I know that for a wedding photographer or a local portrait photographer, SEO (Search engine optimization) may be one of the most important things for their business after the images. What could be more simple for a potential client than typing city and state plus the word photographer in google? I’d never given it much thought for editorial and commercial photographers because there are better ways to find those people and the results google used to spit out were never that great. Well, I think times are changing and when I see Dan Winters buying keywords (here) I know they’ve changed quite a bit (several years ago he didn’t even have a website).
I think about SEO a great deal now, because I build websites for a living, but the thing that struck me the other day was how many times in the past I’ve typed into google the name of an advertising campaign or a story in a magazine that I saw somewhere but forgot who shot it and never, ever, found what I was looking for. This will and probably has already changed as a new generation of photographers blog about their shoots and those of us blogging about the industry in general report who shot what for whom. There are other reasons photographers want good search results of course but the amount of times I’ve tried and failed to find someone this way seems like a good reason for everyone to think about it.
Anyway, now I’m business partners with Erik Dungan, someone who’s spent many years helping wedding photographers improve their search results and building websites that are SEO friendly, so I thought I’d ask him some questions about it.
Can you tell me the biggest SEO myths and how they came about?
The biggest myths tend to be outdated information from the web 1.0 (or earlier) days. For some reason, this bad information keeps circulating into the hands of new photographers every year–like a bad email forward.
The biggest myth is definitely that meta tags provide any meaningful impact on your search engine rankings. People learned long ago that it was easy to game the system with meta keywords. Search engines haven’t given the keywords any significant weight for a few years now. The meta description affects how your result is displayed–but it too has little (or no) weight on your position.
Second (especially for photographers) is that Flash-based websites can’t be optimized well. If you embed your Flash correctly, provide alternate content, and use links appropriately, Flash sites can be optimized just fine. I’ve done it for several sites. Adobe’s recent announcement could make things even better–but even now, getting a Flash photography site on page 1 is possible.
I’ll throw in another myth regarding searching behavior. For some reason, photographers often worry about how their site ranks when searching for their name. Trust me, if a potential client knows of you by name, they won’t have a problem finding your website. Worry about your market and areas of expertise. Optimize for those searches, provide appropriate content, and the long tail of search terms will fall into place.
I’ve always thought of SEO as stuff you do to the code of your site, programmer stuff. Are there really things photographers can do on their own without mucking about in the code?
Definitely. One of the biggest is blogging. Good blogs naturally use layouts, page elements, links, and URLs that search engines love. Setup a blog and make sure you have links between it and your site’s home page. Then, blog at least once a week about the jobs and projects you’re working on. Search engines love content, so make sure you’re blogging about photography. People love tutorials and behind-the-scenes stuff. Regularly blogging about photography builds appropriate content and improves the chances of getting quality inbound links. Who cares if no humans read your blog. The search engine benefits alone are worth it.
Also, many websites include a CMS of some sort, allowing you to adjust elements of the site without getting your hands in the code. For example, your browser title is an important ranking factor and many control panels let you adjust that.
On the other hand, I always encourage photographers to be brave and get into the HTML code for simple things. It’s not for everyone, but c’mon–if you can calculate exposure values in your head, I hope you can edit a TITLE tag without doing any major damage.
And what about in the code. What should photographers make sure their website designers have done?
Related to my above point, the more you can control aspects of your site (via a CMS or control panel), the better. That goes for SEO changes or simply keeping your site fresh with new images. The days of having a developer build a site from scratch and having to call/email him for every minuscule update are over.
I’ve heard a few pitches from SEO companies where they’re basically saying they can game google or that they work closely with google. Is this a scam?
I’m hesitant to call anyone a “scam” without hearing the pitch, but I’m leery of most SEO pitches–especially if they’re cold-calling you. Be skeptical of any monthly subscription offer. Any of the following pitches should also throw up red flags:
“we will guarantee you #1 ranking or Y amount of traffic” (no one can make guarantees like that)
“we have a partnership with Google/Yahoo! and we can put you at position X” (I’ve heard this one myself … organic searches don’t work this way and its easy enough to do your own ad campaigns)
“we will submit your site to all the major search engines for $x per month” (since that’s not necessary anymore, it’s not something I’d want to pay for … especially monthly)
There are more, but in the end … real SEO pros don’t seek you out–you seek them out.
Ok, give me you best tips for getting higher and better search results.
Ok, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll toss out 10 tips that will help photographers here rank higher. I wont go into too much detail, but I’ll keep an eye on the comments and try answer any questions people may have. You can also find more info just by searching around.
Establish a baseline
1. Make sure you have web stats installed on your site and your blog (Google Analytics or Mint)
2. Install the Rank Checker plugin for firefox. Plug in any keywords or phrases that are important to you and see where you rank now. Check it every 1-3 weeks and add new phrases as you see them in your stats.
3. Set up a blog (WordPress if you want it on your own site; SquareSpace, TypePad, or WordPress.com if you want a hosted version) and start blogging once a week.
4. Make sure your blog links to your site’s home page and vice versa.
5. Collaborate with 3 industry peers. Link to their site and/or blog (on your blog’s sidebar) and ask them to do the same. NOTE: I don’t advocate huge, convoluted link-trading schemes. I’m talking about peers that you actually know and work with.
6. Submit your blog to Google Blog Search and Technorati. You only have to do this once and some blog systems will do it automatically.
7. Edit your browser title, making sure that it contains at least 2 keywords/phrases that are important to you. This is easily the biggest “bang for your buck” update that you can make.
8. Update your About/Bio page. Don’t just write about how you fell in love with photography after your dad gave you his old Rollei. Write about what you do, where you do it, your specialties, and past clients.
9. Submit your business to Google’s Local. It takes a few weeks to get in there, but it’s worth it.
10. This tip is a bit general (and related to #5), but inbound links (links to your site from other sites) are crucial for SEO. Contact peers, mentors, agencies, editors, clients, or local publications that you have worked with and have a good reputation. The goal is to get a link to your site. It could be from a “recommended photographers” page, a blog post, or just a simple credit/byline. When it comes to local publications, be creative–offer to write a how-to article or take some headshots.