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How to Launch a Lucrative Career as an SEO Freelancer
- The Current State of SEO Freelancing
- Deciding Which SEO Services to Offer
- Building your SEO Portfolio (and Confidence)
- The Biggest Challenge: Finding Leads for Your SEO Freelancing Business
- Cold-Pitching Strategies for SEO Freelancers
The Current State of SEO Freelancing
SEO freelancers have been around as long as SEO itself—there have always been writers, developers, and specialists lending their skills to businesses that understand SEO's impact. However, the industry itself has grown and changed a lot, and the way freelancers work within SEO has changed radically as well.
In some ways, the industry holds more potential than ever before. More and more businesses are harnessing search as part of their marketing strategy, and there is still a lot of demand for talented SEO folks who can create high-quality deliverables.
But in some ways, the field has gotten more competitive. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of layoffs in the tech industry in 2023, there are a lot more freelancers in the game.
But despite all of these changes, SEO freelancing is still a lucrative career for many. Websites rely on organic traffic to sell their products and services, and even with the help of the most sophisticated AI tools, they need skilled SEO specialists to conceive and achieve their strategies.
If you already have SEO skills, the trick is learning how to use them to make good money as a freelancer, which is what we’ll cover in the rest of this article.
Deciding Which SEO Services to Offer
Search Engine Optimization is an umbrella term that covers a variety of services. To build a successful freelancing career in SEO, you need to be crystal clear about which services you do (and don’t) offer.
Some specialists focus solely on one area, while others offer multiple services. The key is to identify the services that align with your skill set, interests, and target audience’s needs.
Technical SEO involves optimizing the backend structure and foundation of a website. Some freelancers offer only the auditing part of this process—they will review a website and provide a clear diagnosis of what technical issues are preventing SEO success.
If you have web development or coding skills or experience with website platforms like WordPress, you can take this service a step further (and earn even more money) by fixing technical issues to help a client improve site performance. If not, you may want to have some trustworthy developers you can work with, either through whitelabeling or a referral model.
Modern SEO tools have many options to dive deeper into technical aspects just inside the interface, for example, inside the Serpstat Audit with an explanation of each issue.
Either way, skills like understanding server responses, optimizing site speed, and implementing structured data are essential. If you have an analytical mindset and enjoy problem-solving, this can be a fulfilling path to explore.
SEO Content Creation
If you already have experience as a freelance writer, learning how to optimize your words for search engines is a great way to add value to your existing offering.
There is a lot that goes into optimizing content. Aside from creating high-quality, well-written content (which you’re already doing), you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of how to perform keyword research and how to strategically integrate keywords and phrases into your content.
Beyond that, SEO requires you to create a navigable structure for your content, optimize metadata, and add in diverse forms of content (like imagery, video, audio, etc.)
You can get a SEO content writing checklist right here.
Backlinking and Off-Page SEO
Off-Page SEO primarily focuses on building a strong backlink profile for your client's website. This area of SEO is challenging, as you’ll need both strong content-writing skills, and some good networking and relationship-building techniques to land backlinks on reputable, powerful websites.
Note that many people offer this service in a spammy, disingenuous way. For this reason, it can be a bigger uphill battle to position yourself as a legitimate backlink builder.
If you're persuasive and enjoy the outreach aspect of SEO, this could be a rewarding specialization.
SEO Strategy and Consulting
For those who enjoy looking at the big picture, SEO strategy and consulting offer a chance to guide a business's SEO efforts from a higher vantage point.
Again, you’ll need strong keyword research and strategy skills, but you’ll also need to do things like prepare competitor analyses, perform audience research, plan content, measure and report on SEO performance, and answer client questions on the fly.
It also helps to have technical auditing skills, and if you add writing skills to your suite of services, you’ll be able to not only build strategies but execute them as well.
Good communication skills are essential, as you'll be translating complex technical information into actionable insights for clients. Strong analytical abilities and a strategic mindset will serve you well in this role.
Unlike some of the other services on this list, SEO strategy and consulting is a long-term service, often sold within a retainer agreement.
Building your SEO Portfolio (and Confidence)
Many of the biggest issues that hold people back from SEO freelancing all fall under the “confidence” umbrella.
You may feel you don’t have enough experience to offer your services to business. Or you may feel underequipped to answer the tricky SEO questions that are bound to come up when working with clients.
Or perhaps you are struggling to convert leads into paying clients because you have a thin portfolio that doesn’t showcase much SEO work.
So, how do you go about building up your confidence, experience, and portfolio? There are several ways you can boost all of these things at once.
Courses and Mentorship
There are plenty of SEO courses that can help you learn the fundamentals and brush up on specific skills. Some courses, like the SEO Bridge Builders Program, are designed to not only help you improve SEO skills but also lay the foundation for your own freelance SEO offering, including giving you practical experience along the way so that you graduate with more capability, confidence, and examples of real work. The same idea is implemented in Serpstat SEO Academy for beginners.
Similarly, working one-on-one with an SEO mentor can help you develop skills and create optimized blogs or example strategies under the guidance of someone who can help you fine-tune it until it’s ready to show to leads.
Running Your Own SEO Experiment
Your personal website isn't just a portfolio; it's your playground and your laboratory.
You can use your site to test SEO strategies and create blog posts targeting specific keywords. Implement what you’ve learned about SEO to get a few of your blogs to rank, and keep track of your site metrics as they improve.
Not only will this give your website more visibility in online searches, but you can use the metrics from your site to show clients you know what you’re doing. In other words, make yourself a case study!
Networking with Other Freelancers
One of the best ways to get more experience as an SEO freelancer is to collaborate with folks in the same field. You can connect with other SEO freelancers on any social media platform or in groups on Slack, Discord, or Reddit.
As you introduce yourself to other SEO freelancers, ask them what they’re working on, sign up for their newsletters, study their blogs, and take notes on anything you learn from them.
Eventually, when you’ve developed a relationship with an SEO freelancer, you can offer to work with them on a project, either for a small fee or just to gain experience.
This way, you can get your hands dirty doing SEO work while having the support and guidance of someone who has done that. Eventually, you’ll be able to use the work you perform with them as the first examples in your portfolio.
Offering Low-Cost or Free Work
Your ultimate goal will be to increase your rates and earn more by offering SEO as part of your freelance services. It’s natural for your rates to start lower than average, so you can get some experience and use it to build up your portfolio and steadily increase how much you charge.
Ideally, you shouldn’t have to offer work for free — though one option is to provide pro-bono services to companies or nonprofits you admire and want to support.
Alternatively, you can pitch yourself transparently: Let potential leads know you are building up your SEO portfolio and, therefore, offering services at a lower rate in exchange for positive (and truthful) testimonials and case studies.
Being transparent in this way also allows you to raise your rates without shocking (and losing) a client you’ve earned. If you are successful with your first few low-cost projects, you can suggest increasing your rates since you’ve shown them you know what you’re doing.
The Biggest Challenge: Finding Leads for Your SEO Freelancing Business
Finding viable leads is a universal challenge for freelancers — those who work in SEO are no different.
Even once you have work in your portfolio you can show off, you can’t expect SEO clients to show up on your doorstep (at least not yet). Having a robust marketing strategy in place to get yourself in front of the right people is essential for your long-term success.
Check out the Freelancer’s Lead Generation Guide for more in-depth marketing strategies.
Creating a Homebase for Your Business
Before you can begin marketing yourself, you need a singular, welcoming place where you drive all potential leads who want more information about you and your services.
For many people, this will be a website. For SEO specialists, having a website demonstrates you know how to create and manage a well-organized and search-optimized site.
However, websites aren’t the only option you have. You can use LinkedIn or X as “home bases” either in conjunction with a website or as a placeholder for a professional website.
Whatever space you choose, you’ll need to ensure it is user-friendly and clearly explains exactly what you do in terms that showcase the benefits and results clients can expect. You should also use this as a space to demonstrate your expertise, whether that’s through frequent high-quality social posts or well-written SEO blogs.
Remember that your digital home base is a “forever project.” You will always be making tweaks and improvements, so don’t put off setting your website live or optimizing your LinkedIn profile until it’s “perfect.” It will never be 100% perfect, and no one will hold it against you if you change your website or social profiles over time. Get it to “good enough” and set it live!
Showing your expertise on social media
Perhaps the easiest and most obvious place to promote your new SEO skills is on social media. While LinkedIn remains one of the most popular places for SEO specialists to find clients, X, YouTube, and TikTok are also welcoming spaces for you to demonstrate your expertise to the world.
Bear in mind that every social media platform has its own (often mysterious) algorithms, and you’ll need to research these to determine what activities will make the biggest impact. For example, how often do you need to post to increase views, and what kinds of interactions help boost your reach?
No matter what platforms you choose, remember that you can and should repurpose the content you create to get the most bang for your buck. For example, if you create training videos on YouTube, why not cut up the videos for shorter TikTok posts or turn the transcript into a long-form blog for your website?
Leveraging Сlients in Online Communities
As mentioned above, online communities on Slack, Discord, Reddit, and virtually every other social media platform are great places to meet and learn from other freelancers. But they can also be good places for you to find new leads.
By connecting with more freelancers in adjacent fields (like web development, coding, graphic design, etc.), you can start building a referral network, with more and more people sending you leads when they come across someone who needs SEO help.
The key to success is being friendly, helpful, interactive, and only lightly promotional. If you come in selling your services too hard, you may get banned from certain groups (or at least ignored).
Instead, answer people’s questions, ask your questions, and watch channels specifically dedicated to finding leads. Many Slack groups, for example, have “Job Opportunities” channels to prevent the more conversational channels from being overrun by work requests.
The more time you spend making yourself known in different groups, the sooner you’ll have new leads to pursue.
Partnerships, Guest Posts, and Podcast Hosting
Want to expand your name recognition and reach new audiences? One of the fastest ways to do just that is by partnering with individuals and businesses that have larger audiences that overlap with your own.
Guest posting on blogs, appearing on podcasts, leading webinars, or finding other ways to team up with established businesses can massively increase the number of people who know about you and, in turn, come to you when they need SEO services. One of the best tools for finding partnerships like this is Apollo.io, which lets you quickly find contact details for people on different websites or platforms.
But the real key to success is how you pitch yourself. People who run these kinds of partnerships get lots of pitches every day, so don’t expect a cut-and-paste email to get a response. Instead, spend your time researching before you make contact, and craft a customized email that shows you know and respect their brand and that you have something to offer.
For example, listen to a few podcast episodes before pitching yourself as a guest on a podcast. In your outreach email, mention one or two specific things you learned, and outline a few topics you could cover that you know they haven’t discussed yet on their show. This kind of thoughtful outreach is going to get you much better responses compared to a cut-and-paste email blast.
So far, all of the lead generation tactics on this list have involved using other platforms (social media or those used by other influencers) to build your audience and find more client opportunities.
If you want a channel you can control and one with more longevity, consider setting up a newsletter. This is a slow-burn method, as it takes time to build an email following and even longer to turn those readers into clients.
But if you are already creating content for your marketing, then repurposing that content into a weekly or monthly newsletter can help you build a name for yourself and get more business.
To get started, you’ll want to create a few valuable SEO-related assets so enticing people will happily give you their email address in exchange for the download. On top of that, promote your email list on any other medium you use for marketing — put it at the top of your blogs, make pop-ups on your website, and share links to your sign-up form on social media.
As your list grows, you can develop sequences that encourage people to sign up for your services so that much of your marketing runs on auto-pilot.
Cold-Pitching Strategies for SEO Freelancers
The lead-generation strategies mentioned above are good for generating warm leads — but they take time before they’ll start producing quality opportunities.
If you need a faster solution, cold-pitching may be your best option. This would involve using your internet search skills (including Apollo.io or just simple Google searches) to find potential leads and then contacting them via email or social media.
You can make the process a bit easier by warming up the relationship before you make a pitch. For example, if you find a target you’re interested in, spend time interacting with them on social media by commenting and resharing their posts until it feels more natural to reach out and introduce yourself.
When it comes time to make a pitch, making it unique and thoughtful is the name of the game. Though it may take longer, spending time researching before you reach out can make all the difference.
For example, if you’re reaching out to a business suggesting you take them on for SEO, try sending them a list of keywords their competitors are ranking for, but they aren’t. Suggest that you could help them improve their rankings and gain on their competitors, and you’ll not only show them you’ve done your homework, but also make them an enticing offer right out of the gate.
Navigating the world of SEO freelancing isn’t a walk in the park, but it can be incredibly rewarding if you put in the time and effort.
Start by identifying the areas of SEO you want to focus on, and then set about brushing up your skills, building up your experience, and developing a marketing strategy that brings attention to your name.
You can turn your SEO knowledge into a long-term, high-income freelance career with time, patience, and perseverance.
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