Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Photography SEO Part 2: Why Photographers Need to Write

You may be take great photos, but as far as search engines go, it's all about the written word.

Part 1 of this Photography SEO guide gave you an introduction to Search Engine Optimization, and showed you how to choose keywords to target.  Now it's time to see how to optimize your photography website so that it shows up higher in Google's search results.

For SEO purposes, Google = Search.
These kinds of modifications are called "on-page" SEO.  It refers to  simple changes you can make to the content of your photography website that will result in higher rankings in Google, and other search engines. 

These changes won't take much time, but you need to keep them in mind in the future as you update and add to your site. SEO is an ongoing process.

 

Avoid Using Flash Photo Portfolio Software


Before we jump into the SEO material, a short warning.  Many photographers use Flash for their website, because it has the advantages of very slick graphics and smooth transitions between elements.  Unfortunately, Flash is horrible for search engine optimization.  Though there are ways to improve the results, and some Flash photo gallery makeres claim that their software is just as good as a web page, you're risking a lot by using Flash.

Google can't understand Flash, so if you want to get ranked highly, just avoid it.  (see: Why You Should Never Use Flash Photo Gallery Software). 

Page Titles are Key


In Part 1 of this SEO guide, we walked through how to choose the keywords you want to be known for - now it's time to put them to use.  The very first element on your page, the page title, matters a lot to Google.  The page title is the text that appears at the top of your browser window or browser tab when you navigate to a web site.  In your html, it looks like this:
<title>Las Vegas Sports Photographer - John Benson</title>

Page titles are a key part of SEO.
If you're trying to rank for "Las Vegas Sports Photographer", that exact phrase needs to be in the title of your homepage.  Put the keyword you're targeting first in the title.

Keep in mind, however, that Google ranks pages, not sites.  If you use the same keyword on all of your pages, you're actually going to make it harder to get ranked for that keyword.

Your homepage title should be the keyword you're most interested in.  Other keywords can go on sub pages of your site, if they make sense. If it doesn't makes sense to put your keywords in the title of your page,  you can work it into the text of the page.


Keywords in Context


Google will read all of the text on your site, so make sure you sprinkle your keywords around liberally.  However, don't write like a robot - Google will frown on your site if keywords seem to be used unnaturally.  The rule of thumb I've heard is that your keywords should take up about 2% of your text.  I've found that metric a little hard to get to naturally, and generally I try to just write like a normal person.

Aside from the title of your page, the next most important place to put your keywords is in the main header tag of your page. The H1 tag is the highest level header of your page, and Google weighs it accordingly.  Header tags separate sections of  your page. For instance, Keywords in Context is the header tag for this section of text.

 

Meta Tags


A few years ago, meta tags played an important part in on-page SEO.  However, Google has made it clear that these tags no longer matter much. The only one you need to worry about is the meta description tag. The contents of this tag are what will show up under the title of your page in Google search results, so make it clear and concise - SEOmoz says the optimal length is around 155 characters.
<meta name="Description" content="Your page description goes here.">

 

Your Pictures Need a Thousand Words


Every photographers website should include a portfolio of their work.  While Google can't understand the contents of your photos by themselves, you can help Google out with some simple changes - and help yourself get ranked higher in the process.

Make sure each image has an alt tag and an appropriate file name.

  • Alt Tags - add an alt tag to each of your images to briefly describe it. Include keywords if they're relevant.
  • File Names - give each image a relevant, Google friendly title.  "Smith_Wedding_Photo.jpg" is much better than "IMG0024".
  • Captions - like all text surrounding your images, a caption helps Google understand the context of the image. Plus, captions under images immediately draw the viewer's eyes.  Captions may not be appropriate with some types of portfolio pages, so use it with discretion.

Keep it Fresh


Finally, make sure you update your page regularly.  Google seems to prefer fresh content over stale, so if nothing else upload a few new images to your portfolio every few days.

That wraps up Part 2 of this Photography SEO guide.  Part 3 covers off-page SEO - how you can get links to your page.  Again, if you have questions, leave a comment and I'll follow up.