Note from Sean: This post has been updated as of Mid 2016.
I’d like to state up front that this is the longest post I’ve ever written here at Location 180. It’s more representative of the direction I’d like to take the site in the future, and is the culmination of the last year I’ve spent becoming an SEO freelancer.
If you take a weekend, read the resources provided, practice with your own site(s), you’ll have enough knowledge to lay the ground work of a location independent business.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately from people who are looking to start working for themselves. Whether it’s a small business on the side, or they’re looking to create a full time location independent business, it’s obvious there’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit out there.
Along with questions about building a business, I’m asked frequently what business I run.
If we’re going to start getting real about creating a location independent income, I’m going to have to build a little bit of credibilty.
So here’s what I do:
I’m an SEO Freelancer (for lack of a better term).
For those of you who don’t know what SEO means, it stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially it’s my job to make sure my clients rank as highly as possible in Google (or other search engines) for the key terms that we’ve decided are most important to their success.
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.
Over the last year SEO has been my trade of choice, and it’s become a fantastic asset for me both personally and professionally.
Even if you aren’t looking to build a freelancing business, this post and the resources included will still be extremely valuable to you. Anyone with a blog or business of any kind can profit from knowing the basics of search engine optimization.
So for those of you that wanted to know what I do, now you know.
For those of you that are looking for opportunities to build you own business – read further, this may be just what you’re looking for. And if your not looking to build your own business? Well you should keep reading too, I promise you’ll learn something of value.
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:
- Keyword Research. 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 key words have the best combination of attainability and sufficient traffic, allowing you to see positive results
- Competitive Analysis. This is one of the most important components when you’re doing work for a company who has pretty strong competition. By looking at your competitor’s websites you’ll get ideas for key terms, understand the strengths and weaknesses of their site, and be able to capitalize on the things they aren’t doing so well.
- On-Site Analysis. 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.
- Link Building. Let’s break this down in the most simple blanket statement possible: more links = better rankings. The higher the quality of links (meaning links from large and relavent sites) you can obtain, the more likely you’re rankings will improve.
One thing to take note of, is 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.
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:
- SEO Moz Beginners Guide to SEO: This book covers a lot of the theory behind SEO and will help you to understand they hows and whys of the field.
- WebConfs SEO Tutorial: This one expands into some of the individual SEO disciplines a lot more than the SEO 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. It’s 9 detailed blog posts about different aspects of SEO – don’t miss this one.
- 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 book marking for easy access later on.
By now you should have a good general sense of what SEO is all about. You may have even picked up a little knowledge about some specific aspects of SEO like competitor analysis and keyword research.
When I’m getting started I tend to do my competitor analysis and keyword research a bit hand in hand. That said, make sure you have a broad sense of the market before diving right in – thus the benefit of checking out your competitor’s websites. 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 competitors 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.
So now that you understand the basics of why, let’s look at the how.
- 5 Steps for SEO Competitive Analysis & Research: This post gives you a general overview of some of the components involved in looking at your competitors. It also has links to a few good resources on the subject, 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.
This is arguably the most important part of a good SEO campaign. The bottom line is that if you select keywords with too little traffic, you’ll have wasted a lot of time optimizing, and see little in the way of results.
On the other hand, 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.
So how do you come up with high quality keywords?
The very first thing I do when I’m analyzing a site is 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.
For instance, “HDR Photo” is going to bring a whole different set of results than “HDR photos.” So when beginning your research you want to be as thorough as possible.
Here are some of the best tools for come 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.
- Market Samurai: If you’re going to get serious about SEO, then getting more serious software may be necessary. This is the only premium SEO tool that I pay for. I do all of my keyword research and rank tracking in Samurai and I’ve been really impressed with the capabilities of the software. It’s a one time fee of $150, but it’s well worth it. There is also a free trial so you can check it out and see if it works for you.
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.
I’ve started working on my own SEO guide, but in the meantime there 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.
- Copyblogger Keyword Research Tutorial: This takes more of a slant of keyword research for blogs, but has some good easy to follow information that makes it a really useful resource..
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.
A few things that I’ve done to see a lot of success on my photography blog are to target a different long tail key term on each post I do.
I take HDR photos from all over the world, and HDR is definitely a niche. So I can easily rank higher for “Honduras HDR” than I could “Honduras Photos.” By doing that, I’ve been able to rank #1 for dozens of HDR related key terms that individually get limited traffic, but when you add them up, send me dozens of hits a day.
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.
On Site Optimization
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 to 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 with 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 Market Samuari.
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 your 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!
I’ve recently started implementing some link building strategies that have made my client’s rankings sky rocket. I’ve achieved #1 rankings for a wide variety of my key terms, and am on the first page for just about everything else.
The result of this effort?
Thousands of dollars in gross revenue over the last month. A properly optimized website can be the difference between making nothing and making a solid five figure income each month.
So how have I done this? Well I’ve done it through a lot of ways.
One thing you need to understand (I mentioned it earlier, and I’ll do it again) is that links are the currency of the internet. The more the better, and the higher quality links the better as well.
So if want to form the basis of a solid link building campaign, here’s how to 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 Backlinking Strategy that Works: This is a post that Pat Flynn wrote about how he got his niche site ranked. While the original post was written in 2010, this update is for 2014 and beyond. It works really well, and any of the people I work with will tell you the exact same thing. Put these concepts into practice and hold on tight because your search engine rankings are gonna start to sky rocket.
- SEO Moz Beginners Guide to SEO: This book covers a lot of the theory behind SEO and will help you to understand they hows and whys of the field. If you head to Chapter 7, you’ll find all sorts of tips and advice on how to get started with backlinking.
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 you 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 back links 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’ll use high quality spun articles, good photos, perhaps a video and build a useful resource on the topic. Then I’ll link to these sites in Unique Article Wizard (see more about this below) – thus building their authority. I do my best to ensure these are high quality resources about the specific topic, rather than just spam sites. Check out the articles above for a more detailed look into how to do this successfully.
A Few More 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.
- Unique Article Wizard: I’ll be totally up front – using Unique Article Wizard kind of sucks. You essentially have to rewrite the same article 3 times, create a bunch of resource boxes and doing so can be time consuming. I can now pump out a published article in about 45 minutes, but it may take you upwards of 2 hours starting out. It’s boring, can be frustrating, and will have you swearing off article marketing for good. Until you see the results. Within a few weeks, you’ll start to see your daily hard work pay off, and you’ll understand why this is worth the money. If you’re really serious – hire someone else to write the articles and never look back.
All that said, at the core of my strategy is ensuring that I’m not spamming anybody. I want to make sure my articles are high quality, useful to anyone searching that specific topic, and add value to the world rather than just polluting it.
This isn’t always easy to do, and can be really time consuming.
But the bottom line is, it works.
Just in the last 15 minutes I’ve seen another $1,000+ sale roll in from a site that’s ranked #9 for its main keyword. A month ago it was over 100. Imagine where it will be in another month when it’s in the top 3?
SEO is powerful – and that’s why it’s such an excellent skill to learn.
Ok, so once you’ve built your skills, and feel confident with your results, how do you go about marketing your skills to the rest of the world?
Good question, but the best advice I have in the beginning is to read this article: Three Ways to Grow Your Business Right Now. That will get you thinking about ways you can ramp up your efforts, exposure, and personal brand. The more you can network online and in person, the more opportunities will come your way – so don’t be shy.
So what are you waiting for?
If you’ve been looking for a location independent business 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.