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?
Okay, so I’m not on Twitter yet but, against the odds, I’ve become intrigued. And I’m intrigued because I’ve decided to look beyond the silly, pointless “sharing-of-random-neural-firings” use of it that you often hear first about it (i.e., all the stuff that no one with anything even resembling a life would give a rat’s heiney about).
But those things sort of miss the point. And the smart marketers realize that. Think about when the telephone was first invented. Imagine if the first publicized uses of were, say, as a doorstop or a paperweight. I know, stupid, but that’s a bit like the way Twitter felt when it first debuted. But that’s changing, and we’re only starting to REALLY see the potential of this baby.
In the past few weeks, I’ve come across some very interesting stories involving Twitter. I shared one in an email last week (in publicizing the Social Media Success Summit 2009) about a fellow writer who, because of her familiarity with Twitter, was likely to be chosen by a Fortune 100 giant rolling out a new product, to cover the event, including Twittering about it daily for three weeks.
What started out as a $5K “maybe” just gelled last week into a $15+K green-lighted project. I have to imagine a company this big isn’t dropping cash like that just to chase a fad. They know that the people they want to reach are on Twitter. And here’s an article about others…
Then, heard from another friend asking advice. Seems a prominent organization at whose high-tech conference he spoke welshed on a deal he had with them, in writing. When he confronted them, both in person and in subsequent emails, their responses – each one nastier and more entrenched than the last – essentially boiled down to “TS. Take a hike.”
Until the day he Twittered offhandedly to his colleagues that he was contemplating “naming names” publicly… Suddenly, they contacted him with a totally different tone. They’re now in negotiations. Love it.
Finally, read about a woman having problems with her DSL. She goes to Twitter (after reading that her ISP had 8 FT employees assigned solely to monitoring Twitter), posts a message, and in one minute flat, she gets a Tweet back from the ISP. They assign a tech to her, who tells her that complaints they get through Twitter go right to the top and that he’ll stay on it till it’s solved. And he does.
As I see it, with Twitter, the operative question is this:
What’s the power and potential of a tool that almost organically connects many thousands of people to a point where, ultimately, little can happen in one place without the whole eventually knowing about it?
Ponder that. Viewed through that lens, it’s actually a pretty fascinating phenomenon. In the short term, it’s shaping up as a wonderful tool to ensure transparency, to keep entities honest and ethical where they once could behave badly, and with impunity. And given the short-and-sweet 140-character nature of the medium, it’s also becoming a way for companies and individuals, if they can master the effective writing side of it (are your ears perking up?), to relatively quickly influence opinions, trends, buying habits and who knows what else?
What are your thoughts on this?
Stretching your imagination, what do you think Twitter’s impact could ultimately be?
Any good Twitter stories?
How can we, as commercial freelancers, capitalize on this intriguing tool?
By the way, check out the Social Media Success Summit 2009. Enrollment has topped 730 so far! And until May 25th, you’ll save $100 off the $497 price – pretty darn reasonable for 11 sessions of quality content, nearly $400 worth of bonuses, access to recording/transcripts of ALL sessions, and interactive forum before, during and after the event. Details here.
Good friend Michael Stelzner just released a killer report (and free, tool!) on social media, compiled from the input of some 900 folks. Entitled Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses, it’s available for download here.
Among the key findings?
Marketers are mostly new to social media: A significant 88% of marketers
surveyed are using social media to market their businesses, BUT 72% have only
been doing so for a few months or less.
How much time does this take? A significant 64% of marketers are using social
media for 5 hours or more each week and 39% for 10 or more hours weekly.
The top benefit of social media marketing: The number-one advantage is
generating exposure for the business, indicated 81% of all marketers, followed
by increasing traffic and building new business partnerships.
The top social media tools: Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn and Facebook were the top
four social media tools used by marketers, in that order.
Now, I haven’t made much of a secret out of the fact that I’m not big on social media right now for my commercial freelancing business. And judging from the first finding above, I’m not that far behind most folks. I’m guessing I’ll get on the bandwagon at some point, but it’s the second finding above that has me push back: The Timesuck.
I already spend enough time sitting in front of my computer; last thing I want to do is spend another hour+ a day (at the least) doing just that, and for what appears to be an as-yet undetermined payoff. My goal is to enjoy REAL life more, not just get better at the virtual one.
But, hey, I realize that’s possibly a short-sighted point of view, and there are no doubt ways for commercial copywriters like us to get maximum benefit from minimal effort (yup, guess that makes me a typical lazy card-carrying member of the human race). I figure I’ll wait till the rest of the world sorts it out rather than be part of the beta-test group.
I also realize that it IS working for many people, so I’d love to hear from you commercial freelancers about how you’re using it to build your businesses.
Are you active in social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo)?
If so, which are you using, and what’s been your experience?
Most importantly, has it brought you more business in some specific, measurable ways? Or in less obvious, but still promising ways?