SEO for Solopreneurs: Common Mistakes and Practical Tips

SEO. The mere sight and sound of it makes some solopreneurs and small business owners cringe. Yes, we want our ID-10091654websites to be found by search engines. No, we don’t want to spend a gazillion dollars to make that happen. Yes, it’s all very confusing! So what’s a solopreneur or freelancer to do?

I’ve had the opportunity to get some answers to a few solopreneur-focused SEO questions from Ashley Verrill, Market Analyst at Software Advice. I think her insight and practical tips will give you a better understanding of SEO – and a firmer grasp on what elements of SEO are within your control.

In your experience, what do you think the biggest mistake solopreneurs/freelance professionals make with their websites from an SEO perspective?
I would say the biggest mistake I see is people not ensuring that they have the most relevant keywords in the right places in their website architecture — the most important (though not the only) being the Title Tag, H1, and meta description. These will dictate not only how Google, Bing and other search engines rank you; but also your click through rate. SEO is kind of a moving target, so what’s good today, might not be the best next year. So, you should definitely read-up on best practices for these website infrastructure attributes before committing to anything. You also want to make sure that the keywords you choose are not only relevant, but receive the most traffic. Google Adwords can easily help you with both of these things.
Another huge mistake I see is companies falling for these so called “magic link builders.” A lot of these black hat link-building kind of websites that offer free or paid link directories will actually damage you more than they help you. In fact, I would say they won’t help you at all, especially in today’s SEO climate.

What would you say are the top 3 things solopreneurs/freelance professionals can do on their own to improve their SEO?

Like I said, SEO is changing all of the time, and no one really knows “the answer” to cracking the Google algorithm. But there are definitely three things I can say are valuable for any website right now. These would be in addition to making sure all of the pages on your website are optimized for keywords that drive really relevant traffic, avoiding duplicate content, and maintaining the order of your website infrastructure.

One, would be building links from highly-authoritative websites (e.g. big media) and websites that are highly-relevant to your market and industry. These links should be natural (a link in the comment section of an article doesn’t count). The second most valuable thing right now would be website engagement. So ensuring that a healthy proportion of your website visitors stay on site, click to other pages, and interact with things on the page (rather than immediately navigating away). This signals to Google that you are a real business, and you are providing information and services that people actually want. This is where blogs play a big role. Not only do they drive traffic, but they drive visitors that actually stick.

The last factor is social media signals, for a lot of the same reasons as onsite engagement. Every time someone shares something from your website, it’s like a vote to Google for your authority (similar to how they count links, but not in the same way, at least not yet). Again, this is another place where your blog (and other content, e.g. infographics, eBooks, Webinars, etc.) will really determine your success.

We all know that blogging can provide a lot of benefit with regard to SEO, how often do solopreneurs/freelance professionals need to blog for it to have a positive effect?

The frequency is not as important as the content. You can publish 20 blogs a week and never move the needle. You need content that is unique, valuable and relevant to your business. Google wants to see that you are driving relevant people to your website. If you’re just starting out, I would say do some keyword research around your ideal buyer’s biggest pain points, and use those as guides for finding the right topic. You won’t really know what’s successful until you have some data, so you’ll just need to start publishing. Watch your analytics to see which articles and topics get the most visits, shares, and time on page. Continue to write more about the most popular topics and make sure you’re adding to the conversation (not just regurgitating what other people have said).

Is “link building” still a valid way to build up your SEO mojo? What’s the best way to go about it?
Absolutely, but what we are learning is that it’s not about quantity of links as much as quality. The best way to get links is really just turning into good marketing. Create something valuable, promote it to key journalists, get a writeup, and that will organically produce links as other people read and share the article. We’ve had a lot of luck with original research. These are really easy to write about (people love data) and it’s natural to link to us because we are the source of the information.

Social media seems to play a BIG role in SEO. What recommendations can you make to solopreneurs/freelance professionals for optimizing how they use social media to improve their website ranking?
Make sure that you are participating in the the right communities and have relationships with the heavy hitters. Klout is great for finding the most influential people in your industry. Find them, and gather in the same communities they do. Sometimes the best method is to look at who’s doing it best in your community, then mimic everything they do. Also, you need ammunition, so again, really quality content is crucial. You need to give people a reason to follow you, and share your content. Also, return the favor. If someone likes your articles, find another time to go and comment on something they posted (and make sure it’s more than “great article”). You need to prove that you’ve actually read what they posted and have something insightful to say about it.

Ashley Verrill is a Market Analyst at Software Advice, as well the Managing Editor for the Customer Service Investigator blog. Ashley VerrillShe has spent the last seven years reporting and writing business news and strategy features, including articles for GigaOM and CIO.com. Her work has also been cited in myriad publications including Forbes, the New York Times and Inc. Previous to her current roll, she worked for five years as a Web Editor and Reporter for the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. She also spend time in sales management and advertising with an Austin-based startup. She graduated from the University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

You can follow her on Twitter at: @CRMAdvice

Image courtesy of stuart miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Easy Money or Bad Deal? What You Might Put at Risk by Posting Paid Links in your Blog Posts

Last week, I received an email with this message…Links and shadow

Hello and Good Afternoon,

 I represent a client who is interested in purchasing a link advertisement on a new or upcoming post on your website, The Insatiable Solopreneur. I feel as though it is relevant and a great fit for your site! You can be as creative as you like when it comes to relating the link to your readers. Please let me know if this is something that may interest you or if you have further questions. I look forward to your response.

 Thank you in advance.

 

Sounds like easy, passive income for the earning, right? Accepting pay for posting links is legal and apparently not at all uncommon. But with Google’s refinement of its algorithms to identify (and give ranking priority to) quality, relevant content, you might want to weigh the risks and rewards before saying “Yes” to opportunities that cross your path.

Walking the Fine SEO Line

In case you’re approached with a similar opportunity, I’ve found several posts by SEO-savvy folks that share more insight about what might be at stake.

My take away from these is that you can include links for pay in your blog posts, but do so at the risk of your site’s own SEO well-being. The sites that the paid links connect to are apt get a slap from Google if the links are deemed “unnatural” (aka there purely for the sake of improving rankings). And as the publishing site, a particular blog post or your entire site might get also get penalized with lowered rankings on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Penguin 2.0 Forewarning: The Google Perspective on Links by Eric Enge via Search Engine Watch

Google: That Paid Links Thing Goes For Google News Too by Chris Crum via WebProNews

Google Admits To Penalizing the BBC, But Only Granularly by Barry Schwartz via Search Engine Roundtable

Why You Should Fear Paid Links by Dustin Wright via Collective Publishing Company, Inc.

Tossing Credibility to the Curb

As scary as taking an SEO hit because of posting paid links might be, would you want to risk losing credibility with your readers? Your blog readers follow you faithfully because they trust you and find value in what you share. Start adding links to your posts for the sake of money rather than for the benefit of your readers and you’ll shatter your credibility. Unless the links are explicitly related to the content in your posts and add depth and additional information, it really won’t take very long for your followers to figure out that you’re a sellout.

What about you? Have you been approached about publishing links in your posts for pay? Or do you pay to have links to your posts published on other blog sites? I’m always open to alternative points of view and friendly debate, so I welcome you to comment here and share your thoughts!

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Learn First. Blog Second. How to Turn “On the Job” Lessons into Posts that Appeal.

Consistently pinning down blog topics that will provide value to readers presents a challenge to busy solo professionals. Blog keysIn fact, it’s one of the main reasons why many of the solopreneurs and small business owners I know haven’t started to blog.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We think that unless we’ve got something monumental or expertly detailed to share, we won’t be providing anything worth reading. Fortunately, most readers aren’t looking for us to leap over tall buildings and solve all of the world’s – or their businesses’ – problems in a single post. What most are looking for is genuine advice, guidance, and information garnered from walking the walk and lessons learned.

As a solopreneur, does a day go by when you haven’t learned – or realize that you need to learn – something new or something more? Of course not! So, if you’re struggling to come up with compelling topics for your blog, start thinking about…

  • What you’ve learned “on the job” as a small business owner in your industry.
  • What you’re continually learning and the skills you’re developing every single day.
  • What you need to learn to run your business better or provide better services or products.

Keep in mind that you probably won’t need to go into great technical detail (unless your audience is very technically adept), and you don’t have to make your posts all-encompassing to include anything and everything on a topic. The key is to stay on point and inform, educate and even entertain by sharing what you know through your own efforts to learn more and do business better.

So what types of stuff might you focus on?

  • Trends in customer preferences and demand for the types of services or goods you sell.
  • Rules and regulations that affect your industry and their impact on what you sell, how you sell it, and what they mean to the consumer.
  • Technology tools that you’re using to improve the quality of your services & products.
  • Technology tools that you’re exploring to help build customer relationships.
  • Up and coming developments in products and services within your industry.
  • Services and products that are complementary to yours – and that will enhance the customer experience.
  • Upcoming events where prospects and customers can learn more about products & services in your industry (and ideally where they can connect with you one-on-one).
  • Credentials and expertise that customers should look for in a business within your industry.
  • Ways that customers can maximize the value of the products and services that they buy from you.

Basically, if you want or need more information about an industry topic, provided there’s a customer angle in there somewhere, you’ll have the makings of a blog post that can attract readers and give them a worthwhile takeaway. Just be sure that while you’re sharing what you’ve learned, you make the post about them. The “What’s in it for them?” needs to shine through in the finished product each and every post.

What types of things have you learned “on the job” that translate well into blog post topics? Please share your ideas!

Image courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting Found Online: 3 Behaviors Essential to DIY SEO

Being part of the small business community as not only a solopreneur, but also as a volunteer with the local chapter of SCORE and my town’s Main Street organization, I know my fair share of new business owners who have websites that aren’t ranking well in online searches and who don’t know how to otherwise draw attention to their sites.

It’s frustrating for them – to say the least. When you’re getting your business off the ground, you want and NEED to be found. But most startup entrepreneurs don’t have the cash on hand to hire an SEO/SEM expert to help them drive traffic their way.

I’m certainly no SEO expert, but I’ve learned a lot and have realized some favorable results through my own experimentation with my online presence “formula.”  And there’s no reason why you can’t economically (i.e. free) make improvements to your online situation. My advice: emulate much of what web hosting and managed services provider Dynamicnet, Inc. published its blog post, Do It Yourself Search Engine Optimization

In a nutshell, blogging and social media hold the key to making others aware of your business, your offerings and your value proposition. And there are some core behavioral practices you’ll need to make part of the equation as well:

  • Be willing to do the hard time. – Setting up your blog and social media profiles takes thought and more time than you’ll want to spend, but you’ll need to suck it up and do it. The more consistent your brand is across each and every one of your points of online presence, the better your chances of being found when prospects are looking for someone who offers the services or products that you do.
  • Keep up keeping up. – Blogging and social media require discipline and ongoing attention. You need to be consistent in your efforts to engage and interact with your audience on those marketing channels. Luckily, your blog posts can serve as content for your social media posts, so you can kill multiple proverbial birds with one stone when you publish new blog articles. And there are tools (for example: Hootsuite, Buffer, Tweetdeck and others) that automate the sharing of content on – and simultaneously across – various social media.
  • Stick with it. – DIY SEO is not for the faint of heart. You may not see results the first day, or in the first week, or in the first month. Heck, you could be looking at a year or even longer before you actually get emails and phone calls from prospects who say, “I found you on Google.”  That doesn’t mean that your blogging and social media efforts won’t be driving people to your website or generating leads sooner, but getting found via organic search results can take much longer as a multitude of variables comes into play. And remember, not everyone can be on the first page. You might indeed need to hire someone to increase your chances of ranking there.

Recognize that getting noticed on the web won’t happen overnight. But with consistent effort to cross-pollinate by blogging and staying current with your social media, you’ll steadily increase the visibility of your business online.

 

 

Your turn! If you’ve done DIY SEO, what challenges and triumphs have you experienced? What strategies and tactics have worked best for you?

 

Kick Your Blog Up a Notch with an Editor: But Consider These 4 Things First!

You know what your audience wants. You’ve got the expertise, the experience, and the pulse on what they expect to take away from your blog.

While all of that is absolutely critical for building a following and earning reader respect, there’s one other key component that businesses need in blogging…well-written posts!

A blog with poor writing style, regardless of the usefulness of the info within it, can destroy credibility and make you look unprofessional.

If your business resembles that remark, it doesn’t mean you or your employees aren’t extremely smart, savvy and skilled. It just means you aren’t writers. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just not your thing.

When you’re trying to convey your business’s strengths, features, benefits and value to readers, your blog needs to have the pizazz and polish of a professional writer. Although hiring a writer to create content for posts might not be financially feasible, hiring a writer/editor to spruce up your rough drafts could very well be within budget.

Thinking about kicking up your blog’s prowess up a notch? Here’s some food for thought as you consider using an editor:

  • Editors generally price their services according to a rate per word. And some bill by the hour or by the page. Through my research when setting my own editing price points, I found that editors’ rates vary widely depending on capabilities, experience, geographical location and other factors.
  • Editors might ask for a sample of your work before offering pricing. To provide a rate that’s fair to both you and to them, some editors will request to see a sample or two of your work so they can assess how much work will be involved. If your writing skills are relatively good, editors won’t need to spend as much time and effort on your posts as they would on drafts written by someone who has poor grammar, spelling and sentence structure. Often, editing rates will be specific to individual clients. Realize it really can’t be “one size fits all.”
  • If an editor offers different levels of editing, find out how they’re different. I suggest that you seek an editor who follows my M.O. I prefer to take a paragraph from a sample draft and, in turn, provide my prospective clients with samples of basic editing and more substantial editing so they can see the difference and make an informed decision about which level will satisfy their needs both functionally and financially.
  • Most editors treat proofreading as a separate service. Many writing professionals edit first at X cents per word, and do proofreading as a separate service at X cents per word. Although I also do them in that order, I don’t edit without proofreading. And I choose to combine them into an all-inclusive rate per word. I’m sure there are other editors who do the same. Be sure to ask if proofreading is – or is not – included.

Whether you’ve got an existing blog that could use some fine-tuning or haven’t yet started a business blog because you don’t believe you’ve got the writing chops to pull it off, an editor could be just what you need. As you search for one that’s the right fit for you, keep in mind that you’re looking for value, not just the cheapest rate. Always ask for work examples, inquire about turn-around time, and find out how they’ll provide the edits to you (Word doc with mark ups, Word doc with changes made live, etc.).

Got questions about my blog editing services or about what to look for in an editor? I welcome your emails to dawnmentz@gmail.com. Or feel free to call me at 717.435.3559