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One of the many benefits of being a freelance designer or web developer is that you can work with clients from all over the world. For a qualified, astute, and industrious designer, the Internet can provide enough projects for you to bid every day.
But, this benefit is not without an accompanying downside. It takes time to bid on projects. Lots of time. Often, you can bid on 10-20 projects before acquiring a single job. More than likely, you start the bidding process before some of your other projects are finished to create continuity in your freelance work.
This is where marketing your own talents and services becomes very beneficial to freelancers, especially online. As you start building a portfolio and establish a name as an industry veteran, you won’t have to spend as much time seeking clients — they’ll start seeking you.
One area that many freelancers overlook, however, is with local efforts. Having access to opportunities all over the globe doesn’t mean you shouldn’t favor work in your local area. Local businesses are often an untapped gold mine for freelance designers. Some insist on doing business in person, which removes the work from the highly-competitive global freelance landscape and leaves it ripe for the plucking right in your backyard. Those who know how to market locally may do so by getting involved in community events, mailing flyers, or leaving business cards at other businesses, but there are far savvier ways to reach and reap your local market.
Local SEO is vital for making yourself visible to potential clients in your region. The following local Internet marketing tips will help place you at the top of the list of local talent. Even if you have already taken some commonly-known steps for local online marketing, you may find a few below to add to your plan. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to complete all of these steps in one day. It takes time to build a strong marketing campaign, especially if you are a small business or even a single proprietor. So, make a list, complete one or two tasks at a time, and eventually you will be a well-known industry icon in your local community.
Design a Mobile-Friendly Website
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This is probably one of the most important first steps in making sure your design business is more visible — not only worldwide but especially locally. If your website is not easily viewed via a mobile device, then a potential client will move on to a freelancer who is more accommodating of mobile devices and more demonstrative of their talents. What if a local client is on his or her way to your office and needs directions? Or, maybe they are researching graphic designers outside the office. You never know how a client may be trying to find your services, but potential clients sitting at a desktop are likely conducting a rigorous worldwide search for freelance talent, so the best policy is always to make yourself available on as many devices as possible. If you build mobile-friendly convenience into your local marketing strategy, you might get that invaluable first contact right as the client realizes they need freelance help, rather than competing in an exhaustive, often-fruitless bidding process.
Add Local Tags to Your Website
The second most important step in optimizing your business, whether locally or worldwide, is including location tags to the markup of your site. You can include your location, such as Dallas, TX, within your site code.
Some of the most important tags are your <Title> tags, <h1> header tags, and meta description tags. A tag should include keywords along with a location, if relevant. For instance, if you only want to target local traffic on certain pages of your website like your contact page, then only include your city and state in the tags for those pages and not on the other ones.
For those not well-versed in tags on a website, your title tag is the 70-characters-or-less description that appears at the top of browsers and is located within the <head> section of your HTML.
The <h1> tag is often used as a synopsis for the content on a specific page. They can be longer than a title tag and can include extra information to further help search engines like Google understand algorithmically the nature of your content. Often websites use the same keywords as in the title tag but in a different order or slightly different wording.
Finally, the meta description tag is what appears in the preview that Google displays in search results. This does not significantly affect Google search results, but it is read by discerning human eyeballs. No matter what audience you are targeting with your meta tag, be sure to include a clear call to action.
List on Online Yellow Pages and Search Engines
Placing your business on yellow pages online is a great way to help search engines attach a locality with your freelance services. It is also an excellent way to gather testimonials for your work. Ask satisfied customers to leave a review along with your “Thank You for Your Payment” email. You could even offer a discount or freebie with their next project with you in exchange for an honest, impartial review.
Some important yellow page websites to start with include
Of course, don’t forget about the maps and local business features of search engines. Yahoo has local.yahoo.com, which allows you to create a free basic account for making sure your business shows up on their site and interactive map.
Google Places also allows you to add your business to their maps and local business searches for free. Listing your business on Places also means that your business may show up within Google searches in the featured local business section on the right side of search results. Google also offers an app for helping your manage your Places account. If you don’t have a presence on these major maps, you could be missing out on a lot of local opportunities.
Use Schema Markups
Schema.org provides tag vocabulary for HTML content — this vocabulary helps search engines such as Google and Yahoo to better understand the information on your web pages. In fact, Google even provides a Structured Data Testing Tool, which you should use before incorporating any semantic markups. You don’t want to waste your limited time and efforts with faulty or ineffective tags.
Many location-based businesses create a footer for the bottom of every page on their website. This footer contains their contact information, including an address and phone number. As a freelancer, you’re certainly not tethered to one location, but you still may want to consider including contact information on every page with a semantic markup. On your “Contact” or “About” page, you should definitely include your location and phone number with semantic markups.
Other important semantic markups through Schema.org include testimonials, reviews, events, dates, coupons, and more. SearchEngineLand provides an excellent run-down of some of the most important semantic markups for local business marketing.
Use the Open Graph Protocol for Facebook
Facebook is an excellent social media tool for local marketing for many businesses, including freelance and service-based operations. To take full advantage of Facebook’s local marketing potential, you’ll need to incorporate the Open Graph protocol that Facebook uses. You can find excellent examples of its use and instructions on Facebook.
Facebook not too long ago completely separated its sharing content from Google with the requirement that websites use Open Graph protocol for semantic markups. The good news is that this open source protocol (basically, it turns a web page into a rich object on a social graph) is that it can be used along with other semantic markups. So, no need to choose between Google and Facebook. Using Open Graph protocol simply makes your website more noticeable on Facebook searches. You can also create explicit image sharing parameters, write and share stories, and much more.
Create a Google+ Authorship
Having a Google+ authorship linked to your website pages is important for Internet marketing in general. However, the reason why it helps with local targeting specifically is that the authorship feature means that your picture shows up next to your search results. This does one of two things: (1) you will be remembered much easier since people retain information better with an associated image, and (2) an image makes you more personable and “real”, which can be a leg up on unproven freelancers from faraway lands. Just make sure your picture projects an image that says you are reliable, friendly, and trustworthy.
Another important aspect of Google+ authorship is that it unifies all of your content under a single byline, such as "written by Tara Hornor" or "by Tara Hornor". WordPress automatically includes a section in your profile for adding the authorship URL that Google provides you. If you write an article for another blog, then you can simply link your name in the “About the Author” section with your authorship URL. Sign up for Google+ Authorship here.
Write an Article for a Local Publication
Most local publications, such as magazines or newspapers, also have an online version. Sometimes you can knock two marketing goals out by writing an article for a local magazine or newspaper that they publish both in their print and online versions. Not only will you get your name and face in front of local businesses, but you can also add to your local credibility and influence. Local publications love high-quality content.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to your specialty. You can also write about your general experience as a freelancer in your locale. Or you can write about local small businesses like yourself that give back to the community or that take active measures to be eco-friendly. Just be sure that you include your information, such as a website URL and phone number, within your author bio.
Add a Location to YouTube Videos
Creating videos on YouTube is always an excellent way to keep your content fresh and build links for your website — both of which are very important factors in increasing your page rank on search engines. Make sure to target locally with your videos by making use of the Geotag, located within the Advanced Settings of the Video Manager. You may also want to optimize your video for a local audience by including your location in the description along with your keywords. And you can always include your business name, address, phone number, and of course website address in the description as well at the end of the video. Google’s algorithms are able to recognize text inside of video content now, and you should take full advantage.
Affiliate Marketing on Local Business Websites
Another good way to create local recognition is to create affiliate relationships with local businesses who share the same target market as you but aren’t direct competitors. Ask if they will consider referring clients if you will do the same for them. You could also place their site within a list of partners, or you can write a post or two about them as a resource for your readers. You can work out the details with the other local business, and there does not have to be any money exchange involved as in traditional affiliate marketing. Think of it as more of an informal, localized referral system.
Host a Contest
Creating a contest for clients and locals is a great way to help people feel more connected to you. As a freelance developer or designer, making personal connections is a very valuable part of your business, because clients often expect one-on-one, personal service from locally-hired talent. You can either host a contest on your own or with other local businesses to help build connections with them and their customers, granting exposure to a wider market at a good value.
To reach a local audience with a contest online, you can design the rules to focus on those connections. Let’s say your contest requires clients to connect with you on at least one of your social media accounts. With each "like", "follow", "connect", or whatever, they will get their name put into a hat for drawing a prize. You can also add that individuals who live in your local region get unique advantages because of their proximity. In this way, you still create connections across the world, but further encourage locals to join.
Donate Design Services to Local Charities
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Donating your services to local charities is not necessarily an online marketing task, unless your offer is for improvements to their website. It is still an excellent local marketing technique worthy of mention, because it not only benefits you but also your community. Giving to your community creates positive sentiments around you and your freelance business, which can later lead to easily-won freelance work. Just be sure to ask the organization if you can put your logo somewhere on the design, such as at the bottom of the flyer or the footer of a website. Make your sponsorship message noticeable yet small enough so as to not take away from the act of charity itself.
If local charities simple need manpower or cash (which is usually the case), you may also want to consider volunteering your time or donating a portion of profits for a certain amount of time (such as the months of November and December) to the organization. This can often be much more beneficial to the organization and it shows the local community that you do not mind giving up time and money to those in need. It can also lead to a net gain in revenue if executed well.
Have you tried any of these local Internet marketing techniques? Do you have any more online marketing tips for targeting a local audience? Share in the comments below!