Google AdWords for Freelancers

When I started freelancing I did not have a reliable lead generation channel. My website received almost no search traffic because it was relatively new and light on content. Job boards were a good source of leads, but it was a lot of work to convert those prospects into clients. I didn’t know what to do.

That’s when I decided to give Google AdWords a shot. I’d heard that people who clicked on AdWords ads were more likely to convert because they had intent. They are looking for a specific product or service and are more likely to convert than random web traffic. I was also enamored by the fact that the leads would be inbound, requiring less of my time to acquire. Rather than constantly looking at new jobs posted on job boards, I could spend an afternoon setting up a campaign and drip money into it as necessary.

Building Campaigns

I didn’t really know how to get started and I didn’t want to get stalled by analysis paralysis, so I sat down, thought about what services I offered, and tried to discover how people would search for those things. I also determined that I would just send traffic to my home page because it was already built and prominently featured a “Get In Touch!” form that would allow anyone to contact me easily.


When I started thinking about what keywords I wanted to target, I knew that the keywords needed to be sufficiently narrow that they wouldn’t be ridiculously expensive to bid on. This means I targeted things like WordPress Plugin Developer instead of Developer or even WordPress Developer. Then, I determined that I would build two separate groups of keywords based on the following:

  • what I am (my role)
  • what I provide (delivered product)

Let’s look at some examples of those groups and the keywords I used.

Role Based Keywords

On any freelance project, my role can probably be described generally as Developer. For my AdWords campaigns, I restricted that to WordPress Developer. Since I do both frontend and backend development, I knew I could target both those roles as part of my keywords. Because I was doing narrow matching for my keyword, I knew I wanted to target things as specifically as possible to keep my cost down. Here’s some role-based keywords that I used:

  • Expert WordPress Plugin Developer
  • Best WordPress Plugin Developer
  • Custom WordPress Plugin Developer
  • Custom WordPress Theme Developer
  • Export Theme Developer

By looking at that list, you should get the picture. My list ended up being 60-70 role-based keywords long with variations on the basic concepts seen above.

Product Based Keywords

I didn’t want to generate keywords based on what I call myself, though, so I also built a list based on what I produce. In general, this boiled down to:

  • WordPress Theme
  • WordPress Plugin
  • WordPress Site

I added descriptive adjectives to each of those items and also generated very specific keywords from a list of previous projects I worked on that people might be searching for. If I already did it, people should be able to see.

Synonyms, Misspellings, and Equivalent Terms

Now that I had my main list built, I went through each item and thought of all the other ways that someone might search for that term. For example, someone looking for Custom WordPress Theme Developer might use the following equivalent keywords.

  • Custom WP Theme Developer
  • Custom Word Press Theme Developer
  • Custom WP Themer
  • Custom Word Press Themer

You get the picture. Grab your thesaurus, think of the different ways certain words in your keyphrases can be replaced, and keep expanding your list.

My Ads

The ads I created to show when someone searched for my keywords weren’t anything special. I didn’t do a lot of experimentation or research, I just thought about what someone would want to read and would be likely to click on if they were looking for someone with my skillset. Here’s what one of my ads read:

Amazing WP Developers

Hire the best {keyword:WP Developers} today.
Get a free quote within 24 hours.

As you can see, I’m interpolating the keyword the user searched for into the ad itself. I’m using a generic term for WordPress (WP) in the title because the term WordPress is trademarked and restricted from use. Finally, the last line clearly outlines the benefit of clicking on the ad. The searcher will be able to get a free quote with a short turnaround. Who wouldn’t want that?


I was not disappointed by my foray into AdWords. The campaigns I ran were great for my business – I would turn them on for a few days, gather enough leads to nurture and convert into projects, turn the campaign off, and repeat. With a little bit of forethought and a reasonable converting landing page I was getting inquiries for more work than I could possibly handle. In terms of cost, I made back every dollar I spent on AdWords for a month as long as I landed a project that was at least my minimum project size.

Although the landscape is more competitive today than it was four years ago when I first used this technique, I still think a freelancer can be really successful using Google AdWords. I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments or speak more to my experience if anyone is interested!

10 thoughts on “Google AdWords for Freelancers

  1. Helge Sverre

    Thanks for this post, I have been looking at trying out adwords or similar services for my freelance business, glad that it worked out for you, i will be testing this out in tge comming weeks.

  2. Tomas Fransson

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for a great, down-to-earth article. It’s helpful with such specifics! I’ve interviewed another freelancer using Adwords too. Andrew Akinyede, a UK graphic designer. Check out Andrew’s AdWords interview.

    Nick, I’m curious about your specific results for your AdWords campaigns.

    What do you consider:

    * a good click-through rate on your ads?
    * a good cost-per-click?
    * I’m guessing your landing page is the Plugin Developer-site? The desired outcome is a submitted “request a quote”-form? What’s % of people coming in via AdWords actually fills out your form (or contacts you by other means)?

    1. Nick Ohrn Post author

      Tomas, I’m glad you liked the article. When I do have the time to write things, I try to make them as concrete as possible.

      Honestly, it has been so long that I don’t remember a lot of specifics. I mostly rely on word of mouth and organic traffic now. However, I can offer you some general answers:

      1. My click-through rate was fairly low, but I didn’t mind. The ad text was very specific in terms of the action I hoped they’d take after clicking through and I think that drove away a lot of bogus clicks that could have happened.
      2. My cost per click was almost always less than $0.50 but that was a long time ago. The competition for developers in my chosen niche is definitely much higher now so I would expect CPC to be higher as well. That being said, there are still a lot of long-tail keywords to bid on that will be less expensive.
      3. My landing page was indeed I experimented with sending to both the home page and the testimonials page but eventually settled on the home page (I know I probably could have done better with a designated landing page, but oh well). Of the people who came via Adwords, a very large percent completed my desired action (which, you noted correctly, was filling out the request a quote form).

      Hope this helps!

      1. Tomas Fransson

        From a cost perspective, you probably had some early mover advantages! Nick, when were you running your Adwords campaigns?

        Yes, the competition seems stiff today. I run a quick check in AdWords for “WordPress plugin developer” and some close keyword variations. There are almost 1,000 searches/month, but the suggested click bid is between $4 to $12. They are a valuable keyword to rank for organically (which you seem to do)! Congratulations on your SEO success! :)

        However, even today it seems possible to succeed with the AdWords approach you describe! In this article, David Tendrich from ReliablePSD (a PSD to code service) tells how they use AdWords (Express.) David uses it in roughly the same way now as you were doing then. He even tried specific squeeze pages first, but they now send their AdWords traffic directly to their homepage too. They have a very clean and action-oriented home page though, like yours.

        Thanks for answering my questions, Nick!

        1. Nick Ohrn Post author

          I was running my Adwords campaigns early in my business, once I had figured out that I actually had skills worth paying for. This was probably 2009 – 2011. I never paid anywhere near that $4 figure, even for that specific keyword. I’d guess I topped out at $2.50 – $3.00 for the highly competitive “WordPress developer” exact match keyphrase. Of course, I stopped doing that once I found out those were my least converting clicks – the best converting (both into an action on the site and an actual project) were for more focused keyphrases.

          Thanks for the link to David’s site. I’ll have to read through that and see what they’re doing.

  3. Liam

    Great article. I’m about to dive into this myself so was Googling around to see other peoples experience and tips for our industry. I’m targeting local clients for web/marketing services, but it’s the same idea obviously.

  4. Lucian Blankevoort

    Thanks for the article, I read through it while taking notes. Many notes were taken :)

    I want to specialise in motion graphic design and am having difficulty finding clients, so I’m about to venture down this path. Started with rebuilding my site as a WordPress site (not hosted just yet, should be up in a week from the time of this writing. until then my old site is still available at Chose WordPress so I can easily add new content at will.

    Now working through my SEO a little. After that, I’ll be doing some Adwords campaigns.

    PS If any of you other designers get asked for animated logos or any kind of motion graphics, feel free to contact me. I’ll cut you in for a finders fee and will might be able to swing work your way in the future ;)


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