First, a health warning…Google and its competitors are tight lipped about how their search engine algorithms work. They don’t want people to be able to manipulate them easily for marketing purposes.
Think about it. The use of a search engine is in its ability to return relevant search results to the user. If it merely returned results based on what website marketeers wanted, users would switch off quickly in favour of a more unbiased alternative.
Put another way: search engines are there to help our clients find us. Not vice versa.
Getting up the search engine rankings
So, if the likes of Google keeps its cards so close to its chest, how can we possibly know what works best in terms of search engine optimization (SEO)? Truth is we can’t. Which is why there is such a heated debate online about whether or not SEO actually works; or if it does, whether it is even useful.
What follows is based on the premise that putting SEO effort into your website isn’t going to harm you. Will this information will drive your website up to the first page on Google? We offer no guarantees, but it is likely to get you higher than you are now if you haven’t touched upon SEO before.
Here are ten suggestions:
Search engine algorithms read text. If you have a Flash-based website, make sure whoever designed it also created and maintains an HTML shadow version.
Search engines can’t see photographs. Help them out by using a description in the file name. 2011-02-23-CLIENTX-PIC01.JPG, might help you locate a file internally on the office server but KITTEN_STUCK_UP_TREE_DUBLIN.JPG gives the search engine more idea of what the photograph shows.
A lot of website content management systems allow you to drop in keywords in strategic parts of your website pages. Make sure you do.
For instance, make sure you have a descriptive home page title as this is the text that appears at the top of a browser and as the lead text in any search results. Be specific. “JOHN DOE PHOTOGRAPHY” isn’t as strong as “FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY IN DUBLIN – JOHN DOE PHOTOGRAPHY”.
Type in a caption to go with each photograph that you put up on your website if the content management system allows you to. Often, this won’t be displayed on the page, but it is there lurking in the HTML ready to snag the search engine.
You can also turn your urls into something more meaningful. For example, the url “http://www.irishphotographers.com/news.php” gives you a good idea of what you’re going to find when you click through to it as well as adding a searchable phrase.
If you have galleries in your website menus, make them as descriptive as you can. “CORPORATE” doesn’t give a search engine much to go on. “EXECUTIVE PORTRAITS” does.
5. Be specific
Be specific when you draw up the list of keywords to drive traffic to your website. “WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER” won’t do you much good. It is too generic. “CAVAN WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER” is better. “CAVAN REPORTAGE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER” better still. You can use Google’s Adwords Keywords tool to see what kind of traffic your chosen phrases and keywords generate. After all, best to get those phrases on your site that are most often searched for.
You can also find out how much competition there is for certain phrases using the gauge provided by seologs.com.
Build credibility by attracting links to your website.
By all accounts, search engines love incoming links to your website. It’s like catnip to them.
Easy ways to create these links are from your own social media sites such as Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, AudioBoo, YouTube, Vimeo (all of which are additional searchable web presence for you, by the way); as well as making sure that you have a link from your association directories, such as the IPPA’s member directory.
You can comment on other people’s blogs, which often means you can leave behind a link to your website. The usefulness of this is another topic of debate online. Some say Google discounts these links. Others say it is still content that links back to you regardless of whether or not search engines include it in their rankings calculations. Someone reading the comment may follow the link back to your work – another pair of eyes looking at your photographs. And who knows who those eyes might belong to?
Another simple way is to link to your own website pages from your own blog posts. More on that in part 2 of this series on SEO later in the year.
The best way to generate links is to have knock-out content that attracts attention. So only put up your best work.
There is some debate about the effectiveness of homepage link exchanges with your buddies for SEO purposes. Some say they work; others suggest Google is much smarter than that and that it discounts mutual homepage links.
Keep updating your content. Refreshing your galleries puts more of your work out there for search engines to find (if you have captioned and keyworded it properly), as well as increasing your chances of someone liking the work enough to link to it.
Measure your progress by monitoring your traffic. Sign up for Google Analytics, embed the code in your website and keep tabs on the traffic and search terms being used to find you.
Get PhotoShelter’s SEO Cookbook. It is a superb overview of how you can make SEO work for you as a photographer.
10. Get involved
Get involved here and post a comment with your SEO tips. Help fellow members out and give them a reason to come and view your work. Who knows, they might like it so much they link to it?
Roger Overall is an award-winning documentary photographer based in Cork…More from Roger here: www.rogeroverall.net/blog/