I don’t quite remember when I stumbled upon commercial writing as a viable freelance profession, but as soon as I did I was sold. My background was in event marketing and sales, which I enjoyed but wasn’t necessarily passionate about.
I have always loved writing and I knew I wanted to do something using my business background, so combining the two was a natural fit. Although I didn’t have any professional training, I decided to make the leap to starting a freelance copywriting business in January 2010.
I did two things from the start that have been game changers for my business: first, I put up a website on WordPress, an incredible website content management system; second, I took the time to optimize my new site for the search engines (a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization or SEO), even though I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing at the time.
After getting my site up, I hit the pavement hard trying to land those first few clients. I networked like crazy, attending any free or low-cost event I could. I also spent a considerable amount of time reaching out to my network and getting involved on Twitter and LinkedIn. After a few short months, something interesting started happening. I started getting emails that looked like this:
Slowly but surely, SEO overtook networking as my #1 method of developing new business. Pretty soon I stopped going to networking events, slowed down my social media activity and stopped marketing almost entirely because I had so many projects lined up from clients who had found my website.
Now that 2 ½ years have passed since I started my freelance business, I’m astounded by how a small investment into learning and applying SEO has had such a profound effect on my business. Although most of my experience is positive, I do have some warnings about SEO, which I’ll share in a moment.
How I Optimized My Freelance Copywriting Website
I want to explain exactly how I used SEO effectively to drive traffic and prospects and ultimately convert web visitors into paying clients. I did the following six activities, which contributed to my current page-1 Google ranking:
1. Identified and selected my keywords using Google’s free keyword tool
2. Wrote keyword-rich title and description tags for my primary website pages
3. Blogged and kept blogging using my keywords a few times a month for the first two years
4. Promoted my blog posts on Twitter and LinkedIn
5. Learned to love Google Analytics as a way to see what keywords people used to find my site and other key metrics that helped me refine my strategy
6. Used WordPress to update my pages and keep my site fresh with new, timely content
7. Slowly started getting backlinks due to securing speaking gigs and workshops and through meeting other bloggers at networking events
The Effects SEO Has Had On My Business
While SEO has been incredible for my business, I’m the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. And despite its obvious benefits, I’ve allowed it to unfortunately limit my business. Here are my insights into the good, the bad and the downright ugly effects of SEO:
• I rarely find myself in a bidding situation. For some reason, maybe because I’m on the first page of Google, when clients reach out to me they’re ready to do business immediately.
• I’ve met some incredible contacts through people finding my site: direct clients, referral partners (tons of website designers), marketing consultants, colleagues who recommended speaking gigs for me, fellow writers I’ve hired for overflow projects, and even an intern.
• Getting on the first page of Google happened very naturally for me by doing just the few simple, but consistent, activities I outlined above.
• SEO does not necessarily manifest the clients you want. Renowned copywriter Bob Bly has said that potential customers who find his website via SEO are never his best prospects; they require too much education, hand holding, and aren’t as willing to pay his fees as customers are who buy his information products or hear him speak at an event.
• SEO is not for everyone. Some copywriters might not need to spend time optimizing their site if they’re able to generate business through, for instance, books, speaking gigs, repeat clients, referrals, etc. Spending time optimizing their sites may not be the best investment if they’re staying busy thanks to other lead-generation efforts.
• SEO has made me a very lazy business owner because I’m now used to prospects coming to me. It’s caused me to commit the cardinal sin of running a business: I have almost entirely stopped proactively marketing my business.
• SEO does not consistently bring me high paying prospects. It’s so easy to work with clients who approach me, I know I’m losing out on higher income clientele by not proactively pursuing those who might have more money or bigger projects. It’s rare that a corporate client will find me via SEO….most of the time my traffic is comprised of web designers with referrals, micro-business owners, service providers or solopreneurs.
• Ever since I landed in the top spot on the first page of Google, I have to work hard to maintain my ranking. It’s made me slightly obsessed with SEO since I have other business owners and freelancers constantly nipping at my heels for the top spot.
While SEO does have its downsides, the good has far outweighed the bad. Succeeding in SEO for my own site has led me to writing my first information product, garnered me a slew of speaking gigs, and might someday be a good niche for me, even though now I’m very much a generalist.
Weigh In On Your SEO Efforts…
What has held you back from getting started with SEO?
If you have taken the time to optimize your site, has your experience been similar to mine?
Any do’s and don’t’s you can share from your own experiences?
Put another way, is your business “a series of jobs” or a “profession”? (And yes, I know how most of the commercial freelancing pros who weigh in here would answer, and I’m counting on that…).
Success as a commercial writer begins in the mind.
I know, typical positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo, right? And not even terribly profound. But hang with me here.
I was thinking about how I started in this business of lucrative commercial copywriting 15 years ago, and realized that how I viewed this business and how I entered the profession has made all the difference. A dear writer friend of mine who does mostly magazine work likes to say, not unkindly, that I’m a businessperson first and a writer second. She’s not implying I’m not a good writer (perish the thought…), just that if I were a “pure” writing animal, I’d probably be writing feature stories or novels. Or would at least have started out that way. Fair enough.
When I discovered this field back in the early 90s after stumbling on Bob Bly’s, Secrets of a Freelance Writer, it was an epiphany. You mean companies actually hire freelance writers to execute many writing projects and pay them far more than typical “freelance writer” rates? Who knew? I’d wanted to be a writer, but wasn’t willing to starve at it. Proof, perhaps of my friend’s gentle charge of “businessperson/writer” not the other way around. Anyone who was a pure writer would relish starving – at least for a few years anyway.
But, not me. I looked at it dispassionately. I enjoyed writing, knew I was good at it, but I didn’t live and breathe it (remember: NO writing background, experience, or paid jobs before I started out). Nonetheless, I had long been on the lookout – perhaps unconsciously – for a way to turn that aptitude into a career. Once I read Bly’s book, I was hooked. This was how I was going to do it.
I know many of you have heard this story before, but the point here is this: Right out of the gate, and with zero starving-writer experience under my belt, I looked at this field as a true pay-all-the-bills career. It wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t a lark. It wasn’t a supplement to other less-lucrative writing. It was my profession.
As a result, from day one, it wasn’t playtime. It was serious. And I think that’s made all the difference in how it’s turned out. But, that was MY path. There’s not a thing wrong with coming at it any other way, but I say the initial foundational perception of your business may have a lot to do with its outcome.
Many who come to this field were writers first, and came to this field as a way to make more money, crafting a mix of both jobs. I’d never say they’re not as serious as I am, but am curious as to their perceptions of how it unfolded for them.
I’m not 100% sure of the point I’m trying to make here, but my gut tells me it’s a good conversation-starter… 😉
How did you come to this field, as a businessperson/writer or a writer/businessperson?
If the former, what impact did that initial perception have on your ultimate success?
If it was writer first, and you’re successfully established now, was there a point at which it became more serious?
And what advice would you give other “pure writers” about making this a serious career instead of just a series of jobs?