Update: On 7-25-2018, Google changed the name of their ad platform from AdWords to Google Ads. We are leaving this article as it was originally written with AdWords as the platform’s name.
What is machine learning?
Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it to learn for themselves. According to Google:
“This technology is critical to helping marketers analyze countless signals in real time and reach consumers with more useful ads at the right moments. Machine learning is also key to measuring the consumer journeys that now span multiple devices and channels across both the digital and physical worlds.”
As a company that wants to lead technological innovation, it’s natural they’d bring machine learning to the AdWords platform. This will help marketers effectively reach the proper audience and help that audience find more relevant ads. This technology, when applied properly, also allows advertisers to run more profitable campaigns, which typically leads to larger budgets which is a win for both Google and their users.
Machine learning for search campaigns
AdWords smart bidding functionality has been around for a while but 2017 brought us behind-the-scenes improvements in machine learning. When a Google search is performed, the AdWords system optimizes bids based on hundreds of ‘signals’. These signals include device, physical location, location intent, weekday and time of day, demographics, etc. The newest addition to the Smart Bidding strategies is “Maximize Conversions,” which doesn’t require a max CPA bid. This is a great way to quickly find out what the optimal CPA for a campaign is and then adjust backward to meet ROI goals.
One of the more frustrating changes for those of us who have been managing AdWords accounts for a long time has been the way that Google rotates ads. A few years back, when you set your ad to rotate evenly, they rotated evenly. Over time this setting has been less and less reliable as Google has taken more control of what ads are served at what time. 2017 made this official with the only ad rotation options being “Optimize” and “Rotate Indefinitely” since August.
After 4 months of testing, it seems that letting Google optimize the ads based on users’ past behavior through machine learning is working well for most advertisers. Furthermore, the addition of “Ad Variations” to the new interface in November 2017 has brought controlled testing back to AdWords in great, new ways and early testing has gone very smoothly.
In-Market Search Audiences
According to Google, “in-market audiences use the power of machine learning to better understand purchase intent. It analyzes trillions of search queries and activity across millions of websites to help figure out when people are close to buying and surface ads that will be more relevant and interesting to them.” This means that you can bid more if a customer searching for your product or service has done some research in the past – that’s a powerful use of AI that every advertiser should be utilizing.
Life Event Search Audiences
Similar to In-Market Search Audiences, Google also launched Life Event Targeting in 2017. This targeting option allows advertisers to target users going through a major life event, such as getting married, graduating or moving. As Google rolls out more events, this will become a very valuable tool in the AdWords toolbox.
Machine learning for display campaigns
Smart Display Campaigns
Machine learning didn’t just improve the search network last year. Google also launched Smart Display Campaigns. Here’s how they work: Enter in your account’s target CPA and budget, provide ad assets such as a headline and images and the system learns and optimizes towards your goals, automatically.
On the surface, a product like this strikes fear in the heart of agencies but it’s important to remember that “Smart” campaigns are only as smart as you tell them to be in the initial setup. Choosing the wrong goals or using untested assets could potentially be a disaster. In other words, Google’s AI is handling the drudgery of campaign management, but advertisers will still need to put in a good deal of time and effort to make sure the machines can do their job effectively.
Machine learning for reporting
Data Driven Attribution
On the reporting side of things, AdWords now uses machine learning to find correlations between the millions of unique ways in which a consumer’s path could lead to a conversion and it assigns weights to the importance of each possible step. Advertisers using any of the Smart Bidding strategies discussed earlier would be wise to enable this feature in their accounts as well. After all, if you’re going to let the machines manage your bids you better give them as much data as possible.
What will 2018 bring?
While 2018 won’t be the year that the machines take our jobs, they will continue to make our lives easier. The list of daily PPC management tasks has decreased over the years as we’ve outsourced more and more of our routine tasks to automated solutions. At Greenlane, this has freed up time on our account managers’ schedules to think bigger for their clients. Landing page creation and optimization continues to drive better and better results for our B2B clients and we are helping them create beautiful assets that their visitors are eager to download. On the e-commerce side, we are optimizing conversion rates by simplifying the checkout process, testing product page layouts, and improving product feeds. Have the machines made your life easier? Let us know how in the comments!
My aim is to show actionable ways to use Ahrefs (and no other tools) to get more organic traffic to your website.
Here’s everything I’ll be teaching you:
Getting Started: How to get started with Ahrefs and set yourself up for success (note: do not skip this stage, it is very important).
Backlink Health Check: How to identify (and fix) any backlink issues that may be holding your website back in the SERPs. WARNING: Fixing these issues can lead to an instant rankings boost!
Keyword Research: Ahrefs Keywords Explorer is perhaps the best keyword research tool on the market. I’ll show you how to use this tool (and a couple of other Ahrefs tools) to build an initial keyword list for your website.
Keyword Prioritisation: How to prioritise your keywords list and identify “low-hanging” opportunities that can boost traffic FAST.
Content Research: How to figure out EXACTLY what type of content you should be creating to rank for your chosen keywords.
Link Building: How to build links to your website using a variety of methods (note: this is where Ahrefs really shines!)
Site Audit: How to diagnose and fix errors with your website (note: this is highly recommended, as on-site errors can hold back your success, even if you’ve done everything right thus far!)
Note: It’s $7 for a 7-day trial. I recommend trying the “Standard” plan.
Once you’re in, Ahrefs will prompt you to add a project (i.e. website) to your account.
This is pretty straightforward—give your project a name and hit “next”. Make sure to use the http + https naming scheme.
You’ll then be asked to add keywords that you want to track.
Ahrefs actually suggests a bunch of keywords that your website is already ranking for. Basically, the higher up the list of suggestions they are, the more traffic those keywords are sending to your website.
I recommend adding the first 4-5 pages worth of keywords.
Why? Because this allows you to track your most important keywords (i.e. the keywords that are the most traffic to your website).
Step #3….add some competitors.
Again, you can either add competitors manually (if you know them) or choose from the suggestions Ahrefs gives.
I recommend adding 5 competitors from the suggestions Ahrefs gives.
And finally, add some branded keywords to track.
I really recommend taking a moment to set this one up. We’ll be using it later in the guide.
Note: By default, Ahrefs sends you daily emails about these keywords. If you prefer not to have daily emails flooding your inbox, go into the settings and change this to weekly (or monthly).
That’s it. You’re ready to rock!
Backlink Health Check
Backlinks from spammy, low-quality websites.
Backlinks with over-optimised anchor text.
These types of backlinks can spell disaster for your website.
At best, they’ll prevent your website from ranking as well as it should.
Lots of links from the same C-block IP can be a bad sign. This is because it signals to Google that these sites may be closely related (e.g. a PBN) and therefore, not the most natural links ever.
Luckily, you can use Ahrefs’ Referring IPs report to find these.
Enter your domains into Site Explorer, then hit the Referring IPs report under Backlink Profile.
Ahrefs groups referring IPs by C-blocks by default—very useful!
In the example above, you can see that the first few results look a bit dodgy—there are thousands of links, from hundreds of domains, all on the same C-block IP.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Yep, they’re spammy. They need disavowing/removing.
Again, there’s no way to disavow these directly from this report but you can export the domains to a .csv and upload them manually.
#4: Find (AND Fix) Broken Backlinks
Building backlinks is d*** hard.
It’s laborious. Time consuming. And costly.
It makes sense to ensure that you’re getting the full benefit of the links you build, right?
Unfortunately, links sometimes break. And when this happens, you won’t feel the benefit of those links.
That’s why fixing broken links is a quick way to regain some valuable link juice and increase rankings.
Here’s how to do it:
Enter your domain into Site Explorer then go to Pages > Best by links.
Then, add a filter so you see only pages with a 404 status code.
You will now see all 404 pages on your website ranked by the number of referring domains they have.
Here’s how to reclaim the “link juice” for these pages:
Restore the broken page—this should be done if there is an actual error on your part (i.e. you’ve accidentally deleted a valuable page at some point).
Add a 301 redirect to the broken page—this should point to either the new location of the page, a suitable alternative, or the homepage.
Reach out and asking the website owner to fix the link—this is your best bet if there’s an actual problem with the link such as incorrect formatting.
So, just restore these pages or redirect them to something relevant to preserve all your link juice.
Do this for any valuable broken links and you’ll see an instant boost!
#5: Remove ALL Low-Quality (or Irrelevant) Outbound Links
Spammy inbound links are BAD.
But outbound links are also extremely important.
You, therefore, need to make sure that you’re not linking to low-quality (or totally irrelevant) websites.
Here’s how to do it:
Enter your domain into Site Explorer then go to Outgoing links > Linked Domains > add a dofollow filter
By default, Ahrefs shows the most linked-to domains first.
Reverse this list.
When I gave this report a quick onceover for my own website, everything looked pretty above board (phew!)
BUT…this isn’t the case for all sites.
Here’s an outbound link I found on Moz.com:
This is clearly a spammy domain.
If you find anything like this, remove (or replace) the links on your website.
Sometimes, you’ll find that your website is linking to a particular URL many times.
Upon closer inspection, we can see that this is a WordPress theme link present in the theme HTML.
In all honesty, this probably isn’t going to cause any huge issues. However, as it’s a dofollow link across (almost) every page of the website, at the very least it’s diluting authority for no good reason.
I recommend that you remove anything like this from your website’s HTML, too.
#6: Fix Broken Outbound Links
Broken outbound links lead to a bad user experience.
Not only is it annoying to click a link on a website and be taken to a broken page but also, it leaves the visitor questioning the validity of your content.
Because they’ll assume your website hasn’t been updated in awhile.
Or that you simply don’t put much effort into your content—certainly not enough to curate resources that actually exist.
Also, if Google thinks your content is going to lead to a bad user experience, they certainly aren’t going to rank your website.
Luckily, this is easily fixable.
Enter your website into Site Explorer, then go to Outgoing Links > Broken Links.
If anything shows up in this report, there are issues to be fixed.
Looks like I have 56 broken outbound links on my website 🙁
You should fix these links by either removing them or replacing them.
Create some content (or improve existing content) around those keywords
Build links to content (wherever appropriate/necessary)
Analyse what did/didn’t work and refine your strategy/plan going forward.
Rinse and repeat all of the above
Do those things, in that order, and I guarantee you’ll see a HUGE traffic increase.
So, let’s get started with the first step: keyword discovery.
#7: Pop a Few “Seed” Keywords into Keywords Explorer
Keywords Explorer is the first place I turn when I want to discover keywords for a new (or existing) website.
That’s because all you need is a few “seed” keywords and it’ll give you thousands of ideas.
Here’s the process:
Go to Keywords explorer and enter a few seed keyword ideas.
Note: There’s no exact process for coming up with these. Just make an educated guess.
Hit the search button.
Note: Make sure to select the appropriate country (e.g. United States) before searching, otherwise you’ll see keyword volume estimates and whatnot for a country unrelated to your business.
Go to the metrics tab.
This shows you monthly search volume, Keyword Difficulty (KD), and tons of other information.
If a keyword looks good (i.e. it has some decent search volume and is relevant to your business), save it to a keywords list.
Note: If a keyword is super-relevant to your business, it makes sense to prioritise it, even if the search volume for that keyword is quite low. As I’ll mention later in this guide, search volume isn’t always the best indicator of traffic. However, it is a good starting point and it’s still worth looking at.
#8: See Other Keyword Ideas (Based on Your Seed Keywords)
Because of this, Keywords Explorer will show you with a bunch (and I really do mean a bunch!) of other keyword ideas based on your seed keywords.
Just hit one of these 6 options on the left-hand menu:
Personally, I usually just select “all”.
However, this will usually give you a few million keywords to play with (see, I told you they had a lot of data), which is pretty d*** impossible to work with.
So, I tend to play with the Keyword Difficulty (KD) filter to narrow them down.
Your best bet is to filter for keywords with a KD score of less than 10.
Why? Because anything below KD 10 means that top-ranking results have less than or equal to 10 backlinks on average, so it should be fairly easy to rank for them.
I usually just tick anything that looks good and add it to my keywords list.
And if you prefer to get a little more granular with your keyword suggestions, you can learn more about what “phrase match”, “having same terms”, etc. mean here.
Note: Ahrefs presented me with 32K+ keyword suggestions from just the 8 keywords I entered above…so you certainly won’t be short of ideas!
#9: Find the Keywords/Topics that Send the Most Traffic to Your Competitors
Enter a competitor’s domain into Site Explorer, then go to Organic search > Top Pages
Here you will see which of your competitors pages are attracting the most organic search traffic.
You’ll also see the top keyword that page ranks for, along with the search volume for that keyword.
Note: It’s also worth paying attention to the RD (Referring Domains) column as this shows how many ref.domains are pointing to that page. If you can identify pages that receive a lot of traffic, yet only have a few RDs, it’s most likely a topic that you can rank for pretty easily!
Pretty cool, right!?
BUT it gets even better…
This report also shows you all of the other keywords these pages rank for (in order of the amount of traffic they drive to your competitors page).
This is not only useful for generating additional keyword ideas but also, finding keywords/topics/phrases that you can sprinkle into your content to increase relevance (i.e. LSI keywords).
#10: Analyse YOUR Competitors to Find Keyword “Content Gaps”
Content gaps exist when your competitors rank for keywords that you don’t rank for.
Think about it:
If you could see what those keywords are, you could create content to compete with them (and ideally outrank them).
Here’s how to find those keywords with Ahrefs:
Enter your domain into Site Explorer, then go to Organic Search > Content Gap
Now, enter the domains of (at least) three competitors plus your domain in the “but the following target doesn’t rank for” field.
Hit “show keywords”.
Bingo…here are hundreds of keywords that (at least) one of your competitors rank for, yet you don’t.
Tip: Enter competitors with a similar Domain Rating (DR) score. This will ensure that the Content Gap analysis kicks back keywords you stand a chance of ranking for. If you enter Moz.com as a competitor and you have a DR 40 site, the sad truth is that you’re probably never going to outrank Moz.
I recommend paying particular attention to any keywords where your competitors are ranking in the top 10.
Because if they’re ranking in the top 10, chances are you could, too!
Keyword Prioritisation (PLUS How to Identify Low-Hanging Opportunities)
At this stage, you should have a big list of keywords that you could try to rank for.
Just because you can target these keywords doesn’t mean you should.
Some will be easier to rank for than others (in fact, you may not even stand a hope in h*** of ranking for some of them).
Some will drive a lot of traffic (while others will drive very little).
Some will require creating new content (others won’t).
Analysing keywords for certain attributes will allow you to prioritise your list, and divide your ideas into long-term and short-term topics.
Here are a few tips:
#11: Find Keywords That You’re Already Ranking for in Positions 4-6
Already ranking in positions 4-6 for some high-volume keywords?
Therefore, it only takes a ranking increase of one position to see BIG traffic boosts from these keywords.
And improving rankings by 1-2 positions can be as simple as building a handful of high-quality links.
But how do you find these keywords?
Enter your site into Site Explorer, then go to Organic Search > Organic Keywords
This will show you all of the keywords your website is currently ranking for.
Note: By default, they’re ordered by the amount of organic traffic they send to your website—neat!
But here’s the trick:
Add a positions filter to show the keywords you’re currently ranking in positions 4-6.
These keywords are your low-hanging fruit—they should be prioritised when it comes to on-page optimization and link building.
#12: Find Keywords AND Topics with High Traffic Potential
Sometimes individual keywords won’t have a particularly high search volume.
Example: “best keyword research tools”
If you were to rank #1 for this keyword, you would receive roughly 30% of these clicks.
That’s a measly 75 visitors/month (approx.)
Hardly worth bothering, right!?
Not so fast.
Looking at individual search volumes for a single keyword rarely shows you the true ranking potential of that topic.
This is because pages almost always naturally rank for TONs of variations of that keyword (i.e. “long-tail keywords”).
So how do you figure out the true ranking potential of a topic?
Check how much organic traffic the top ranking pages for that keyword are getting.
If it’s a lot, the topic/keyword has a high traffic potential.
Go to Keywords Explorer and enter a keyword.
Scroll down to the SERP overview and you’ll see who’s ranking in the top 10. You can also see how much organic traffic these top ranking pages are attracting (across all keywords).
These are the SERPs for “best keyword research tool” and as you can see, the top ranking pages are getting WAY more than 75 visits/month.
So, this topic DEFINITELY has a high traffic potential and is worth prioritising.
(you’re off to a good start!)
But…you ain’t going to rank for any of those keywords without creating some EPIC content around them.
Obviously, some of the keywords you’ve found (e.g. the low-hanging opportunities in positions 4-6) won’t require new content. You just need to optimise—and build some extra links to—your existing content.
For others, however, you’re going to need to create something new!
BUT here’s the problem:
It’s NOT always easy to discern exactly what you should be writing about solely by looking at a keyword.
Let’s take the keyword “keyword research”.
It’s a great keyword with a ridiculously high search volume (at least for this niche).
BUT, it’s also massively competitive.
If I was to write a reasonably generic guide to keyword research, I probably wouldn’t stand a chance of ranking in the top 3 for this exact keyword.
However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t write about keyword research at all…I just need to “niche down” a little and write a UNIQUE piece of content.
#13: Find UNIQUE, EASILY BEATABLE Content Ideas Using Content Explorer
They also add 5+ million new pieces of content to this index every 24 hours (which is absolutely INSANE).
But, data and stats aside, what benefit does this have?
Well, it means that you can enter (almost) any keyword into Content Explorer and it’ll kick back a TON of content ideas.
That’s 3900+ content ideas for “keyword research”.
And this is only results where the phrase “keyword research” is in the article title…
You can also search for content where the phrase is mentioned anywhere in the article content, which will return exponentially more results!
BUT, like I said, it would be VERY difficult to rank for this exact keyword without “niching down”.
This is because the “big guys” (e.g. Moz, Ahrefs, etc) are currently dominating the SERPs for this topic.
However, we can use the in-built filters in content Explorer to find ideas that:
We can actually compete with
Will actually generate traffic for us
Here’s the setup:
Here’s exactly what we’re doing here (and why!):
Filtering for only English results: Pretty self-explanatory, right!?
Filtering ONLY for results from websites with a DR between 0-59: Because the DR of my website (matthewwoodward.co.uk) is also 59, I only want to see results for sites with the same (or lower) DR. Why? Because these are the sites I’ll be able to compete with easily.
Filtering ONLY for pages with <5 referring domains AND >500 organic visitors per month: This is the important part! By looking for pages that are receiving 500+ organic visits AND have very few links, we can uncover pages that will be VERY easy to outrank. Stealing their traffic will most likely require nothing more than creating better content and building a handful of links (at the most)
Here’s what Content Explorer found for my search:
This page talks about how to uncover keywords by looking at YouTube tags.
It receives 525 organic visits per month, has 0 referring domains, and is 183 words long.
If this isn’t easily beatable content, then I don’t know what is!
Note: Remember, if your search doesn’t return many results, you can always find pages containing your keyword anywhere in the content (using the “in content”) filter to broaden your horizons.
#14: Find Content Ideas That People ACTUALLY Care About with Keywords Explorer
Nobody understands search intent like Google does.
Their algorithm relies on showing users what they want to see.
Because of this, there’s no better way to understand the intent behind a search term (i.e. what people are actually looking to find) than analysing the top 10 search results.
Let’s take a keyword like “SEO tools”…
Now, there are plenty of SEO tools—some free, some paid—on the market. If we wanted to rank for this keyword, maybe a winning formula for a piece of content would be to create a list of all of these SEO tools, right!?
Again, not so fast.
Let’s go to Keywords Explorer, enter the keyword, and scroll down to the SERP overview.
This shows us the top 10 ranking results.
Instantly, I spot a pattern…
Although most of the results are lists of SEO tools, a lot of them are actually lists of free SEO tools.
In fact, 7/10 results contain the word “free” in the title tag.
This tells me that although people are generally typing in “SEO tools”, they actually appear to be looking for a list of the best free SEO tools.
It would, therefore, be much smarter to go down this route when creating a piece of content around this keyword/topic.
Keywords Explorer tells us how many links (and referring domains) each of these pages has, allowing us to quickly spot topics with great potential to attract a TON of links.
I’ll let you in on a (sad) secret:
You ain’t going to rank for any worthwhile keyword/topic without links.
Sure, less competitive keywords may only require a handful of links whereas more competitive keywords may require many more links (sometimes even thousands) but still, the bottomline is this:
Because this would also be a great additional resource to include at the end of that SEL post, I could simply reach out to the author of that post (Kevin) and suggest that he add a link to my post in that final section.
This is a great, simple way to build links to any piece of content 🙂
#17: Monitor Competitor Links AND Brand Mentions
You can learn a lot from your competitors.
Did you know that monitoring your competitors can be a great source of link prospects?
Basically, if you can identify where your competitors are being mentioned AND linked-to, you can often steal these links/mentions from yourself.
Here are the top 3 Google results for “long tail pro”:
Right now, I’m ranking in position #3.
BUT…I’d really like to rank #1.
This means that my competitors for this keyword are longtailpro.com and dumbpassiveincome.com.
Right off the bat, I could throw these URLs into Ahrefs Site Explorer, look at their backlinks, and see if there are any easily replicable links I could steal for myself.
BUT…that’s a different strategy altogether!
What I want to talk about is monitoring both competitor links AND branded keywords to give you a constant supply of link opportunities.
So, let’s start with backlink monitoring:
Like I said, one of my competitors is dumbpassiveincome.com—they have a similar Long Tail Pro review to mine.
However, I personally believe my review to be better. I also updated my review very recently, so it’s super fresh.
I, therefore, believe that anyone choosing to link to my competitors Long Tail Pro review would be better off linking to mine.
So, I want to monitor my competitors review for new links.
If they get any, I can then reach out to the person linking to them and suggest that they link to my review instead (as it’s better).
Here’s how to set up an alert for these links:
Go to the Backlinks section within Ahrefs Alerts and hit “+ New Alert”.
Enter the URL of the page you want to monitor for backlinks, choose “New backlinks” under the “Scope” option, and enter your email address.
You’ll now receive an email whenever there’s a new link to your competitor’s URL—you can then swoop in and steal the link for yourself.
BUT…competitor backlinks aren’t the only thing worth monitoring:
You can also monitor competitors branded keywords.
Because I have a review of Long Tail Pro, it would be worth setting up an alert for branded keywords like “Long Tail Pro”.
If someone is mentioning Long Tail Pro on the web, their readers would find a review and tutorial for the tool rather useful.
So, whenever I see Long Tail Pro being mentioned, I can simply reach out to the website owner and suggest they add a link to my review within their post.
Here’s how to set this up:
Go to the Mentions section of Ahrefs Alerts and hit “+ New Alert”.
Add your keyword, add any blocked domains (e.g. your own website), and your email address.
Now you’ll receive an email alert whenever your keyword (e.g. “long tail pro”) is mentioned on the web.
#18: Find “Skyscraper” Link Building Opportunities (AND Prospects)
Ahh, the infamous “skyscraper technique”…
It’s perhaps the most famous link-building technique there is!
And for good reason, too—it’s super powerful!
For those unfamiliar, here’s the basic process:
Find a piece of content with a TON of links.
Make something even better.
Contact anyone linking to the old, inferior piece of content and suggest that they link to yours instead.
In a nutshell, it will diagnose pretty much every on-site issue you could think of, without you really having to lift a finger.
Here are a few useful things you can do with it:
Note: I’m not going to cover how to set up a project or run crawls in the Site Audit tool because, honestly, it’s pretty self-explanatory. But, if you’re struggling, this post (by Ahrefs) explains exactly how to do it, along with a lot more!
#21: Find Slow Loading Pages (Using the Performance Report)
Go to Internal Pages > Performance and you will see a report that looks something like this:
At first glance, this may appear as nothing more than a myriad of pie charts.
But, this is actually showing you the number of pages on your website that are slow to load, in various ways.
I recommend paying particular attention to the “Load time” chart:
The red section of the pie chart shows the number of pages that are too slow to load (and thus, need fixing).
If you click on the red section, you will see exactly which pages these are, along with how slowly they actually load:
One cool thing to note here is that Ahrefs also shows you the amount of organic traffic these pages are receiving.
If you spot a slow loading page that is receiving a lot of traffic (like my Buzzbundle review, for example), I recommend prioritising the speeding-up of that page.
Why? Because chances are it will attract even more traffic if you improve the visitor experience.
#22: Find HTML Tag Issues (e.g. Rogue “Noindex” Tags) with the HTML Tags Report
Mistakes with HTML tags can wreak havoc on your website.
For example, if you accidentally add a noindex tag to a page, Google won’t even index that page.
This means that even if you write great content and build epic links, it ain’t going to rank.
And, while not all HTML tag errors are potentially this catastrophic, they’re still worth fixing.
Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool makes this super-easy, as it uncovers all the errors for you.
To view them, just go to Internal Pages > HTML Tags:
Here, it will list all of the issues the crawler has found with your website.
In the example above, you can see that I have a few missing meta tags, along with a few other errors.
To learn more about where these errors actually occur, just click on one of the errors:
It will then tell you more information about the errors, including the pages on which the errors occur:
Because Ahrefs does the hard work for you (i.e. the discovery of these errors), you can usually fix them pretty easily just by editing a bit of HTML code.
#23: Find Incoming and Outgoing Link Issues (e.g. Broken Outbound Links) with the Incoming/Outgoing Links Reports
Earlier in this guide, I showed you how to check for (and remove) toxic backlinks.
This is super-important.
But, there are other link-based issues that can impact the performance of your website.
I’m talking about broken outgoing links…
“Nofollow” internal links…
HTTPS pages internally linking to HTTP pages…
And so forth.
Luckily, the Incoming and Outgoing Links reports in the Site Audit tool will help you to uncover and fix these issues.
Let’s start by taking a look at the Incoming Links report:
In this example, you can see that there are a few issues with my website—namely nofollowed internal links.
This isn’t always cause for concern but generally, your internal links should be used to send “link juice” to important and relevant pages.
That’s why it’s important to keep your eye on progress and make sure that the grunt work is having a positive impact on your website.
Google Analytics will be your best bet here.
BUT…if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably end up seeing your Ahrefs dashboard much more than your Google Analytics account.
Here are a few things to look for in Ahrefs to make sure you’re heading in the right direction:
#24: Increased Domain Rating (DR) AND Decreased Ahrefs Rank
Are you building a consistent flow of links to your website?
If so, you should see your Domain Rating (DR) increase over time.
Here’s what it looks like on your dashboard:
If it increases, you’ll see a green arrow appear alongside this number with the amount of points it’s increased (much like with the URL rating below).
Similarly, you should start to see your Ahrefs Rank decrease.
Basically, the lower your Ahrefs Rank is, the better, so keep an eye on it.
Note: Don’t obsess over these metrics. However, they are a decent indicator as to the overall status of your website.
#25: Improved Rankings (for Your Tracked Keywords)
Remember during the Ahrefs setup process when I told you to track a bunch of your top keywords in Ahrefs?
Well, that’s because these keywords also show up in your dashboard, like this:
Basically, this shows how many of your tracked keywords are ranking in the top 1-3, 4-10, 11-20, and 21-50 search results.
As rankings improve, they’ll show up here.
This is my personal favourite way to keep an eye on what really matters—if I see improvements here, I know that my traffic is probably increasing, too.
Of course, if you want to take a more granular look at keyword rankings (with graphs and whatnot), you can use Ahrefs Rank Tracker.
This can also show you some super-cool data such as the number of featured snippets you own, and much more.
Useful Tools (That Work with Ahrefs)
Before I wrap this up, I want to mention a handful of tools that incorporate Ahrefs data.
I know from talking to Tim (Soulo) that Ahrefs are very picky about which tools they allow to use their data. That’s why this list is quite short.
Here are the tools I can personally vouch for:
URL Profiler: Pulls in a bunch of metrics (including Ahrefs metrics) for a list of URLs. This is one of my personal favourites. Free trial available here.
Ninja Outreach: Use the free trial of this tool to contact thosuands of backlink opportunities/broken backlinks itc in a couple of clicks. They have a range of link building email templates built in!
Screaming Frog: Industry-leading crawling tool. A must-have for anyone who’s serious about SEO. It now also allows you to pull in metrics (e.g. DR, Ahrefs Rank, etc.) from Ahrefs directly. More details here.
Link Miner (Chrome Extension): Analyse and extract links from any web page. Perfect for finding broken links and quickly assessing them by pulling in metrics from Ahrefs.
SeoTools for Excel: Excel add-on that’s absolutely packed with functionality. If you want to pull Ahrefs metrics directly into your spreadsheets, this one is for you! More details here.
Starting out as a freelance writer can be confusing, can’t it?
You have no idea what steps you should take, how you should be spending your time, or if you’re even doing the right thing.
But the truth is that it doesn’t have to be that way:
Starting a freelance writing business simple, easy and doesn’t require any money to get started. You just need to know the right steps to take, at the right time, to get your business moving.
That’s where this article comes in, because in it I want to show you exactly what you need to do start a freelance writing business.
Here’s what you can expect…
What You’ll Learn
The 7 free essentials you need to get started
9 easy ways any beginner can make money (without experience)
How to find a profitable writing niche
Where to find jobs that accept beginners (at good rates)
How to write a pitch that will jump out of their inbox and into your bank account
Who Am I To Teach You All Of This?
Four years ago I was a dead broke shoe-salesman, with £18,500+ in debt; working 10 hours a day for £5 an hour. I had no qualifications, no connections and no idea what to do with my life.
That was until I stumbled across an easy system for starting and growing a freelance writing business that transformed my life, freed me from debt, allowed me to travel to over 30 different countries and generate more than $120,000 in income.
Then my passions turned to helping teach others start their own freelance writing businesses. And, I’m on the mission to help 1000 people like you start and grow a profitable freelance writing business.
As a writer my work has been featured in some places you might have heard of:
So, Matt approached me to write this article for you because, well…I know my stuff which lead me to create the Freelance Writers School.
And if you follow the steps and the advice in this article, you too can start and grow a full-time freelance writing business.
What Is Freelance Writing?
A freelance writer is what I like to call a “Pen for hire”.
You exchange your words (or time) for money, regardless of your niche or medium.
You provide a writing service to a client based on their needs, which you’ll work out in advanced or will be published in their job description.
Let’s say you’re a freelance writer who writes blog posts, and you’ve been contracted to write an article for Matt’s site.
You’ll pitch an idea (or be given one) and you’ll work on this independently. The amount you’ll charge will be calculated on the amount of words, or the amount of time, it takes to write an article.
You get paid when he’s happy with the article (you can get paid before once you’re more established), and you work together to make it right for his readers.
You’re not an employee and you’re an equal partner to your client. Whilst this is a service and you’re obligated to provide what the client wants – the same way your phone provider is – this is a relationship between the two of you.
Why Become A Freelance Writer?
I’ll admit I’m bias, but freelance writing is one of the greatest jobs to do.
Since 2014 I’ve been able to travel to over 30 countries, relocate to Germany, write for millions of readers, help people change their lives and earn more than $120,000.
All whilst being able to sit at my laptop, sip coffee, and create art.
You’re in control of your income – as long as you’re willing to put in the work – and can rid yourself of the shackles of a nine-to-five lifestyle. (Or use it to grow your income outside of your job).
There are drawbacks, because you have to: find your own clients, motivate yourself, do your own taxes and learn extra skills.
But if you want a life that you control, to do work that you love, whilst earning $40,000+ from the comfort of your own home, then every drawback is worth it.
Quick Start Checklist: Do You Have What You Need?
There are a few essentials you’ll need before you get started.
The good news is that they’re freely available to anyone who wants to start this type of business.
Here’s a short checklist:
Computer: So you have somewhere to do, and save, your work.
Internet Connection: You’re here so you’ve got that down.
Email Address: Make it professional – firstname.lastname@example.org isn’t going to woo any clients.
Free WordPress Blog: So you can have a portfolio; but also practice writing and scribble down ideas as you go.
A Paypal Account: That way you can get paid.
A Desire To Write: Because this job is hard if you don’t enjoy it.
That’s really all there is to it. The rest of it can be learned on the job. There’s no need for any extra products, or investments. If you find you do need anything you can just learn as you go.
For example I’d been writing for a year before I knew what the legal requirements for an invoice were. It didn’t stop me making money or building a business, it just gave me an extra 60 minutes work at tax time.
You also don’t need any qualifications. I have none, and I failed English at college. If I can do it, so can you.
Get started and learn as you go.
9 Ways Beginner Freelancers Can Make Money
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to show you some of the ways that you can start making money writing in the next few months.
These methods have lower barriers to entry and you can mix and match them whilst you find what you like to write, and to increase the amount of income streams you have.
#1: Freelance Blogging
Freelance Blogging is how I’ve made 90% of my money over the course of my career (in conjunction with option #11 too).
It’s also one of the most beginner friendly ways to make money writing because the barriers to entry are much lower than elsewhere.
There are two main options you should look at:
Content Marketing: Writing blog posts for companies who are using blogs, social media and SEO to grow their business.
Helping Bloggers:Lots of successful bloggers don’t have time to create all of their content anymore. You can come on board and help them with their workload. (100% the most fun way to earn money).
Unless Google drops off the face of the earth tomorrow, or people decide they don’t want independent help and advice, then this is a way of making money that is here to stay too.
#2: Freelance Website Copywriting
One of the easiest ways to break into freelance writing is by helping people create the copy for their new website. Here’s the thing:
Hundreds of people get new websites made for their businesses every day. But they have no idea what they should write there. And why would your local plumber have any idea what they should write?
Two of my first ever clients were local businesses (they were across a corridor from each other, so when I landed one I landed the other) who needed their websites writing for them. I saved them money doing it with the agency, and they helped me get my business off the ground.
If you can find a local business with a new website where you can easily see they need better writing, or get friendly with a local design agency, you could find an endless stream of income.
#3: eBook Writing
If you’re a specialist on a topic – let’s say from your past job, or what you studied at college – you can get your break into the industry writing eBooks for people.
My first ever freelance writing job came writing a fitness eBook for a client through Elance (now UpWork), because I was a personal trainer when I was in my teens.
Dave’s entire business is built on freelance writer’s creating eBooks for him. And that’s just one guy. Think of how many sites sell eBooks, or offer them as a free download.
#4: Podcast And Video Script Writing
Think Podcasters and YouTubers do everything off the cuff? Think again.
Many of them have scripts that they work from to keep them on track and focused. And, even as a beginner, you could be the one to write them.
One of my students, Rebekah Donovan, got one of her first gigs writing for a podcast in the health niche, without any experience as a freelancer.
Speaking of Podcasts, Transcription is also a great place to get your foot in the door because it’s a non-skilled position. (You’re basically getting paid to write what someone said).
However it can be incredibly valuable content for an online business. So, if you see a podcaster using transcription, you could be the one to help her.
Do you speak a second language, or is English not your first language? If so, there’s a market for you here.
Many bloggers and content writers want to reach a wider audience, and if you can translate their content into: German, Spanish, Russian, French, Arabic, Chinese or any other language where there is high demand for content, you may have a niche.
To make a professional note: you need to qualified to be a translator. However if you’re a fluent speaker of two languages, many potential clients won’t mind, as long as it’s accurate. Just be sure to declare up front.
#7: Review Writing
Review’s come in a lot of different forms. You’re on an Internet Marketing site so you’re probably only thinking Amazon and Digital Product reviews, but your scope here fits into any niche:
Product Review Writing: Amazon, Digital or other. This can extend into blog posts too, like this review Matt did of SERPed. And if you really want to grind, you can get paid by services like DooYoo to write reviews too.
Service Reviews: You can be hired to write a review on services in your niche. For example, writing about the customer service provided by a hotel or a retail chain.
These all branch off into their own mini-niches too, that you’ll find as you become familiar with the niche you’re writing for.
#8: Product Description Writing
When someone once asked me what I do for a living, I read out a mental list of topics and he said, “Oh yeah, I suppose someone has to write all of them!”. What he was referring to was Product Content Writing.
Take a look at this random page for a fridge on Amazon that I pulled up:
Someone has to write them, right? And they’re readily available jobs. I once went through and wrote product content for over 200 customer claims sites.
It was as mind numbing as possible, but it sure felt good when I got that pay cheque.
Here’s a surprising fact:
Many bloggers, business owners and even authors don’t personally write all of their own content.
Often they bring in someone like me, a ghostwriter, to help them with their workload and create content they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to write.
In all niches you can find clients screaming out for ghostwriting clients, and if you’ve got the ability to adapt and change your writing voice, this can be a long-term contract that pays well.
Step #1: Find Your Writer’s Niche
Choosing a freelance writer’s niche is d*** scary.
By saying “I only write in this niche”, it feels kinda like you’re shutting yourself off from thousands of other paying clients you could work for.
And, you are…
But that’s a good thing. Let me explain:
Working in a niche is kind of like playing a video game. At the early levels you get all of the lowest grade items, small payouts for your quests and all of the higher level characters can kill you in one swipe.
But as you progress the levels, and specialise is a skill – magic, stealth, strength – you start getting better items, bigger payouts, and those n00bs will think twice before they try and fight with you.
The same goes for niching down. At the start – where many freelancers spend their time – you can only get the low-paying entry level jobs because you’re not good enough, knowledgeable enough or well-known enough.
But once you get through those entry level jobs and start working yourself up through a niche, you build a portfolio and can start writing for other higher paying clients and begin commanding, $60, $100 and even $200+ an hour for your services.
So whilst you decrease the amount of total clients you can work with, you increase the amount you can earn.
In this section you’re going to learn how to find your niche and unlock a world of higher earning potential.
Start With The Past…
When I first started thinking about niching down I had no idea where to look. I didn’t feel like I had any real interests and skills (outside of writing) that could make me any money.
I told my Mum about this problem and she just looked at me like I was an idiot. “You’ve got lots of skills, what are you talking about?” she said.
She ran upstairs, grabbed me a pen and paper, and told me to write down ten things that I’d done, achieved, enjoyed or read about in the last five years.
Here’s what that list looked like:
Worked as a personal trainer
Backpacked around Australia and Europe
Coached soccer in America for one year
Was the highest KPI seller in my retail store
Played in a semi-professional rugby league
Mentored an 18 year old through his fitness instructor program
Written guest posts for Lifehack and Addicted2Success
Learned basic Spanish
Read a lot of books on productivity and business
Took a Salsa dancing class
It was surprising to me to see how many skills and pockets of knowledge I had that were at least above a complete beginner level.
Although not all of them were winning ideas, the options in bold are what I felt I would be comfortable writing about for a larger audience. .
If you feel that you don’t have any knowledge or skills you could write about, I’d highly recommend trying this task for yourself, and don’t underestimate any skills you might have from the past.
To steal a little from Ramit Sethi, even speaking English is a skill!
Follow The Money
The next best place to look for your writers niche is where you spend your money. This is usually a great indicator of what you’re interested in, and topics you could write about.
Courses and classes you’ve taken (both online and in-person)
Your direct debit / monthly subscription payments
Items you’ve always wanted to buy (but never had the budget for)
The types of books you buy
Are you the kind of person who spends $50 on a haircut? Perhaps there’s a career writing in fashion and grooming.
Are you the kind of person who takes Thai cooking classes? Food blogs might be calling your name.
Are you the kind of person who has subscriptions to SERPed and Ahrefs? Then maybe a life of SEO writing is in your future.
The Drill Down…
Once you’ve fleshed out all of your ideas, you’d do well to group them into their major niche categories. This could look like:
The final step is to drill your niche into its relevant sub niches and where you can write for them. Each niche has a tree that looks a little like this:
For example, if you were to write in the travel niche this could break down like this:
And if you want to write in internet marketing – much like I did – you might find a breakdown like this:
Each niche and sub niche will have businesses, blogs and podcasts associated with them. This is where you begin to really see all of the opportunities in your niche and where you can begin to look for jobs.
What If My Niche Doesn’t Have A Lot Of Money In It?
Trust me, it does.
Unless you’re into Albino Badger Wrestling or Bon Jovi Themed Horse Racing Events, you’re going to be able to be able to find at least one form of income. Although, those niches probably need freelance writers too.
You can break down a niche into a lot of different chunks and there’s money to be made in all of them. Take your niche – I’m going to use Travel for this – and explore to see which of these elements it has.
Perform a quick Google search of “your niche + blogs”, for example, “travel + blogs”:
If there’s blogs about your niche – which there will be – here’s one really lucrative opportunity for you to Freelance. In fact the more niche you go, the more money you can make for blog posts, because writers are few and far between.
They all compile freelance writing jobs that have been posted there, or direct you to jobs posted on classified sites giving you the cream of the crop.
There’s not much to this, really. You don’t need to sign up or do anything magical. You can just start bookmarking freelance writing jobs that you like the look of.
I’ve used this method to land some of my most consistent clients like Nichehacks and Canva, so you’ll definitely be able to find some higher paying work here too.
Setting Up For Freelance Writing Jobs Alerts
If you’re interested in taking on high-paying, corporate clients, you can use job alerts to notify you of work that is posted in your niche.
I use Gorkana for freelance writing jobs alerts because they have a ‘Journalism Jobs’ section; but you can also sign up to specific job boards, or use Matt’s advice in this article to set up Google Alerts.
Don’t read too much into the titles of jobs on these job boards – like Journalist or Customer Content Creator – they’re just business jargon.
All you need to do through a site like this is set your filters, find a search that suits your needs and then choose their update option. Like this email subscription box here:
That gives me a lot of emails a month, like the ones below, with job information.
These are usually pretty effective because they don’t just send you needless updates, they send them out only when a job gets posted:
Classified Job Postings
Classifieds are an underrated job search tool, but they can be highly effective. There are even services like FreelanceWritingGigs.com that pool the best of the best together for you for free.
You can look for these job postings a little closer to home as well using sites like:
That’s it for advertised jobs, time to move on to unadvertised jobs.
Dig Out Those Unadvertised Goldmines
There’s an unwritten rule in Freelancing that says:
The highest paying jobs are never advertised.
And it’s one of the most true statement you’ll ever hear. In fact, a solid 90% of my client base
right now didn’t advertise their jobs. I went to them, or they were referred to me, and they’re willing to pay more.
I don’t know why it works that way, but you’ll just have to accept that’s the way this world works.
But that begs the question: how do you know to pitch to them if it’s not advertised?
The short answer is that you don’t. You just have to go out there and speak to people, network and find out what they’re looking for.
However there are a few strategies you can employ to make your search a little easier.
Finding People To Cold Pitch
Earlier you looked at breaking your niche down into categories – like Blogs and Companies – now you’re going to use those same searches to find people to pitch to.
When I first got into the Internet Marketing Niche, I’d look for the parts of the niche that interested me:
Then I’d narrow them down even further to find what I could write about. Take social media, for example, there were a two options open to me:
Blogs about Social Media
Social Media Tools
So I’d go and look for all the social media tools I could. Which lead to me pitching to Share As Image (now Stencil) and becoming their Content Manager. And, to me landing an epic blog post spot on Buffer:
Think of how you can apply the same to your niche. What do the different parts of your niche break down to? You can find:
Tools and Plugins
Fortune 500 companies
And from all of those you can break down even further, like if you were to look at retailers for the travel niche, that could be:
Online Guidebook Shops
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as well. There are probably hundreds more options on top of that.
Be thorough. Dive deeply into your niches and find all of the options of companies that will need writing in some form, as you looked at before.
If you don’t have any clients at all this is a step for the future. But, I can show you how to get around that in the next section.
Referrals are one of the most powerful ways of landing a client. Because you come with a guarantee, from someone they know, that your work is of a high quality.
I regularly send out emails like this to clients, asking if they know of anyone who is looking for a freelance writer. And, sometimes you land a winner. Like when our very own Matt referred me to Colin Klinkert of SERPed, where I became the content manager there.
Search For Local Clients
You have a huge network you’re not even aware of.
Just cast your mind out to all of the people you know and all of the people that they know. There is an endless supply of people who could hook you up to a new client.
Old Work Colleagues
Your Social Media Friends
People You See When You Walk The Dog
The list goes on and on and on. Who’s to say what’s going to come your way through these channels?
Two of my first ever corporate clients came this way. A Training Company and a Language Interpretation service that operated across the hall from each other. The first owner was my cousin’s best friend, the second just came and sat in on the meeting and chose to buy in.
There will be hundreds of businesses in your local area that other writers have never even thought to pitch to, either. While they search the furthest reaches of the internet, why not walk into their building and request a meeting?
And, as Sean Ogle once told me when I interviewed him for a Podcast (that never actually aired):
“Get to local events – conferences, marketing events and anything else. There is no substitute for meeting people in person.”
You can find a whole host of these events on MeetUp or pay attention to local publications and magazines.
2 Super-Secret Insider Methods For Finding Online Jobs
There are some really easy other ways of finding clients, too. In fact they’re right under your nose and they can be accessed easily.
Here they are…
The Upside-Down Method
I want to share with you the most effective way I’ve found of getting to write for people. These are instantly warm or hot leads you can pitch to, and the success rate is much higher than any other way I’ve tried.
Take a look at one of the online magazines or blogs in your niche. And, find for times that a freelance writer has contributed. Usually they’ll have a biography that tells you they’re a freelancers, like this bio from Kristi Hines on Nichehacks:
Now, even if there’s not a link in their profile, almost all freelancers have an online portfolio – whether that’s on their own hosted site or a free WordPress blog – so you can find that by searching in Google for their name (include freelancer or blogger if their name is really generic):
Once you’re on their site, look for pages with names like Portfolio or Latest, where they show you a list of the clients they’ve worked (or are working for) by sharing their latest or most successful posts:
Right in front of you right now there is a full database of potential clients that are open to having freelancers work for them. They’re at least paying one freelancer so they’ll be open to others, too.
Using this method – including Kristi’s Site – I’ve been able to land writing work with a lot of big, high paying clients. Oh, and stay tuned for a niche little tip on pitching later on, too.
The LinkedIn Lead Generator
This process is a similar to the above. But, with a little twist that you can guess from the title. You do it on LinkedIn instead.
Once again, find yourself a freelance writer on one of your favourite publications in your niche. Then, instead of looking for them on Google, go ahead and search them on LinkedIn:
From there head down the page to find their Freelance Work Experience. This will either be under the tab of their company name, like it is for Kristi here:
Or under different experience tabs like it is on my personal LinkedIn Profile:
Once again you have a tonne of companies to reach out to and pitch to because they’re interested in freelancers.
Don’t worry about stealing income from that freelancer, either. Normally you’ll be working in-addition to them so it’s not like you’re taking food off their table. You’re just putting it on your own.
Okay, that’s how to find potential clients all wrapped up. Now, how can you actually get them?
This Step In Short
Freelance Writing jobs can be found in three different ways:
Advertised: Where it’s posted on a freelance writing jobs board, forum or freelancer site etc.
Unadvertised: Where you contact a company or person unsolicited looking for opportunities.
Referral: Where friends, family or current clients send new clients your way.
Advertised jobs are best found on job board like ProBlogger Jobs or Freelance Writing Gigs.
Unadvertised freelance writing jobs take some searching; but you can use methods like The Website Hijacker to find companies that are open to working with freelancers.
Or, get involved in your local community and find the people around you who are open to it.
Referral clients come from asking the question and generating warm leads from people that you know. This can be a great method of automating your marketing.
Step #3: Build Your Sales Tools
Writing is far too subjective for someone to determine what makes a good writer and what makes a bad writer.
You can see it for yourself in literature. There will be writers and novelists who have a huge following but write in a way that you just can’t stand to read. I can’t bear to read Harry Potter, but J.K Rowling is still out there making a fortune.
The way someone can choose whether you’re a good writer, then, is:
Whether they like your writing style
How good your portfolio is
If other people have published your work
What other people say about your writing
They won’t even use all of these. They’ll be happy with just two or three of them. So don’t worry if you can’t tick all of these boxes. Heck, most freelancers can’t hit all four of these when they move from one niche to another.
But you do need to do need to be able to showcase your work to people, in order to land the client. So let’s look at how you can start to build these up.
A Rock Solid Portfolio
Your portfolio is where you can show people your work and let them make a decision for themselves. There’s no right or wrong way to do a portfolio, but it should be:
Relevant To Your Niche
Relevant To Your Skills
I’m going to show you a few different examples of portfolios so you can get an idea of what I mean.
Portfolio #1: Simple And Visual
This portfolio from Copywriting Is Art is simple, but really effective. If you’re going for a copywriting angle, this is a great one to follow:
Simple imagery gives it authority and is easy for people to see that there is an endorsement of his work. When you follow the links through the image you get a comprehensive breakdown of the work done, too:
Portfolio #2: Direct Links
This portfolio is my own personal one at JamesWritesThings. I use screenshots of my posts, with headlines that link directly to them:
Again it’s simple and effective, but it serves to show people I’ve been published elsewhere and can be trusted to write for their site. When they see a site they know, it’s also a big bonus.
Portfolio #3: Excerpts And Logos
This final portfolio comes from Erin at The Travel Copywriter. She again uses visuals – much like the graphic I showed you at the start of this post – to create a sense of authority:
And to create less of a barrier between a potential clients and buying from her, she’s added excerpts of her articles with additional links to grab attention:
Your Portfolio, Then…
You can see in all the above samples that they aren’t anything special. They don’t sing and dance, they just provide the information that’s needed. So don’t worry about needing a big ol’ website full of widgets.
Just create a space – using a site builder or WordPress or your own domain – and put your work online.
But, What If I Don’t Have Portfolio Pieces?
If you’re getting started you won’t have anything that even resembles a portfolio yet. And that’s okay, I’m going to show you how to create a portfolio from scratch, with little to no effort. There are two steps to it.
Step #1: Start Your Own Blog
Start a blog about your Niche and start writing it. Use different techniques, use different styles and start writing as though you’re creating for a huge audience.
You don’t have to share it with anyone if you don’t want. You can have it on a private link for all that matters. But you do need to give people an opportunity to see your style in the context of your niche.
Step #2: Find Freelance Writing Jobs And Complete Their Tasks
I used to use this method a lot when I first started writing. Because, it gives you something more tangible to work with. And, they can go on the blog you’re going to start.
Head to one of the freelance writing jobs boards or content mills and find a job posting. It doesn’t matter if it’s current or expired. Look for one with a pretty specific description, like this one:
Then just go ahead and create an article or piece to that specification and stick it on your blog.
This process has two benefits:
You get to experience what clients are looking for and work to specification
You get to build out your portfolio with real-world examples
You can even go the extra mile and screenshot the job and present it to a potential client you’re pitching too, so show what you’ve done. Anything that gets you noticed from the other freelancers that are entering the field.
Okay, there’s another way you can pad out your portfolio and gain endorsements from people. That section deserves a whole section of it’s own…
Guest Posting is my go-to strategy for building a profitable portfolio quickly.
It gives you valuable experience working with someone who will publish your work. It also teaches you to work to guidelines, deliver to an audience and what it’s like to have your content published.
For example, the guest post on Buffer that I mentioned earlier has brought me a tonne of emails like this:
And having written for sites like Addicted2Success and Lifehack and got a decent amount of shares showed that I could write for a big, well developed audience too.
There are three components you need to sell your online:
Portfolio: Where potential clients can get a feel for your style, tone and the results your work can deliver.
Guest Posts: Having an endorsement of your work on someone else’s site, even if only slightly relevant to your niche, can have a big impact on converting customers.
Testimonials: These reviews of your work – from paying customers – can be the final blow in converting a client. Seeing a glowing recommendation can put their mind at ease and make them more likely to buy.
You can build a portfolio yourself by just writing blogs for your niche, or by finding jobs and writing them for your own site to gain experience.
Guest Posts can be obtained by following the link in that part of the section.
Testimonials can come from anyone who has seen or used your writing and can be built up over time. The sooner you get someone to write one though, the better.
Step #4: Writing Pitches To Get You Clients
Pitching is a numbers game – more on that in the next section – but you can create pitches that grab attention.
In fact, I’m not only going to show you how to pitch: I’m going to give you my own pitching strategy that you can copy and paste for yourself.
But first, let’s talk about what makes a good pitch…
Pitching To The Right Person
The first question about pitching is usually:
Who do I pitch to?
This is an important question because it can make or break whether you get spoken to or if you just get lost being passed around between departments in a company.
If you’re applying for an advertised job this is usually posted, like in the footer of this posting here:
But when you’re not it’s a little more difficult. There are three points of contact that you need to look for:
Direct Email: The best you can find is a direct email. This is usually to an editor, marketing manager or content marketing executive.
Department Email: There are often emails that go to someone in a department – marketing etc. – that you can get through to someone on.
Contact Form: If there’s nothing else find a contact form under the ‘contact’ page on a site or a publication
Email Tools: You can also use a tool like Hunter.io to help you find the most contacted emails for the site.
And if you really can’t find anything you can use this sneaky little hack that I came up with.
When you’re on a site that you want to get in touch with go to the footer where you’ll often find tabs like this:
Click the Terms & Conditions tab (or Disclosure policy as it’s called here) and it’ll bring up a page full of legal jargon. A quick search of the page and you’ll be able to find and email contact,
like this one right here:
Gotcha. Now, you can pitch to someone in the company and find a way to the right person.
Pitching 101: How To Stand Out From The Crowd
Considering freelance writers are a group of individuals paid to write things…you suck at writing pitches.
Sorry, it’s just the truth.
Don’t worry, I did too. In fact, so did every freelance writer I know at one point or another.
Because pitching is hard. You’re trying to convince someone to pay you instead of the hundred other people they could choose from. It’s a daunting proposition.
That usually means your pitches go on far too long. They miss the point. Or, they’re too short for anyone to know why you’re even writing to them. But I’m about to give you a simple acronym to help you remember how to write a perfect pitch every single time. It goes like this:
Easy To Understand
Okay, it’s not exactly the most masculine acronym I’ve ever created, but I know you’ll never forget it. PETAL pitches are the best kind, because they’re guaranteed to get responses. I’ve taught them to lots of writers and they’ve always come good.
Let’s break them down:
Personal is simple. When you’re writing to someone, you should address them by their name.
This will normally be the prefix in their email (‘james’@pitchtome.com) or on their job description.
If that’s not available I’d suggest you opt for a “Hey Guys”, or “Hi Team” because it sounds a lot more personal than just “Hello”.
Easy To Understand
The people you’re pitching to often receive a lot of emails. So you need to be clear, concise and focused on why you’re writing to them. Especially if you’re cold pitching to someone who doesn’t know they’re being pitched too.
Basically you need to make sure nothing is lost in translation.
I usually combat this by saying exactly why I’m writing to them. Like:
My name’s James and I’m a freelance writer from Manchester, England. I’m writing to you to see if there was any room for a freelance writer on the Company X team? I think I’d be a perfect fit!
Now they can make no mistake about why I’m in their inbox right now.
There’s a rule in Newspaper writing:
Put the most important information at the top and put the least important at the bottom. Because newspaper editors cut the information from the bottom of the article.
The exact same rule applies to pitching. Put the most important information at the top incase they don’t make it to the end of your pitch. You’ll see more on how that’s done in the copy and paste section next.
You need to state what you’ve done. Where you’ve worked. Provide information that’s relevant to the job you’re pitching for. And, any additional information that’s required.
As a writer it’s normal for you to…waffle on. You know, write more than is necessary. It comes with the nervousness with a pitch. But follow this rule for writing your pitches and you’ll be fine (this is stolen from Winston Churchill):
A good pitch should be like a skirt; short enough to be interesting long enough to cover the subject.
The 100% Golden Rule Of Pitching You Must Obey
If you disregard everything else you learn about pitching in this article please remember this simple rule:
Read the job description.
When you’re pitching for an advertised job there will be part thrown in there to keep you on your toes. Specific requirements that will affect you getting the job or not.
The most common form of this is them asking you to put something in the pitch to prove that you read it. Like this job pitch where I had to put two specific words in the subject line:
So make sure you go through everything with a fine tooth comb before you send anything. Copy and pasting is great, but not if it loses you a job.
The Copy And Paste Pitch Template
Okay, so that’s how you should be pitching to get clients.
But I’m about to save you a lot of time by giving you a fill-in-the-blanks pitch for you to use.
You can edit this however you want but it is a sure-fire template that will help you land clients:
But James, What About The Headline?
I didn’t forget, I promise.
I’ve tested a lot of different headline techniques and I’ve found two that work, at least for getting people to reply to your emails.
The first, if you’re applying for an advertising job is to put a simple subject like this:
But if you’re making a cold pitch, the undisputed best headline in my experience – and that of other writers I speak to – is to ask a question in your headline. I can’t tell you why this works, but it seems to be really effective.
Toy around and find your own unique stamp. Play with headlines and ideas to see what’s going to get you the most return.
Okay, you’re getting on to the final section, are you ready?
This Step In Short
People are pitching to your potential clients all the time so you need to craft pitched that make you stand out from the crowd. To do that, remember this (manly) PETAL acronym:
Personal: Written directly to someone; in a conversational but professional tone.
Easy To Understand: Be clear about what you’re writing or pitching to them for, and why they should care.
Top-Loaded: Put the important information at the start and make it less important as you go down the pitch.
Accurate: It should fit you, your niche, the job description and what your capabilities are.
Lean: Short enough to be interesting; long enough to cover the subject.
Always remember to read the job description and edit your pitch to fit the specific client you’re talking to.
Ask questions in your headline, or reference the job listing, to get the best open rates.
Step #5: Setting The Right Price
Let’s talk money.
I’ve purposely saved this until last because it’s the most highly debated topic in freelancing.
And, I want to make sure it get’s the coverage it deserves. But, I’m not going to spend too long telling you about it. Why?
Because, regardless of the arguments for and against what your prices should be, it comes down to you. Let me explain…
First, It’s About What You Want To Charge…
More to the point it’s about what you feel comfortable charging. When you first step onto the scene you probably won’t feel like you can charge $100; you’ll not have the portfolio to back it up, either.
So don’t charge it.
If you feel comfortable charging $10, charge that. Then up it when you feel comfortable charging
$20 and $30 and $40 and so on.
But do remember you have to put food on the table and you need to respect your time. After all, you can’t get it back.
I started at $10 and hour, and I now comfortably charge $60-$100+ an hour depending on the project.
Set a minimum price that you will not go under by any stretch of the imagination. It can be whatever you think it needs to be, but don’t just take work for the sake of it. Respect yourself and be proud of what you will work for, as well as what you wont.
Thirdly, It’s About Negotiation…
Always be open to negotiation. Now if you have a minimum prices, that’s the lowest point you can negotiate to. But also be open to negotiations on different things.
For example, let’s say you pitch $50 an hour and your minimum is $30, you have $20 wiggle room to negotiate with there. There’s nothing wrong with having different prices for different clients on different projects. It’s the way the freelance world works.
Different Pricing Structures
There are a couple of ways that you can charge client with freelance writing.
This is exactly what it says on the tin; the price you’ll charge per hour. This can chop and change depending on the client, too.
It’s not unusual to charge $30 for one client and $50 for another, because the jobs come with different specifications and require different levels of effort.
And, as you saw in the last point, you need to be open to negotiation.
I’m terrible at Math, so the simple way I use to work out an hourly rate is:
How many words per hour
How much research is needed
The average price of work in that niche
For example if you have an easy, stream-of-consciousness style article in the Self Help niche.
That would charge less because you can get 1,200 words out an hour on that, you don’t need as much research and you can wrap it up in just a few hours. Also, the payment in that niche is lower.
But if you have a really niche, in-depth topic, that requires a lot of research – like SEO or Engineering – you would charge more. Why?
Because not only would you be writing less per hour, you’ll be spending a lot more time writing and referencing. You’ll also have to block out a bigger chunk of your day to do it.
The price per hour is also dependant on your experience. If you’re an established expert you can charge more than if you were the new kid on the block.
Price Per Word
We don’t mess about with the clarity of our titles in writing do we?
Price Per Word is one of the most common pricing strategies.
I use it for almost all of my articles, especially on those longer articles – like this one – because it often works out fairer for you and the client. And, it’s easier to pitch. When a client hears 15 cents per word it sounds better than $150 for 1000 words.
I use a similar system to the above for working this out. If you’re productive you can really increase what you earn per hour.
Price Per Project
This is a standard pricing package for small businesses and copywriting clients. For example, when I created the copy on this training company website, I set a fixed price for all of the content:
I find the price per project is normally based on your hourly rate, the hours you’re expected to work and a negotiation with the client. You can create a lot of ‘savings’ benefits here for a client, too. Where it feels like you’re doing more work and saving them money.
Each client and project has it’s own specific needs. So, it pays to have a flexible option where people can talk to you and you will flesh out a price together for the work that needs to be done. This works on a per-client basis.
There are a number of ways you can get paid, too. This is usually when you bill out when you receive money:
100% Up Front: This requires a built up level of trust but once that’s established it’s easy to employ.
50% Up Front: Clients are often open to this method – 50% up front, 50% on completion – because the risk is lower.
Upon Completion: I don’t usually employ this method unless it’s per word pricing or with a client that I really trust. Because you can retain the rights to the article until they pay, there is also the option to keep it and sell it on if you do get stiffed.
Insider Tip: The Subscription Payment Model
Okay let me lay a little bit of insider knowledge on you:
Clients are sometimes flaky. They’ll need six articles one month, two the next, disappear for a couple of weeks, come back with more work than you can handle and then drop off the map forever.
That’s just the nature of the beast. Not all clients are like this, but there is always a level on inconsistency.
But there is a way you can make it more consistent and guarantee yourself an income. You just need to employ a subscription model.
With every client that that likes this model they agree to:
A fixed number of hours or articles per month
For a set price
To be paid at either 100% or 50% up front
For a fixed-term (three, six, nine months)
That way you are definitely getting paid and you have guaranteed work every month.
Clients are usually pretty responsive to this model too so don’t be afraid to pitch it.
This Step In Short
Setting the right price is personal to you. There is no right or wrong price to charge. Just what you feel comfortable charging, the value you offer and where you’re positioned in your niche.
But, as a rough guide, I’d suggest these prices:
Beginner: $20-$30 per hour / $0.05 per word – $0.10 per word
Intermediate: $35-$50 per hour / $o.15 – $0.20 per word
Expert: $50+ per hour / $0.25 – $0.50+ per word
Look to employ a subscription payment model, or a 50% up front model when you’re negotiating with a client to make sure you get paid.
Step #6: The Extras You Need To Know About
In this step I want you to explore some of the ways to improve and refine your business. And, learn about other technical aspects of the job.
Every piece of work will come with a brief. Sometimes that can be professional and in the shape of guidelines, like this:
Or it’ll be in a brief document like this (text covered, just in case):
There are also times where you’ll be asked to create the project brief. Or, it’ll come in the form of an email chain or a written on a napkin or something illegible you have to decipher for yourself.
But it’s essential that before you start on a project you create a clear brief for you and the client. Point out what it is you believe you should be delivering and if that is in line with what the client wants.
There is nothing worse – for you and a client – than going in blind and hoping you hit the target. It’s a waste of time and effort.
Ask as many questions as you need to and go into as much detail as possible. The clearer the picture the better the end product.
I don’t recommend offering any more than two rounds of revisions. Why?
Because you’re a good writer. And you’re crafting articles or content based on what an audience wants. You’ve done you research and you’ve decided this is the content that is going to work.
You do have to pay attention to what the client is saying and offer some changes based on what they ask for. But by the same token you have to respect your time and the decisions you’ve made.
As long as the article is in line with the above revisions and the thoughts laid out in the plan, then you’re fine to only offer limited revisions.
I didn’t know this when I first started out, you may not have either, but there are minimum legal requirements for an invoice that you need to meet. More than just slapping what you did and your price on a sheet of paper or in a document and sending it across.
If you’re creating your own invoices follow one of these links to see what requirement your country has (English speaking countries only):
But I highly recommend using a service like FreshBooks to manage your invoices. You can just input the client data, send it across, and the rest of it is taken care of for you. They also come with a tonne of different payment options too:
Contracts / Terms & Conditions
A contract can come in many forms and has to be made up of certain criteria, like this one from HMRC in the UK:
Contracts will sometimes be sent to you to be signed, others will be be an email correspondence or done through a Skype call. And, there is a good chance you will never have to enforce a contract, but you should have one in place.
They cover your back; make sure you get paid the right amount for the right amount of work; cover your client and make your business more professional. Much like a project brief, be clear in:
What’s being done
When it’s being done by
How much it’s going to cost
What the end product will look like
What you’re offering
For example, you could do all of this in one sentence:
So I’ll going to be writing How To Become A Freelance Writer Online, it’s going to be 10,00o-15,000 words at the rate we agreed for the last article, and I’ll have it done by April 11th, is that correct?
They accept it. You’re covered. It’s that simple.
Recommended Reading & Development
Phew! Okay, onto the last bit now.
Like I said right at the start of the article, you don’t need any qualifications to become a writer. But there’s a lot you can read and practice on to become a better writer and create stronger, more impactful content. Here’s some of my biggest recommends:
Write To Sell – Andy Maslen: Probably the best book on Copywriting I’ve ever read. It’s not long, but it’s really in-depth and clears up a tonne of questions you have early on.
On Writing – Stephen King: If you’re trying to create content with a story feel to it, this book is an endless supply of hints and tips to create them.
Made To Stick – Chip & Dan Heath: Amazing for finding out how to write and create articles that people remember.
Wrapping It Up…
I hope by now you have a clear picture of what it takes to be a freelance writer and how to start your business the right way.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but it really is as simple as choosing one of these steps and taking action until completion. As Matt often says, “Keep it simple, stupid”, and it’s a motto that works here too.
And if you want to take all of the information from this article and learn how to put it into action, you can also take my free email course where I’ll show you a simple trick to help you get your business to $1000 per month. You can sign up here.
We’ve had a new voice in the Greenlane office recently. It’s been great getting to know her better, and we think you should know her, too.
Meet: Amazon Alexa
Yes, the same Alexa who plays your Spotify playlists and tells you the weather. But we wanted to experiment with what else she could do. More specifically, how could Alexa Skills be used to benefit our clients?
In case you haven’t heard the news, the Amazon Echo Dot was the top sold product on Amazon in 2017. Allegedly, it sold out before Christmas. Look at the top charting apps in your respective app store and I bet you’ll see Amazon Alexa is #1, followed by Google Home. Of course, we can’t mention Alexa without also mentioning Google Home; these two are the leaders in smart home devices. Apple’s contribution to the smart home device market should enter the market in early 2018.
So why do we, as marketers, care about Alexa, Google Home, and the smart home device market?
Not Only Mobile First, but Voice First too
Voice search is a growing part of everyday life. According to Google, 20% of mobile searches in 2016 were voice searches in the Google App. A percentage that will continue to increase as device adoption of the Amazon Echo and Google Home grows. With these smart home devices set up in more and more homes, users will turn to them for answers to questions rather than opening their Chrome app and typing their query into Google. As marketers, we need to equip ourselves and our clients to succeed in this new voice-first environment.
Very few things are certain about the looming impact of voice search on traditional search, but it’s safe to say that there will be:
– Less predictable searcher behavior – Less predictable searcher queries – Less screen interaction – Need for richer answers – Increase in importance of local relevance
The Importance of Alexa Skills
While voice search grows, improves, and refines, the best way to get in front of potential customers on these devices is through the Alexa Skills base. An Alexa Skill is the smart home device equivalent of an app for your phone on the Amazon Echo series of devices. You can enable the Skills manually or by speaking a command to Alexa. Google Home has its own skills base as well, but Amazon holds ~76% of market share, so we’ve prioritized our time to match.
We’ve successfully built several prototype Skills for clients and for ourselves. Our Keithbot is an office favorite. When your Managing Partner’s name is Keith Urban, name jokes are too easy… So instead, we like to playfully tease him about his “no nonsense” demeanor. Thus, Keithbot was born.
What can I make a Skill about? Skills can meet any type of intent you can dream up. Several examples of Skill intents are:
– Planning a trip – Ordering a car from Uber – Changing the temperature on a thermostat – Playing a song – Looking up the weather – Telling a fact
We now have the option to include a visual component to skills as Amazon rolls out new Echo products, like the Show, which now include a screen.
One of the interesting by-products of the Alexa Skills is that we are training the voice search algorithm. Teaching it how humans search. How context changes the meanings of our intent. And more. The more information we feed her, the better the user experience and the faster we’ll start to see how voice search impacts traditional search behavior.
Is Building a Skill Worth My Time?
You might be saying, “Alexa Skills sound cool and all, but why should I build one? Seems like a lot of effort for something that’s not going to make me money like PPC.”
Simple answer: Yes, it is worth your time.
We’re big believers in staying ahead of the curve, so don’t wait for your competitors to beat you to the Alexa Skills market and steal potential customers. Often times we get caught up waiting for someone else to make the first move towards new technology, but getting there first can help you reap a lot of benefits.
The Skills market is in its infancy. Meaning there are abundant first-mover advantages for brands, like yours, to get into the Skills market. The value of creating a Skill is in capturing the attention of the Alexa users before your competition.
Depending on your vertical and brand, the Alexa Skill can be a great way to start a conversation with users that then transitions into a larger relationship. For example, if you have a pay-per-service model, the Skill can be a lite version of your offering, but promote full subscriptions for full content access.
Now here’s my obligatory warning: Do not create a Skill for the sake of creating a Skill. Your Skill should add value for the user and promote goodwill with your brand. I said it before in my Brand Persona post and I’ll say it again: consumers know when a brand is being disingenuous. There are enough junk Skills in the marketplace already. Have purpose.
Predictions for the Skills Market
We’re marketers, so we capitalism ruins everything. As more brands create Skills and enter the space, the Skills placements are bound for monetization. Based on what we know about the industry, here’s what we think is coming:
Easy way for users to make purchases through Skills.
Paying for Skill placement on the Skill SERP on Amazon.com.
Paying for your Skill to be a default resource on Alexa. Meaning Alexa can use your Skill to supply the answers/solution to queries without requiring the user to invoke your Skill by name.
Don’t wait too long to start considering an Alexa Skill of your own at the risk of missing out on the abundant opportunities they bring to the table. Stay ahead of the curve.
Not sure what kind of Alexa Skill could benefit your business? Contact our team! We’re happy to brainstorm some Skills with you that would best benefit your brand.