Search engine optimization (or SEO) may seem like a marketing tactic reserved for big companies, but side hustlers, consultants, or anyone who cares about their personal brand ought to be thinking about it, too. That’s because, at its simplest, SEO is about gaming search algorithms to make it easy for people to find you.
While there are people who spend their careers understanding SEO, managing your personal brand SEO doesn’t have to be that hard. “There’s a lot of trepidation around SEO because it feels so complicated and technical, but it’s really not,” says Kinsey Wolf, growth marketer, fractional CMO, and founder of The Lane Collective. “The simple stuff will have a significant and noticeable difference.”
We asked Kinsey to break down the basics of how anyone can improve their personal branding SEO. Here are six easy steps she recommends.
1. Identify your personal branding keywords
Before we get into how to rank highly in search engines, it’s important to understand what search terms you want to rank for. Yes, having your personal website rank for your name is one priority, but Kinsey says it can also be helpful to target some keywords related to the work that you do—especially if you have a common name.
Once you brainstorm a few ideas, you can use tools like the Moz Keyword Explorer or Google Keyword Planner to understand how many people search for those terms, and how many other websites are trying to rank for them. “Try to find a phrase that describes what you do and that has a high monthly search volume and a low difficulty,” she suggests. “For example, in my business, I’ve looked up terms related to ’startup marketing consultant.’ I decided to go for ‘startup marketing consultant’ since it’s a lot easier but still has decent volume, and ‘Fractional CMO’ since it’s slightly higher difficulty and has a lot more search volume.”
If you do multiple, different types of work, it’s worth coming up with separate target keywords for each role. Jot these down—we’ll use them in the next step!
2. Optimize your personal website SEO
Next, you’ll want to do everything you can to signal to search engines that they should surface your website for your name and those keywords. Here’s a quick checklist of the easiest ways to do that:
- Update the site’s SEO title and meta description: Most personal website builders will have some backend settings where you can update the SEO title and description, which is the text that shows up on a search page. Edit these to include your name and a personal branding statement with your keywords plus anything else people might know you for (e.g., if you wrote a book that people may search for). “SEO is about making sure that you show up when people search for you and that they know they’re in the right place,” says Kinsey. “So if there are specific things that people have in their mind about you, make it easy for them to find that.”
- Update on-page headers with your name and keywords: Website builders should give you the ability to specify certain blocks of text as Header 1 (H1), Header 2 (H2), etc. Putting your keywords in these prominent places signals to search engines that these are important terms. Kinsey says your name should be in the primary header text of your homepage or, if you want to put a more generic description of your work there, as the H1 on your bio page.
- Add alt text to your on-site images: When you upload images to your website, fill in the alt text with your name and keywords. “I have all of my images labeled with my own name so that when somebody searches me they find the new headshots I want them to have, rather than the old cross-country running photos that I have tried to get removed for 20 years,” says Kinsey.
A final pro tip: If you have multiple types of work you want to highlight, create different pages (with different keywords) for each one. “Say you’re an art director and a DJ: You want to have different pages on your website that speak to each of those distinctly,” Kinsey says, explaining that you should build out each page with its own description, portfolio examples or testimonials, press features, and contact info. “[You want to] signal to Google: This is me, this is one of the specific things that I do, and this is all the proof and the authority that I do this.”
3. Google yourself, and unify the results
Spoiler alert: When you search for yourself, more than one result is going to show up. Profiles on major social networking sites, author pages on publications you’ve contributed to, speaker pages from major conferences or podcast appearances: any number of other websites could be ranking for your name. Go through whatever already shows up when people search for you and, to the best of your ability, update them with the most current representation of what you do plus a link back to your personal website.
“Make sure that your profiles are all updated and use consistent language and messaging so that you never create that feeling of hesitation from a searcher wondering if they’re in the right place,” explains Kinsey. “That kind of friction is really harmful to your personal branding and organic visibility.”
4. Get some links back to your personal website
Another way Google determines if a website is credible enough to put high in the search rankings is how many other sites reference back to it. So, especially if your site is brand new, it’s important to get it out there on the web. This can be done via thought leadership-building tactics like guest posting, acting as a source for journalists, appearing on podcasts, etc.—and always making sure they link back to your website as part of your bio.
As a bonus, doing this will create new, reputable pages that are likely to show up in your search results. “This is also why PR matters because, all of a sudden, you see other websites that are focusing on their SEO rank for you.”
5. Create some keyword-optimized content on your website
Writing some blog posts on your website around the keywords you’re targeting can also help improve your personal brand SEO. “You don’t have to have a million blogs, but some help,” says Kinsey. “There is data to suggest that websites with relatively more pages tend to do better on Google—more pages equal more visibility opportunities.”
If you’re investing in building your thought leadership with the tactics above, Kinsey says those can be cross-leveraged for your own blog content. Simply create a post talking about the feature, using a slightly different title that uses a target keyword. “Then have a short editorial statement about the feature that you got, maybe pull out a quote that you liked, link any other resources that you think are relevant, and talk about what somebody can do if they want to work with you,” she explains. You don’t have to come up with new blog ideas from scratch, and you get more mileage out of the work you’re already doing.
6. Keep your personal brand SEO updated as your work changes
What if your job description, or even your name, changes? Kinsey says to make the shift incrementally, and ensure the messaging stays consistent across your search results.
For instance, when she got married and changed her name, she updated her digital footprint from Kinsey Sullivan to Kinsey (Sullivan) Wolf to Kinsey S. Wolf, leaving a few months between each update. With a role change, you could do [old job] & [new job] for a few months before completely shifting to the new job.
Whenever you make a messaging change, be sure to update it across your entire digital footprint. “You don’t want to create a situation where somebody clicks into different places and gets different stories,” Kinsey explains. “It makes people have to jump around to different websites, and Google interprets that jumpiness as a signal of a low quality site.”
If this all still feels a little overwhelming, Kinsey has a final piece of advice: “SEO feels like it’s super technical and you’re building for bots—but what you’re really doing is building for humans. Just be clear and make it easy for a real human to understand what you’re about, and you’ll be good.”