Picking Effective Keywords
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Keywords are single words and short phrases that you enter into a special spot in your profile that are meant to flag your areas of expertise or interest. They are used by the search engines on freelancing marketplaces to allow clients to quickly find contractors who are likely to be a good match for specific types of work.
Good keywords help you in an important way: they increase the number of invites you get to projects, which means you lower the percentage of time you spend on overhead activities such as browsing project listings. In fact, to give you an idea of how essential keywords are, some freelancing sites offer additional keyword slots as a perq to entice contractors to sign up for paid memberships or premium services.
You will only be allowed to enter a small number of keywords, so you want to make them count. Here’s a few suggestions for doing so.
When selecting keywords, always keep in mind what their purpose is. Keywords are not a form of general advertising of your services—they are specifically intended to allow clients to find contractors whom they feel are likely to be good matches for the work they want to do. As such, you should always choose keywords that you imagine a client who offers the sorts of projects you like, might be tempted to enter into a search engine. Anything else is not a good use of a keyword slot.
In selecting keywords, you have to decide how widely you want to cast your net, so to speak: whether you want to go for generic, broadly-matching keywords that apply to many clients, or more specific, targeted ones. Both have their uses, but you want to match your strategy to both the kinds of work you do, and the stage of your freelancing career.
General keywords will result in more “hits” and potential project invites. For example, if you put “programmer” in your profile as a keyword, you will have the potential to show up in many client searches, because many buyers are looking for programmers. There are two caveats to keep in mind with this approach, however.
The first is that while you may show up in search results many times, so will thousands of other contractors using the same strategy. The real matter of concern then becomes where you will land in the listing of contractors that the client sees. Most freelancing sites order search results based on factors such as number of projects completed or dollar volume billed. Thus, the generic approach favors larger companies and more established freelancers. If you’re new, you will be well down the list, and obviously, appearing in a large number of client searches doesn’t do you any good if your profile is on page #51 of the search results.
The second issue is that, of necessity, generic keywords result in many project invites that aren’t really relevant to your area of interest. To use the “programmer” example again, there are very few programmers who have expertise in all languages and platforms. If you’re primarily a Visual Basic coder and you put “programmer” in your keywords, you could get many invites from clients looking for Perl scripts or iPad games or even mainframe COBOL work. You won’t end up bidding on irrelevant projects, so they aren’t of any value. In fact, they take up your time.
Going for “deeper”, more targeted keywords, creates the opposite dynamic to that described above. You will have fewer clients doing searches that match your keywords—perhaps far fewer—but you have a greater chance of both having your profile seen by the client, and the project being of relevance. This is usually a better approach for newer contractors.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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