Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Photography SEO Part 1: An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

Why is no one viewing her website?
Because she hasn't done any SEO.
Trying to get your photography, or photography business, noticed on the internet is incredibly difficult. You're going up against millions of other photographers, each with the same goal.

So how do you stand out?

Put yourself in the mindset of someone searching for photos or for a photographer.  Where do they go first? Most likely, a  search engine like Google. If you want to get found online, you need to show up early in the search results that it finds when a person searches.

Getting to the top of search engine rankings is a skill set in and of itself, and one you need to learn if you're serious about being a photographer.  

This is the first of a three-part series about how to get your photos and photography business found online using SEO - Search Engine Optimization.


How People Search (and Why They Don't Find You)


The phrase someone types into the Google search bar is referred to as a Keyword (a keyword can have more than one real words in it).  For instance, if an engaged woman is planning for her wedding, she may search for "Wedding Photographer" as her keyword.

However, she's likely to get back several million results, with wedding photographers from all over the world, so she'll quickly realize she needs to narrow it down. She might try "Wedding Photographer Seattle" to find more local results.

If you run that search yourself, you'll find there are still over 1 million results.  Research has shown that users click on the first results about 40% of the time, 30% of the time they'll check out the number 2 and 3 positions, and all other search results compete for the remaining 30%.

It gets worse quickly.  If you're on the second page of a Google search, only a small percentage of people will ever bother to check out your site.

You need to be on Page 1 of a Search Result to stand a chance.

If you're not on page 1 of a Google search result, you may as well not have a website.

But fear not, this guide is designed to help you get there.


What do You Want to be Known For?


The first step in getting found on Google is figuring out which keywords you want to rank for.  There are many ways to approach this, and the best way will depend on what you want your goals are.  If you just want people to look at your photos, and aren't trying to make money off of them, I suggest you check out Flickr (see The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Popular on Flickr).

But, if you're trying to make a living, you need to understand your 'niche'.  A niche is a small subset of a bigger market.  For instance, wedding photographers are a small subset of the overall photographer market, and a wedding photographers in Seattle are an even smaller subset of wedding photographers.

Adding a location to your keywords is critical to getting found.
Each niche will have at least one, and usually many, related keywords. 

To continue our example, we could use the general "wedding photographer Seattle", the more geographically specific "wedding photographer Redmond", or a more personal touch, "fancy wedding photographer Seattle".

If it isn't already obvious, if your business is centered in a particular location, I strongly suggest you include the name of that location in your keywords.  Don't forget to include keywords for the surrounding areas, as people will tend to search for their own city/county name first, and then expand their search.

Try and come up with a list of at least 6 keywords that represent your business, and that you want to be known for.  At this point, the more keywords, the better. I track over 80 keywords for Water Marquee, and add a few more each week as I see how people end up on the site.

If you're having some trouble coming up with a list, here's some tips:
  • Include adjectives like "affordable", "best", "top", "experienced", etc.
  • Target your niche - "weddings", "dogs", "kids", etc.
  • Vary "photographer" with "photo", "photos", "photographer", "pictures", etc.


Does Anyone Search for Those Keywords?


Now that you have a list, it's time to find out if any of the keywords on it are worthwhile.  For that, we can ask Google.

Google's Keyword Tools is a free web application that you can use to find out how many searches occur for any keyword in an average month.

Type your keywords into the "Words or phrase" section and click Search.

The results will come back in a table telling you how many searches occur each month.  You'll probably be mostly interested in the Global or Local Monthly Searches column.   

Don't pay attention to the Competition column, unless you're considering using Google's AdWords to advertise.  I'll show you how to check out the real competition in the next section.

Click on the Global or Local Monthly searches to sort the list.

Don't go for the keywords with the most searches.  Ideally, you want your keywords to have more than 1,000 and less than 50,000 searches per month. 
"But don't I want the keyword that has the most searches, so more people will come to my site?"
A good question with a somewhat counter-intuitive answer. Usually, if a keyword has more than 100,000 searches per month, the phrase is so general that people are not looking for what you have to offer, and it will be very difficult to show up on the first page of Google for that keyword.

If you're just getting started, target keywords with less than 20,000 searches per month.  These "long tail" keywords are easier to rank for, and they're so specific that if you show up in the results, you're probably exactly what the searcher was looking for, which means they're more likely to become your client.

Google will also, helpfully, suggest other keywords you may want to rank for. If they seem appealing to you, add them to your list.

You should now have a good idea of what keywords you plan to target.  The next step is to find out how hard it will be to get on page 1 of Google for those terms.


Check out the Competition


As far as SEO is concerned, you need to know how hard it is to rank in the top 10 results for your keywords.  We want to know the average PageRank for each site in the top 10 for each keyword, how hard it will be to get ranked, and how many backlinks each of those competitors have

The best tool for this is piece of software called Traffic Travis.  I use it regularly, and that's my affiliate link there.  There's a free and a paid version, but we only need the free version right now.

After you've downloaded the free version, open it up and click on the SEO tab. Click on the keywords input box, and cut and paste your keywords into the dialog box.  In the free version, you can only do 5 at a time.  Click the Fetch URLs button and it will get to work.

Looks like ranking for any of our keywords won't be too hard.

Ideally, you want to focus on keywords that have an average page rank of 3 or less, and which Traffic Travis says will be Easy or Relatively Easy to rank for.

You can click on the View Reports section to get a view of the top 10 results for each keyword.  It will show you the page rank for each of the top 10 results in Google for each keyword, and the number of backlinks each has.  A backlink is another site on the internet that is linking to your competitor's page.  Backlinks are a key component of SEO - the more backlinks a page has, the higher it will rank.

To choose your keywords to focus on, open a new spreadsheet and combine the Google Keywords results with those from  Traffic Travis. That way you can see the potential search traffic, combined with the difficulty of ranking for that keyword.  Obviously, you want high search traffic and low difficulty.

SEO can be a lot to take in, and it's definitely a new skill set for most people.  Hopefully, this part of the guide has gotten you started on the right track.  Part 2 of this series focuses on what to do once you've identified your keywords -how to make your website more appealing to Google .  Part 3 focuses on how to build backlinks to raise your search engine results. 

If you have any questions, about any of this, feel free to ask in the comments, or shoot me an email at john@watermarquee.com, or on Twitter @watermarquee.