Why a Freelance Designer should know SEO

Why a Freelance Designer should know SEO?

Before starting as a freelance web designer I worked for 8 years at a couple of web agencies. My “only” job, as a web designer, was to make the design and from time to time convert them to HTML. I had an SEO department, a marketing one, development department as has every (or at least must have) firm in the field.

Why a Freelance Designer should know SEO?

I wasn’t worried about getting the clients, promoting myself or the agency. At that point I didn’t know that much about SEO except that it is very important and Google is the king. I had a whole department taking care of that part. So for me it wasn’t that hard to take the freelance path (at least that’s what I thought) thinking that the life of a freelance web designer brings you freedom in your work, no boss, no boring 8 hours office life without that much effort. I was wrong.

Only after taking that step will you realize you’ll have none of the support departments that you as a web designer can rely on in a agency. You don’t have the SEO department to promote you and your work, you cannot rely on the marketing department to create contacts and the “no boring 8 hours office” becomes a stressful 10 plus hours at home.

You realize how important it is, for a web designer (especially for a freelancer), to know SEO, or at least to have a basic knowledge of it. Of course you don’t need to know everything about SEO, but having the basic knowledge can help you (and it’s mandatory) if you want to pursue a freelance career especially when you’re starting out and you don’t have thousands to spend on SEO specialists.

SEO is a very complex process and to explain it all in one post is impossible. But there are a few simple tips/steps that you can apply that will improve SEO on your website and search engine rankings.

We can break down SEO into three main areas:

  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimization and Website content
  • Link building

Keyword Research

Keyword research to optimize your website is the first and one of the most important steps in SEO. If you don’t do this part right you might never rank for what you want. So here are some tips on searching and choosing you main keywords:

  • Search for keywords that are relevant for your business. Don’t choose keywords only based on search volume, that are totally irrelevant to you.
  • Try to search for relevant long tail keywords (keyword phrase that has at least three words in the phrase) for example – web designer in NY, best web designer… It will be easier to rank for these kinds of keywords especially if you are just starting.
  • After finding the right keyword(s) choose a domain with at least one main keyword in your domain name. This will help your rankings for that keyword.

A good place for keyword search is Google Keyword Tool. It’s one of the best free tools available, and research keywords.

Google Keyword Tool

Tip: Create a Google account and you’ll have access to some free useful tools from Google.

On-page Optimization and Website Content

After finding your main keyword(s) and choosing a domain name comes another important part of SEO – on-page optimization. There are a lot factors to take into account when optimizing your website, but here are the most important ones:

Meta Titles and Descriptions

It’s not that important for SEO lately, but it’s a good way to attract visitors if you have an exciting and interesting Title/ Description.

<title>Freelance web designer</title>
<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Freelance web designer - description goes here, make sure…">

Meta Tag

Keywords Tag

Many people might not know, but the keywords tag has NO effect on rankings. Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking so don’t bother with them.

Header tags ( H1,H2,H3 )

Try to, when possible, include a keyword in these tags, but make sure it looks natural and you shouldn’t use more than one H1 tag on the same page:

<h1>I am the best freelance web designer</h1>
<h2>How to be a freelance web designer</h2>
<h3>It’s hard to be a freelance web designer</h3> 

Keywords in the content of your pages

First of all and the most important thing for ranking is to have GOOD QUALITY and ORIGINAL content. Use the keyword(s) throughout the content on each page. Don’t overpopulate your content with keyword(s) – keyword stuffing. Try to keep a 2%-4% keyword density in your content – keyword density check tool. Use em emphasis and bold for your keywords, but don’t apply bold or em to every keyword (not good for rankings and for your visitors) just use them naturally.

Sometimes it’s hard to populate your pages with text content (your portfolio website) so a good strategy will be to make a blog where you will post your content with your keyword(s) and interlink (I’ll explain a little later) it with other pages from your website.

Use the “alt” tags for your images

Another good ranking boost is to use your keyword(s) in your images alt description:

<img src="#" title="Freelance web designer headquarters" alt="Freelance web designer headquarters" > 

Internal linking strategy

Link your internal pages one to another. For example all web design pages should link to each other. In this way all your link/PR “juice” will be shared between your pages (like in the blog example that I mentioned earlier). For example:

<a href="portfolio" title="check out my Portfolio">My Portfolio</a> 

Write semantic and clean code

Semantic code tends to improve your rankings, as it is easier for the search engine spiders to understand it. Always validate your code through Markup Validation Service.

Website loading speed

Google included website speed as one of their ranking factors. Loading speed of your website is not only important for SEO, but mainly for your visitors. Try to use smaller and optimized images, clean code and be sure that your host/server is properly optimized.

Flash drawback

Even though a website full of flash might look interesting it can slow down or decrease your rankings. Even if Google is trying to read flash content it’s still not very advanced in this area so a flash website is like a big image to search engines. So try as far as possible to avoid using flash.

Google tools

Google Webmaster Tools is one of the best tools to help you to improve rankings. You can submit your sitemap, monitor your keywords, ranking and a lot more. Another must have tool is Google Analytics. It helps you to analyze your website traffic.

Link Building

Link Building is the process of increasing the number and quality of the incoming links to your website in order to increase the website rankings for specific keyword(s). The best strategy in link building is to mix them up. Here are top low cost methods to create back links:

  • Web Directories – You should submit to high page rank directories that are related to your website/theme.
  • Article Marketing – Write unique and good quality articles related to your niche and submit them to high quality websites.
  • Social Bookmarking and Networking – These are very popular networks with millions of subscribers (like Twitter, Digg, Reddit…). Join the most popular ones and submit your content with your website links.
  • Authority Sites – This is one of the best link building strategies. Find authority websites in your niche and request a link exchange partnership. Your link popularity will get a real boost.
  • Web 2.0 sites – These are websites (WordPress, Squidoo, Blogger, Weebly …) that allow you to post content with links to your own website. This can be a good way to get free back links to your website.

Resources

Here are some interesting blogs full of SEO resources and information that will help you in learning and improving your search engine optimization skills.

SEOmoz’s Blog
SEOmoz

SEO-Theory
SEO Theory

Pole Position Marketing
Pole Position Marketing

SEO Design Solutions Blog
SEO Design Solutions

SEER Interactive’s Blog
Seer Interactive

Conclusion

As a freelance web designer you will have to learn a lot of new tricks and skills that you had no idea that you would need when you were working for an agency. One of the most important is promoting yourself like never before that’s why you can’t ignore SEO. At the beginning of your journey this can be your only way to get new clients. If you have questions or suggestions don’t hesitate to post them.

So go learn at least the basics of SEO and build your empire.

Adrian Botea has been working for 8 years at different web agencies. He decided to try his luck as a freelance web designer (best decision ever). So for the past two years he has no boss and a little more freedom.

Comments

  1. / Reply

    Hi, I was searching for such post and got yours. Great!!

    • arch,
    • October 5, 2011
    / Reply

    Great article.
    One thing… please remove the question mark from the title. It’s not a question.

  2. / Reply

    A web designer without knowing a bit of SEO can make great designes but big mistakes that will be translated in bad ranking.
    In my experience as SEO, a design seo friendly can help a lot the ranking, if the keywords are not too competitive the site would rank by itself in the second page. Link building will do the rest.
    Good post, thanks for sharing.

    1. / Reply

      “A web designer without knowing a bit of SEO can make great designes but big mistakes that will be translated in bad ranking”

      I totally agree.
      That was one of the main things that I learned since I am “alone”

  3. / Reply

    suggested tips are quite useful, but still I think everyone have to mind one’s own business.

  4. / Reply

    I’m a web designer at a company that also offers SEO services, and I have to say your list is a great introduction to the field. While there is obviously a ton more to it, for a starting point you’ve hit the nail on the head. Well done sir, well done.

  5. / Reply

    Thnx for posting.

  6. / Reply

    A good designer and developer should know as much SEO as they do code and design if you ask me. You can spend weeks designing and developing beautiful and stunning site, but if no one sees it because no one can find it, then what’s the point? As I’ve learned web design, I’ve tried to devote just as much time to SEO as I have to basic design principles.

    Also, I think more and more designers are disregarding the importance of SEO, as they have turned to CMS systems with SEO plugins. They would be wise to remember that a plug-in isn’t a cure-all. You have to put just as much thought in to get adequate results from a plugin.

  7. / Reply

    This is an excellent synopsis of how to handle SEO in order to get great SEO results, especially in your local area. Before I really considered SEo practices, my portfolio web site was on the 13th or 14th page when you searched for “graphic design Knoxville”. After doing most of the things that were listed in this article, I went from obscurity to the 3rd listing down on page 4 in just one month. I know that isn’t that spectacular, but just think where I may be in another month or two. I might be on the first or 2nd page. This stuff gets results. I am getting phonecalls when I wasn’t before, so you should DEFINITELY take this into consideration when creating your website and your clients web sites. I was already doing it for them, but now I am doing it for myself and it is paying off. Great article!

    • Oise,
    • October 6, 2011
    / Reply

    Wow… nice article

    • John,
    • October 6, 2011
    / Reply

    Great Article, covers all the basics (and other great tips) I’m going to forward this link to several clients that ‘just don’t get it’ -Thanks

    • Adrian Botea,
    • October 6, 2011
    / Reply

    Thanks for appreciations.

    If there are enough requests I can “continue” the article with some more in-depth tips and methods on how to optimise and promote a website.

    1. / Reply

      Definitely Adrian!

      • Rabbitdigital,
      • October 7, 2011
      / Reply

      Yes please Adrian, I could have done with your advice years ago, thanks v much for this and looking forward to more tips and advice …
      Cheers
      Warren (UK)

      • Jack,
      • November 6, 2011
      / Reply

      Another vote here Adrian, this article is really useful- I’ve just taken on an apprentice and this post is a great foundation to get a basic understanding of SEO…

  8. / Reply

    i’m learning from your article step by step, can you please give some more reference links for get more researched article as you writing above, that will be more appreciated. thanks

    1. / Reply

      Recently I discovered a very interesting website with a lot of resources and cool information :
      smartpassiveincome ( dot ) com

  9. / Reply

    I laugh about this every day. Sometime ago I started a website about design and communication hoping to do design all day long! To my surprise , 80% of thee activities are marketing related. Really good read for a monday.

  10. / Reply

    Know i realise that why a web designer should know seo thanks for this post its interesting to read and helpful too

  11. / Reply

    “Know i realise that why a web designer should know seo thanks for this post its interesting to read and helpful too”

    Please don’t spam this post

  12. / Reply

    Be proper and follow to whom you want to optimize is very easy for SEO.

  13. / Reply

    Yes I agree that properly researched and executed SEO can do wonders for one’s site ranking. When we started out, we were just a small team made up of of designers and sales people, we had zero knowledge or didn’t believe in SEO. Now we’re on the first few pages of the results and we can already see an improvement in our sales figures. Google’s and Yahoo SEO search algorithm change all the time, so it’s advisable you start on yours now and keep going.

    • Andy,
    • November 16, 2011
    / Reply

    Really very nice article..
    and very helpful…thnx for sharing it.

  14. / Reply

    Very usefull article. For me learn about SEO is very important.

  15. / Reply

    Hi Adrian,
    What a useful article for me.

    Thanks,

  16. / Reply

    Just starting out and great introduction. Keep it up!

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