“I rarely do guest blog posts on my blog. But when Courtney pitched to me the idea of this post, not only did I think it was clever, I also thought that many of you might find this article quite insightful. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and of course I welcome all feedback! Thomas”

If you haven’t heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), chances are you’re losing money and prospects you didn’t even know were out there. SEO is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and it can mean the difference between surviving this economy and closing the doors of your business.

For some businesses, particularly those whose industries have a low presence online, SEO can be a relatively simple process, solved by some on-page optimization and building a few links; however, designers are not so lucky. Just about every designer in every city has a website, and that makes the competition for most design-related keywords very high. Even finely optimized on-page content and days adding links to online directories are not enough to beat out the more high profile agencies in your area.

To illustrate this point, I’ve done some research on keywords related to graphic design in Dallas:

design keywords

This chart is from Google Adwords, and it tells the number of monthly searches for these terms each month and how high the competition is for these keywords. As you can see, many of the keywords have no searches for them and the terms that do have searches have a high level of competition.

So in the face of big, local agencies with high profile clients (and therefore, high profile links), what is a freelance designer to do? Is there any hope for us?

The answer is yes, and I’m going to tell you how to gain an edge over your competition for these keywords with a few new strategies.

First Things First: The Basics

Before you start using these more advanced strategies, you need to make sure you cover the basics of on-page optimization. That means choosing appropriate keywords for you site and picking a keyword to target for each page. After your keyword placement is chosen, then you can begin updating your on-page content to tell Google that your page is about that particular keyword.

I’m not going to go really in depth with the basics in this article, but this is a really great resources for SEO basics: SEOmoz Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

Competitor Links

The next thing you need to do is find out where your competitors are getting their links. There are a variety of tools you can use to find these links. My favorite is Open Site Explorer. These tools allow you to enter any URL and see what other sites are linking to that website. By analyzing the websites of your competitors with these tools, you can begin to build links on those same websites, leveling the playing field as much as possible before you move on to try and build your own unique links.

Guest Posting

Basically, the goal is to get links to your site that will boost the trust that Google and other search engines have in your site. The way most people go about this is to submit their sites to directories and buy links. While that is easy and works for the most part, it takes a lot of time to build trust through this method, and Google is getting better at recognizing these behaviors and devaluing these types of links.

Guest posting is a more efficient way of building these links that will have longer lasting results. A guest post is exactly what it sounds like – a blog post that someone submits to be posted on someone else’s blog. Many bloggers, including many design bloggers, accept guest posts to their site. It takes a little longer to get these types of links because you have to reach out to the owner of the blog and write the post to be submitted, but once you get the link, Google is much more likely to move you up in the search engine results pages (SERPs) than if you built 60 directory links. That’s why, instead of wasting my time building those low-value links, I just tweeted Thomas instead, and look! I got a link out of it.

This is a great post that includes a portion about how to reach out to other bloggers and get a guest post on their site: Outreach Letters for Link Building.

Last But Not Least…Link-Bait

Infographics, infographics, infographics…as you may have noticed in the past two years or so, they’re everywhere, and it isn’t because designers just love to make cool-looking data visualizations. Infographics have gained massive popularity because SEO’s have identified they’re incredible ability to encourage readers to share them with their friends. The more the image (which is a link, by the way) is shared, the more Google will trust the site on which the image is hosted.


Infographics aren’t the only kind of link-bait, but I figured they were the most relevant to the design industry. Other forms of link bait include top-ten lists, memes, inflammatory material (stuff that makes people angry), and resources. These items encourage what Google calls “natural” link-building done by readers who really enjoyed the content and wanted to share it with their friends. Because link-bait has “viral” tendencies, it can be very effective and influential, not only in building links to your site, but also in building brand recognition.

Just Keep Swimming

One last thing: success on Google doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, it takes iteration after iteration of these techniques to begin seeing serious results, but don’t let slow results early on discourage you and stop you from succeeding in the long term. If you keep at it, you will see results. It’s only a matter of time.

About the Author

Courtney is a graphic designer, web designer/developer, SEO, and blogger. She owns a design business in Dallas, TX called CoCo Designs and is working on her bachelors in Emerging Media & Communication at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Twitter: @CC_Creative