What are your goals for your freelance writing website? To be clear, we're talking about your professional site -- the one designed to attract clients, not your site or blog targeting other writers.
Chances are that you're hoping to attract not only clients, but the right clients. You know, they're the ones who have a need in your specialty area and an adequate budget to hire a pro like you. But how do you know if your website is doing its job effectively? Let's explore four things highly effective freelance websites tend to have in common.
The best freelance writing websites are:
1. Easy to Find
There is very little point in having a professional website if your prospects can't find it. This can mean several things:
- High search engine rankings for things your prospects type when searching for writers
- Being listed on all of your social networking profiles that you use for professional networking
- Being included on your business card or other physical marketing materials distributed offline
If you offer any kind of online writing services (from blogging to Web marketing copy), you need to worry about search engine rankings.
On one hand, many clients search for their own writers. If they don't find you in search rankings, they don't hire you. On the other hand, if you think you're qualified to write their Web copy and content, you had better be able to show that your own can get the job done.
Even if you don't care about rankings, you can bet your clients do. And if you don't don't take search engine optimization seriously for your own business, you're telling them you probably won't take it seriously for theirs either.
What does that mean exactly?
It doesn't mean you should be buying into old school SEO tactics that are really just spam -- think keyword stuffing as a prime example.
What it does mean is that you have to know your target market. You have to understand their search habits. And you have to understand how to give them what they really want.
By focusing on your prospects first and foremost, you'll naturally appeal to Google at the same time. It takes some planning, and takes an emphasis on quality content. But you're a professional writer. So you have that covered, right?
As for other ways to make your freelance writing website easier to find, just keep it professional. Distribute it in a way you would want others' contact information distributed to you.
In a newsletter they signed up for? Yes. On a business card you handed out at a networking event? Absolutely. On your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles? Of course. In every blog comment you write on other people's sites? Not so much. Use common sense.
2. Easy to Navigate
Okay. So you're able to get prospects to your writer website. But once they arrive, are they able to find what they really want?
This is where it's a good idea to review your website analytics regularly (Google Analytics is a good option). Find out where you most often lose your visitors (their exit pages). Then figure out how you can better help them find what they're looking for.
What does this include?
- What services you offer
- What you charge (or how they can get a quote)
- Where they can find samples of your work
- How they can contact you
Obviously your site can include more than this. Here's a list of things to include on your freelance writing website to give you ideas. But if your visitors can't at least easily access this basic information, your site isn't working as effectively as it could.
Here are a few ways you can make it easier for visitors to find what they're looking for:
- Include links to your main pages in your primary site navigation (ideally along the top of your website or at least at the top of your sidebar; keep it above the fold and easy to spot).
- Add a search box. If you have a lot of content, you might want to use something like Google Custom Search if your platform isn't known for handling search results well (WordPress is notorious for this).
- Customize your 404 page. If someone types something wrong or if an old link to your site is now dead, visitors could land on a page with a 404: Page Not Found error. By customizing that page you can add your search box or link to key pages to help those visitors find what they're looking for.
Remember, if you aren't giving visitors what they want or if you don't make it easily accessible, they'll happily go to a competitor's site that meets their needs.
Now that you have an idea of what you want to include on your professional site, how much information should actually be there?
This comes down to two things:
- Whether or not you care about ranking in search engines (if you care about growing your writing business, you will)
- Who your clients are
Let's focus on the former. We'll get to the client side of things in the next section.
If you want your site to rank well in search engines (Google specifically), you'll probably want a content-rich site. What they call "shallow content" doesn't rank very well anymore. You can thank all the crappy shallow content coming out of content mills like Demand Media Studios for that.
Your content has to offer real substance. That's not to say every page has to be epic. But you need to offer something of value. Your site copy needs to go far beyond:
"Look at me! Look at me! I'm awesome. Don't you see all this awesome stuff I wrote? See? See? See? Did I tell you I'm awesome? Hire meee!"
I said it before, and I'll say it again. If you want your freelance site to rank well in search engines and convert visitors into clients, you have to put your prospects first. And they want, and deserve, more than a virtual billboard. Let's look at what they do want.
This is probably the most important element of an effective freelance writing website. It needs to be about your clients more than you. Yes. Give some background on your credentials. Yes. Show off some samples. But no. Don't focus on yourself on every page of your site. Focus on what you bring to the table for your clients.
How can you do that?
Focus on Benefits
Don't just mention what services you offer. Explain how those services will directly benefit the client. It's not about your business. It's about theirs.
Showcase some testimonials or case studies. It can help to have other clients take you from mentioning benefits to discussing real-world results.
Add a Blog
Consider adding a client-focused blog. It gives you a chance to showcase your expertise, and it also helps with search rankings to have fresh content.
My business writing site used to rank #2 in Google for the phrase "business writer." (It's not a terribly valuable keyword phrase, but my rankings with it corresponded to rankings on more service-specific terms that drove more traffic.) It ranked there for years. When I took a few months off last year for health reasons, that site dropped to the third page in those rankings -- and also dropped for other phrases -- and my prospect inquiries from search engine visitors fell by more than 75%.
After getting back to blogging over a few months, I'm back to the first page for that example term. I'm not back to the #2 spot at this point, but I'm almost back to the same level of prospects thanks to increases all-around.
You don't even have to update your blog often, so it doesn't have to be the time suck some freelancers worry about. I'm currently updating just once every other week and I'm seeing those huge improvements.
Also consider adding resources that might attract prospects to your site. These might be free e-books, templates, worksheets -- whatever your specific client base would be interested in.
Why add these things? They can encourage prospects to come back, much like a blog. But they can also encourage visitors to share your site with others, building your referral base.
The most effective resource I've released so far was a very short e-book I created back in 2006. I released it for sale in 2007, promoting it mostly in forums where I networked with target clients.
It was a simple guide on writing better press releases. I can hear your questions now -- "Why would you offer an e-book teaching clients how to do it themselves if you're trying to get them to hire you?"
Here's the thing. We all know that there are plenty of clients who don't understand freelance writing well yet. Some think our work is easy and anyone can do it, including them. My philosophy has always been to let them try. Most will never do it well, and those prospects are the ones likely to come back to me later.
I teach them the basics. Some read the e-book, see what's involved, and hire me immediately. They figure it sounds too much like work to do it themselves. Or they were just looking for confirmation that you know what you're talking about. Some want to understand your process and work philosophies more than others.
Then you have the DIY group who actually will succeed. This isn't a usually a huge group, but it's okay. Even if they don't buy now, you've made an impact. They might come back to you for other services later. But at the very least they're more likely to spread the word, bringing even more prospects to your virtual door.
And then you have my favorite group. These are the ones who read the e-book, try it themselves, and then come to me to do it right. I love them because they come into the working relationship with a deeper appreciation for the work we do and the value we bring to the table after failing in their DIY attempt.
This particular e-book was originally sold to prospects. In the short period I had it available for sale, it brought in several thousand dollars in direct sales. It brought in far more income through referred services. That increased significantly when I decided I didn't feel like updating it anymore, so I released it as a free download. And I still land new clients thanks to that freebie today.
Now I'd probably call it more of a report than an e-book if I released something similar today, given how short it was. And I'd pay more attention to its design. I'd bet you could do this even more effectively than I did if you tried it now. And if you used those freebies to build your subscriber list, all the better. (I didn't at the time.)
The best part? It was written and released in about a day and a half. Time well spent.
What else do top freelance websites have in common? Can you think of other resource ideas that might help freelance writers attract more clients and referrals? What have you done to make your professional site stand out against the competition? Share your thoughts in the comments.