How to Become an SEO Freelancer
and Be Your Own Boss
It was Summer 2015 and I’d just landed my first monthly recurring freelance SEO client.
During this time I was working as the SEO manager for a successful agency, handling over 60 client websites simultaneously.
It was great and all, but if you’re anything like me, working for somebody else has always been a means to an end.
What was that end?
- Quitting your job and working for yourself.
- Setting your own hours so you can go out and enjoy the weather (or anything really) during the day, instead of waiting for the evening/weekend.
- Never having to deal with commuting in rush hour traffic ever again.
- Waking up whenever you feel like.
- The list goes on…
And that’s exactly what I was able to do after getting a couple more clients by repeating the same process I’ll be showing you in this post.
So if being in control of your own life, all while making money as an SEO freelancer helping other businesses make more money sounds appealing to you, then let’s see if I can help get you there.
SEO Skills Needed
This should go without saying, but you should obviously have some experience working on prior or current SEO projects. Hopefully ones where you’ve gotten some results.
While there are hundreds of different theories, methods, and strategies in the world of Search Engine Optimization, as long as you have a solid grasp on the basic fundamentals behind what causes websites to rank higher, then you should feel confident knowing businesses out there need your help.
What are the basics you should know?
I would throw content strategy into the mix as well if you really want to be the whole package.
You Don’t Need to Know Everything
The one thing that holds back a lot of freelance SEO’s from getting started is thinking they don’t have enough SEO knowledge to handle their own clients.
You likely know more than you think.
Don’t let the thought of not knowing enough stop you from trying to get clients.
To this day I still find myself occasionally needing to look something up that I’m either not quite sure of or need confirmation on that’s related to SEO.
Client’s don’t care if you’re Googling shit. As long as you’re implementing what you’re learning and it’s getting them results, then life is good.
I’ll link some solid resources to follow later in this guide that can help keep your SEO skills sharp and provide the best results for your clients.
For now though, let’s get into what method we’ll be using to acquire these clients.
I hope you have access to a phone, because we’re going to be dialing every business imaginable till our fingers fall off!
…Kidding. F#%@ cold calling.
The method we’ll be using to start off your SEO freelancer adventure is the same one that I used to start mine (and to this day, continually get new clients from).
I’m talking about Upwork.
This freelance site, while fairly saturated, is still one of the fastest and easiest ways to get new clients. If done right.
Here’s an overview of how we’ll be using Upwork to find and close your first freelance SEO client:
Profile Setup and Optimization
You’ll need to create an account, then set up your profile. Paying special attention to two key profile optimizations for the best client response rates.
Having positive reviews on your profile is one of the most important things for closing clients. But how do you get reviews with a new profile? I’ll show you an easy method.
Finding Monthly SEO Clients
Once your profile is optimized we’ll go through how to find SEO job postings that are worth your time.
How to Pitch
Learn how to stand out and catch your clients attention using some proposal strategies I’ve picked up over the years.
Closing the Deal
Once you start getting replies from prospective clients we’ll go over how to increase your chances of turning them into monthly paying clients.
Servicing Your New Clients
You should already know how to provide an SEO service, but here I’ll recommend some additional resources for providing the best possible service for your new clients.
If that all sounds good to you, then let’s start from the top.
Upwork Profile Set Up
If you don’t already have an Upwork account created, then you’ll want to get that out of the way first. Do it here.
I created my account a few years back when Upwork was called Elance, so I imagine the account creation process is a little different these days, but it should be fairly straightforward.
Once you have an account created, you’ll want to make sure you fill out your profile to 100% completion.
When filling out your profile, don’t get sucked into trying to make everything perfect. Just get the 100% completion out of the way first, then we’ll want to focus on optimizing the most important parts on your profile.
Quick Profile Optimization for Conversions
While it’s a good idea to optimize your entire profile for maximum results, especially if you plan on using Upwork for the long-term to get clients, we want to focus on what’s going to make the most impact the quickest, so we can start trying to get clients asap.
The two main profile settings we want to focus on right away are the ones that are visible when you submit a proposal. This being your Title, and your Description.
Here’s what your profile will look like before your potential clients click your proposal when you start applying for SEO jobs:
They can see your title, your hourly rate, your Upwork earning history, your reviews (job success), where you’re from, and the first 2-3 sentences of your proposal.
As someone with a new Upwork account, you won’t have any earning history or reviews to give you that social proof advantage (I’ll show you how you can get quick reviews in a bit), so for now we’ll need to focus on what we can control to give us the best opportunity to get our prospects attention.
That leaves us with our title, and the first few sentences of your pitch. We’ll be going over how to create a pitch later in this guide, so let’s start with optimizing your Upwork profile title.
Coming Up With a Catchy Title
Since your title is what your potential clients are going to be seeing first, then we need to treat it like our best pick-up line at the bar.
We want to put something here that’ll help us stand out and push the client into clicking through to our proposal. Much like writing a headline when you’re doing PPC ads.
Here are some examples of poor titles you should steer away from:
Now here’s a better example:
For my Upwork title I have, “Results Driven SEO Expert With A Focus On Your ROI”
I made sure to include “SEO Expert” since that’s what my target clients are looking for, and then added some copy about how I have my clients best interests in mind.
DO THIS: come up with an intriguing title for your Upwork profile.
Coming Up With a Personable Description
When a potential client clicks on your proposal, they’ll get a pop up with your profile info and the proposal that you submitted.
Alongside your title, they’ll now have access to viewing your profile overview (i.e. description).
By default, they’ll see the first 6-10 words, and then they’ll have to click the “more” button to expand the overview section to continue reading the entire thing.
Using the same concept as your title, you’ll want to try to make your first 6-10 words catchy enough so that your prospective client will want to read more about you.
Beyond the first sentence, use this overview section to show off your unique personality and explain to your potential clients why they should choose you over anyone else.
Don’t go full-blown story time on them, keep the sentences short and punchy with benefit oriented copy. Talk about how you can help them, rather than hyped up bs about yourself.
This part isn’t as important as your title, and especially not as important as the pitch you put together for your proposals, so don’t stress too much about your description. At the very least, just make it personable.
Clients will tend to look at your overview after they’ve looked over your proposal and are at least a bit interested. They use it to look for extra reasons why they should hire you.
If you’re really struggling to come up with something, try this post that has some tips for coming up with your title and overview.
DO THIS: write a short, compelling overview that has some of your personality incorporated into it, alongside some info about how can help your clients using your SEO skills.
Getting good reviews on your Upwork profile is easily one of the most important things you can do to increase your conversions.
But how are you supposed to get clients to get reviews if you don’t have any reviews in the first place?
Beyond being super charming in your proposals, the best way to quickly get clients to boost your profile with reviews is by finding quick one-off SEO jobs and offering to do them for the lowest possible price.
Yes I know, doing work for hardly any money sucks. But if you’re truly determined to be a freelance SEO expert and work from home (or wherever the hell you want), then eating shit for the first little bit to build up some reviews is one of the quickest ways to get you there.
And oftentimes, these little one-off jobs have the potential of turning into bigger SEO projects later on.
Just make sure you’re going above and beyond to provide the best service/result even though you’re hardly getting paid for it. It’s the glowing reviews we’re after first – the money will come after.
Here’s What to Look For
We want to be applying for jobs that are SEO related and can be done rather quickly.
Things like, keyword research, minor optimizations, and audits are jobs that are frequently posted that fit the criteria we’re looking for.
So in the Find Work section of your Upwork account, use the search bar and start off by searching for, “SEO”, and “Search Engine Optimization”.
Now weed through the list of jobs that come up to find ones that you can get done rather quickly and would feel comfortable charging next to nothing for.
Here are some examples of potential jobs I found within seconds of doing this search:
As you can see there are plenty of opportunities out there to get some quick reviews. Now let’s figure out what to say in our proposals for these types of jobs.
Here’s How to Pitch Them
Since there are going to be a bunch of different types of one-off SEO jobs you’ll be applying for, you’ll want to come up with a basic template that you can then mold into a more specific and tailored proposal for each job that you pitch.
Clients can smell a copypasta from a mile away so always try to add some personalization in your proposals.
The main thing we’re trying to sell in these types of proposals is:
- We’re an SEO expert and this type of work comes easy to us.
- We’re new on Upwork so we’re trying to build up some reviews.
- We’re offering a massive discount on our usual fee in exchange for reviews (while still providing a premium service).
Here’s an example pitch for a keyword research job. Feel free to take this and spin it into your own template:
I can easily get this done for you within the next 24-48 hours.
Keyword research is my bread and butter since it’s something I do almost daily when working on my own SEO projects, so you can feel confident knowing that I’ll be able to come up with the best and most practical keywords to target for your site.
While I’m not new to SEO, you can see that my Upwork profile is. And I realize it’s tough to trust someone’s ability to perform without any prior reviews.
So for that reason I’m willing to cut my usual rate of $[YOUR HOURLY RATE]/hour down to just $[LOWEST RATE YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH]/hour.
This way I can help you save some money while still getting a premium service, and in return all I ask for is some positive feedback on my profile – only if you’re happy with my service of course.
If you’re up for that I can get started right away.
Just let me know!
Find 15-20 quick SEO job listings and pitch something similar to the proposal I’ve outlined above and you should have no problems landing a few quick jobs for the purpose of getting some reviews under your belt.
Finding Monthly SEO Clients
Now that you’ve got your Upwork title and description optimized, and hopefully acquired some reviews from the previous step, you’re well equipped to start gunning for your first monthly SEO client.
If you skipped the part about getting reviews, just know that it’s going to be even harder to land a client.
Especially when you’re up against hundreds of proposals… just check out the screenshot below from when I was doing competitive research for this article:
Not to worry though, 90% of the proposals are robotic sounding copy and paste templates. In a minute I’ll be showing you how to cut through the noise to increase your chances of at least starting a conversation with these potential clients.
Where to Start
To find job listings that are likely looking for monthly SEO campaigns we’ll be using the same search function that we used when looking for one-off jobs.
Cycle through these keywords in the search bar to find client opportunities:
- Search engine optimization
Any of these keywords will bring up enough job listings to last you a full day of sending proposals if you really wanted to.
But not all listings are worth our time. So we need to filter through them.
Filtering SEO Jobs
There’s two ways that I go about filtering through these job listings when looking for new clients.
First, is literally using the filter options provided in the Upwork search interface.
The only filter that I play around with is the Experience Level option. I always start off by looking through the Expert level jobs first.
If you’re just starting out, then I wouldn’t bother with this step. Just go through the normal filtering process that we’ll go over now.
Since there are hundreds of SEO related jobs posted every single day on Upwork we want to make sure we’re spending our time pitching ones that are worth our time.
Now what’s worth your time and what’s worth mine are probably a little bit different. So you’ll need to figure out what type of SEO campaigns you’re looking to work on.
Are you only interested in ecommerce sites? Local business sites? Affiliate? Specific niches/budgets? Anything and everything? Things like that.
Let’s take a look at some examples of jobs I would avoid:
And here’s an example of a job that would be worth sending your proposal to:
Knowing which jobs are and aren’t worth your time is something you’ll get a better feel for the more you do this.
How to Pitch
When you find a job listing that you like then it’s time to get down and dirty and send the client our proposal.
For most SEO freelancer’s the pitch is the hardest part. So let’s see if we can make things a little bit easier so you can feel confident knocking out a bunch of these every day until you close your first client.
Spy On Our Competition
Back when I first started out on Elance (now Upwork), I would send out a handful of proposals almost every day, but never got any responses.
The main question that was running through my mind during this was, what is everyone else saying in their pitch?
I wanted to know what there proposals looked like compared to mine. What are they saying that’s getting client responses that I’m not?
Then it hit me, why don’t I create a job listing advertising that I’m looking for an SEO expert to work on “my site” so I can see first hand what my competition’s proposals look like.
So that’s what I did.
And man, the proposals I was seeing was laughable. Definitely gave me more confidence in what I was pitching.
I won’t go into details about everything that was wrong with these proposals, because this is something I highly suggest you do on your own so you can get a look for yourself.
But a good 90% of the proposals I got were just copy and paste templates that had generic SEO talk like, “I will rank you on the top of Google” and other bs that was focused on themselves rather than the client.
Oh ya and this one would come up frequently as well, “I am a Google certified expert with X years experience”, then they would include a huge bulleted list of random SEO tasks that clients will likely have zero clue as to what the hell they mean.
So luckily for us, the competition isn’t as fierce as you might think.
The main issue is that the client has to weed through a lot of junk to find us.
And that’s the goal for our proposals; to catch their attention by standing out with a pitch that’s not like the others.
While we never want to send a generic proposal to a client, we can still benefit from creating a templated pitch that we can then personalize for each different SEO job that we apply for.
This will help save time so we don’t have to write our proposals from scratch every single time.
The template I suggest creating will be for the types of job listings that don’t provide much details, including any info about their site (like their URL), but you still think they’d be worth pitching.
Like this example:
Here’s a solid pitch you can use as inspiration for your own for these types of job postings:
I’d love to work on this with you.
WooCommerce sites are actually my specialty so you can feel confident knowing you’ll be working with an SEO expert who can actually help drive more traffic to your site – and most importantly, make more sales.
If you want, I can put together a plan of attack for your sites SEO strategy to help improve your keyword rankings.
Then if you like what you see, we can talk about getting it implemented.
I’ll just need your website URL and your most important keywords (if you don’t know which keywords you should be targeting then no worries I’ll do that bit for you as well).
If you’re up for that, just message me back and we’ll go from there.
The part highlighted above is where you’ll want to add your own personalizations.
Try to relate what you’re saying to any info they provided in their job listing so they can quickly tell that you actually read their offering and you’re not just sending them another generic proposal like 90% of the other proposals they’ll be looking at.
Job Listings That Provide Their Website
When you find a job listing where they provide you with their website URL, then this is where we want to take a bit of a different approach to our pitch.
Instead of simply sending the template we looked at above with one paragraph of personalization, here we’ll actually want to provide some value upfront.
To do this, visit the site they provided in their job posting and then run through a quick manual SEO audit to see if you can find any glaring issues that should be fixed right away.
Don’t send them one of those automated SEO audit reports. That’s what everyone else is going to be doing. Remember, we’re trying to stand out.
Things I typically look for:
- Glaring on-page optimization issues (duplicate H1s or no H1s, poorly optimized meta titles, etc.)
- Do they have an SSL set up? (https)
- Is their website redirecting properly to their preferred version (www. to non www. or vice versa)
- Duplicate/thin content
- Keyword cannibalization (multiple pages targeting the same keywords)
- Messy/non-existent URL structures (siloing)
*If you notice certain things that are done well (SEO wise, or design in general) I’d even bring those up sometimes in the pitch as well, just so our proposal isn’t so doom and gloom
Once you find some stuff that needs to be done to improve their SEO (you’ll always find something), then you’ll want to incorporate that into your proposal.
Let’s go over an example to help you visualize this better:
And here’s how I’d pitch them:
Hey there, (couldn’t find their name)
I’d love to help out with this. My sister has all sorts of similar looking crafts placed around her house so I’m quite familiar with most of your products (they look beautiful by the way).
Anyways, I looked through your site and did notice a few issues which are preventing you guys from ranking better in search engines.
First, you’ll definitely want to get your site hooked up with an SSL certificate (changing your URL from http to https). This not only helps with rankings, but more importantly builds trust with your customers knowing they are browsing on a secure website – hopefully resulting in better conversions.
Another major issue with your site is that your category and product pages aren’t optimized at all.
Since you’re targeting wholesale customers we’ll need to research the best keywords for that market, and then optimize each of your individual category and product pages.
Let’s use your Mala Beads category page as a quick example; Right now the only words you’ve used in its on-page elements are, “mala beads”.
But you’re wanting to target customers who are searching for, “wholesale mala beads”. So we’d want to optimize all of the on-page elements on this page to reflect that, or else that page will never get the type of traffic you want.
Also, I did notice you have a blog set up on your site, but haven’t published anything yet. Since content strategy plays such an important role in SEO rankings, I’ll help you guys out with the blog as well.
If you want, I can put together a plan of attack for your sites SEO strategy to help bring in more organic traffic?
Then if you like what you see, we can talk about getting it implemented.
If you’re up for that, just message me back and we’ll go from there.
So as you can see I simply looked through their site, found some issues with their SEO, then told them about them in an easy-to-digest fashion.
Another thing to take note of is how I started the pitch with some personalization by relating their products to my own personal experience (do this only if it’s true).
This not only tells the client that you’ve actually read through their job posting, but it also helps you come off as more “human”. Something clients will appreciate, especially after going through the 50-100+ other proposals that are generic copy paste templates.
Doing this will greatly increase your chances of getting a response.
When you first start out, this might take you a bit longer to do, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to bang these out within 5-10 minutes.
Other Proposal Tips
1. Always try to find and address clients by their name. The best way to look for their name is to see if they have any recent history on Upwork where the freelancer they worked with mentioned their name in their review.
To find the client’s recent history, just scroll down on the page where the job posting is:
2. Keep a Google Doc of all your proposals that you send. Once you start putting together a bunch of pitches you might notice you tend to repeat certain things.
Having these sections that you repeat a lot already written will make it easier for you to reuse them by copy and pasting them into future proposals. Just make sure to mold them into something more personalized for each new pitch.
3. Find common ground. It’s a well known saying that people tend to buy from those they know, like, and trust.
If you ever see an opportunity to show your client that you two share something in common then always make sure to mention it in your proposal.
Here’s an example: I recently pitched a company that sells riding mowers – you know, those heavy-duty ones that turn on a dime?
Well back in College I would work in maintenance at a golf course during the summers cutting grass. And one of the machines I typically used (and really enjoyed) was one of these zero-turn riding mowers.
So in my proposal I made sure to include an anecdote about my experience with the mowers and how much I enjoyed them.
Do you think they messaged me back?
4. Avoid, “Me” speak. Your proposal isn’t a resume where you highlight your skills and boast about how great you are. Focus your pitch on the client and how you can help them.
5. Ranking/traffic reports. If you have any previous/current clients or your own projects where you’ve been tracking ranking and organic traffic gains, then I would include screenshots of these in your proposal.
What To Do When You Get a Response (closing the deal)
Since we’re never going to close a client from our first pitch alone, our main goal when submitting proposals is to get them interested enough to send us a message.
When we get a response from one of our pitches, then this is where we consult with them for a bit, get more details on what their SEO goals are, then let them know that the next step is taking a deeper dive into their site and coming up with an SEO strategy.
Some freelance SEO’s charge for this type of audit/strategy, so do whatever you like here. For me personally it’ll depend on the type of site for me to decide whether or not I’ll charge for the audit.
Coming Up With the Strategy
As an SEO expert you’ll have your own methods for putting together an audit/strategy for a prospective client so we don’t need to go into much details here.
Simply run through your method and send it to your prospect with your quote for the campaign.
To give you an idea of what I do with pretty good success here’s the rundown:
I break it down into 5 parts:
- Technical SEO
- Keyword strategy
- On-page optimizations
- Content strategy
- Link building
If it’s a local business website, then I add in map-pack optimization stuff like GMB optimizations, citations, etc.
For each of the 5 parts I pick out 1-2 major issues, explain to the client why they are issues, then show them how to fix them.
I write it out with enough details so that if they wanted, they could realistically implement this stuff themselves. But they don’t have time for that, which is why they’re looking to hire someone (hopefully us!).
So the SEO strategy that I put together ends up being a bunch of actionable first steps that should be implemented asap to start bringing in more organic traffic.
It’s all written in a Google Doc – nothing fancy. Then at the end I recap all the work that needs to be done, and then I give two different price options.
One quote for the best bang for their buck, and then a cheaper option if they don’t have the budget for the recommended quote, but still want to get results – just not as quick.
Servicing Your Clients
Unless you get pretty lucky, it’s normal to go through dozens of proposals before you close your first freelance SEO client.
It took me a month straight of sending pitches 4-5 days a week before I got mine. But I didn’t have these insights that I’ve laid out for you above in this guide, so if you follow closely you should be able to land a client sooner (get those reviews!).
Once you do get your first SEO client, then that’s awesome – time to get them results :).
Near the beginning of this guide we went through the skills you should already have when trying to start a freelance SEO business (i.e. you should know how to improve a website’s rankings), so we don’t need to get into any, “how to do SEO” stuff.
But if you are looking for some solid information to expand your knowledge or keep your skills sharp, then here’s a good starting point:
My On-Page SEO Guide
My Link Building System
Content Ideas for Ecommerce sites
Resource for Coming up with Link Targets/Angles
Local SEO Guides
Two SEO Facebook Groups Worth Joining:
Want to suggest another resource that might help other SEO’s?
Send me the link here, and I’ll see if it’s worth putting up :).
If you’re anything like me when reading guides then I’ll assume you read through this entire post before getting started on implementing anything.
Now it’s time to decide whether everything I’ve laid out for you is worth going back to and following or not…
If you truly are wanting to become an SEO freelancer and be your own boss, then you’ve got everything you need right here.
It’s a lot of work – especially at first until you go through the motions a few times. You’ll likely go a month or more (or less if you’re lucky/good) without closing a client – like I did.
But life is long. 1-2 months of putting in work with little results is nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Er, I mean, just follow these steps and within 24 hours you’ll be making $10k per month!!!1
But in all seriousness, just follow the steps I’ve given you. You’re going to fail, you’re going to have questions, and luckily for you you’ve now got someone who’s gone through it all with success to help you out.
If you ever need a hand feel free to drop a comment below or contact me here.
Now as Shia Labeouf gracefully puts it, JUST. DO IT.