Getting Exposure On The Search Engines – Tips For Freelance Designers

Wouldn’t it be great if new clients contacted you? In the following article I’ll show you how to conquer the search engines so prospective clients can find you online. We’ll look at four core areas: Choosing your keywords, Making the content of your website Googlable, Fulfilling the needs of browsers, and Getting other sites to link to you.

1. How to choose your keywords
By far the best tool for researching keywords is Wordtracker ( You can pay for access per day ($8), per week ($26), per month ($52), or per year ($260). It’s worth taking as much time as you can afford.

Amongst other things, Wordtracker allows you to type in words and presents you with an extensive list of connected keyword phrases with ratings. Ratings are based on the popularity of the keywords compared to the number of other websites competing for them. You’ll find that keyword phrases have better ratings than single keywords.

There are three obvious groups you could focus your keyword searches on:

  • your specialist area (graphic design, web-design, animated web design, etc)
  • the sector you work in (marketing & advertising, publishing, products & packaging, etc)
  • the area you cover (Los Angeles, Toronto, London, etc).

Also look for particular search phrases that target browsers might use, such as “Looking for”, “Search”, “Find”, “For hire”, and “Freelancer”.

You can also research keywords by checking the source code of well-ranked competing websites. If certain keywords are working for them there’s a good chance they’ll work for you too.

Make sure your page title contains a relevant keyword phrase. Your page title is the descriptive line that appears when your website appears in a Google search. It’s the line browsers rely on to judge the appropriacy of your site.

Try to get keywords into your URLs, e.g. Keywords in URLs contribute considerably towards search engine ranking.

Search engines also use description tags to gauge the relevancy of websites. Your description should be riddled with good keywords.

Search engines no longer rate sites based on meta tags. Instead they look for keywords in the page title, URL, description tag, and the main body of the site.

But it’s a good idea to add meta tags—it’s likely Google use them to compare your site to others linking to you, the benefits of which we’ll discuss later.

2. How to make the content of your site Googlable
Research shows that browsers use text to evaluate a site, not images. So even though you are promoting yourself as a graphic designer, it’s the words that will reach out to new visitors ahead of your graphics.

The amount of text on your site is important. The more text you have, the more keywords there will be, and the more opportunities you’ll have to replace low-value phases with good keyword phrases.

Include keywords in prominent positions throughout your text. I prefer to write my text first then head-up sections of text with good keyword phrases. Search engines like headlines.

Group your keywords by setting up multiple website pages, each with a slightly different focus. Do this by categorizing your portfolio.

So for example, one page of your portfolio could focus on your brochure designs using keywords in your introduction copy such as: ‘direct selling promotional material’, ‘brochure’, printed publicity’, ‘corporate literature’ ‘freelance’, ‘design’, ‘designer’, ‘search’.

Another page could present samples of your book designs. Here, your introduction copy could include keywords such as ‘publishing’, ‘covers’, ‘childrens books’, ‘text books’, ‘layout’, ‘design’, ‘freelance’, ‘designer’, ‘search’.

So if a client looking for a children’s book designer typed in ‘children + design + freelance’, the relevant page of your portfolio will be ranked above your website home-page. This enables browsers to go straight to the page that is most relevant to them.

You can set up other pages to focus on specific types of keyword searches–maybe a page that focuses on the geographical region you cover. If you don’t cover one single region, maybe a page that introduces the ‘international’ aspect of your service. Or indeed, any other service you offer.

3. How to fulfill the needs of browsers
Offer something free. Roughly 75% of prospective clients searching for design-related topics are looking for something free to get a job done—not necessarily to hire you.

You need to lure them towards your freelance offer. Give them something they can use so they remember you. When they really do need a freelance designer they’ve already remembered your URL.

There are a variety of things you can offer.

You can write free tutorials and self-help articles (like “how to brief a designer”, “how to get the most out of your graphic designer”, “What every client needs to know about their designer”). This presents you as a clever and competent designer.

You can offer free photos, graphics, illustrations, or visuals. Anything that your target browsers can download and make use of, and that demonstrates the strengths of your work at the same time.

You can offer free design consultation. You could promise to answer design-related questions within a designated time (e.g. browsers type in a question and submit their email address). Again, this helps to present you as a design expert. It also gives you access to potential clients’ email addresses, a very useful thing to have.

By doing any of the above, you are increasing the different keyword avenues browsers can take to reach your site. So in addition to the keywords on your portfolio pages, you also have pages with keywords such as ‘free tutorial’, ‘free royalty free images’, or ‘instant design advice’. These types of keywords are likely to be searched on a daily basis.

4. How to get other sites to link to you
Tailoring the content of your site is one aspect of Search Engine Optimization, but it’s not the priority. The ‘popularity’ of your site is the highest contributor to your ranking.

Popularity is based on the number and quality of websites linking to you.

The quality of a link is determined by its search engine ranking and by its relevancy to your website, something that is judged by the similarity of your keywords.

This means that ten links from small unconnected websites, such as local traders, are likely to be less useful that one link from a popular design-focused website.

Add your service to online directories.
Send your website link plus a line about your services to as many online directories as possible.

These links may not be quality links. I believe Google are starting to view links from directories as only partially relevant in informing search engine ranking. But it’s well worth getting directories to link to you, because they can result in plenty of quality hits—hits from browsers who might offer you freelance design work.

Start a blog.
Blogging is perhaps the easiest way to pull potential clients towards your relevant portfolio pages and elevate your Google presence.

Blogs have two advantages. Firstly, they are linked to millions of websites, so usually have good Google rankings (which means they are quality incoming links).

Secondly, they offer you an easy way to submit new material, so you can be spontaneous and timely. For example, you could use your blog to review the week’s newspaper advert designs. This would appeal to marketers (potential clients in the marketing sector), and presents you as a knowledgeable design commentator–someone worth hiring for the next big advertising campaign!

Promote your website as a resource.
Having an armory of visuals or articles is important for obtaining good quality incoming links.

Lots of top-ranking websites have ‘Resources’ or ‘Useful links’ sections. You need to be in there. So write up a description of your resources and send to the web editors of high-ranking sites. Try to include your main keywords within your link description copy, so meta-crawlers identify it as a ‘good link’.

Send out articles.
Be a featured writer on a website that prospective clients hit on every day. You’ll not only get quality links to your site, you’ll also get your name out as an expert in your field.

Your articles can be adapted from your website or your blog entries. Just make sure they are useful and informative, leaving your website address and service description for your bio at the end of the article. Be sure to add a ‘call to action’ line at the end of your bio, persuaded interested readers to contact you (e.g. “Need a fresh new look? Ask about my design services. Email”.)

You should target resource sites and e-zines aimed at your prospective clients, as well as article sites that are recognized by Google, such as

Adapted from The Freelance Designer’s Self-Marketing Handbook