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SEO For Photographers 2019 | A Simple Plain English SEO Guide

SEO for Photographers [2019 Edition]
SEO For Photographers 2019 | A Simple Plain English SEO Guide
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Being a photographer is great.

Knowing SEO is great.

But when you can do BOTH?

That’s when you can slap an “S” on your chest… because you’ll be unstoppable.

And today I have something that will make you feel like you have SEO superpowers.

25 insanely actionable SEO recommendations, tips and strategies that you can use right now to skyrocket your photography business.

SEO for Photographers – The Basics

Photography SEO is about helping your photography business rank high in Google’s (and the rest of the search engines) SERPs so that prospective clients can easily find you.

And why should you be interested in rankings? The answer is simple…

According to Advanced Web Ranking, the top listing in Google’s organic search results receives approximately 35% of the traffic on desktops (28% on mobile devices), compared to 17% for the second position (16% on mobile devices), and the traffic only degrades from there.

Organic CTR SERPs - November 2018
Organic CTR SERPs - November 2018

Websites listed on the first Google search results page generate 92% of all traffic from an average search. When moving from page one to two, the traffic dropped by 95%, and by 78% and 58% for the subsequent pages.

As a photographer, you need to attract new leads to your website and turn them into customers. Your best chance to do so is to take advantage of FREE traffic from popular search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing.

A focused SEO campaign will help your photography business:

  • Get more attention from interested prospects
  • Turn that new attention into paying customers
  • Gain increased visibility without risking your website’s visibility with popular search engines

Ranking well for relevant keywords leads to more visitors to your site, and therefore, more clients & sales.

SEO is not a… nice to have strategy anymore, it’s a necessity. It’s one of the most cost-effective, future-proof and long-term investments you can make.

All (or at least most of) your competitors are doing SEO for their photography websites. You can’t ignore the fact that people are mainly searching online and just hope that your photography reputation and word of mouth recommendations are good enough to remain competitive.

An average photographer with an SEO optimised website and well-captioned/keyworded images can take business away from you.

So. let’s get the ball rolling!

Domain Name – Make it Brandable

Register a good domain name if you don’t have one already and extend it for many years in advance (this is considered by Google as an extra sign of credibility).

Your domain name should be short, memorable and include your brand name and/or relevant keywords for your photography business.

Some good examples are:

  • johndoe.com
  • johndoephotography.com
  • johndoephotographer.com
  • weddingphotographyarea.com
  • streetphotographerarea.com

A not so good example would be:

  • john-doe-best-wedding-photographer-london.co.uk

The very small (if any) SEO benefit you get from this keyword stuffed and hyphenated domain is nothing compared to the zero branding value.

My friend Julian, a destination wedding photographer based in Budapest chose a very short domain for his photography business – gyula.co.

Web Hosting Provider – Reliability Matters

Do NOT underestimate the importance of a solid web hosting solution. Choosing the best web hosting is crucial for your photography business.

A few things that can go wrong when you don’t make a wise hosting choice are:

  • Loss of revenue – Directly if the server goes down or indirectly when it is slow performing
  • Negative effect on your SEO Rankings
  • Security and Malware Attacks

If you are already experiencing problems with your existing hosting provider here are some tips that can help:

  • Understand the different hosting options available – Shared, VPS (Virtual Private Server), Dedicated and Managed Web hosting
  • Excellent customer support is a must – 24/7 support via email/phone/live chat
  • Choose a host with an excellent uptime track record
  • Cost should not be your only consideration
  • Ability to scale as you grow bigger
  • A good reputation is essential – Check testimonials and endorsements from current clients

Install an SSL Certificate

Moving to HTTPS is at the moment a small SEO ranking factor – although I’m pretty confident it’s going to grow in the near future.

Online security, website verification and SSL certificates got a lot more important over the last few years.

Basically, if you have an online shop or are collecting sensitive, personal information from your users, you must guarantee that all this info will be encrypted and securely stored on your website. You can do it by getting and implementing an SSL certificate.

There are paid and free (eg Let’s Encrypt) options available – sometimes offered by your hosting provider.

Since it’s a more complex and tedious process, I highly recommend seeking help from an expert to avoid any website errors or issues – something that is very common during HTTPS migration.

If not done properly, you’re risking losing a lot of organic traffic.

One Single Domain/Website is Enough

Many photographers (among other professionals) create multiple websites and then link all these websites to the main one hoping that this will help their SEO.

By doing this, you spread your resources (thus money) out into different websites that work more like a “barrier” for your link equity to reach your money website.

There are cases though (ie when you want to promote a specific event) where you can build a separate website (microsite) for branding reasons.

But in most cases, it’s better to focus on one website only and invest all your marketing budget there.

Content Marketing – Create a Blog

You may or may not have heard the phrase, “Content is King but it’s something every single photographer should take advantage of by creating a blog that will help you establish your photography brand and attract more and/or better clients.

Share your experience regarding the way you shot those lovely landscapes, the story behind those wedding galleries, recent event or travel impressions, new photo gear presentations etc.

For simplicity and maximum SEO benefit place your blog in a subfolder (ie johndoephotography.com/blog/) and not under a subdomain (ie blog.johndoephotography.com) or even worse under a totally different domain (ie johndoeblog.com).

Recommended reading: SEO Copywriting: 17 Powerful Secrets by Brian Dean

Set Up Google Search Console & Analytics

Both these FREE Google tools are really powerful and detailed enough to keep you covered providing some fantastic insights into your site’s SEO and general health, that it’s impossible (and stupid) to ignore.

Google Search Console (ex Webmaster Tools) allows you to monitor and manage your website’s presence in Google search results. You may find invaluable info for any manual or (some) of the algorithmic penalties may have received, find suggestions for title and meta description tags, mobile usability & AMP issues, number of pages indexed by Google, crawling problems/errors, insights about what people are searching for when they’re reaching your site, submit your sitemap etc

Google Analytics – Unless you need some advanced reports (heatmaps, scroll-maps, mouse tracking etc.) this analytics tool is a must have and can’t be serious about SEO and not use it. You should link it to Google Search Console, Google AdWords (if you run any paid advertising) and also enable the internal site search tracking (to see what people are searching for on your site) to take the most out of it.

If you want to get the most out of the new Search Console, this guide will reveal advanced tips, tactics and strategies that you can use to get higher rankings in 2019 and beyond.

Google Search Console
Google Search Console - Performance Screenshot

Keyword Research – Semantic Search

The last few years and especially after the arrival of Hummingbird algorithm in the summer of 2013, search engines “understood” that identifying keywords alone was not enough.

What they needed to understand instead, was how this data was related, both within the same site and throughout the web.

This is where the most important change within the search landscape occurs: a progression from the ubiquitous keywords to the increasingly important entities.

Words become concepts and search engines evolve into genuine learning machines. You can learn more about semantic search here.

That does NOT mean that the “classic” keyword research is not needed anymore.

Finding the most profitable keywords to support your SEO efforts is still essential and I’m not exaggerating when I say that without keywords, there’s no such thing as SEO.

“Keywords are like a compass for your SEO campaigns: they tell you where to go and whether or not you’re making progress.” as Brian Dean says in his definitive guide for keyword research.

Check Your Website’s “robots.txt” File

The “robots.txt” file sits in the website’s root (ie johndoephotography.com/robots.txt) and is a tool allowing you to restrict search engines from crawling specific pages or parts of the website.

This file is also used to block all search engine crawling while the website is under development before being launched.

One of the most common mistakes made is forgetting to make the website crawlable again after the site is launched.

Learn more about the robots.txt file and how to use it effectively here.

Encourage User Engagement On Social Media

Even though Google doesn’t directly factor social influence and interactions into the ranking algorithm, this is no reason to ignore social channels or slow down your social marketing efforts.

After all…

The web is all about building relationships, fostering audiences, expressing identity and sharing ideas – it’s inherently social, and there’s no reason that SEO best practices would go against the grain, especially since the rules that govern SEO are ultimately meant to make the web a more enjoyable and useful place. – kissmetrics.com

There are two types of social media buttons:

  • Social Media Profile Buttons – They usually have the form of small social media icons, linking to your respective profiles (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc).
  • Social Media Sharing Buttons – These are buttons in the form of Facebook Like, Facebook Share, Twitter Follow or Tweet, Pin It etc

As mentioned above, Google has traditionally refuted the fact that social activity influences rank, instead suggesting that social engagement may impact other metrics, like links, which could impact your rank.

So, can social media help with SEO? This experiment by Hootsuite gives a really good and data-packed answer to this question.

Do NOT Use Flash & <iframe> Elements

Adobe Flash used to be “cool” but not any more. Apple’s lack of support for Flash on iOS devices and the massive improvements on HTML5 and CSS3 are two major reasons to avoid Flash technology.

Even though Google has made significant improvements in Flash indexing you can achieve better results by using one of the numerous quality, fully responsive and mobile friendly WordPress themes to create some really beautiful and functional websites. My friend, London wedding photographer, Maja Tsolo, can… prove me right.

The same applies to iFrame HTML tags. Google can technically crawl and index content/links in iFrames but It’s best to refrain from using iFrames on main pages that you want to rank highly in search engine results because the content in those frames doesn’t help your SEO.

Instead, fill high-priority pages with useful, unique content and save iFrames for other pages. You can find more on that topic here.

Avoid Anything… “Annoying”

Time is money. That said, boring intros that cannot be skipped at all (or are difficult to find how to enter the main website), obtrusive ads, splash/intro pages, popups, flash animations, slideshows etc are just blocking the user from directly accessing your main content.

Apart from a poor user experience, you may end up with a Google penalty. According to Google’s official search blog:

We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.

On January 2017, Google also rolled out a penalty to punish aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience.

Mind Your… Mobile Friendliness

It was on April 2015 when Google rolled out an algorithmic update to demote websites that are not mobile friendly.

According to data from Smart Insights, non-mobile friendly pages have dropped an average of 5 places since Google’s Mobile Update. When you consider that 67% of clicks go to the first 3 results you can see just how much businesses have been hit.

If you were once 1st, 2nd or 3rd without a mobile site you’re going to lose a lot of clicks. Businesses that were once on the first page could be pushed back to for 2nd and so on.

You can test the mobile friendliness of your photography website here. Just fill in your website and press the “RUN TEST” button.

If you receive a green “Your page is mobile-friendly” message, you ‘re ready to go. Otherwise, you’ll be given recommendations to take corrective measures something that can be really daunting.

On top of that, with the introduction of Mobile-First Indexing (please see next paragraph) on July 2018, having a mobile-friendly website is a necessity if you’re really interested in providing the best user experience and rank well in search engines.

Mobile-First Indexing (MFI)

Mobile-First Indexing is the initiative set up by Google that allows the mobile version of your website to be the most important one.

Traditionally, Google has taken a desktop-first indexing approach, which meant that their crawlers determine your rankings based on the information gathered from the desktop version of a site.

Moving forward, Google has stated that it will base all rankings, both mobile and desktop, off of the information it gathers from the mobile crawl.

Where a desktop site is the sole version, Google will choose to index this version.

In general, Google moves sites to mobile-first indexing when their tests assure them that they’re ready. When they move sites over, they notify the site owner through a message in Search Console.

You can also confirm that by using the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console- this is a tool that allows a site owner to check how a URL from the site (it’s usually enough to check the homepage) was last crawled and indexed.

Sites that have been moved to mobile-first indexing they would have the “Crawled as” field indicated as “Googlebot smartphone” (please see the image below).

Want to know more on mobile-first indexing? This guide will provide all the information you need.

Mobile First Indexing
Mobile First Indexing Check - URL Inspection (GSC)

Page Loading Speed Optimisation

According to several studies (and based on your own experience), visitors leave sites in much higher numbers when pages take longer to load.

With our shrinking attention spans, a second delay in your web page loading might be worth a thousand dollars of business loss.

Page Speed Insights is a great tool that assesses your website’s speed and offers recommendations for speeding up.

If you feel overwhelmed with all this technical stuff, just give me a shout.

PageSpeed Insights for georgepapatheodorou.com
PageSpeed Insights test results for georgepapatheodorou.com

Avoid Duplicate Content – Canonical URLs

Canonicalisation is a well-known problem (and a really bad one), especially on e-commerce websites. That does mean that your photography website cannot suffer from canonicalisation issues.

One of the most common problems is having the www and the non-www versions of your website showing up on SERPs.

And if you think that www.johndoephotography.co.ukjohndoephotography.co.uk are the two sides of the same coin, well… they are!

They are considered as identical websites by Google and are “punished” for duplicated content.

The solution to that is very simple. You can:

  • 301 redirect of www to the non-www version (or vice versa)
  • Change the “WordPress Address (URL)” and “Site Address (URL)” under Settings >> General if you run a WordPress installation or
  • Set it (either of the two) as the preferred domain in Google Search Console (Gear Icon >> Site Settings >> Preferred Domain).

Another common canonicalisation issue on a photographer’s website is the extensive use of categories and tags.

If not used wisely, most of these pages have near or almost identical content resulting in major cannibalisation problems – that happens when two or more pages compete for the same set of keywords.

In order to avoid that, you have to ensure that each page is properly optimised and targets only a very specific, unique and closely related set of keywords.

Well Structured & Meaningful Permalinks

Sometimes (by default in many platforms) the structure of the URIs can be really ugly and SEO unfriendly. Have you ever seen anything like this?

http://www.johndoephotography.co.uk/index.php?cat=201&mode=test&var=dnehe74hh

I bet you have. If that happens to your photography site you have to take immediate action.

Not only because these URLs luck any kind of optimised content (keywords) but there are not great from a user experience point of view too.

A clean, well displayed, SEO friendly and meaningful URL is more inviting, gets noticed and helps your business rank higher in search engines.

If your website is built on WordPress (which it should be), don’t forget to set the permalinks (under Settings >> Permalinks) as indicated in the image below.

Attention: if your website is already live and you change the structure of the URLs, don’t forget to 301 redirect the old URLs to the new ones – otherwise you’ll end up having 404 error pages all over the place.

Again, if you don’t feel confident doing that, please get in touch with me.

Permalinks
Setting up permalinks on a WordPress installation

Optimise Your Page Titles

Optimising <title> tags is one of the most important tasks of your on-page activities. They not only define the content to be found on that page but they are used by search engines in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), displayed by the browsers (in the tab titles), and automatically fetched by social media for sharing snippets.

Google Snippet SERPs

Attention: Title tags (page titles) should not be confused with page headlines (added on your actual page as text). This is something different, has its own SEO importance and can be identical or similar to the tags (advised). More on that in a bit…

 

How to write an optimised title tag:

  • Title length: You may have read that the page title should be no more than 70 characters. Or that you should use no more than 65 chars to be on the safe side. The truth is that the page title should be no more than 612px wide. Anything longer than that will get truncated on SERPs. In order to achieve that for WordPress installations, I highly recommend Yoast SEO plugin. For all others please check this handy tool by MOZ. Just enter your title there and press “Check”.
  • Keywords: Add you main keyword(s) and place it/them in the beginning of the title. Avoid keyword stuffing. After all, according to Google “Focus on the user and all else will follow“. Write titles for humans and not for the search engines.
  • Branding: Use your brand (ie John Doe) at the end of the title (not necessary but recommended especially for new photographers who want to increase brand awareness). Your branding text can be preceded by a pipe (|) or a hyphen/dash (-).

A few examples of a “good” page title could be:

  • Street Photographer in London | John Doe Photography
  • Contemporary Fashion Photographer Essex – John Doe
  • Wedding Photographer Leigh-on-Sea, Essex – John Doe
  • Sports Photographer Manchester –  Extreme Photography

Optimise Your Meta Descriptions

As of 2009, Google has announced that neither meta descriptions nor meta keywords factor into Google’s ranking algorithms for web search.

Meta description tags, while not important to search engine rankings, are extremely important in gaining user click-through from SERPs.

These short paragraphs are a webmaster’s opportunity to advertise content to searchers and to let them know exactly whether the given page contains the information they’re looking for.

That said:

  • Keep them under 160 characters. Any longer than that and you’ll suffer from truncation, so you won’t get your full message across to the potential customer. Keep in mind that Google does not necessarily use the meta description in the SERPs if it thinks another text on the page is more relevant to what the user has searched for. If you use WordPress, then Yoast SEO plugin will do all the job for you otherwise keep this word counter handy.
  • Use this space to promote your service. What makes your service unique? What’s different to competitors offering the same photography services? This is the best time to communicate your unique selling proposition (USP).

Use HTML Heading Tags

Heading tags are really important as they are used by search engines to index the structure and content of your website and by users to skim your pages.

Use them wisely only for the headings – don’t use heading tags to make text looks bigger or bold.

H1 headings should be your main headline (implement your main keywords here), followed by H2 headings (secondary keywords), then the less important H3 (tertiary keywords) and so on.

Even though it’s perfectly fine to use several H2 and H3 tags to break up the content into separate sections, it’s not advised to use more than one H1 tag per page.

Further reading: How to Use H1-H6 HTML Elements Properly

Avoid Black Hat SEO Techniques

In the SEO terminology, black hat SEO refers to the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience, and usually does not obey search engines guidelines.

Below are some of the black hat techniques that can harm your Google rankings:

Cloaking: Is the practice of deceiving the search engines by showing different content to Google and taking your website’s users to a different content or web page than the one they think they must be going on, after having clicked the search engine link. See Matt Cutts talking about cloaking here.

Link Exchange – Link Schemes/Farms – Buying Links: Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. You can read more on that here.

Duplicated and/or Low-Quality Content: Search engines (theoretically) do not index the “original” content more than once. Therefore, you should focus your SEO efforts in creating unique, useful and compelling copy instead of copying content from other websites,

Keyword Stuffing: As mentioned above while writing content keep your readers in mind and not the search engines. Use only relevant and balanced quantity of keywords and do not go overboard in doing so.

Hidden text: One of the “good old practices”. Using the same colour for the background and the text in order to stuff extra keywords on the… invisible part of the website.

Good SEO work only gets better over time. It’s only search engine tricks that need to keep changing when the ranking algorithms change – Jill Whalen

Improve Your Users’ Experience (UX)

Photographers are sometimes heavily focusing on the visual aspect of their website at the expense of user’s experience and usability.

Access to the most important pages of your photography website (portfolio, contact page, image proofing, purchase page) should be clearly indicated and within 1-2 clicks away from every page.

Avoid (as mentioned above) intro pages, flash animations and anything else that can block your visitors from directly accessing your main content.

Navigating through images should be easy via alternative ways (keyboard navigation, swipe, mouse click).

My rule of thumb is build a site for a user not a spider – Dave Naylor

Recommended reading: The Ultimate Guide to UX Design

Optimise Your Photos

It’s about a photography website so don’t make your visitors’ browsers struggle to load your un-optimised images.

Your page loading speed will suffer and so will your visitors (let alone your rankings as page load speed is a ranking factor).

Apart from the page loading speed factor, your photo optimisation process should involve:

  • Image filename & size: Check that your images aren’t big in size (less than 100-150kb. Image load times are one of the top three reasons for slow page load times, impacting your rankings and search visibility. In order to further increase visibility on image search don’t forget to assign to each image a descriptive filename (before uploading to the website) using keywords, separated by hyphens.
  • ALT text: Check that every image has a logical, descriptive ALT text on it. Use your main keywords like in the URL, meta title and H1 header tag.
  • Add Caption: Photos are tied to keywords that appear nearby.

Do Not Underestimate Local SEO

Make sure that your brand name, physical address & phone number (local landline preferably) (NAP) are included on every page of the website.

Your rankings in the search engines are determined in part by the degree to which NAP information is consistent on multiple sites, including your own website and your Google Business listing. If inconsistencies are found, your rank will be much lower than if the data is replicated exactly in all locations.

Because ensuring complete NAP consistency is key to improving your local SEO for photographers, consider asking your online marketing agency to handle this critical task for you. They are trained to locate and standardise your information and to translate it into the format that Google prefers.

Further reading: The Most Comprehensive Guide to Local SEO Ever: 2019 Edition

Internal Linking

An internal link connects one page of a website to a different page on the same website. In an internal link, the source domain and target domain are the same.

It’s crucial for your SEO to evaluate and improve internal linking strategy on a regular basis. By adding the right internal links you make sure Google understands the relevance of pages, the relationship between pages and the value of pages.

This is also a good way of keeping users longer on your website, by offering them some recommended additional galleries/articles to check out. It’s also a great trick for lowering your bounce rate and increasing the dwell time.

Build Quality Links Back To Your Website

Acquiring links from quality, authoritative and relevant to your photography business website is still one of the major SEO ranking factors.

Link building (or earning) is maybe the hardest (yet most powerful) aspect of SEO as these links considered as votes of confidence by Google making your website rank higher on SERPs.

The three essential elements of an effective SEO are effective communication, useful information and high quality backlink – SEO Refugee

There are no shortcuts here, no quick gains. All you have to do is build solid relationships with people who can trust you for the quality of your work.

In this guide, Brian Dean is going to show you everything you need to build quality links in 2019 and beyond.

SEO Services for Photographers

If you are a beginner in SEO or a photography business owner, this simple SEO guide for photographers is all you need to get the ball rolling.

And don’t forget: SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

The days of SEO being a game outsmarting algorithms are over. Today content strategy and valuable, sustainable strategies are essential, not just tricks and links. – Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG

Hope you found this Photography SEO Guide useful.

Contact me today to discuss your campaign and see what I can offer you to expand and grow your photography business via SEO.

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