Tag Archives: Seo

Podcast Episode 6: Offsite SEO for Freelance Writers – Attracting Backlinks and Collaborations by Being Brilliant

In the last episode of the freelance writing podcast, we talked about what you could do on your website to improve your SEO, and in today’s we are talking about the things freelancers can do to attract backlinks and improve off-site SEO.

Listen, enjoy, and let us know what you think!

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For accessibility reasons, and just because some people prefer to read, we have provided a transcript below

Philippa: Hello and welcome to episode six of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, where two freelance writers talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful freelance writing. You can find us one the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and from there you can find all the links you need to subscribe, whether by RSS, iTunes or Stitcher Smart Radio. You can also find a link to our Facebook page for the podcast and also our individual websites, social media links and that sort of thing.

My name is Philippa Willitts and I’m here with my co-host Lorrie Hartshorn. In episode five, we started to talk about SEO – or search engine optimisation. We discussed some of the ways you can improve where your website appears in the search engine results by what is called ‘on-site SEO’, which is things you can do with your website itself to help you rank well.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about off-site SEO: all the other things you can do to help your website rise up the search engines.

Lorrie: So, we’ve talked a little bit about on-site SEO, which is what you can do on your website to help improve your search engine optimisation. However, there’s a lot you can do off your website as well – so, off-site SEO – to help improve things further.

Backlinks

Backlinks (Photo credit: ivanpw)

Philippa: Absolutely. Now, off-site SEO is predominantly focused on back-links that is, links from other sites to your website. When Google, or the other search engines, are making decisions about where different websites should rank in their search results, one of the things they actually look at is how many other websites link to them. Because, if many top quality websites link to your site, Google considers that your site must be a respected authority, and ranks you more highly. In theory!

Because, historically, this fact has been abused and websites gained rankings by getting really spammy links from spamming blog comments, forum profiles and low quality article directories. And so, spammy sites that were getting a lot of these spammy links were ranking better than good quality sites that just had a few incoming links.

So, as a result, and continuing with their ‘animals beginning with ‘P’’ updates, this year, Google introduced the Google Penguin update, and this actually started assessing the quality of the backlinks to a website, rather than just counting the number of backlinks. Sites with lots of spammy backlinks are now being penalised, and there are desperate SEOs going round emailing other sites and begging them to remove the links to their sites.

Lorrie: Yeah, I’m not surprised. Because it was getting to the point where the most highly ranked sites were spam directories – just lists and lists of links. You can understand Google’s perspective. It’s completely irrelevant and if people go on to Google and that’s all they can find, it’s no good for anybody.

Philippa: Yeah. Because, from Google’s point of view, if someone searches with them and gets rubbish results, they’ll go to another search engine. So, it’s in Google’s interests to make search results work for people who are doing the searching because it is annoying when you search for something and you just get spam.

Lorrie: And this is really what we’re saying – it’s in everyone’s favour for you to work with Google. There are plenty of guidelines out there on what you can do to be a decent website owner.
In terms of actually developing quality backlinks, you can actually combine this with another aspect of successful freelance working, that I believe Pip and I have referenced at least obliquely in previous episodes, which is the creation of ‘colleagues’. And I’m saying ‘colleagues’ with giant air quotes around it because, as a freelancer, you don’t have colleagues. You’re not in an office. However, the work can be very isolating, so it’s in your interest to create a network of people you can talk to and share ideas with, as Pip and I have done – we’ve become very close.

Now, as a writer, you’re often asked by clients to recommend other freelancers. When they see you doing a good job, they think “Ah, this person knows what they’re talking about, maybe they’ll know someone who can deliver another service to me.” Now, I’m often asked whether I know a graphic designer, a decent software developer, a good editor etc. and, by building up strong relationships with some of the best individuals you can find in these fields, you can improve your own service offerings and network – so you’ve got people to talk to and people to recommend when clients ask you, but you can also develop a strong backlink network for your website.

And, I think it’s good to be discreet about doing this – although not secretive because that always comes over as sneaky – and to restrict yourself to freelancers whose reputations you trust, but you can actually contact someone and say, “I like what you do, I’m a copywriter/editor, you’re a designer/software developer – my clients are often looking for that kind of thing, how about we recommend one another? Some people have link pages on their website, some people are happy to give you a page of your own on their website. It’s whatever works for the both of you, it’s a collaborative thing.

Philippa: Yeah. For instance, a couple of months ago, I did some work on a client’s website. The client was a web designer and I basically rewrote his site with SEO. And he was so pleased with the work that he said, “In my work as a web designer, I get asked all the time to recommend a copywriter – can I recommend you?” and I was like, “Of course I wouldn’t mind – that would be lovely!” Doing that job was one way of connecting with him. There are other ways, like Lorrie said, but yes – it works for him because he knows he has someone he can trust, it works for me because I get referrals. Everyone benefits, really.

Lorrie: Yes, as Pip said, this is a person she had built up a relationship with him, she’d done a good job for him: that person trusts her judgement and is happy to recommend her. What I would say is that it’s important to restrict yourself, and not to go asking people you have barely any connection with if you can do a mutual link with them. The last thing you want is to spam people and make yourself look desperate for any and all back-links or, which is possibly worse, to affiliate your site with someone whose content or service offering is really, really questionable and could get you blacklisted – either by clients, who think “What are you doing with this person?” or by Google, because there’s something dodgy on that website?

Philippa: Yes. This is slightly off-topic but it’s just reminded me of a slightly strange situation I had a few weeks ago…

Lorrie: Why does this always happen to you?

Philippa: I don’t know, but it always does! I followed a copywriter on Twitter and then, a few hours later, she followed me back. She then sent me a tweet saying something like, “Hi, good to make a connection with you. I’ve got lots of excess work on at the moment, would you be interested in taking some of it on?” So, I said, “Sure, yeah, email me.” And then, I thought, “How strange – she’s literally just followed me on Twitter ten minutes earlier, and she’s offering to pass work over to me. She doesn’t know anything about me – she doesn’t know if I’m any good by that stage – we’d literally just made contact.”

And so, then, I thought, “Is this a good idea from my point of view?” It’s certainly not a good idea from her point of view – I mean, I would have done a good job, but she didn’t know that.

Lorrie: Oh, I don’t know – you’re pretty terrible!

Philippa: Hahahaha! Oof, you’re mean!

Lorrie: It’s true. How strange, though. Do you think she was taking a cut? Do you think she was trying to pass on work and then…

Philippa: That’s the thing. And then I started thinking that, just from that one connection, my impression is that she must be quite flakey. And so then I thought, “If she’s willing to pass work over to someone she doesn’t know, then this perhaps isn’t someone I want to associate myself with professionally because…how much respect does she have for the work she’s giving in?

Lorrie: Yes, on face value it looks great: “Do you want to take some work off my hands?” – yes absolutely, it’s all work. But as you say, she doesn’t know you from Eve.

Philippa: Yes, and that kind of attitude to her work, I didn’t want reflecting on me in the end. As it was, she never got in touch after that, which I was quite relieved about. But yes, it was strange, and that was an example, I think of trying to establish a relationship in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

Lorrie: It’s like walking up to someone in the bar and just kissing them. Like, “Hello, never met you…snog, snog!”

Philippa: Haha, or just saying, “We need a secretary from Monday – do you fancy it?”

Lorrie: Hahaha! That’s probably a better analogy than my “snog snog” analogy, although I stand by it.

Philippa: Yes, absolutely!

Lorrie: Of course I do. Once I’ve committed to an analogy or a tangent, I’ll go with it to the end. But yes, how strange that she’s got such a casual attitude to freelance work when you absolutely wouldn’t do that with a salaried position.

Another way to establish decent backlinks to your website is to get links from directories, although it’s important to research those directories to make sure that they’re reputable.

Philippa: Yes, there are hundreds if not thousands of article directories on the internet but, nowadays, there’s only a handful, really, that are worth bothering with. Many people think that one called ezinearticles is the only one worth bothering with, but there’s also GoArticles and a couple of others that are reasonably highly regarded. Most aren’t.Ezinearticles have got stricter recently about the articles they accept in a bid to make it worth publishing to.

The way that they’re supposed to work is that you publish an article to their site, and it has a section called the resource box where you can add your links to your site. Now, the way it works is that anybody has the right to republish your article, as long as you’re credited and the resource box is included. In theory, this can increase your backlink total as more and more people republish it if it’s a good article, and your resource box appears at the bottom. In practice, people often do break the rules and publish it without the resource box, and there is also the risk that the sites which are republishing them are low quality and this will have a negative effect on your SEO.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s something you’ve really got to be careful about. What I was actually thinking about when I mentioned directories was service directories, as well as article directories.

Philippa: Ah, of course.

Lorrie: Again, if you find a reputable service directory, say, for the town you live in or the services you offer, it can be worth linking to yourself from there. One website that we’ve mentioned a few times, and not always in the most flattering terms, so I suppose I’m eating my hat a little bit here, is LinkedIn. And, in a way, this acts in a similar way to a service directory in the sense that you can list your services on there in the form of an online CV. And, as long as you keyword it up and add in lots of specialisms, it can act as a really useful way of showing people what you can offer.

On LinkedIn, it’s possible to add your website to your personal profile. You get about three or four boxes you can put links in – mine have my professional website, my Twitter, my Facebook and our Podomatic page. LinkedIn registers these as links but instead of displaying anything useful, it just puts “Twitter”, “Facebook” or “Website”, which is no good, because if someone searches for the word ‘website’, you’re not going to rank.

What some people don’t realise, though, is that links from LinkedIn are quite valuable, and that they do count as backlinks to your website. And LinkedIn is a huge website, it gets a lot of traffic, which can be really useful to you. Now, one way to capitalise on this is to use one of the boxes…and there’s an option to click on the drop down box and register this link as ‘other’ rather than “website” or “Twitter” or “Facebook”. And then, instead of entering the name of your website, you can enter a key search term, such as “SEO Copywriting”. This way, you’re creating a link from a really high profile site that features an important keyword for your own website.

Philippa: That’s a really good idea! Twitter profiles, as well, can also be a useful way to get a backlink to your site, as can Facebook Pages, Google Plus profiles and Pinterest accounts – anything like that, really.

Another good way to get backlinks to your site, as well as building relationships with other website owners, is to publish a guest blog post on somebody else’s site. If you feel you’ve got something valuable to offer a website, contact site owners. Now, really only do this if you think you have something valuable to offer them! Do not do guest posts purely for the links, the site owners know and they don’t want to be used in that way. Do it because you have something of value to say, and to give, and consider the backlink to your site to be an added bonus, really.

I’ve written a few guest posts for some reasonably prominent freelance writing blogs, and it was a great experience to work with the women that run the blogs was great, I got lots of really positive feedback about my posts and, also, I do get a fair amount of traffic from the links at the bottom of those posts, so as well as providing good content for them, I do get a nice bonus of backlinks and traffic too.

Lorrie: Absolutely. I think you make a really good point about the fact that it has to be quality content. It’s amazing how many people seem to forget that when it comes to online activity. If you’re a professional writer and you’re writing rubbish, it doesn’t look good! I really can’t stress this enough.

Philippa: Hahaha! It doesn’t help your business!

Lorrie: No! If you contact a website owner and say, “I’ve got a really good article and it’s about four lines, and it’s about how night follows day” or some other unexciting topic that everyone knows about, you’re going to look stupid. Even if they do publish it, you’re going to look an absolute fool.

But, if you do it well, I really do think the benefits are two-fold: you don’t just get the direct clicks from the website, as Pip says – that’s people come and have a look at who you are and what you offer – but it does also help you to build up a store of reputable results for your name. I get a lot of people saying to me, “I Googled you.” Or, if they’ve spotted me on Twitter and they want to know a bit more about me without asking me…because people are always scared that I’m going to correct their grammar! People say, “Ooh, I didn’t want to talk to you because I was scared you’d correct my tweet” – because that’s how I get my kicks, apparently! Haha! But yes, if the Google results are linked to informative, worthwhile, engaging content, and then your website’s at the bottom, you’re upping the chances of your newest potential client being exposed to your work – and your good reputation, and then your website. If you’ve got your “contact me” page on there, it’s in the bag.

Philippa: Absolutely, and you start to get established as an authority in your area, which is so valuable for your business, especially online based businesses.

Lorrie: In terms of building up your reputation as a bit of an expert in your field, it’s good to embrace your own strengths and skills from time-to-time. As we’ve said before, we Brits are pretty bad at doing this – we sort of hide in the corner and say, “Yes, well I suppose it was alright really! I suppose that, yes, it was rather well done!”, but it’s alright to shout about your achievements now and again.

A good way of doing this is to announce them officially via a well-written press release. A lot of people don’t think about press releases. I suppose I do because a lot of my clients want them…

Philippa: Yeah, it’s interesting because press releases are things I write for other people but it never occurred to me that I could write a press release about my own business. But it’s absolutely right.

Lorrie: It’s true. Like anything else, there are a couple of guidelines. Firstly, and this taps into what we’ve said about online articles and guest posts and things, you need to make sure you actually have something to talk about. “Freelancer gets up at 8am” is not press release worthy!

Philippa: Hahaha! Although it might feel like it if you do!

Lorrie: It certainly does! I was thinking, “No, no, 8am’s not too early!” but it really is! Haha! Yes, so you need to make sure the people and organisations you send your press releases to are actually a relevant target for it. Depending on what the subject is, you might decide to tell the local press, in which case it’s time for a bit of easy research on Google. Alternatively, you might send it to a database of followers – people whose contact details you’ve got from your website, so clients, corporate partners, suppliers, colleagues. And you can send your news to them in the form of an e-bulletin – if they’ve opted in to receiving correspondence from you.

Philippa: If and only if!

Lorrie: That’s for people you know – if it’s for the press, by all means send them what you want, just don’t do it too often because they’ll just block your email address.

If you do decide to head down the route of delivering a press release to people, I really can’t…honestly, this is my phrase of the podcast, I think, I cannot stress this enough – or over-enunciate it enough either! – learn how to write a press release first! Now, I can almost see Pip wincing but press releases…it’s amazing how wrong people get them.

Philippa: It is. They are a very…what’s the word? They have such a strict format and, for whatever reason, while the format of other things might be more relaxed or changeable, a press release has a set format that you have to adhere to. It’s just how they are. You just have to.

Lorrie: I wrote a press release once for a client and, I’ll admit it, they said, “I don’t like it – I’m going to do my own!” And I thought, “OK…fine…”. And they forwarded it to me along with about 100-150 other people. They forgot to BCC everybody, so everyone got everyone else’s email address, which is a legal issue in itself. But the press release had pictures embedded in the text, bubble font at the top, no date on it – it was just immensely awful.

Philippa: I actually have a list of instructions for myself for press releases, just because there are so many little bits that have to be included. So, just to remind myself that you have either an embargo date or ‘for immediate release’ written at the top. And, all those little points that it’s easy to forget and that you must not forget – so yeah, I actually have instructions for myself to make sure I don’t miss any of the formatting out.

Lorrie: Exactly – because if you’re a member of the press, you get hundreds and hundreds of press releases

Philippa: Even if you’re a blogger – I can speak from experience – we get press releases all the time.

Lorrie: I bet you can spot immediately which are well written and which aren’t.

Philippa: At a glance.

Lorrie: So, a press release isn’t just any old bit of writing – it’s a serious piece of work, and an official announcement. So if you muck it up, you’re not really announcing your news, you’re just announcing to the world that you’re completely inept. So be warned! It can be a great thing to do to drive traffic to your website. If other publications, like local press, pick it up, it can end up on their websites. Backlinks are great, but if you get it wrong, God help you.

Philippa: Yeah. Another way – and probably the best way, actually – to get good quality backlinks is to stop thinking about “How can I get backlinks” and gaming the system, and instead, publish content that is so awesomely brilliant that other websites just can’t help themselves and link to you because it’s so good. Like with on-site SEO, if you concentrate on providing brilliant information that’s presented in an interesting way, others who love it will link back naturally.

Lorrie: Completely. As we’ve previously mentioned on this podcast, perhaps Episodes 1 and 2, it’s important to go with marketing methods that suit you. Like we’ve said before, don’t get yourself on Facebook if you’re never going to use it, and don’t start tweeting if you’re going to stop again three days later. The same thing can be applied to creating back-links to your website: external sites like YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr…they’re all a great way to create back-links to your site – I know that you, Pip, use Pinterest…

Philippa: I do!

Lorrie: I don’t – I hate Pinterest! I use Tumblr to create backlinks to my creative writing blog, for example

Philippa: Yes, I noticed that the other day – Tumblr’s a really effective way.

Lorrie: So these are all a brilliant way of creating backlinks to your website if – and this underlines a point we’ve made already – you’re actually posting some quality content. If you’re using YouTube, for example, don’t upload crap. Don’t upload junk videos to YouTube and expect relevant traffic to come flooding over to your website.

Equally, as I’m sure Pip can testify, if you get on Pinterest but post nothing of interest, you’re not putting the interest in Pinterest, or working the system properly. You’re just wasting everyone’s time, mostly your own. So, as Philippa says, forget about working the system, and do something that you enjoy and can stick to. That way, it’s sustainable, and it’s far likelier to have better results.

Social Media Mess

Social Media Mess (Photo credit: KEXINO)

Philippa: Yes, I really like Pinterest. I mainly use it in a personal way – I pin recipes I like the look of, and cartoons that I like, but I do have a writing board and a social media board, where I post relevant. I get a good number of clicks through from those but, if you’re like Lorrie and you hate it, don’t force yourself to do it just to get some clicks – value your time more than that.

Lorrie: I suppose I’m a bit harsh saying I hate Pinterest…

Philippa: Well, no, we’ve all got our preferences and that’s fine!

Lorrie: I like it for about five minutes, then I think, “What am I doing?” It’s not that I don’t know how to use it – I follow people like you and I see what you’re doing – but I think basically, I can’t maintain the interest for long enough.

Philippa: And I think that would show, if you’re really forcing yourself to do it, you probably wouldn’t get good results anyway. The same point applies to this podcast. We started this podcast for many reasons – we wanted to share our knowledge and experience and help other freelance writers, we wanted to promote our work, and so on. But an added benefit of the podcast is that we get backlinks from the podomatic website. We provide the links to our sites primarily so that, if anyone listens and wants to get hold of either of us, via our websites or – more commonly at the moment – our social media accounts, they can do so easily. However we also can’t deny that backlinks from a popular site like podomatic doesn’t do us any harm!

Lorrie: It’s true – and it’s not something to be ashamed of. The point is, we spend a good amount of time every week planning what we’re going to cover, thinking of topics, researching, asking people what they’d like us to cover. We take our time thinking about it, having a good old chat and, hopefully, covering some really good topics. We’re not publishing junk.

Philippa: There was a phase a couple of years ago where, in order to get backlinks, people would get some awful text to voice reader to read their blog posts out in some robot voice and then publish them as podcasts. As a podcast fan, it was horrible to see a new podcast post and think, “That looks really good!” and then it would be one of those. Urgh, it was horrible! Thankfully, I’ve not seen too much of that recently, but that’s the kind of thing you don’t want to do.

Lorrie: No, and as you say, we’re only on Episode 5 of this podcast now, but it’s something that’s really had a number of benefits. I know I speak for both of us when I say it’s been a really great way to develop organic discussions across all of our social media. For myself, it’s attracted a lot of people to my website. I’ve made new contacts on Twitter, it’s been really helpful for a number of my professional services – actually the copywriting, editing and proof-reading. If people talk to you, or listen to your podcast and find you helpful, they remember you for it. The same obviously goes for guest posts and blog comments.

Philippa: Yes, it’s been the same for me. I’ve made some really great new contacts and had some amazing feedback about the podcast too – yeah, it’s great!

Lorrie: Yeah, this week has been amazing for feedback, and it’s really given us a good idea of the kinds of topics people would like to see covered so it’s a sustainable thing.

Philippa: We’ve talked before about blog comments as a way to make people aware that you exist. Blog comments are also frequently abused by spammers (as anybody with a blog will know!). Commenting on blogs is not a great SEO tactic on its own. Most links in blog comments tend to be what is called “no-follow” links, which means that the site owner is essentially telling Google in its code that they do not want them to consider this link to be any kind of recommendation. But, that’s not to say they are entirely useless – if you post helpful and useful blog comments, you’re likely to get clicks from them. And then, if people like what they see, you might get a genuine backlink recommendation.

Start to think creatively about how you can attract people to your site, and how you can be so brilliant that they want to link to you from their site. Currently, infographics are currently a very popular way of sharing information

Lorrie: I love them!

Philippa: I do, too, in an unhealthy way!

Lorrie: Haha! It’s true, you do post a lot – but I always click them!

Philippa: I’m obsessed! But yes, people always do click them. And, a little tip here – if you post an infographic on Pinterest, it’s nearly always impossible to read so people always click on the pin to go to the original site. Little tip there!

Lorrie: Ahh, very sneaky!

Philippa: The creator of the infographic usually allows it to be shared on anyone’s blog as long as there is a link back to their original site.

Lorrie: Yeah, it’s not even always an active link, is it? There’s sometimes just a little graphic at the bottom but, again, it’s better than nothing.

This actually might be another place where a good relationship with a graphic designer can come in handy – it’s something I’ve been considering. Collaborating on an infographic of your own can be a great way to get your name out there. There’s a couple of things to think about. If you want to share the glory with the designer who designed it – as I suspect they’d prefer – have a look for someone on Twitter or LinkedIn, then chat to them about a mutually beneficial collaboration. You can add some mutual back-links into the deal – mention them on your website, “Just worked with this amazing designer!”, they can mention you, “Just worked with this amazing writer!” to make it a more positive experience for you both. Alternatively, if you’re a bit of a megalomaniac like Pip…

Philippa: Hahahaha!

Lorrie:…and you prefer to have just your name attributed to that piece of work, get in talks with a designer, get a contract in place – really important – deliver the content and then pay them to design you something really lovely that you can then promote across your social media. It would be worth getting Pinterest for that.

Philippa: Yes, definitely. The thing is to come to arrangement with the designer, as Lorrie says, so you either share the credit for the infographic or, if you come to an agreement with them that you will have ownership of the original design as part of the contract, then the backlinks – and all the glory – can be all yours!

Some other ideas for backlinks: Some people create a powerpoint presentation, or a pdf document with embedded links, on a subject that they specialise in. They then post it on document sharing websites – Scribd is the most common one – and if the document is really useful they can get a lot of clicks from there. Similarly, we mentioned Pinterest earlier. If you’re interested in promoting your site on Pinterest, make sure you use attractive images on your website, which you can then share on Pinterest, and, if other people like them, they’ll repin them, which constitutes another backlink. Really, there’s an endless number of creative ways to gain links to your website.

Lorrie: I think that’s it. Rather than gaming the system and weaselling your way to the top of Google like a sneaky beast, actually just come up with some decent ways of getting natural traffic – attract people, not search engines. Search engine optimisation will follow. A lot of tips on here are about that – it’s just about creating quality content and attracting people in an organic way.

Philippa: Be brilliant! Be as brilliant as you can and, some day, someone will spot your brilliance and share it on Twitter. Then someone will see it and think it’s great and link to it from their site. And then someone who likes their site will follow the link and share it on Facebook. What Google is looking for is that kind of process.

Lorrie: You can’t design a network of links that’s that complex. When something’s picked up naturally across social media, it moves so quickly – you’ll be everywhere. On my personal Twitter account, I get retweeted a lot because I’m quite the rhetorical genius when it comes to be angry – I can get angry and eloquent very quickly when it comes to topics I’m passionate about (politics, feminism, whatever) and it gets you retweeted hundreds of times.

You can apply the same kind of thing to your professional account – I posted something the other day, and it wasn’t mine so I gave credit to the person who created it, and it was a post about how to decide what kind of social media suits you…using bacon! And because it was so strange and weird…Brits love surrealist humour, don’t they? If you want to take a picture of bacon, you should be on Instagram, if you want a bacon recipe, go to Pinterest. I’m eating bacon – that’s Twitter, I like bacon – that’s Facebook. It was really just a good way to explain what the social media feeds do and people like it – it’s a professional account but it’s a bit of light relief for the middle of the day.

Philippa: And whoever created that will be really benefitting from having created something that really clicked with people, and then that you shared and that other people shared via you.

Lorrie: Yes, so be interesting, be funny, preferably be both, and it should work for you.

Philippa: It can be difficult to be so brilliant when you’re describing your services that the content will be shared, you can have a blog attached to your professional site. I have a blog attached to my Philippa Writes site, as well as my Social Media Writer site, actually. So that I can post things of interest that aren’t immediately relevant to ‘The Business’ that need to be on pages of their own. Like, posting episodes of this podcast, for instance.

Lorrie: Yes, I do the same thing – it’s a nice way of attracting traffic, making sure you have regularly updated content on your website and building up a bit of context – people like to know who they’re dealing with. You post something interesting and relevant and a bit witty, they know who they’re dealing with; they know you’re a personable sort of person, if you can say that. It just gives a bit of context – even if it’s not something you wouldn’t give a page over to, it’s still allowing you to update your content regularly, which is great for SEO, and it gives an insight into what you find funny, interesting or amusing. It helps to build you a 3D profile and people like to know who they’re dealing with.

Philippa: Yes, because at the end of the day, people are hiring a human being. There’s a reason there’s no freelance writing software, it’s because they want a person to do it. If you can show a bit of personality, that attracts some people.

Lorrie: I think, as we’ve said, it’s all about being natural.

Philippa: yeah, don’t force it. Don’t send a spun article to 800 directories – you’re fooling no one. Don’t put keyword-stuffed content all over your website. Just be brilliant – that’s my message for the podcast – be as brilliant as you can, and it will work.

Lorrie: True. You’re a freelance writer, so now’s the time to prove you can write quality content.

Philippa: Definitely. So, we’ve covered a lot there about search engine optimisation. We hope it’s been useful. Make a start! Do some of the on-site SEO ideas we’ve given you, and start thinking about some of the things you can do with the rest of your site, your work and your social media profiles to get attention for the right reasons.

Lorrie: So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. As ever, thank you for listening. If you want any more information on either of us, you can go to the bottom of our Podomatic page and all the links are down there. As Pip says, we’ve included some information this week just to make sure you’re not lost with all the new words and phrases we’ve used. Because everyone’s learning, so if there’s anything you don’t understand, it’ll either be at the bottom of the podcast or you can contact one of us on social media. We don’t bite – I don’t correct people’s grammar when they tweet me, I’m pretty nice. If there’s anything you want to discuss, anything you didn’t understand, or an idea or an opinion, let us know.

Philippa: Yep, drop us a tweet, come on our Facebook page! Do it!

Lorrie: Do it. So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa:…and I’ve been Philippa Willitts. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Podcast Episode 5: SEO for Freelance Writers – Attracting the Right Kind of Attention with Onsite SEO

Here is episode 5 of A Little Bird Told Me, the freelance writing podcast. In this episode we discuss on-site SEO, i.e. the things that freelance writers can do on their professional websites to attract the best kind of search engine attention.

Have a listen, and let us know what you think!

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We always try to provide a transcript, to make the podcasts as accessible as possible, so here is the transcript of this episode.

Transcript

Philippa: Hello and welcome to Episode Five of the A Little Bird Told Me podcast, where two freelance writers talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and there you can find all the links you need. You can subscribe to the RSS feed, you can subscribe at iTunes and Stitcher Smart Radio. There’s also a link to our Facebook page. I’m Philippa Willitts…

Lorrie: …and I’m Lorrie Hartshorn, and today we’re going to be talking about how to improve your SEO. So this is SEO for freelance writers, and how to make sure your website’s attracting the right kind of traffic.

Philippa: So keep listening for tonnes and tonnes of information. Before we start, we wanted to mention that we’ve had amazing feedback from the last episode. Looks like talking about being asked to work for free really touched a nerve with a lot of people. And it wasn’t even just writers and editors – we even heard from a professional cake decorator on Twitter who was asked to bake and decorate a cake in return for the ingredients. Like we talked about, she felt her skills were really devalued, just being asked to do that.

Lorrie: Well, you would if someone’s suggesting that years of study and expertise is worth the same as a few eggs and some flour. You’d feel pretty ticked off by that, I’d imagine.

Philippa: Exactly – I’m good at baking cakes but I’m useless at decorating them. It’s really hard!

Lorrie: No, mine always end up an absolute disaster zone, so I generally end up going for the rustic, undecorated cake.

Philippa: Yes, deliberately.

Search Engine Optimisation. Search Engine Opti...

Search Engine Optimisation. Search Engine Optimization (Photo credit: Hobo!)

Lorrie: Of course, yes. Through choice! I’m actually in talks with a number of writers and copywriters at the moment on the subject of working for free and being asked to work for free, so I’m pretty sure that, listeners, this won’t be the last you hear on the subject from us.

Philippa: It will go on and on, because it’s an issue that goes on and on – that’s the thing.

Lorrie: It does go on and on! I was asked, just after recording this, whether I’d be happy to translate 26 pages from French to English on a military skirmish!

Philippa: I saw the tweet – it was horrifying!

Lorrie: In return for gratitude!

Philippa: And then he posted another tweet, saying something sarcastic about, “Oh, it looks like translators are trying to earn some money!” as though that’s a really unreasonable thing for them to want to do.

Lorrie: Yeah, I think his tweet was something along the lines of, “I didn’t realise there were so many cash-strapped translators out there!”

Philippa: That’s it!

Lorrie: I’m not strapped for cash – I just don’t want someone taking the mickey!

Philippa: And then he was really passive-aggressive, like “Oh, I suppose I’ll have to do it myself now…”

Lorrie: “It won’t be very good, but I guess it’s the only way.”

Philippa: You can’t be upset that other people won’t do it if you’re then going to complain that you have to do it.

Lorrie: Well this is it – it’s not even our work, is it? You don’t want to do your own work for free, but you then expect someone else to do it for free – it’s just ludicrous. I listened again to Episode 4, and the number of times I used the words ‘ludicrous’ and ‘ridiculous’ was…well, ridiculous!

Philippa: Both of us are quite bad at ‘definitely’ and ‘absolutely’ as well. We should just pick one at the beginning of each episode.

Lorrie: What, a word to include or a word to ban?

Philippa: A word to include. Every time we agree, we should say, “Indubitably” for the whole episode.

Lorrie: I think I’m going to avoid doing that.

Philippa: Really? You’re no fun.

Lorrie: I know, I’m a drag…anyway, what I was going to say before we went off on one of our now famous tangents, is that, listeners, if you do have a story or opinion you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you. You can find all our contact details at the bottom of the page at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com

Philippa: Do it – we want to hear from you. Now, today we’re going to talk about SEO. SEO stands for search engine optimisation, and whether you’re British or American depends on how you spell it; we spell it with an ‘s’. It describes the things that a website owner can do to help their site to show up in the search engine results. This is increasingly important because, the higher you up in the search engine results, the more clicks you are likely to get for people who search for relevant terms to your business.

Lorrie: That’s right – after all, nobody wants to search for a copy-writer in their area – either their geographical area or their area of expertise, or the subject they want covering – and find you, the perfect person, eight pages down in the search results! They’re not going to look that far down, so you need to make sure you’re easily spotted.

Philippa: Yes, there are statistics that I don’t have my hands on right at the moment, but basically, if you’re number one, you get 60% of the clicks, then #2 and #3 get 20% and 20%. After that, it’s mainly hopeless.

Now, there are two types of SEO – on-site SEO and off-site SEO. So, first of all, we’re going to talk about “on-Site SEO”. This means the things you on your website to help Google and other search engines to understand what your site is about. This includes the content you post and how you post it, and a few other ‘behind the scenes’ things that can be a bit annoying but are definitely worth doing.

Lorrie: That’s right – we’re going to focus on some of the easiest and most effective techniques for SEO in this podcast.

Philippa: Yup.

Lorrie: Because there are people who make a career out of telling you that they have a magic recipe to get your website to the number one spot on Google and keep it there, but at the end of the day, there are about 1,000 things you can try and you’d spend all day at it if you’re not careful. Or, you can end up paying someone a fortune to do it for you.

Philippa: Because, also, there are very reputable SEO companies but lots of really dodgy SEO practices that will not only not help, and will waste your money, but they can actually damage your site’s position in the search engine rankings. So even if you just have an understanding of what’s needed and you still decide to go with an SEO company, you can still question them in relation to what needs doing.

Lorrie: Absolutely.

Philippa: Now, to build a website, there are lots of different content management systems – or CMSs – you can use: WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, that kind of thing. We are both most familiar with WordPress, so this next bit is mainly relevant to that.

If you do use WordPress for your site, there are lots and lots of free plugins available to help you manage your on-site SEO. They will mainly help you to create the right tags and description for every page of your site, so that the search engines have a clear idea of what your intentions are.

My current favourite SEO plugin, and it’s a very well regarded one, is called WordPress SEO by Yoast, which is spelt like ‘toast’ but with a ‘y’. Now, this plug-in is really comprehensive, and it can look a bit intimidating at first but it has instructions are clear to follow. The other bonus with this particular plug-in is, because it covers several areas of SEO, it also avoids the need for having several different plugins all doing different bits of it, because plug-ins can sometimes clash and slow your site down, so the fewer you have, the better, generally. If you use other plugins other than that one, you want to make sure that they will help you to firstly, set meta tags for your posts and pages; secondly create a sitemap and thirdly control how the outbound links from your site – so the links that you place to other places – are perceived by the search engines.

Now, what those things exactly mean would be too complex to go into for this podcast, but in the show notes at the Podomatic page, I will add some links that will explain what all that means. For now, you just need to know that that’s what needs to be done, really.

google_logo

google_logo (Photo credit: keso)

Lorrie: The transcript for this post will be available as well, so you’ll be able to look through it and find exactly what we’ve been talking about.
Philippa: Good point.

Lorrie: As Pip points out, content is one of the most important things to consider when you’re trying to improve the SEO on your website. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not just for SEO purposes that you have a website, it’s so that people can visit, have a look at the services you offer and get in touch with you. So in terms of content, you need to balance search engine optimisation with readability, and a good yardstick for doing this is to ask yourself why you’re writing something.

Now, new, relevant and regularly updated content will help your website’s SEO – it’s undeniable. However, if you’re writing something and you’re thinking to yourself, “There no point to this except for improving my SEO.”, you’re going to risk producing text that’s really reader unfriendly, and that’s going to be copy that’s unusually wordy, horribly long sentences and really unnatural sounding ‘keywords’ like, for example, “Manchester copywriter” stuffed in the middle of a sentence, is unlikely to attract or keep the attention of a potential customer. They’re going to get bored, or confused, or they’ll know what you’re up to and will feel patronised, so it really is important to find a balance.

Philippa: Yeah, I think people underestimate just how obvious it is when someone’s done that. If you get to a website that says, “If you’re looking for a freelance writer in Sheffield, I’m a freelance writer in Sheffield, who can do your freelance writing in Sheffield because I live in Sheffield and I’m a freelance writer!” And yes, it’s full of freelance writer and Sheffield keywords but nobody’s fooled and, for goodness’s sakes, you’re trying to sell yourself as a writer – if nothing else, you want your website to read well.

Lorrie: This is true. So, a few quick ideas on SEO content for your website: it’s a good idea to keep your keyword rich content higher up on your web-pages. So, this has got a couple of benefits – it does make it easier for the relevant parts of your web-page to be picked up by search engines, and – while this isn’t SEO, it’s still a good thing – it does help to maintain reader interest. You’ve got your most relevant content at the top, it’s easy for the reader to find, your whole web-page isn’t stuffed to the gills, you know, you can spread these keywords out a little bit.

Equally, it’s a good idea to include bullet points on your pages rather than horizontal lists. So instead of embedding a list of services in a sentence, like, as Pip said, “I’m a Sheffield copywriter, and I offer copywriter, proof-reading, editing, whatever else…” – rather than popping those in a horizontal list in a sentence, it’s worthwhile including them in bullet points to make those a little bit clearer for your reader and help them get picked up by search engines.

Philippa: Definitely. Headings throughout a piece of text are very useful too. They do help readability because they break the text up, but also, Google looks out for the h2 and h3 html tags that indicate to the browser that these are headings. And, search engines will give more importance to text which has been highlighted with these tags. So get your keywords in that kind of context and that will help.

The title, as well, that you give to blog posts and the pages of your website are very important too. Be clear, in your titles, what the post is about. Basically, help Google to help you!

Lorrie: Absolutely. Don’t sacrifice keywords for…charm, really. Just as I’ve said “Don’t sacrifice readability for keywords.”, it’s important to be practical about it as well. A lot of writers are tempted to be quite literary and witty, but if you’re being witty and wordy and wonderful at the expense of keywords in your headers and titles, you’re going to lose out.

Similarly, include some links in your content, and make sure the anchor text – which are the words your reader can click on, what you’ve highlighted and turned into a link – is actually relevant. So, if you’re wanting to link to a site about graphic design, for example, make sure your link is something specific like “Graphic designer in Manchester” rather than what everybody puts, which is “click here”!

Philippa: Yes. What’s quite funny is that, if you google ‘click here’, the top result is for Adobe Reader for PDF documents, because every time anyone offers a PDF on their site, they say if you don’t have the right software, you can get it if you ‘click here’, and use that as the anchor text.

Lorrie: Haha, that’s brilliant. So, unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious today and you’d like to compete with Adobe on clicking services, and offer your clients the best clicks, do make sure you keep your links relevant. It’s fine to include a few words in your link – it doesn’t have to just be one word; you can link a phrase or short sentence rather than a single word – but make sure it’s not too long.

Philippa: And also, mix it up a bit. Don’t always use “Manchester copywriter” or the same anchor text, because it doesn’t look natural to the search engines and that will make them suspicious. The odd ‘click here’ can actually help with this, making it look more natural. But as Lorrie says, don’t make that your primary anchor text of choice!

Lorrie: True – Pip’s completely right. If you highlight every single instance of ‘Manchester copywriter’ or ‘SEO copywriting’ on your website and turn it into a link, people start to get the impression, even sub-consciously, that you’re a bit of a spammer.

Philippa: Yup, it’s true.

Lorrie: It’s not nice – people don’t enjoy reading if they’re constantly interrupted by the same phrase being highlighted – because linking a word or phrase does highlight it – then, they’re going to lose focus on what you’re trying to sell to them, so just be a little bit careful.

Philippa: Definitely. Another good way to approach your SEO is to ask yourself what people might be searching for if they want your services. So, use that, or a of it that’s perhaps more natural in your headings, titles and meta-tags. So, if someone was trying to find you, what might they search? They might search for “Freelance editor in Scotland” or “web design specialist”. Make sure you get those words in, like Lorrie said, not in the spammy, keyword-stuffing way, but naturally. But do get them in.

Lorrie: Definitely. There are plenty of techniques out there that people will a little bit sneakily try and use to get their site ranked highly by Google. One of these is to fill the site with content that’s searched for regularly (and you can use your imagination as to what this is) and to try and disguise the fact that they’ve used this on the website.

Philippa: Yes, and there are sites you can go to to see what the most searched terms of that day are. It’s “Kim Kardashian” a depressingly high number of times – I don’t even really know who she is – or whatever the news story of the day is. Or, slightly ruder things.

Lorrie: Yes, usually slightly ruder things. I believe that Kim Kardashian has a link to slightly ruder things.

Philippa: That may be part of why, then, yes.

Lorrie: So, if people are wanting to artificially boost the content on their website by including lots of exciting, naughty things that certain people search for, this can either be done by ‘hiding’ the information in the metadata, so, back-stage on your website, or by inserting it in teeny-weeny letters at the bottom of your page. Or, by masking the content against a background by using a font of the same colour, so it’s effectively invisible – so, white text on a white background. This white text might read, “Free porn” or whatever.

I cannot suggest strongly enough that you do not do this. Google and other search engines have algorithms that will pick up on this kind of thing extremely quickly, and your site will end up black-listed. In the meantime, you’ll be attracting all kinds of irrelevant traffic, and possibly dangerous traffic.

Philippa: Yes, because even if you did somehow magically make it on to the front page of Google for people who are searching for Kim Kardashian, what use would that be anyway? People would click your link, see that it wasn’t about Kim Kardashian, and navigate away again. I mean, the chances of that Kim Kardashian fan also having an urgent need for a freelance writer right at that moment is pretty low.

Lorrie: You watch, this time next week, I’ll be blogging for the Kardashians and you will be eating your hat.

Philippa: Will I?

Lorrie: Possibly! YouTube video, actually: Copywriter eats hat.

Philippa: That would get hits, actually. Anyway! Last year, in a bid to get rid of the spammier sites, Google introduced an algorithm update called Google Panda. And what this did was start to reduce the search engine rankings of sites which had low quality content. This might mean badly written content, or content that’s copied or spun from elsewhere, or those sites that, thankfully you don’t see quite as much of nowadays thanks to this, with just one page of very sparse content. On the positive, good quality, original content is rewarded by search engines now more than ever.

Lorrie: Definitely – and as a freelance writer, you have absolutely no excuse. Not from a search engine point of view, and not from your readers’ point of view either. It really is worth just getting some decent content on your website.

Philippa: Absolutely. And another quick point about on-site SEO is internal links. Use internal links – that is, links from one page of your website to another page on your website – use them, use them carefully, don’t overuse them. But say, for instance, on your homepage, as Lorrie said, you’re using bullet points to describe that you offer proof-reading, copywriting and editing. What you’d want to do, for each of those keywords, is link to the relevant page of your site. So, your proof-reading page, for example.

Lorrie: Yes, that’s what I’ve done.

Philippa: Yes, me too. This obviously helps with usability. If someone comes to your site because they want your editing services, and they see a reference to your editing services, they don’t want to have to navigate to the top of the page again to find the link. But it also – going back to the anchor text we mentioned earlier – is useful to get a relevant anchor text with a link. Obviously, internal links don’t count as much from Google’s point of view as external links – as we’ll go on to explain – but they are useful, and use them wisely. Don’t over-use them, as with anything really.

Because SEO is such a complex topic, there’s way too much to cover in just one episode. So, in this episode, we’ve given you plenty of ideas to make a start on helping you with your on-site SEO. Tune in on Friday for Episode 6, in which we’ll discuss off-site SEO, which includes things like getting links to your website from other places, and making a good impression.

Lorrie: So, really hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. As ever, thank you for listening. If you want any more information on either of us, you can go to the bottom of our Podomatic page and all the links are down there. So, I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn…

Philippa: …and I’ve been Philippa Willitts, and thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next time!