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Search Engine Optimization is an essential part of any business. In short, SEO helps your website rank near the top of popular search engine results. Recent reports suggest that search engines now drive even more traffic to websites than social media, so showing up in search engine results pages (SERPs, as industry insiders call them) can provide a huge boost to any photographer.
By increasing your web traffic, you’ll be able to get your work in front of the eyes of more potential clients, followers, and customers. If we think of search engines as the ultimate referral system for the digital age, SEO encompasses a series of tools we can use to get on their good side.
For the creative mind, SEO might seem like a daunting concept, but it’s not as complex as you might think. The SEO industry is big business (estimated to reach $80 billion by 2020!), and experts have devoted countless hours to uncovering how the biggest search algorithms work. Below, we put together a list of a few simple and easy-to-manage steps you can take to improve your website.
Photo by arfa adam.
SEO and keywords go hand-in-hand. Photoshelter has an in-depth SEO for Photographers guide, and they recommend coming up with at least 20-50 keywords for your website. Do your research, and put time into thinking about what kinds of terms your target audience might search. Try a keyword planning tool like ahrefs, Keyword Tool, Google’s Keyword Planner, or Serpstat to determine what keywords are right for you. Shutterstock has its own tool as well: Keyword Suggestions. You can also manually type some keywords into search engines and scroll down to see “related searches” for more ideas.
You’ll want to include popular phrases like “travel photographer” or “portrait photographer” in your list, but it’ll be hard to rank at the top of these searches because there’s so much competition. That’s where long-tail keywords come into play; these prioritize the intent of your potential clients, and they’re also far more likely to translate into actual business. Long-tail keywords typically have more words than the popular keywords, but that’s necessarily the case. They’re more specific and targeted, so don’t be afraid to get into the fine details of what you do–location, genre, specialty, etc.
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It’s almost impossible to underestimate the significance of your domain name; as the entrepreneur and author Martin Zwilling once put it, “the domain name may well be more important than your company name.” Alex Vita of ForegroundWeb, who has extensive SEO guide specifically for photographers, agrees.
Your domain name should be clear, concise, and easy to remember. It should also mirror your brand name and be unique to you. “Photographers usually opt for their full name (johndoe.com) and often add ‘photography’ at the end (johndoephotography.com),” Vita explains. Don’t overthink it or pile on the keywords, and avoid using hyphens. A confusing domain name will look unprofessional. One more thing: Vita encourages photographers to invest in a domain name in the long-term, so don’t forget to renew.
Note: In a similar vein, keep an eye on your permalinks. Like your domain, they should be clean and easy-to-read.
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Google recommends you give each of your pages a unique title. Again, keep things simple and accurate. You can even plug a few keywords into your titles, but don’t add so many that it seems stilted or confusing. Vita recommends pushing any keywords, if you do decide to use them, to the front of your title. Feel free to add your name or business name at the end. “Length-wise, limit yourself to around 50-55 characters,” he adds. “Anything more usually gets truncated in search results.”
Note: While you’re at it, spend some time reviewing the meta descriptions for your pages. These descriptions will show up in search results, so many sure they are short, to-the-point, and appealing. Use them to explain what exactly people will get if they click on your site.
Photo by Callahan.
Search engines “see” text, not images, so, as a photographer, one of the best things you can do for your website is to add copy to your pages! If you have a bunch of different gallery pages, write something about each of your projects and even pop a few keywords in there. Your “About” or “Bio” page is the perfect forum for this kind of text as well, so don’t be afraid to get specific about who you are, what you do, and where you do it. Image captions are always a good idea too.
File Names and ALT Text
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SEO doesn’t only apply to the text that actually shows up on your final website. Search engines will also check out your file names and ALT text, so devote some time to making these as descriptive as possible. By descriptive, we don’t mean super long and hard-to-read. A short explanation of the photo and its subject will work well. ALT text, in particular, is a great place to use some of your long-tail keywords, as Michiel Heijmans of Yoast points out.
Note: As per Photoshelter and Vita’s suggestions, don’t neglect your metadata. Include relevant keywords here to help search engines to understand what’s in each photo.
Photo by Rawpixel.com.
Huge image files are like roadblocks for search engines, so make sure all your photos are as small as they can be. Take notice of what size your website displays images, and adjust your photos accordingly before uploading. Vita recommends saving photos as JPEGs, while Heijmans encourages the use of either JPEG or WebP; search engines will reward your website for short load times.
Illustration by Mathias Rosenthal.
While we’ll mostly cover what’s called onsite SEO (i.e. things you can do directly to your website to help its rankings), offsite SEO is critical. If other websites link back to your website, you’ll stand out to search engines. An easy way to start is by making sure all your social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and even Shutterstock) links back to your main website.
At the same time, link to your social pages from your website so people can get involved and share your work with others (hint: create buttons to improve the user experience). If you have multiple websites, make sure they link to each other. If satisfied clients link back to your site, that’s another bonus.
As Photoshelter suggests, it’s also a good idea to pitch your projects to online publications who will link back to your site. Most websites these days, including Feature Shoot, do this for all the photographers we feature. The Photoshelter SEO guide also introduced us to Majestic, a handy tool for tracking and analyzing links to your website and those of your competitors.
Note: The linked words in any page or article (for example, “Majestic” above) is called “anchor text.” When sharing your link on another site, this anchor text can help search engines to identify the content of your website, so try to make it descriptive.
Photo by FlyingFifeStudio.
One thing that instantly adds value to your website? A blog! Experts advise against starting a whole new website for your blog; instead, incorporate it directly into your main website. You can use your blog to share behind-the-scenes details and stories from recent shoots, or, if you want to go the extra mile, take some time answering some frequently asked questions.
If you’re a portrait photographer, for instance, you can dedicate an article to giving advice to people about posing for the camera. Or, if you’re a travel photographer, you can publish a how-to guide for other shutterbugs who want to find unique landmarks in popular tourist destinations. The possibilities are endless; simply imagine your intended audience, put yourself in their shoes, and think about kinds of articles they might want to read. Don’t forget your keywords here, but incorporate them in a way that feels authentic rather than forced.
Keep It Simple
Illustration by Georgejmclittle.
Search engines can detect when a website looks like spam, so make sure everything, from your homepage to your artist statements, is user-friendly. Try to keep your website as clean and intuitive as possible. If people get overwhelmed by excessive or over-the-top web design, they will click away, and search engines will take notice of your bounce rate.
Photo by Aysezgicmeli.
Search engines tend to favor new content, so don’t let your website get stale. In 2011, for instance, Google first implemented what they call the “freshness algorithm,” a tool that prioritizes recently updated websites and pages. It won’t do to let your website sit on a shelf gathering dust; instead, consider adding regular blog posts or galleries. If you have nothing new to contribute to your site, simply devote a few minutes to sprucing up some of the successful pages you’ve created in the past.
Regular updates are particularly important if you cover timely events, like elections or sports seasons. People searching for news images usually want images pertaining to current events, so search engines will likely put these at the top.
One of the most important components of SEO is monitoring your progress. You and your website are in it for the long-haul, and there are sadly no easy ways to get in those top rankings. It takes time, commitment, and, not least of all, a good analytics tool. If you make SEO changes to your website, follow up and see if they’re working for you. The pros stress the importance of getting acquainted with Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and/or similar resources.