Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Photographers
This chapter is an excerpt from the in-depth e-book, Creative Freelance Marketing for Photographers.
When you want to purchase a product, learn about anything, or find a service, where do you go? Besides Amazon for making purchases, Google is the website.
The world may be buzzing about each new social app, but Google’s search engine has been chugging along behind the scenes connecting the web, so much so that in 2013, Google went down for five minutes and internet traffic dropped by 40 percent.
A major aspect of internet marketing campaigns should be focused on ranking highly in Google. This article will explore this in-depth; however, there is so much to learn or cover that this will be like dipping your toes in the water. You should make it a point to research search engine optimization further because it is a constantly progressing field.
Before we get into specifics, we need to talk about the point of search engines. If you understand this, you will be 80 percent of the way there. The goal of any search engine is to answer a query in the best possible way; it is to serve up the most relevant page that answers the request. Google works exceptionally well compared to the competition, which is why it has the market share that it does; however, it is far from perfect (although each day it gets closer to it).
Relevancy is the key. If your website is relevant for terms that people are searching for, and you connect yourself in the right way, Google will want to share your content. If you want to rank highly for a specific term, you need to create the best possible website or landing page for that term. That is what Google wants, so give it to them.
If you want to rank highly for “New York photography,” make the best possible website that pertains to New York photography. If you want to rank highly for an article about how to correctly focus your camera, start by writing the best article about focusing your camera. This will most likely not be enough to get you ranked highly on its own, particularly at the beginning and for the most competitive terms, but it is where you should start.
Creating content of this quality is necessary to rank highly. If you create strong content that answers a need, people will want to read it, link to it, and share it. You will be at an immediate advantage. Gaming the system might be beneficial in the short term, but if there is no content to back the optimization techniques, then you are fighting a losing battle because Google will eventually figure it out and penalize you.
Make a list of each term that you would like people to use to be able to find you in Google. The more valuable the term, the bigger the players will be that you will be competing against. It took me a year and a half of focusing on SEO to rank highly for the term “New York photography.” I eventually reached a competitive space on the first page and currently bounce around the top of the second (although that varies for every search). However, this term was not actually that valuable. The competition in the top five is fierce, and it is too general of a term. Do people Googling “New York photography” actually want my services? Most probably do not. Terms that would convert better for me would be a little more specific, including “New York photography prints,” “Chrysler Building photographs,” or “New York portrait photography. Those terms have a more specific purpose.
But the residual effect is the key. Having that strong base for “New York photography” trickles down very well for other, more specific terms. People find my work regularly when searching for more specific New York related topics. When I decided to start giving photography workshops, I created a “New York Photo Tour and Street Photography Workshop” page, and six months later I was up to number five for the search term “New York photo tour,” behind only a couple of the major photo tour companies that have been around for a long time. It is the first one-on-one workshop page, people find it frequently, and it brings me a lot of business.
Another example of this happened when I wrote a detailed historical article about the Chrysler Building with my photographs intermixed with historical images. I put a significant amount of effort into the creation of the page but did not invest too much into the promotion of it, instead focusing mostly on promoting my site in general. Without any upkeep, that page now gets 75 visitors each day and leads to some sales and people joining my mailing list. It is currently ranked #7 for the term “Chrysler Building,” #1 for “Chrysler Building photography” and “Chrysler Building photos,” and #2 for “Chrysler Building History.” In addition, it gets a lot of its traffic from more specific search terms based around the Chrysler Building. Depending on where you are and when you read this, these rankings can vary, but they are in that range.
So how does Google work? Nobody outside of the company knows exactly, and it is always changing, but we have some important insights. There are many factors that go into the Google algorithm, with the ultimate purpose of providing the most relevant content.
Links have always been the lifeblood of Google’s algorithm. They are by far the most important factor currently and will continue to be an important factor to come. Google takes into account how many links a website has achieved from external sites, how important the websites are that link to the site, and the content contained on both the websites and pages that are linked.
If you run a portraiture business in the fictional town of Sasqualooska and you manage to get an article written about you on a well-known photography blog, if the article talks about portraiture and where you are from, that is going to give Google some signals that you may be decent at this portrait photography thing in Sasqualooska. Google is going to take the fact that this established site is linking to you and writing about these terms as confirmation that your site is relevant for them.
However, if you obtain a link from a small scale motorcycle website that does not talk much about portrait photography, then this link will have much less weight for those terms. It can still help, but it will not help as much. Since both the terms “New York” and “Photography” are important for me, it is a big part of my strategy to get links from local New York-centric websites and from photography websites globally.
Social Media Signals
It is not clear exactly how Google’s rankings take social media statistics into account, but it is clear that they are paying attention to them. This makes sense because social media metrics are a good indicator of how valuable a piece of content is. This is another reason that you should consider spending some time on social sites.
Keywords are an important part of Google’s algorithm. When you are creating a page that you want Google to access, brainstorm some of the main terms that people might enter into Google if they wanted to locate that page, and then use them on the page.
Make sure to use some of these important words and terms in your copy; however, don’t overdo this; write in a natural way and not for the search engines. If you want people to find your images of a famous place, write an article about it, its history, and decorate the page with your work. This text will both provide insight and value for your readers and will give you some juicy text to drive the search engines. In addition, it will be something that people will be interested in liking, sharing, and even giving you links for.
Two of my historical articles that consistently reach the most people each day through search engines are about the Chrysler Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted the articles to read as clearly as possible, but then for further help with search engines, I added a “Frequently Asked Questions” section at the bottom, where I answered the most popular questions asked in Google. Here is an example of those commonly searched terms in my Brooklyn Bridge Article (in the actual article, I include the answers below).
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why did they build the Brooklyn Bridge?
Filming locations below the Brooklyn Bridge
Can I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge?
How long is the Brooklyn Bridge? / How many miles is the Brooklyn Bridge?
Brooklyn Bridge interesting facts.
What type of bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge?
You can find the most common search terms and frequently asked questions by using Google’s Keyword Planner. Enter the general term that you would like to rank for and your website or landing page, then click on “Keyword ideas” and explore the list. In addition to this, you can also Google the term and add “frequently asked questions” after it to see what else comes up.
Consider writing articles about your process, your favorite tools and techniques, your favorite locations to work, current happenings, the history behind the subject matter that you work with, or articles about your favorite photographers. These can be very fun to write and can provide a lot of value for search engines, for obtaining links, and for your fans.
Page Titles and Meta Tags
<title>New York Private Photo Tours and Street Photography Workshops</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”Take a private street photography tour of New York with a street photographer and lifelong New Yorker”>
The top of each HTML website page begins like this. Each page should have a valid title and meta description for the term or terms you want to rank for, and each content management system will have a way for you to alter it without having to go in and change the code.
The title and description will help to give both people and Google a better idea of what the page is about. They are what people will see when they search for the terms that you are trying to rank for. They should be written to encourage the searcher to click on your link. If they don’t, what is the point of ranking highly?
A meta title is the title of the page, and it shows up in large blue text once a term is googled. This is what people click on to go through to your website, and it should be unique and accurate to the content of the page. The meta description is the text underneath the title, and it describes the content of the page in further detail. It must be descriptive, brief, have the keywords you want, and relate to the information on the page. It is a summary. Both should be written for the terms that you want to rank for in Google and for the person who is searching.
You want your website to have an organized page structure to make it easier for Google to classify the pages on your site and to make it easier for people to explore your site. You want to have short and accurate URLS. If you have a page on your site about travel photography, have the URL be www.yoursite.com/travel_photography
This, along with the meta title, meta description, and the text on the page will notify Google that this is where all your travel photography is located. If you would like to go even further, you can provide an extra layer of more specific pages. For example, put links to your “Greece photography” and your “Italy photography” portfolios on that page, which can be further optimized for those more specific terms.
Landing pages are pages on your website created for the purpose of converting people to do a desired task. Create landing pages for each major area of interest that you would like to rank for.
If you are creating a photography business in Sasqualooska, create a specific informational page for portrait photography in Sasqualooska, both showing off your portraiture and sharing information about your services. Create a page for event photography and another for wedding photography, if you would like to offer those services. Pretty soon your entire website will be looking good for the very general term of “Sasqualooska photography.” Your homepage should be the hub to lead viewers to these more specific pages. Make each page well written, detailed, and informative. This page should be valuable in the eyes of your prospective clients. That is what Google wants.
If people have made it to your landing page, they are usually there for a reason, and you should have one goal for the page. For example, on my book landing pages, the goal is to have people purchase the book, and for the workshop page, the goal is to have them email me a simple question or request information about a workshop to get the conversation going. This is an area where copywriting becomes relevant for both the reader and for Google.
Here is a specific example of how to implement this for a portrait photography business using copywriting techniques. You will want to start by creating a specific page that is meant to sell people on this service, such as www.yoursite.com/sasqualooska_portrait_photography. I added the Sasqualooska in there to make it more location specific. Add your best imagery at the top to show the quality of your work, and then begin to cover the specific benefits that people will receive. Tell them what the portraits will do for them, and talk about the beautiful prints that they can send to family members. Show a photo of one of your photographs up on a client’s wall. Talk about how you will help an actor translate their personality into their headshots to help at their next audition. Talk about how you can help a businessperson relate to their customers more effectively with a natural, friendly portrait on their website and business materials.
Then talk about the features. Explain how much fun your sessions are. Many people are scared of having their portrait taken, and this is your chance to put them at ease and get them excited. Flip the switch on these feelings, and get them thinking that it will be a positive experience to go through. You can even make a video of people having fun in your studio. If there are any pertinent stories from any of your sessions, include them. Talk about any other relevant things that make you stand out. Cover the specifics of the shoot and what the client will receive.
Complete the page with testimonials. Have a testimonial from every type of person that you are trying to work with: a family, an actor, a business owner, or maybe a high school senior. Have one person talk about the quality of your photography and another talk about how fun and professional you were to work with. Cover all the bases.
Then prompt the reader to email you. The key to a portrait session landing page is that you want the person to email you with an inquiry, even if they are just thinking about it. Make that area prominent. Many photographers will create a service page but then rely on the visitor to click over to the contact page to find the info. Do not do that. Add a large area that makes it easy for them to contact you immediately. Include a picture of you with it or on the page and you will have covered all the bases.
When placing images on a website, the alt tag allows you to add descriptions to images. CMS websites will give you an easy way to alter this every time you add an image to your site. This tag is both a way to give a user more information about the image when they hover over it and for Google to have an idea about what your image is of. This is important for photographers since Google is unable to currently recognize the content of images without the accompanying text.
Heading tags are how you classify important text throughout a page. There are six heading tags, <H1> through <H6>, with <H1> being the most important. Use these tags to emphasize text that is important, such as titles of sections. As heading tags are larger and bolder, this also helps with the readability of a page. Many readers like to skim or to get a sense of what is on the page before they decide to read, and good heading tags can help organize the page and make it more readable. In addition, it gives Google more information about what text is important. This can only help you in search engines. Do not overuse headings. There should only be one <H1> within each page but there can be multiple <H2> tags.
It Takes Time
This is not going to happen overnight. It can take some time for Google to recognize your website as the amazing resource that it is and for your content to rank highly but do not be discouraged. The beautiful aspect of Google is that it pushes you to do many things that you should be doing anyway, and doing the work to make your pages eventually rank highly will have many other positive effects, particularly in the quality of your content.
For further education, download Creative Freelance Marketing for Photographers.
To read further on SEO for photographers, I also recommend Pixpa’s latest article on SEO for Photographers and Creatives.