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This post was updated in February 2017.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the catch-all phrase that means the stuff you do to rank higher in Google. Yes, you can do tons of cool stuff to influence your rank. Why does ranking matter? I’ll go ahead and answer my own question …
Search Rank = sales.
Google search and advertising tools helped generate $165 billion of economic activity in 2015. In addition, 97% of internet users look online for local products and services.
This represents a huge opportunity. And it’s more than sales. Search engine optimization can help you:
- Get more clients
- Attract the right clients
- Grow your business to a point where you can charge the fees you deserve
- Scale back paid marketing activities
- Look like you’re the best in your area
- Develop a client base that leads to referrals
Where does all this new business come from? The number of people seeking photographer services via Google dwarfs every other medium – including Facebook and word of mouth. Hundreds of thousands of people are looking for your services, and you better be there!
If you’re ready to rank higher, step into what I call my “virtual kitchen.” I’ll teach you some SEO recipes.
Imagine one of those incredible kitchens on Houzz with stainless steel everything, double ovens, granite countertops for miles, and too much storage. You can cook anything with a setup like that. I want to give you that type of do-it-all setup for your website so you can prepare a perfect search result for your business.
How Google Works
In a nutshell, Google looks for the keywords searched in webpage titles and text/images. The company’s search engine then orders the results of those pages by their importance (the number of quality links from other sources). For an overview, this page from Google is a great resource.
Google’s website describes the search process this way:
“For every search query performed on Google, there are thousands of web pages with helpful information. Our challenge in search is to return only the most relevant results at the top of the page. Not every website can come out at the top of the page.
Today our algorithms rely on more than 200 unique signals like how often the search terms occur on the webpage, if they appear in the title or whether synonyms of the search terms occur on the page. Google’s PageRank, named for Larry Page (Google’s co-founder and CEO) counts the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.”
Top 3 Ingredients to Rank Well
Don’t miss my SEO Cookbook for Photographers with 60+ pages covering more than 20 ingredients that are must-haves for effective SEO.
Here’s a sneak peak — a few staples to get you started. Like flour, sugar and eggs, the following three web ingredients are difficult to live without.
SEO Ingredient #1: Title
A title tag is the main text that describes an online document. It is the single most important SEO element on your page and appears in three key places:
- Title tags show up in at the top of the browser window.
- Title tags appear in search engine results.
- Many times, external websites (especially social media sites) will use the title of a web page as the text in the link.
The title of a web page should be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content, and it’s critical to both the user experience and search engine optimization.
Creating a compelling title tag will pull in more visits from search results. Thus, it’s important to not only think about optimization and keyword usage, but also the entire user experience. The title tag is a new visitor’s first interaction with your brand when they find it in a search result; it should convey the most positive impression possible.
SEO Ingredient #2: Images
Since images are a big indicator of a webpage’s topic, they carry extra weight with Google. This effect is amplified for photography sites, which use more images than a run-of-the-mill website does.
Each image on a page has attributes that Google reads:
- Alternate text
- Text nearby the image on the page
- Location (top of the page carries more importance)
- Dimensions (larger image is more important)
- File size (compressed images load quickly, so reduce the quality in Photoshop as shown on the right)
Google needs to be able to visualize the image and overall context of the page, using the above factors. Compare the following:
Photo #1 – Not Optimized
Alt text: Sacramento nature photographer
Caption: No caption or text on the page
File size: 300KB (slow)
Photo #2 – Optimized
Alt text: Green reeds grow near water’s edge along the choppy river
Caption: I stopped along the bike trail for this photo
File size: 30KB (fast)
You want to be example #2. In that one, Google will understand the photo without looking at it. You effectively water down this ingredient if your website doesn’t give you access to these factors. For example, Flash sites may not have alternate text or text on the page.
SEO Ingredient #3: Links
Links from other websites are the most potent ingredient in any site’s SEO recipe.
Google has thousands of webpages that could potentially rank for a given topic. It prioritizes these pages, in large degree, based upon whichever page has the most or the best links from other websites. Links are the most accurate way to interpret who has the most authority about a topic.
Think of every link on the web as a recommendation, similar to a positive review. Some recommendations are worth more than others. Just like a restaurant can get a huge credibility boost from a five-star review by Zagat or Emeril Lagasse, a website gets a higher Google rank when it receives powerful links.
Helpful links are ones that indicate your website’s authority in the industry. The site, context and location of the link are relevant.
- From a site not relevant to photography
- From a website overseas
- Link in a blogroll or footer
- Alongside lots of other links
- Paid links and ads
- Blog comments
- Lots of links from one source
- Directories or low-value sites
- Link exchanges
- From a photography-related site
- From a local website in your area
- Popular/trusted website
- Near the top of a page
- Within an article about you
- Links from many different sources
Links make this SEO game much bigger and broader. You now must do work outside your own site and start building relationships in the industry so you are featured elsewhere on other sites. True authority comes from being featured on other sites with articles, interviews, awards, photos and events about you.
The power of links is the primary reason why SEO cannot be outsourced. You can’t trust others to create the necessary relationships or write about your business in the same way that you can. And if links are done poorly, they can permanently damage your online search reputation.
Recipe #1: Write a Webpage Title
A page’s title helps it rank well and convinces a user to click it on a search results page. I write the title before the page. I choose what I want to rank for (from my keyword list), then I write a page exactly about that topic. This is more effective than spending time writing about topics that are unimportant for ranking.
Time: 15 minutes Level: Easy
Ingredients: Keyword List, Title
- Preview all your titles in Google by doing a search for site:http://yoursitehere.com
- Open up the page whose title you want to edit.
- Write down what someone might search for to find this page.
- Open your keyword list and circle a couple of keyword combinations relevant to this page.
- Craft a title that honestly describes the page using the keywords.
- Make sure the most important keywords appear first (Google gives them more importance).
- Add a few words that attract clicks, like “stunning …” or “10 best …”.
- Stop your text at 55-60 characters because anything beyond that will be cut off in search engines.
- Review the main titles of your site. Does each one describe what that page should be found for in search engines? Here are some samples:
Homepage Premier Sacramento Wedding & Engagement Photographer
About page About Zach Prez Photography – Premier Sacramento Weddings
Pricing page Sacramento Photo Wedding Packages by Zach Prez
Testimonials Sacramento Photographer Reviews for Zach Prez Photography
Contact page Contact Zach Prez Photography in Sacramento
Gallery page Beautiful Hotel Wedding Venue Photos in Sacramento
Instead of forcing search-friendly titles on old pages, create new pages that will best represent you in Google. Remember, every page that ranks is like a new front door to your website. Use these fill-in-the-blank title ideas and replace the underlined keywords:
|Fill in the Blank||Example|
|## Best Style Location Niche Photos||10 Best Modern Backyard Wedding Photos|
|Top ## Images from a Adjective Location Niche Session||Top 5 Images from a Vintage Sacramento Newborn Session|
|Cute Subject Photos at Location||Cute Golden Retriever Puppy Photos at the American River|
|Adjective Niche Portraits||Stunningly Cute Newborn Portraits|
|Time of Year in Location – Niche Photo Ideas||4th of July in Sacramento – Children Photo Ideas|
|The Coolest Subject Photos in Location||The Coolest Senior Portraits in El Camino High|
|My Favorite Niche Gallery from Location||My Favorite Wedding Gallery from the Hilton Hotel|
|Inspirational Photos of Location Niche||Inspirational Photos of Northern California Engagements|
|Location’s Most Popular Niche Photographer||Sacramento’s Most Popular Boudoir Photographer|
Recipe #2: Optimize Images
Once you know how to optimize images for search, it’s easy to build it into your workflow so all future images will help your pages rank. It’s not worth optimizing old images, since the time to update them outweighs the reward.
Total Time: 5 minutes per image Level: Easy
Ingredients:, Alternate Text, Captions, Filenames, Images, Text on the Page
- Before uploading an image to your site, rename the file on your computer using 5-7 descriptive keywords, separated by hyphens. You might need a number (like the date) at the end of each one to avoid having duplicate filenames. For example three-tier-white-wedding-cake-010113.jpg.
- Compress the image to the smallest possible file size. 30KB-50KB is recommended (that’s 10x smaller than standard). Save images for web and reduce the quality to 60 or 70%. If you use jumbo-size photos on your site, consider shrinking them slightly (600 pixels wide instead of 900). Lots of big images will slow a page and hurt its rank.
- Add alternate text that visually describes the image with detail.
- Add text nearby the image on the webpage (like a caption). Photos are tied to keywords that appear nearby.
- Avoid using multiple photos in the same image file (like a collage).
- Reference your website’s photos when they’re used on other websites. For example, if I write an article on another site, I send the publisher a URL to the photo on my website instead of sending the photo file as an attachment. Google sees my photo URLs being used across the Internet (making them popular).
- Get your photos pinned on Pinterest. I believe this will soon be an explicit factor in Google’s image ranking. It only makes sense that often-shared photos should rank higher.
Recipe #3: Link Building
You can rank anything and everything with enough links. This recipe is the most difficult and time consuming, but yields the best results. Keep in mind it will take a dozen quality links to rank for minor phrases, and 50-100 links or more to rank for very competitive phrases. The good news is that every additional link from another site will move all your existing ranks higher. Eventually you will have more links than your competitors and can easily sustain a #1 rank.
Total Time: 2 hours per link Level: Advanced
Ingredients: Keyword List, Links, Link (Anchor) Text
Create a calendar item dedicating two hours per week to getting a link to your website. You need to consistently build links over a long period of time to make an impact.
Draft a list of potential sources where you can get a link. Here are some ideas for the types of links you can get:
- Industry blogs that accept contributing articles
- Industry sites that will interview you
- Partner or vendor sites
- Publication or news sites
- Local clubs and organizations
- Charity sites
- Event sites
- Discount or deal sites
- Forums or online community groups
- Business and photo contest sites
- Recognize others on your site (so that they share the post). See my post recognizing the Best Business Products for Photographers as an example.
When you do get a link, the name of the link (the link text) is very important for telling Google what your site is about. Highlight your most important keywords from your keyword list and remember to use those words in the link text.
Overview of SEO Basics
Remember, Google looks to titles and text/images for keywords and then orders pages by the number of links they have from other websites. Your most essential tasks are to:
- Create pages with keyword-rich titles
- Optimize photos on those pages with alternate text, captions and keyword-rich filenames
- Get links from as many other sources as possible
SEO Cookbook for Photographers is a 60+ page PDF that teaches photographers everything they need to know about search engines and how to rank well in search. The book is organized into simple recipes, each taking anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours. The recipes allow you to focus on a specific part of your website a little bit at a time. For example, you can optimize your homepage one day, images another day, then a blog post, then learn how to get featured on another website. With the SEO Cookbook, you can move forward at your own pace.
It covers how Google works and how to exploit its ranking factors. It gives you step-by-step instructions for improving every page of your website so searchers can find you.