SEO for Freelance Web Developers: A Complete Guide

Posted on May 13, 2020
Last updated on Jan 24, 2021
6 minute read

“As part of the redesign we also want to improve our SEO…”

“Can you help with our Google ranking?”

“Are the SEOs in place??”

These are just some of the many SEO-related questions I’ve been asked by my web design clients over the past two decades of working as a freelance web developer. “Yes. Yes they are.” was my response to the last one 😆

Everybody and their mother wants to rank on page 1 of Google, because they know that’s where the gold is.

But SEO is hard. And as a web developer, it feels well beyond your official duties to help out with marketing.

But the problem is that many small clients aren’t just going to ask you about SEO, they really are going to need your help too. And if you can get a handle on the basics, you can deliver some real value with this.

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Why should you help clients with their SEO as web designer?

There are many ways to drive traffic to your website: paid ads, social media, advertorials, guest blogging… the list goes on. But in my opinion, the very best method is SEO.

Why? Because if you can be there, in Google, when people are actively looking for you, the quality of that traffic is going to be superb.

My web development company relies on high quality search engine traffic to deliver me leads almost on a regular basis. I get traffic from Google which I convert into web design clients. No hustling every week at networking events or throwing all my money into ads.

When done well, SEO is amazing.

And if you can help your clients to achieve similar results, you’re not only going to add huge value to their business, you’re also going to strengthen your relationship with them, get more word of mouth referrals and make more money.

If you’re not helping your clients with SEO as a web designer, you’re literally leaving money on the table.

Not sure where to start? Here is a basic process that you can pick up and follow, step by step, to offer an SEO service to your web design clients.

How to bundle SEO into your web development offering, without all the stress

Don’t get me wrong: SEO can be a can of worms. It’s a huge topic area that’s constantly developing.

That being said, there are some best SEO practices that you can deploy right now to help your web design clients grow their business, and earn you more money in the process.

#1 Conduct keyword research

Keyword research is so simple to get started with, and yet looks like magic to clients (because they usually don’t know much about it).

Let’s imagine that you’re designing a website for a local guitar store that will sell its products online, through the website you’re building.

It would be a totally missed opportunity for you to not offer some SEO on a project like this. I’d go so far as to argue that in this instance, it’s your job to provide some input.

The first thing you’re going to do is conduct some keyword research on behalf of your client to find out what people are searching for. (Don’t forget to charge a fee for this process!)

One of my favourite tools for doing this is AlsoAsked, which gives you some crazy good insights into related, relevant search phrases.

Let’s imagine a prospective customer searches Google for “buy guitar strings”. It would be amazing if your client’s guitar store website could get some traffic from this search phrase.

But in all likelihood, that would be a really big challenge. It’s a highly competitive phrase, but if we run it through AlsoAsked we can see other, related search phrases:

Alongside the phrase “buy guitar strings”, we see a number of other opportunities:

This is a treasure trove of information! These searches will be much easier to rank for in Google. They’re what we call “long-tail” search phrases because they’re more specific and less-searched, so competition will be significantly lower than our prize key phrase “buy guitar strings”.

Now you know what people are searching for, repeat this same process with several other keywords relating to the core products on the website, and that’s your keyword research done! 🎸

#2 Design a sitemap

As a website designer, this will be second nature to you. But armed with the keyword data from step 1, we can create the best damn sitemap you’ve ever seen!

The idea is simple: alongside your basic pages and product categories, focus on the SEO keywords you just discovered to inform the structure of the website. Let’s take a look at an example:

Example sitemap for guitar store
Live sitemap can be found here

In this example we have taken a few ideas from our keyword research and dropped them into the sitemap (highlighted in yellow).

By introducing various FAQ sections we are pro-actively answering the questions that people are asking on Google. This is a very powerful and simple way to drive traffic to any website and your client, being an expert on this topic, should be able to answer these questions easily (see the next step to learn how to extract this knowledge from them).

If you want to create real value for your clients as a web designer, this is a fantastic way to go about it. You’re not only researching what their customers need, you’re actively providing them with a solution. They make money, you make money, everybody is happy! 😎

#3 Create a content template

Now we have our keyword research, and a sitemap to add some structure to that data, it’s time to think about producing content.

But first, we need a plan.

All the work done so far would be pointless if you hand it over to your client and simply expect them to write everything unaided. They need your help to create that content.

You need to extract this knowledge from your client’s brain and put it into words that are useful to their customers. And this is where a content template comes in handy.

Website Content Planner Template

Free download

Use this tried and tested template to plan your website content and keep you focused on achieving your goals.

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A content template gives you a framework in which to structure your content so that it is:

A good SEO content planner will include the target keyword(s) for a specific page, a basic layout structure to accommodate images and text, and a handful of relevant calls to action.

The result? SEO-optimised content that answers reader’s questions and generates sales!

#4 Install the Yoast plugin

If you’re building a website on WordPress, you’ll have probably heard of the Yoast SEO plugin.

WordPress is already pretty good out of the box for SEO, especially with its new Gutenberg editor which makes structuring pages simple and SEO-friendly.

But what the Yoast plugin enables you to do is override your page meta data to give more fine-grained control over your SEO efforts.

Example of Yoast SEO optimiser

In the example above I have written a title and description for my post about recurring income. The great thing about the Yoast plugin is it utilises Google’s best practices and returns a score, indicated by the green bar (green means good) to visually indicate how well-optimised my meta content is.

Your key takeaway here: train your client how to do this.

You will be up-skilling them and giving them the tools they need to manage and promote their website into the future. Or, if your client doesn’t want to do it, put them onto a basic monthly retainer and do it for them.

The point is: concerning yourself with the direct success of your client’s business post-launch can add great value, and that’s how you become a better web developer and make more money.

#5 Bonus tip: register your client with Google’s My Business

For completeness, I generally recommend that my web design clients register with Google’s My Business.

It’s free to do so, and takes a few days to process. But the value it brings can be enormous, as it strengthen’s the website in local search.

And in our example case — the guitar store — appearing in local search results is an absolute must. Offer to register your client in My Business to so their website works harder for them.

The REAL power of doing SEO for your web design clients…

There are broadly three ways in which providing a low-level SEO service to your web design clients can help you:

Taking the time to understand and offer basic SEO to web dev clients helps you at every step of the process, from writing the initial proposal, carrying out the work and earning retained income post-launch. It makes good business sense, and will create greater prosperity for you and your clients. Do it 👏