If you search your name on Google, chances are that your website or another of your social media profiles will appear high in the results.

But what if a prospective client searches “freelance graphic designer ann arbor”? Does your website still come up? What about “web graphic designer michigan”? To get your name to appear higher or on the first page of search results like these, you may need to know a bit about Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

The good news is: what’s good for building your "brand" online is also good for SEO. So if you’re already smart about writing, sharing, and networking online, you (probably) won’t ever have to worry about SEO. But if your website is still buried in page 10 of Google’s search results, I’ve broken down four basic reasons you may be losing clients online and strategies for improving your SEO in an authentic, time-proof way.

1. You have a poorly designed website

Google uses data on how people interact with your website to determine how high your website ranks in search results.

Put more simply, it is bad when:

  • People come to your website and leave quickly (a high “bounce rate”). This can happen when:
    • Your website looks unprofessional or is an immediate “turn-off”
    • People get frustrated and can’t find what they’re looking for on your website (poor navigation)
    • The copy on your website is lame/misspelled
    • Your website is slow to load
  • People come to your website and only visit your homepage. You want people to click around your website or find your contact information.
  • People don’t share your website.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Invest in an updated website. Obviously hiring a freelance web developer is ideal. (Remember, you may be able to trade services with this fellow freelancer to cut your cost.) Alternatively, to do this even more cheaply, try a template-based service like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, etc.
  • Employ a freelance graphic designer to update your logo, photos of your products, etc.
  • Copyedit your website or hire a freelance copywriter (bonus points for one with SEO experience).
  • Make sure your website can be viewed on mobile. This is taken care of for you when you use a template like those suggested above.
  • Put social share buttons on all of your content.

Your website does not need to be fancy, technical, or have lots of pages. It does need to easily and clearly provide the information your site’s visitor is looking for and impress browsers with the quality of your work and your level of professionalism. Authentic value = great SEO.

2. You have no blog

If you haven’t started blogging under your name or business name, you’re missing out on the #1 tool for building a better online presence for your business. Of course, its main benefits are in expanding your network (by sharing useful, helpful content, which your contacts will share with their contacts) and in building trust in you and your business online (and offline), but blogging is also a fantastic way to increase SEO.

Try longer articles. Some experts say that longer articles longer appear higher on search results. Basically, Google is trying to penalize companies who write “quick-hit” posts filled with keywords but with no actual helpful content.

Google ranks content > brands. People who haven’t started blogging yet think their little blog will receive no readers and die in the wasteland of this over-blogged world. But if you write quality content and share it on your personal or professional networks and get just a handful of Likes/Tweets/Shares, that’s still time well-spent: quality content is indexed by Google, gets boosted by the number of people who link to your post, and if that blog is attached to your business website (which it should be), it boosts your website’s overall ranking.

I like to think that blogging “levels the playing field” between freelancers and big agencies. A freelancer with a blog presence can “beat” a big agency with no blog in search rankings.

3. You use old SEO strategies

Maybe you heard of SEO 5 years ago and tried some good-old fashioned link building. Something similar but less atrocious than:

SEO best practices have changed a lot in the last several years, and these types of practices are not only frowned upon, but penalized. In its place, Google has increasingly emphasized website content with real value and authentic engagement. And no matter what algorithm changes happen in the future, these two principles will always remain true.

Other old SEO strategies that will either do nothing or hurt you, from SearchEngineWatch:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting using keyword-rich anchor text
  • Creating & distributing press releases with optimized anchor text
  • Writing just for search engines, full of keywords and terribleness. How do you expect to build a core audience when you sound like a robot?
  • Tagging your blog posts as loosely related topics (actually, tagging probably has very little impact on SEO currently)

4. You don’t reach out beyond your network

If you ever suffer from one of those notorious freelance dry spells, you’ll know that sometimes continually reaching out to your current network is not enough!

Your website’s SEO ranking is also dependent on the breadth of exposure your content and website gets. This is why content is king: you would share a stranger’s useful content (on their website), but not just their business website, right? To promote your content:

  • Use Social Media. Go here to learn how freelancers do that best.
  • Reach out to influential bloggers by email or Twitter, asking them to be interviewed for your blog, telling them that you listed them in a “Best of” blog post, or, if you think they’re influential enough, writing free content for them. Of course, if you’re ever going to give away content for free, make sure it’s worth your time.
  • Public relations: Follow local, trade, or industry publications on social media. Watch out for opportunities where your expertise would be valuable. Getting coverage in one such publication is a great way to promote your business.

Have you had any success finding new clients through your website?