SEO Freelancer 101: How to Build a Thriving Career

Want to pursue an SEO freelancing career?

Already an SEO freelance, but struggle to find long-term clients for sustainable income?

Freelancing is a proven way to make money online and be your own boss. But it’s far from an easy path to success. 

When it comes to a freelance SEO career, building a trustworthy brand, “selling” the value of SEO, and winning clients are HUGE roadblocks to success. 

Whether you’re an experienced SEO specialist or new to the whole SEO landscape, this guide is for you.

What do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) freelancers do?

First things first, we need to define the term “SEO” and what makes it essential to modern businesses. 

SEO — short for Search Engine Optimization—is the process of improving a website’s rankings in search engines.

The higher your rankings, the more visitors or traffic you gain from Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). And for businesses, more traffic means more potential customers with their wallets ready. 

SEO professionals engage in a number of activities to improve rankings

  • Conduct keyword research that will attract high-quality leads from organic traffic
  • Analyze competitors to identify content, keyword, and optimization ideas. 
  • Develop content and internal linking strategies around target keyword groups. 
  • Develop and execute content optimization strategies to improve rankings.
  • Optimize a website’s performance and “SEO-friendliness.” 
  • Reach out to potential backlink sources for link-building campaigns. 
  • Manage content distribution channels to maximize reach and authority. 

As an SEO professional, you’re also required to keep up with the latest trends, strategies, and search engine updates.

Remember, search engines like Google tend to switch up their algorithms. Although ranking factors sometimes change, the activities above are expected to be relevant in the SEO field for a long time. 

What are the best tools you need to learn?

To kick off this guide, let’s take a look at the tools of the trade you’ll be counting on as a freelance SEO professional.

Allow me to start with the most popular, all-around SEO tool that businesses, marketing agencies, and SEO experts prefer: Semrush.

Semrush has everything you need to run a successful SEO campaign. It helps with market research, content marketing, advertising, social media marketing, agency management, and—of course—SEO. 

For countless SEO professionals, Semrush is the go-to tool for every single facet of SEO, namely: 

Keyword research

Semrush’s “Keyword Magic Tool” is one of the best in the business—period. 

Keyword Magic Tool works by expanding broad or “seed” keywords into a long list of long-tail keyword targets. To help you pick the right keyword targets, the tool also includes valuable metrics like Keyword Difficulty (KD%), search volume, competitive density (Com.), and Cost-Per-Click (CPC). 

Competitor research

Semrush is packed with tools that will help you unveil and analyze your competitor’s best-kept SEO secrets. 

The “Domain Overview” tool, for instance, reveals your competitor’s top keywords, best-performing content, and authoritative backlink sources (referring domains). 

Of course, you can also use Domain Overview reports to analyze your client’s website. Use it to discover low-hanging fruit keywords, reliable backlink sources, and other areas of improvement. 

SEO opportunity research

Speaking of competitor research, Semrush makes it easy to turn SEO performance data into actionable insights. 

Using the “Keyword Gap” and “Backlink Gap” tools, you can systematically eliminate any competitive advantage other brands have. These tools highlight any keyword or backlink opportunities your competitors leverage that you don’t. 

Site audit

Addressing the website optimization aspect of SEO can be intimidating to new freelancers. After all, plenty of self-taught SEO professionals have a background in digital marketing—but not web development. 

Luckily, Semrush lays out everything you need to do for on-page optimization with the site audit feature. It identifies the underlying, on-site issues that affect a website’s rankings—as well as determines the best ways to fix them. 


That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Semrush’s capabilities. To learn more, read my full Semrush review and tutorial here.

Remember, Semrush has a free plan that lets you generate up to 10 keyword searches and domain overview reports. You can also run a site audit and crawl up to 100 page URLs.

Unfortunately, Semrush’s free version is nowhere near enough for the needs of a full-fledged SEO professional. 

If you wish to be taken seriously by high-paying clients, you need the Semrush Guru or—at least—the Pro plan. Having Semrush’s paid version reassures clients that you can provide professional SEO services based on actual data. 

Check out how the Semrush Pro and Guru plans cost: 

Pro Guru
Monthly plan cost $119.95/month $229.95/month
Annual plan cost $99.95/month $191.62/month

Note: There’s another Semrush Premium plan called “Business.” But its price tag is too high for freelance SEO—padded with features you won’t need. 

If you’d like to test out Semrush before purchasing a paid plan, you can get a free 14-day trial here for the Pro plan or Guru Plan. Enjoy! 

With Semrush out of the way, let’s discuss other tools that may come in handy for your SEO freelancing career: 

1. Rank Math

Rank Math is an on-page optimization plugin that works via WordPress’s content editor.

It lets you modify your post’s SERP snippet (meta title, meta description, and link URL slug), check basic on-page SEO, match the ideal content word count, and more. Rank Math also comes packaged with advanced SEO tools like: 

  • Schema markup generator and validator
  • Keyword rank tracker
  • Google Analytics 4 integration
  • Content keyword suggestions

2. Grammarly 

SEO and great content go hand in hand. If your freelance SEO gig includes a content production requirement, you’ll thank the stars you have Grammarly under your belt. 

This lightweight tool ensures you create 100% error-free content for SEO campaigns—thanks to its automated error detection and correction suggestions. You can also use Grammarly to check for plagiarism (intentional or not) to avoid Google penalties due to duplicate content.

3. Serpstat

Serpstat is the ultimate alternative to Semrush pound for pound. It helps with keyword research, domain analysis, competitor research, rank tracking, and more. 

The main difference between Semrush and Serpstat is that the former comes with more tools under the hood. This, however, is a double-edged sword since an expanded toolset adds complexity to SEO workflows. 

Best resources to up your freelance SEO game

In freelance SEO, your tools only work as well as your SEO skills. 

There’s always something new to learn in the SEO freelancing business. Whether you’re an experienced professional or an absolute beginner, here are the top SEO resources you should check out: 

Where to look for freelance SEO gigs

After acquiring the right tools, building your SEO knowledge, and earning impressive certifications, it’s time to put these pieces to work. 

To become an SEO freelancer, the next step is to look for clients. 

There are three ways to do this: sell your services through a freelance marketplace, find clients via direct outreach, and apply for SEO specialist job listings

How to find clients via direct outreach

Reaching potential clients via email or direct messages is the good old-fashioned way to hunt for freelance gigs. 

The game plan looks simple on paper. You need to build a list of prospects, craft a message template selling your services, and send it out. 

However, it’s easier said than done. 

Picture this: SEO agencies send thousands of cold emails to land a handful of serious clients. Imagine how many more messages you need to write and send as a one-man SEO show. 

Ideally, you’d do direct outreach after you’ve made a name for yourself in the SEO space. I’m talking about provable results, like a portfolio page or case studies that showcase successful SEO campaigns. 

On the flip side, direct outreach grants full creative freedom in your approach. 

Direct outreach allows you to make a solid first impression and maximize your chances of getting clients. It also puts you in a position to negotiate for the salary you prefer. 

Here are a few ideas you should try: 

  • Offer free site audits
  • Analyze the prospect’s website and highlight potential improvements (mention the benefits)
  • Mention your results with previous clients
  • Bring up a strategy that competitors are doing, but not your prospect
  • Run a Google search with a keyword and target websites that rank between positions 11 and 21 
  • Target local brands and emphasize your local SEO skills

Applying some of these tactics, you can refer to the template below for inspiration: 

How to find clients via freelance marketplaces

An easier way to find freelance SEO gigs is through freelance marketplaces. 

Not only are you able to connect directly with prospects who are actually looking for freelancers, freelancing platforms also provide tools that help build your credibility and promote your freelance business. 

The downside is, it can be hard to stand out among other freelancers with an established brand on any particular platform. Additionally, potential clients tend to offer lower rates on freelance marketplaces—thanks to the sheer amount of freelancers looking for gigs. 

Without further ado, here are the top five freelance marketplaces that will help you carve a name in the SEO industry:

  1. Fiverr (Freelance rates range from $5 to $200+ per project)
  2. Upwork (Freelance rates range from $35 to $1,000+ per project)
  3. Growth Collective (Freelance rates range from $50 to $150+ per project)
  4. People Per Hour (Freelance rates range from $10 to $1,500 per project)

How to find clients via job listings

If joining a freelance marketplace is too much of a commitment for you, consider looking at freelance job listings.

These can be found anywhere—from online job boards to a company’s official website. As a tip, start with popular job boards like FlexJobs and classified ads websites like Craigslist.

If you can’t find the right opportunities there, fire up Google and run a search with keywords like: 

  • Freelance SEO jobs
  • “Work with us” “SEO specialist”
  • “Join the team” “freelance SEO”

Note: Use quotation marks to prompt Google to return exact match results. 

Ways to build your reputation and win bigger clients

Great—you now know everything you need to kickstart a freelancing career. With the information above, you should be able to land your first client soon. 

But if you want to capture the big fish, you need to work on your authority as an SEO freelancer. 

Here are steps to get the ball rolling: 

1. Build your own SEO blog 

Big clients conduct background checks before they hire SEO freelancers. And one of the best ways to showcase your expertise is through your own SEO blog. 

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Building a successful blog from scratch warrants its own, full-length guide. Luckily, I have one ready for you right here — with all the steps from researching the perfect niche to promoting your blog posts. 

2. Create a graphic CV and resume

Want a surefire way to stand out among dozens or even hundreds of candidates?

Easy: send in a visual cover letter or resume. 

You don’t need professional-level graphic design wizardry for this. With a tool like Canva, you’ll have plenty of templates and drag-and-drop tools for the job. 

3. Request and feature testimonials from previous clients

Top-earning freelancers don’t make the highest rates right out of the gate. 

They all start low and increase their pay over time.  

To do this, they build their reputation by working hard, exceeding expectations, and letting happy clients become their brand advocates. You can do the last part by requesting positive testimonials after each project and featuring them on your website. 

Once the reviews roll in, feature them on your website to lure in bigger clients. 

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4. Sprinkle your bio with your achievements

As you gain more experience in the SEO freelancing business, you’ll have more tidbits and accomplishments to share in your website bio, cover letter, and resume. 

Just don’t forget to update them whenever you have new impressive feats to share. 

Use exact numbers like “helped the website gain 200,000 monthly visitors in 18 months.” Or, you could highlight your years of experience and the size of a company you previously worked with. 

These numbers will make your bio more impactful and hireable in the eyes of prospects.  

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FAQs about SEO freelancing

Do you need a degree to start a career in SEO?

No, you don’t need a college degree to start a successful freelancing career in the SEO world. However, getting formal education in marketing or Information Technology (IT) is a nice advantage. 

Is SEO freelancing profitable?

Absolutely—SEO freelancing has become one of the most lucrative careers on the internet. As more companies take their business into the net, the demand for professionals who can help them gain traffic grows. 

How much do SEO freelancers make?

According to multiple sources, the average income of SEO freelancers hovers around $21-31 per hour. This makes SEO freelancing one of the most profitable freelancing paths compared with other specializations, like copywriting and virtual assistance. 

Final words

Ready to build a long and fruitful career as an SEO freelancer? 

Two words: do it. 

With the tools and technologies available through the internet, now is the best time to build and monetize any expertise. And with the growing demand for competent SEO professionals, there’ll be plenty of clients to go around. 

Best of luck!


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