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Utilizing your website to
promote your freelance design services

by Shaun Crowley

PART 2:
Getting Exposure on the search engines
View Part 1

You've set up your online portfolio. Now you can direct potential clients to your website when you contact them.

But wouldn't it be great if new clients contacted you?

In the following article, I'll show you how to conquer the search engines, so prospective clients can find you online. We'll look at four core areas: Choosing your keywords, Making the content of your website Googlable, Fulfilling the needs of browsers, and Getting other sites to link to you.

1. How to choose your keywords

By far the best tool for researching keywords is Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com). You can pay for access per day ($8), per week ($26), per month ($52), or per year ($260). It's worth taking as much time as you can afford.

Amongst other things, Wordtracker allows you to type in a general keyword and gives you an extensive menu of connected keyword phrases, with ratings. Ratings are based on the popularity of the keywords compared to the number of other websites competing for them. You'll find that keyword phrases have better ratings than single keywords.

Three groups you could focus your first keyword searches on are: your specialism (graphic design, web-design, animated web design, etc); the sector you work in (marketing & advertising, publishing, products & packaging, technical, etc); and the area you cover (New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, etc). Also look for particular search phrases that a target browser might type into Google ("Looking for", "Search", "Find", "For hire", "Freelancer", etc).

You can also research keywords by checking the source code of well-ranked websites that directly or indirectly compete with you. If certain keywords are working for them, there's a good chance they'll work for you too.

Make sure your most relevant keyword phrase is in your page title. This is the descriptive line that appears when your website appears in a Google search, and the statement that browsers rely on to judge the appropriacy of your site.

Try to get keywords into your URLs, e.g. www.callmewoo.com/designer_aspen. Keywords in URLs contribute considerably towards search engine ranking.

Search engines also use description tags to gauge the relevancy of websites. Your description should summarize the page and inform browsers what's there. It should also be riddled with good keywords.

Search engines don't rate sites based on meta tags. Instead, they look for keywords in the page title, URL, description tag, and the main body of the site. However, it's a good idea to add meta tags—it's likely Google use them to compare your site to other sites linking to you, the benefits of which we'll discuss later.

2. How to make the content of your site Googlable

Research shows browsers use text to evaluate a site, not images. Even though you are promoting yourself as a graphic designer, it's the words that will reach out to new visitors ahead of your graphics.

The amount of text is on your site important. The more text you have on your site, the more keywords there will be, and the more opportunities you'll have to replace low-value phases with good keyword phrases.

Include keywords in prominent positions throughout your text. I prefer to write my text first, then headline sections of text with good keyword phrases.

Set up multiple website pages. Group your keywords by setting up multiple website pages, each with a slightly different focus. The most obvious way to make use of multiple site pages is to categorize your portfolio thematically. So, for example, one page of your portfolio could focus on your brochure designs, using the keywords in your introduction copy such as: 'direct selling promotional material', 'brochure', 'printed publicity', 'corporate literature' 'freelance', 'design', 'designer', 'search'.

On another page, you might be presenting samples of your book designs. Here your introduction copy could include keywords such as 'publishing', 'covers', 'childrens books', 'text books', 'layout', 'design', 'freelance', 'designer', 'search'.

So if a client looking for a children's book designer typed in 'children + design + freelance', the relevant page of your portfolio will be ranked above your website home-page. This enables browsers to go straight to the page that is most relevant to them.

There are other pages you can set up to focus on specific types of keyword searches. You could include a page that focuses on the geographical region you cover. If you don't cover one single region, you could include a page that introduces your 'international' service. Or indeed, any other service you offer.

3. How to fulfill the needs of browsers

Offer something free. Most people go online to find something instant and useful. Roughly 75% of your potential clients who are searching for design-related topics are looking for something to help them get a job done -- not necessarily to hire you.

You need to lure them towards your freelance services. Give them something they can use, so they remember you. When they really do need a freelance designer, they've already remembered your URL.

There are a variety of things you can offer.

You can write free tutorials and self-help articles (like "how to brief a designer", "how to get the most out of your graphic designer", "What every copywriter needs to know about their designer"). This presents you as an expert in your field and gets you exposure as a clever and competent designer.

You can offer free photos, graphics, illustrations, or visuals. Anything that your target audience can download and make use of, and that demonstrates the strengths of your work at the same time.

You can offer free design consultation. You could set up a page where targeted browsers type in a design-related question, submit their email address, and you promise to answer within a designated time. Again, this helps to present you as an expert. It also gives you access to potential clients' email addresses, a very nice thing to have.

By doing any of the above, you are increasing the different keyword avenues browsers can take to reach your site. So in addition to the keywords on your portfolio pages, you also have pages with keywords such as 'free tutorial', 'free royalty free images', or 'instant design advice' that are much more likely to be searched for on a daily basis.

These are the extra tentacles to pull browsers in, which means your site will come up in more Google searches. The more your site comes up, the more hits you'll get, and the higher you'll proceed up the Google ranks.

4. How to get other sites to link to you

Add your service to online directories. The first thing to do is to send your website link, plus a line about the services you offer, to as many online directories as possible.

These links may not be quality links (I believe Google are starting to view links from directories as irrelevant or only partially relevant for informing search engine ranking). But it's well worth getting directories to link to you, because they can result in plenty of quality hitshits from browsers who might offer you freelance design work.

Start a blog. Blogging is perhaps the easiest way to pull potential clients towards your relevant portfolio pages and elevate your Google presence. Blogs have two advantages. Firstly, they are linked to millions of websites, so they are seen as quality links. Secondly, they offer you an easy way to submit new material, so your blog entries can be spontaneous and timely. For example, you could use your blog to review the week's newspaper adverts. This would appeal to marketers (potential clients in the marketing sector), and would help present yourself as a knowledgeable designersomeone worth hiring for the next big advertising campaign!

Promote your website as a resource. Earlier we discussed the need for putting useful stuff on your site. Well, guess what. Having an armory of visuals or articles is important for obtaining links.

Lots of top-ranking websites have 'Resources' sections or 'Useful links' sections. You need to be in here. So write up a description of your resources and send to web editors. Try to include your main keywords within your description copy, as this will help the meta-crawlers identify it as a 'good link'.

Send out articles. Be a featured writer on a website that prospective clients hit on every day, and you'll not only get quality links to your site, you'll also get your name out as an expert in your field.

Your articles can be adapted from your website or your blog entries. Just make sure they are useful and informative, leaving your website address and service description for your bio at the end of the article. Be sure to add a 'call to action' line at the end of your bio, so interested readers know you are in business (e.g. "Need a fresh new look? Ask about my design services. Email jon@callmewoo.com".)

Target resource sites and e-zines aimed at your target clients, as well as article sites that are recognized by Google such as www.article99.com.