple like Google Keyword Planner or even basic predictive searches to get a sense of how to use keywords and phrases.
Figuring out the optimal type, amount and placement of keywords, as well as where to place them, is really at the core of making sure your website ranks well. Learning how to research what goes where is crucial.
On-site analysis basically refers to everything that you have control over on your own site, whereas offsite refers to the data that you have no control over, such as links from other sites. It’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of how each of these types of SEO behaves separately and in-tandem from the outset.
Competitive analysis will look something like a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats) analysis if you’re familiar with that business term. You can basically assess the actions of your competitors and use that to inform your own.
It's one of the hardest parts of an SEOs job but effective link building will continue to give you value over time. These links can come naturally from people who feel your content is valuable and want to link back to it, others will come from out 'outreach' link building efforts, this is harder as you have to approach bloggers and other sites which a high domain authority and persuade them to link back to your site. It essentially signals to Google and other search engines that your website is valid and viewed as an authority in your given area.
Experiment with your own websites & blogs
So, what's the best way to master SEO? Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. There are many platforms available where you can easily build a website just to practice your SEO skills. WordPress is one of the easiest and most reliable places to do this, and you can do it for free. First, you need to decide who’s hosting your website; then you can concentrate on building and optimizing your site. This is not only awesome practice for yourself but is a necessary part of the process for you to grow your knowledge and market yourself.
SEO tools to help your training
Google has many accessible tools (like Google Keyword Planner) to help you analyze traffic patterns and rank keywords.
Wordtracker Keyword Suggestion Tool provides a whole range of SEO data specifics that you wouldn’t likely find anywhere else. Though it does cost a little extra for the premium package, you can try it out for free and see if it’s something you’d like to invest in.
WebConfs 15 Minute SEO Check gives you a list of a range of things that will change your rankings on the major search engines. It’s a great review tool and starting point to just introduce you to the various factors that can affect your ranking.
Marketing tips for freelance SEO specialists
Any freelancer today needs to take a heavy hand marketing themselves today in order to get noticed. Here are some ways of increasing your online visibility, boosting authority and connecting with others in your field.
- Creating and submitting guest blogs to publications that your potential clients or B2B partner might read
- Use social media sites in tandem with blogs to build authority
- Networking groups like Meetup.com
- Facebook groups geared towards digital marketers
- Backlinks to forum sites like Quora and Reddit
How to find work as an SEO freelancer
Becoming a freelance SEO expert takes a little bit of grit, and you may even want to seek some local training or take some basic courses, but learning how to build a simple website that ranks decently on Google isn’t too hard to do.
Once you’ve built a basic website and have created a few samples, then you need to find some work. There are plenty of Facebook groups and websites devoted to freelancers these days, and there are plenty of starter jobs available on websites like Upwork, too – this may not be the ideal place to work forever, but it’s a great spot to build a portfolio.
While you can learn many SEO basics in the better part of a weekend, it’s a better idea to give yourself some time to take some online courses, network and practice on real life websites in order to get a real grasp of the game.