When the Covid-19 pandemic struck and started claiming jobs, layoffs and hiring freezes became the norm. People began scrambling for alternate sources of income. Some took on freelance work; others became consultants, while still others decided to open their own business.
The SEO industry, in particular, experienced the brunt of this pandemic.
SEO departments were hit hard by layoffs, and many SEOs took the opportunity to become consultants or start their own businesses. The number of people searching for “how to be a freelancer” increased significantly overnight, with Google searches for “freelance SEO consultant” hitting an all-time high.
It shows that the SEO community has seen the writing on the wall. The industry is changing, and people are becoming more receptive to freelancing.
Who’s a Freelance SEO Consultant?
A “freelance SEO Consultant” is an SEO professional working as an individual entity or as a member of an agency. They’re not tied to any company but rather work independently or consult for themselves.
They’re independent SEO contractors or consultants working for multiple clients at a time. They work from their homes, coffee shops, or co-working spaces and deliver results to clients based on their unique set of skills and expertise.
Why This Guide?
The problem is, many newly-minted SEO consultants don’t know where to start. When faced with the prospect of actually starting the business, they fall into the trap of thinking that they need to pitch their services to clients right away, or worse, pitch random companies hoping for a bite.
And this is why many freelancers fail at freelancing. They fall into the trap of starting with client work without first establishing themselves as experts in their field. And sadly, this leads to failure – unanswered emails, no leads, and worst of all, unpaid invoices.
Pros and Cons of a Freelance SEO Consultant
Freelancing has its pros and cons.
- More Control
Being your own boss is liberating. You get to decide the project specs, how you’ll work on them, and who exactly you’ll be working for. You can choose to take a full weekday off, provided you plan your work ahead of time.
- Complete Work-Life Balance
Not all jobs offer this, but freelancing gives you the chance to work for yourself and on your own schedule. You can work on weekends, nights, or any day of the week – it’s up to you.
- Less Stress
No more traffic jams on the way to the office. No need to wake up at 5 am. You can work in your pyjamas while sipping coffee in the comfort of your own home.
- More Money
People falling under the catch-all title of SEO specialists and consultants earn between $55,000 and $80,000 annual salary. At Median, a professional SEO consultant makes about $60,000 a year.
That’s more than what most office workers make in a year.
- Work with Clients Directly
Working as a freelancer means you’ll be in direct contact with clients. You’ll get to know your clients personally, understand their business goals, and work with them.
- You Understand Your Clients Better
As an in-house SEO, you only know bits and pieces about your clients. You’re not privy to the big picture because you’re only dealing with a small part of their business. However, as a freelance consultant, you can see the entire picture and understand your client’s goals completely.
- No Guaranteed Income
So, what happens if you don’t land any consulting gigs? What if all your leads are dry? Then no more source of income for you until you find new clients.
- No Benefits, Office Space, or Workers’ Comp.
No company employs you. Meaning, you’ll have to look after yourself and your own retirement (IRAs and 401k aren’t options). You can’t rely on an employer for medical benefits either.
- Lonely Work Days
Being a freelancer means you have no colleagues to talk with between work hours. It’s just your laptop and yourself all day long. There’s no camaraderie, teamwork, or friendly chit-chat.
- Extended Hours of Hard Work Ahead
Building a good reputation takes time and can be frustrating. No one wants to hire someone new, especially with so many uncertainties in the industry. You have to prove yourself first before you start attracting more clients or referrals.
What Skills and Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Freelance SEO Consultant?
There’s no specific qualification or exam required to become an SEO consultant. You can opt for a master’s degree in digital marketing, but that’s not necessarily a requirement.
What’s important is having the necessary SEO skills and experience. You’ll also need a portfolio that includes case studies and testimonials from previous clients.
It all boils down to how much experience you have. The more, the better.
Startup Costs and Setup Expenses
If you want to work as a freelancer, you’ll need basic office equipment: a high-speed laptop and reliable internet connection are a must-have. You can always rent cheap office space if working from home proves to be distracting or unproductive.
In terms of business startup costs, you have to consider your freelance fees and the cost of living in the city where you’ll be working.
Some freelancers will gravitate towards an agency business, which focuses more on managerial skills than hands-on SEO work. But before it gets to that, here are the core abilities you’ll need for freelance SEO consultancy work.
Keyword Research: The Know-How to Find the Right Keywords for Your Clients’ Sites
SEO is all about keywords. You can’t rank high on Google without picking the right keywords to target. So that’s where your expertise in keyword research comes in handy. These are some of the essential skills you need to learn:
- Understanding how users interact with search engines
- Keyword research tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, and SEMrush
- Using keyword phrase finder tools like Word tracker, SEMrush, etc
Read on for more details on long-tail keywords and how to use them for SEO.
Basic HTML: the Language of the Internet
An increasing number of SEO consultants know how to code. It, therefore, helps to learn some HTML basics at least. How? Take online courses in HTML and use some free websites (such as solo learn, code avengers, W3schools, and code academy) to practice what you’ve learned. Not only will it help you understand SEO better, but it’ll also make you a more valuable candidate for online jobs.
Here’s what you should learn:
- How to format basic pages using HTML tags like headings, paragraphs, lists, links, and images
- How every SEO job is connected to code even if you won’t be writing it yourself
You’ll still need to understand the basics of how it works, enough to explain it to a developer.
The point is to make sure you understand how programming works and, most importantly, how search engines read the web.
Intermediate Content Writing and Copywriting Skills:
Even more important than HTML code is your ability to write great SEO-friendly content. With millions of websites vying for top spots on Google, you can’t afford to put up poorly written and unimpressive content. The key is using keywords naturally, without sounding too “spammy” or forcing it.
- Pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.
- Think about how much information is enough or too much for your readers. You don’t want to overwhelm them with too much data or bore them to death with long blocks of text.
- Write to answer your readers’ questions and solve their problems.
Check out this article if you need more pointers on how to write SEO-friendly content.
Technical SEO Requirements: How to Optimize Your Client’s Site
You must know the basics of technical SEO. These include HTML, DNS configuration, HTTP status codes, robots.txt file syntax, redirects, minimizing redirect chains, canonicalization issues, identifying duplicate content, code minifying, HTTPS/SSL implementation, website speed optimization, etc.
Know how to optimize your client’s website for search engines. That requires a sound knowledge of XML sitemaps, page speed optimization, mobile SEO in the context of responsive design principles. You should also know about site migrations to support change management in large-scale technical SEO projects.
Analytical Skills: How to Measure Your Client’s Site Performance
The ultimate goal for every SEO job is to increase website traffic and generate more conversions. You can’t achieve this without analysing your SEO effort using analytics tools such as Google Analytics or Adobe Omniture. These tools help you understand how users interact with your client’s site.
Apart from these, you should also be familiar with Google Search Console, Google’s official tool for tracking your site’s performance on Google.
Here are some metrics to focus on:
- How much organic search traffic do your clients’ sites receive every month
- How to identify keywords that drive qualified traffic to their sites using Google Analytics
- Success metrics that matter — for example, if your client’s business model is ecommerce, it’ll be more helpful to know about revenue per visit since it measures the site performance in actual dollar terms rather than just traffic volume.
SEO Trends and Changes: How to Adapt
The digital landscape is always evolving. It’s therefore important that your fingers stay on the latest SEO trends. Google uses more than 200 factors to rank websites, but the primary ones are content, links, and user experience.
As an SEO consultant, you should know how to use these criteria to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). You should also be aware of Google’s algorithms like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc. They’ll help you understand what changes your client needs to make to rank higher and beat the competition.
What Types of Specialist Freelance SEO Consultant Services Are There?
SEO is a vast field, with several technical specialties within it. Here are a few examples:
- Link-building specialists. They assess link profiles, develop strategies for obtaining new links, and remove low-quality links from clients’ sites.
- Local SEO consultant. They develop localized SEO campaigns to help businesses rank in their targeted city, state, or country. They use a combination of Google My Business optimization and organic SEO efforts to achieve this goal.
- Ecommerce SEO experts. They help businesses develop SEO strategies for their ecommerce sites. They focus on different aspects of ecommerce SEO, particularly product descriptions, categories and tags, schema, structured data implementation, etc.
- On-Page SEO consultant. They help clients optimize individual pages for conversions and higher SERP rankings. They focus on things that visitors see when they visit your website. This includes the page copy, meta title, meta description, etc.
- SEM/SEO specialist. This is a hybrid SEO consultant with in-depth knowledge of organic and paid search channels. If you want to become an SEM/SEO professional, check out our guide to get started.
- Off-page SEO. They help clients build links through link-building activities like guest posting, blog commenting, press releases, HARO, etc.
- Video SEO. They help clients optimize their videos for higher SERP rankings. This entails using the right keywords in video titles, choosing appropriate tags, and placing links back to the site. Video SEO experts know how to take advantage of YouTube’s popularity by designing videos around trending topics. It can help businesses generate more leads and increase their revenue when done right.
- App Store Optimization. App store SEO is a very specialized field. It’s useful for mobile apps available on the Apple app store and Google Play. The goal is to help clients rank higher in app stores and organic search results using different App Store Optimisation (ASO) techniques.
7 Must-have Software Tools for an SEO Consultant
SEO tools and equipment don’t come cheap. So, you want to make sure you have accounted for their cost before you staking taking clients. Also, make sure you know how to use each of these tools before you go ahead and purchase them.
That said, here is the list of tools that every freelance SEO specialist must have in their marketing arsenal:
For Free Tools:
- Bing Webmaster Tools: Bing Webmaster Tool is a nice little tool from Bing. It’s useful for understanding how users are finding your site. It’s also an incredibly helpful tool in building backlinks.
- Google Analytics: Google Analytics is a free tool that helps you measure and analyse just about every aspect of your site. It tells you how people use your site, which keywords are driving the most traffic to your site, and how much traffic you’re getting from different sources. So it’s a must-have for anyone serious about search engine optimization.
- Google Search Console: Google Search Console is another free tool by Google that you should be using on any site you are working on. It shows you the number of indexed pages, crawling errors, backlinks pointing to your site, etc.
- Google Keyword Planner: Google Keyword Planner is Google’s official keyword research tool. It helps to note that you need a Google Ads account to access the planner, but it’s free to sign up. It’s useful for finding long-tail keywords that you can target in your content marketing campaigns.
- Google Data Studio: Google Data Studio is the tool you use to create high-quality reports for clients. The platform has all the functionality of Google Analytics built-in. But at the core, it’s designed to help you build beautiful analytics reports for clients.
- Google Tag Manager: Google Tag Manager is a great tool useful for tracking conversions without cluttering up your site with loads of code.
- Google Trends: Google Trends is a powerful free tool from Google that shows you how keywords are trending worldwide, regionally, or locally. You can use this information to help your clients rank higher for the right keywords.
- Ahrefs: Ahref is the most popular paid tool in the SEO world. It helps you find keywords, discover new backlinks, keep an eye on your backlinks, track rankings, etc.
- MOZ: It’s another paid tool that many SEO consultants swear by. It offers link analysis, website audits, rank tracking, etc.
- RavenTools: This is an excellent tool for managing multiple projects. It’s a more advanced alternative to Google Analytics. It allows you to create custom reports, perform website audits, track keywords’ rankings, etc.
- SEMRush: This is another paid tool good for tracking keywords and building backlinks. It has useful features like keyword research, monitoring PPC campaigns, and building backlinks.
- BuzzSumo: It’s a very powerful tool that lets you discover popular content in your industry. For example, if I were an SEO consultant, I could use BuzzSumo to find the most popular blog posts about SEO. I could then create even better content and publish it on my blog.
- SpyFu: This tool is awesome for tracking the competition and finding out which keywords they are targeting. You can use this information to help your clients outrank their competitors and dominate the SERPs.
It would also help to understand popular content management systems (CMSs) such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. That is because many of your clients will most likely be using these CMSs to build their websites.
Learn about SEO plugins such as Yoast, Rank math, or SEO Ultimate. Understanding how these plugins work will help you provide better service to your clients.
Participating in SEO communities such as Digital Point Forums or Black Hat World will also help you learn how to build backlinks and avoid common mistakes.
How to Start Your Freelance SEO Consultant Career
If you’re switching from an agency to a freelance SEO consultant, you probably have the much-needed experience and some clients in the wings to get you started. But if you’re new to SEO, then perhaps you’d want to start small as you work on gaining more skills, improving your SEO knowledge, and growing your client base.
The first step would be to sell small jobs like backlink audits, keyword research reports, on-page SEO audits, content creation, etc.
You can find these jobs on freelance sites like Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Fiverr, etc. Start with small niche sites in your local area.
Some Guides to Get You Started:
- Let’s start with Google’s Own Guide
- Moz Beginners’ Guide to SEO
- Ahrefs Beginners’ Guide to SEO
- SEMrush Academy
It would also help if you also considered signing up for a few SEO courses, one at a time:
- Google Data Analytics Certificate
- 2021 Complete SEO Guide to Ranking Local Business Websites
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization
- SEO Training Course by Moz (Udemy)
- On-Page and Technical SEO Course (SEMRUSH)
- Online SEO Classes
- SEO Training Course: Building Sustainable Traffic for Business Growth (HubSpot)
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization (Coursera)
- Free SEO Course (Click Minded)
Try and read far and wide about SEO. There are hundreds of great books on the topic. The more you learn, the better your chances of building a successful business as an SEO consultant.
Start with the basics and work your way up from there. But, if possible, try to find a mentor who can hold your hands and take you through advanced SEO techniques.
If you have trouble finding new clients, consider listing with a freelance website. The competition will be fierce, of course, so you may have to charge lower rates to get your foot in the door.
You can also offer white label services to other SEO consultants or agencies. The point is to build a portfolio and network of satisfied customers. Eventually, you should be able to build your own client base, manage them yourself and charge much higher rates.
How to Find Freelance SEO Consultant Jobs as a Beginner
Some of the most popular freelance websites for SEO consultants include Upwork, Freelancer.com, PeoplePerHour, etc.
You’ll need to sign-up and create a profile before you can start accepting jobs.
Listing with these websites is free, but they take a cut of your earnings.
Finding SEO-related jobs as a beginner is not that difficult. You can start by offering your services to friends, family members, local businesses, or companies with websites.
Offer to do backlink audits, keyword research, on-page SEO checks, etc. This way you can get lots of experience without charging them too much money.
As you gain more experience and hone your skills, you can start charging higher rates and offering better services.
Online networking can also be incredibly useful in finding new clients. You can join social media groups that share information about SEO. Be sure to follow other SEO professionals, comment on their posts, and pass valuable information on to others.
Focus on building relevant relationships with key people in your niche. While at it, you do not want to spam or annoy people, but always be on the lookout for opportunities.
5 Useful Resources for a Beginner Freelance SEO Consultant
- MediaOne Blog Roll: Our blog is filled with easy-to-understand SEO tutorials aimed at newbies and seasoned freelancers.
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider: This tool is one of the most popular backlink checkers and rank trackers for SEO. You can use it to crawl up to 100 URLs per website for free.
- SEO Mastery Tools: You can find a list of helpful SEO tools to use in this article.
- Google’s Search Central Guides: Google has plenty of valuable resources for learning more about SEO.
- SEMrush Academy: Here, you’ll find several free courses about SEO that can help you build your reputation and land more clients.
- Moz Beginners Guide: Moz has a helpful beginner guide to SEO.
- Ahrefs Beginners Guide: This guide by Ahrefs is another excellent resource for freelancers.
How to Become a Freelance SEO Consultant: 10 Things You Need to Do to be Successful
Here are some valuable tips that I hope will keep your new freelance SEO consultant career up to speed (and sane while at it!).
Network with Other Freelancers
We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to network with other freelancers. You can start by creating a spreadsheet of all the contacts in the industry, after which you want to identify ten people from the list that you can connect with or outright pitch your services.
Send an email explaining your newly minted business and see if they might have some work for you. Some of these folks will have some work for you. Others won’t, while others will have some equally encouraging and terrifying advice, but all of them are valuable if you think about it. The thing is, much of your work will come from client referrals and people within your network. You’d be surprised by the number of agencies that have an overflow of work.
While I do not suggest that you start attending any networking event, I highly recommend getting to know people within your industry and building relationships with them.
It’s not just about business, but you should at least have someone to turn to when you need help in the future.
Get Your Books in Order
Every freelancer needs to keep their books in order, as with any other business out there. You will need to pay taxes, and you also need a system to track your time to ensure you’re being paid fairly. You can use a simple spreadsheet to do this, or you want to look into getting a service like GetHarvest that keeps your time tracking easy.
If possible, consider hiring an accountant to file your back taxes. Accountants know what forms and documents you need and can save you a lot of time and money when tax time comes.
Be Confident in Your Pricing
If you’re just starting as a freelancer, there’s a good chance that your rates will be lower than those of more experienced professionals. But you also gain more experience under your belt. So, you want to become more confident in the price you set. What you do not want to do is to set your rates too low. That makes you look desperate and can give employers the impression that they are not getting a high enough value in return for the rate.
Not sure how much to charge?
Ahrefs ran a survey on this and found that $100 to $150 is the most common hourly rate for SEO services.
Note that you have the option to price your services on a monthly retainer, per-project, or hourly basis.
Recommended Reading: SEO Services Pricing In Singapore
Be Polite, but Not a Pushover
When working with clients, make sure you’re polite and diplomatic. You want to cultivate relationships with your clients and keep them coming back for more of your services.
However, this does not mean you need to be a pushover. Your rates are your rates, and you should be firm about them. You can bend a bit with clients, but don’t let it happen too often. They’re your boss, remember? So, you want to listen to them, take in whatever they say, and implement it if possible. You can offer suggestions, but always make sure they know it’s their decision.
Don’t Over-Promise or Under-Deliver
If you promise your client 5,000 visitors to their website within the next week and you only deliver 1,800 in a month, then don’t expect them to be the happiest about it. And they probably won’t want to work with you again, which is exactly what you don’t want.
SEO comes with no guarantees, so it’s important not to over-promise. You’ll only have yourself to blame when the client isn’t happy with the results. Strive to exceed your client’s expectations instead. Go beyond what they ask for and make yourself an invaluable asset to them.
That is the type of SEO freelancer you’ll also want on your “team.”
Set Up a website
This is not required, but it’s kind of like having your own business cards. It also adds to your credibility.
As Tom Hirst puts it, your website is your online resume. It’s the first place people go when they want to look more into who you are and what you do.
You may also consider creating a blog on said website so people can keep an eye on your work. It’s not required, but it does help you establish your credibility.
Be sure to include testimonials on your website, too, if you have any.
Treat Yourself as a Business
You’re not just a freelancer but a business entity. You’re an accountant, marketer, salesperson, account manager, and legal department. You’re a little bit of everything. So, take time to study each of these departments in your position. Accounting for taxes, marketing for getting new clients, salesperson skills to close deals, account manager makes sure that you get paid, and your legal department ensures you are secure in your position.
If something is not your forte, hire someone to do it for you or learn how to do it better.
Learn to Sell Yourself
You’re selling yourself to potential employers. So, it would be best if you learned how to sell your services.
You might be the best SEO consultant in the world, but if you can’t sell yourself to clients, then that’s not going to do you any good. Selling yourself is like selling a product. If you want your clients to buy your services, you need to show them that you’re better than the other options. We’re not talking door-to-door sales or mass-messaging random people on LinkedIn. The sales process is much more subtle than that.
Whenever you’re communicating with a potential client, you’re selling. It doesn’t matter if you’re just talking or sharing some of your work with them. Any conversation you have with a potential client is a sale. So, make sure
Create a Process or System for Everything
SEO is an ever-evolving process. You can never learn it all.
You will always be learning new strategies and trying new ways to improve your success rate. That is where having a process comes in handy. It allows you to keep track of every step of the process and measure the success rate.
For example, you can create a system that automates certain parts of your marketing campaign. It’s not a matter of if you’ll need a process, but when. You don’t want to be caught off-guard and scrambling to find a process.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. An email template is a good start. You also want to create a checklist of what you have to do daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
Start Selling Assets
As an SEO, you have to wear many hats. And most of those hats are not very attractive. But there’s a lot of things you can sell that are much more appealing. For example, you can create an eBook to sell to potential clients.
eBooks are examples of assets that are easy to sell. If someone is interested in hiring you, they are more likely to pay for some of these assets.