How I gave my freelance website a profitable makeover

December 4, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

Freelance Websites — Part 5

freelance website secretsYou’ve heard the saying about the cobbler having holes in his shoes, right? Likewise, business people are often the last to take their own marketing advice. And I’m as guilty as they come.

A few years ago, I dumped my dorky old website and created a new site from scratch. Yes, I did it all myself. I wanted to learn HTML and other Web stuff because I knew this would become more important in my line of work.

So I bought a book on HTML, sketched ideas for my site, created graphics, took photos, did a little Photoshop magic, and cranked out a new site. It was light-years ahead of my previous site and began generating business right away.

I found that it did its job so well, I no longer had to send out samples or answer a lot of questions when potential clients called me. They were pre-sold and ready to do business.

The site was successful. Too successful. Because I became complacent and ignored the site for years afterward. The result? My site took a nosedive in Google search rankings and traffic stagnated.

It kept on working, for sure. I had links coming in from all over the place for several of my articles and pages, especially for an article on weird postal experiments which I reprinted with permission from another writer. So despite my lack of attention, people managed to find my site and call me with business.

But by ignoring my own site, I threw away loads of potential profits. So I wised up and decided to take a hard look at my site and see what could be improved. Here are the results of my efforts.

Part 5: Tuning Up an Old Site to Make it a Better Business Generator

In the first four parts in this series, we’ve looked at the benefits of a freelance website, the mistakes freelancers make, the business-generating elements in a freelance site,  and what a successful freelance site looks like.

Not let’s see what I actually did to improve my site. Let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine to look at my site before the makeover.

If you clicked on the preceding link, you should have a new window open showing my old Direct Creative site. Okay, now let’s look at my site after the makeover. If you clicked on that last link, you should have yet another new window showing my updated site. It looks similar, but there are some important differences.

This entire series has been about the business generating factors of a website, not pure design. So I wasn’t going for a new look. In fact, I continue to be pleased with the overall appearance of my site and always get positive comments about it. I simply wanted to improve the site to get higher search rankings, make it easier to read, allow for easier editing and expansion, and add features that would increase its value as a business generator.

(Note: Some of the details below are a bit technical, but I’ll clear things up near the end of the article with a word about blogs.)

The first job was to recode the entire site. The old site was pure HTML. This means if I wanted to change the type style or color of a headline, for example, I would have to make the change on every page individually. So I decided to use XHTML and CSS to make the code leaner and allow for faster editing when I need to change something. This also has the benefit of making pages faster loading and easier for search engines to crawl and index.

The second job was to learn a little about SEO, or search engine optimization, to “optimize” the site and make it friendly for both readers and search engine robots. I won’t go into all the fine details here, but this involved using proper file names and title tags as well as paying attention to keywords and other best practices.

Third, and this is something you can see on the page, by using CSS to control the look of the pages, I was able to easily change the font and control the line height. Look at the before and after of my home page to see the difference. By applying a little best practice from typography, I made the content easier on the eye.

Just doing these three things improved my site tremendously. But I made many more changes as well to improve the business generating qualities of the site.

I started a newsletter and put the subscription form in a prominent place. This helps me generate leads and stay in contact with clients. I made the right column wider so I could post links and announcements more easily. I also added a store so people could buy a variety of products.

In the Learning Center, I added a variety of content. The goal here was to provide a library of how-to information to give people a reason to return. The mantra of good site construction is “build it and they will come.” Which means, provide a lot of high-quality content and people will flock to your site.

The changes I made were mostly under the hood and around the edges, but they’ve made a big difference. I moved up in Google rankings to page one for a variety of keywords. My newsletter attracts thousands of subscribers. Adding content to the site is no longer a pain. And overall traffic to the site has increased dramatically.

From a business standpoint, my makeover has been a huge success.

Want to see what my site looked like years ago? You can use the Wayback Machine to travel back in time and see my site in 1999. It looks primitive now, but it was pretty cool back then.

If the Archive went back earlier, you could look at a site I had with CompuServe that wasn’t even on the Internet. Many sites back then were offline and you had to access them by logging into private data banks to see them. (I remember helping CompuServe move some of its content from offline servers to the Web.)

Now if you’re despairing because you think you have to become a technical guru to do some of the things I’ve talked about above, cheer up. Running your website on a blog, such as WordPress, will automatically accomplish some of what I’ve talked about in this article. Some website hosting companies even install your choice of blog software free.

Blogs make it easy to design your site, add content, and have lots of the technical bells and whistles to make your site search-engine friendly. Still, it never hurts to educate yourself on how things work so you don’t have to pay someone else to do everything for you. And blogs aren’t the ultimate answer for websites. I think the lean code of my freelance site is part of why it does well on Google.

I hope this series has been instructive. If there’s one thing I want you to remember, it’s that your site is a business tool. Its purpose is to expose you to potential clients, generate leads, and pre-sell your expertise so that you can land more work and make more money.

Related posts:

  1. 9 business-boosting benefits of a freelance website
  2. Are you making these 7 freelance website mistakes?
  3. What a successful freelance website looks like
  4. 8 website elements that generate freelance business

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