Why Photographers Should Care about Search Engine Optimization
The majority of searches for a photographer and photography products begin with the internet. While they are online, approximately 70 percent of those people searching will use Google. This powerful search engine is helping brides, high school seniors, small business owners and other professionals find exactly what they want in photography services.
This begs the question: What if Google can't find your website? How does Google decide which websites to list in search results? The answer is in search engine optimization, or SEO as it is called in the digital marketing community. Photographers may have heard of SEO, but not all realize how vital it can be to their success.
In a nutshell, SEO is the practice of increasing the visibility of a web page by including keywords, links and other elements to ensure that the page ranks high in web searches. The higher the search rank, the more easily customers can find the page, the greater the chance of revenue generation.
SEO is an important tool for photographers to have in their kits because it helps them get noticed. How you handle SEO depends on what kinds of photography you are selling. For instance, advanced amateur photographers may focus on image search (more on that later) or general terms and keywords such as "landscape photography." Professional food photographers might focus on terms related to their specialty and location, such as "Kansas City food photographer."
The bottom line is that photographers need to have a plan if they want to achieve a high ranking in search-engine results. SEO is not an overnight process, nor is it a one-time website fix. It takes time to implement, patience to realize results and regular maintenance to ensure that your ranking remains high. Fortunately, there are things you can do now to get your site on Google's radar — and keep it there.
Every page is an opportunity
Google wants its customers to have a great search experience. The search engine's job is to find and display the expert and most relevant websites related to the customer's search query. How this is done is the starting point in creating your SEO plan of action.
It's important to understand that search engines do not index websites; they index web pages. This means that every page on your website — not just your home page — is an opportunity to be found by Google and other search engines.
Because Google has such a large share of the search market, most of the focus of SEO is on optimizing for Google's search capabilities. However, photographers should not ignore the existence of other search engines, such as Yahoo, Bing and a new rising star called blekko.com.
Each search engine has its own algorithm, which is the formula that decides how search results are listed. Each algorithm delivers different results. If you do a good job, your site should also find success with the other search engines.
Don't confuse Google
Optimizing your web pages involves using keywords to help Google understand what your website is about. One reason that so many photographers don't rank well in search results is that they don't know how to design their websites in a language that Google can understand. Here are some tips to make sure your site gets noticed:
Use more text. Naturally, photographers like to let their images do the talking and tend to design web pages that are nearly text-free. Unfortunately, in Google's world, your picture is not worth 1,000 words. Your website needs word content — descriptions of your photographs and your biography, work history and professional philosophy. The same rule applies to Adobe Flash. Although other search engines are doing a better job of decoding Flash animation, it is still just a big moving picture that Google cannot read.
Make your home page more descriptive. If the title of your web page contains only your name or the name of your studio, you have an SEO problem. Web page titles are extremely valuable real estate. This area should represent what you do, not who you are.
Focus on your services, not just your name. Being first in the search results for your name or the name of your company is generally valueless. SEO is about attracting the people who don't know your name or who you are. Remember, photographers want to attract photography buyers looking specifically for what they offer.
Think of each web page as a newspaper article. The page title is the headline, and the body of the page should contain content to support that title. The more words used on a web page, the better. Keep focused.
Tag everything. Individually tag photographs, videos and keywords to support the information on the page. Use alt tags to add more information about each image. In HTML code, the "
Increasing your links
So how does Google decide which site to place at the top of search results? The key method that search engines use is to count the links that are directed to a web page. In other words, search engines let the internet community decide. Think of each link to a web page as a vote. It is a little more complicated than that, but it's a good rule of thumb.
One way to increase the links to your website is to trade links with other websites and blog owners. They can't be just any links, though; they need to be related to your site. Trading links with the local automotive garage is not going to have the same benefit as trading links with a photography studio or other related websites.
Unfortunately, photographers don't always like to trade links with other photographers — especially if they are in the same geographic location. One answer is to connect with photographers through social media. The triumvirate of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn offer the opportunity to develop relationships with other photographers around the world. Once these relationships have been established, it's much easier to ask for a link exchange.
Writing a blog is another excellent way to attract links. When you write a post, share information and techniques related to photography. If other bloggers and photographers find the information valuable, they will link to your site.
Search for directories to list your website. There are many available, but those directories with an approval process seem to hold more weight in Google's eyes.
As you follow these methods to attract links, beware of scams and tricks. Sometimes, disreputable sites will offer quick bumps in ranking by artificial means, but over time Google tends to penalize or ban the websites that don't play by the rules.
Take your time building links; add a few a week. Or, if you want to be aggressive, add one a day. Just make sure that the link titles vary but still relate to your keywords. If most links pointing back to your website say exactly the same thing, such as "New York portrait photographer," the search engines might suspect some trickery.
How do you select keywords?
Fortunately, when it comes to effective keyword selection Google offers the internet's version of a free lunch. Google Analytics and the tools supporting Google AdWords are very useful in the SEO process.
Use AdWords' keywords tool to find the right words to help drive beneficial traffic to your website. Sometimes targeting the plural form of a word will earn more traffic. For example, use "Los Angeles photographers" instead of "Los Angeles photographer."
I found out the hard way that "Michigan photography" was not the right combination of keywords for my website. By reviewing my analytics, I was able to determine that the people visiting my site didn't find anything of value there. I concluded that people searching for "Michigan photography" were looking for beautiful images of Michigan, not what I was offering in my corporate portfolios.
Another way to select future keywords is to review your analytics regularly and keep an eye out for keywords that people are using to find your website. There may be some great opportunities waiting.
SEO as an art
Search engine optimization is an art as well as a science. No one, outside the search companies, knows the secret algorithms that the search engines use. Some of the factors Google considers are how long your domain has been active, how fast your web pages load, the quality of the sites linking to you and how often your pages are updated. It has been estimated that Google's algorithm computes more than 150 variables before listing a search result.
SEO is a process. If you are not on the search engine's radar, you can make some quick gains by optimizing your site using the above suggestions. But remember, attaining front-page status can take months.
So how important is it, really, for your site to reach the first page of a Google search? Think about the last time you looked for information using a search engine. Did you look past the first page? How about after the first few results?
The only way to rank in the top five search results is to know your competition. What are they doing? Look at their source code (click under "View" and "Page Source" in your browser) to see what keywords and tags they are using. Take advantage of services and tools such as SEOmoz.com to see who is linking to their websites. Maybe you can place links there, too.
Finally, don't get caught up in writing website copy specifically for the search engines. You have to remember that humans read these pages along with Google. Be sure to use your keywords naturally. Some people take SEO to an extreme and include a sea of terms that may make sense to Google's algorithms, but will only confuse their visitors.
In the end, search engines are important for driving traffic, but they don't purchase your products and services.