Be it for the best chili recipes or the best photographers, people frequently start their web browsing journey with a Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo search. So, if you’re a photographer and you want those search engines to find your website, you need to optimize it for those search engines.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, but the term is used more broadly to describe how a site presents itself to search engines. Search engines look for information on the web that matches the search terms and returns a list of links that match up with those terms. Imagine searching through a Word document, but in this instance, the whole internet is the Word document.
The hardest part of what search engines do is ranking that information. Of the millions of possible search results for a set of terms, which ones should the search engine return and in what order? When you type in “best chili recipes,” which one should come up first?
To figure this out, search engines use sophisticated algorithms to calculate how useful a particular web page is likely to be for that visitor. To put it differently, the returned search results are an estimate of how likely the specific links are what you seek. The process of adjusting your site to match up with these algorithms is called search engine optimization, or SEO.
Universal SEO Techniques
In what follows, we will review a few tried-and-true SEO techniques that work for all types of websites that will be just as applicable to us.
Setup Google Analytics (GA) on your website so you can see the effects of your SEO. This should be mandatory for anyone with a website; without it, you won’t be able to figure out if what you’re doing is working at all. Although platforms like SquareSpace and Photofolio provide some stats, you want your data to go with you, wherever your site goes. GA will do that. And it’s free!
You can also sign up for Google’s Search Console to get access to more detailed information.
Do your Research
Try to imagine what keywords prospective visitors will use when looking for your website. You’ll want to include those keywords in the optimizations below. Imagine yourself as an art buyer looking for photographers — what search terms would you use? Figure out what kind of keywords your competitors are using and what keywords are most popular for photography businesses in your specialty, and pick the one that you think you can compete on.
Don’t know which keywords to use? Google is here to help.
Ride the Long Tail
As tempting as it can be, don’t try to compete for headline search terms like “best photographer.” These generic, super-common search terms, called head terms, are going to be nigh-impossible to rank for, and the same goes for any other search that returns huge brand names or famous people. A much better use of your time is to focus on terms that include unique factors, like your location and specialty, where there’s less competition. This is what’s called a long tail keyword.
Keep in mind, these are also the terms that serious art buyers are going to use. They don’t want someone else’s idea of the so-called “best photographer.” They want to find a list of potential photographers who cover their required specialty and location. This is described as “intention” in the SEO world. The more specific a search term, the more likely a user is to take action on that search term.
Make Use of Your Website’s “Meta Tags”
These tags contain text that isn’t visible to visitors but can be seen by the search engine’s robots. This text will likely be displayed as a description of your site on Google’s SERPs, allowing potential visitors to get a sense of what they’re in for. Well-written meta text can go a long way to improving your click-through rate, and in turn, your search result ranking. Keep it concise — no longer than a tweet (140 characters).
Title Your Pages Carefully
Make sure that the title of your website describes who you are and what you do while including your selected keywords. Lead with your primary keywords, and put your (business) name at the end. For a food photographer, an example title might be:
Food & Beverage Photography | Joe Weaver Photography
Above all, keep your site title concise and accurate. Google doesn’t display web page titles beyond about 55 characters.
Wonderful Machine member photographer Inti St. Clair has some great title text. Browser tabs will always truncate title text, but the full version reads “Inti St. Clair | Lifestyle | Healthcare | Travel | Portrait Photography.” Our own Bill Cramer uses “Philadelphia Environmental Portrait Photographer, Bill Cramer” which is also great. Both contain the name and specialty.
Maintain a Blog and Update it Frequently
This is a rich source of keywords for search engines, and the SEO benefits your blog provides will be automatically correlated with your main website (provided both exist at the same domain, that is). While writing is not any photographer’s preferred medium for expression, a successful web marketing strategy will require a blog. See more about this in our article about building your web presence, and get some writing tips for creatives who hate writing.
Get a Word in Edgewise
There are a bunch of hidden places you can squeeze in text. For example, you can use your page titles, gallery titles, link titles/anchor text, page URLs, and image file names to get some text into your site. You may or may not have control over some of this information, but if you can control it, make good use of it. Use human-readable syntax and include keywords when appropriate.
Use Your “About” Page Effectively
Where you do have the opportunity to have user-readable text, like your about page, make the most of it. Our food photographer in Minnesota might write the following as the first sentence of his about page:
Alex is a food photographer based in Minnesota with three decades of experience working with corporate and agency clients to create advertising photography in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest.
As a photographer, you should be cultivating your social media audience. This is invaluable for SEO purposes. While having widely shared Facebook and Twitter posts may or may not directly affect your search results, the visitors that your social media channels drive to your website will help increase your search ranking organically. Even if you bring a social media user to your Facebook page via an ad, any links they click on while on your page are organic. Furthermore, it’s not unheard of for creatives to find and hire photographers through Facebook and Instagram. Don’t spend all your time on this, but don’t ignore it.
Just Make Good Stuff
By and far, the most important factor to your website’s success is high-quality content. While all the tips and tricks we’re recommending are valuable, they won’t do nearly as much for you as excellent content. Make sure your site is easy to navigate, shows awesome images that are relevant to your specialty, and clearly indicates who you are as a photographer.
Potential (Search Engine) Pitfalls and Problems
SEO changes as rapidly as the internet, so the techniques that were all the rage in 2013 might be worthless today — or even damaging. As search engines fine-tune their results, they’ll shift from using one metric to another, and to maintain your ranking you’ll need to keep up. Unfortunately, you can’t just optimize once and leave it forever. Revisit the process yearly, if possible.
Wear the White Hat
Search engines now penalize sites that implement so-called “black hat” SEO techniques. This means that if you try to stuff a bunch of keywords into your HTML, inaccurately describe your site in your meta or title tags, spam blog comments, hide invisible or tiny text on your site, or any of the other recognized other bad practices, you’ll lose rank in the search engine results pages.
You’re not going to see results right away. This is a four-to-six-month process at a minimum. But keep an eye on your analytics — if you’re doing it right, you’ll see a slow but steady rise in the number of visitors to your website.
Put Away Your Magic Wand
None of these techniques, taken alone, is going to dramatically improve your search engine ranking. Consider each a small step in the right direction, cumulatively and progressively leading to better results over time.
Take the Broad View
While we’ve focused on general site optimization, that isn’t the whole picture. There’s a whole world of search marketing techniques beyond this, but correctly implementing the above steps is going to be important to any subsequent marketing strategy.
Consider the above only a brief introduction. There’s a lot more to do and learn if you really want to get into it. If you’re interested in diving deep into SEO, you’ve got an internet full of information at your fingertips. Here are some great places to start:
- Photoshelter’s The SEO Guide for Photographers
- Moz.com’s Beginners Guide to SEO. Probably the best resource for the uninitiated, with thorough and detailed explanations.
- Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Get the goods straight from the horse’s mouth.
This article was originally written by Thomas Lawn in 2016 and was revised by Ashley Vaught in 2021
About the author: Ashley Vaught works at Wonderful Machine, an art production agency with a network of 600 photographers in 44 countries. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published here. If you have any questions, or if you need help with your SEO, you can reach out to Wonderful Machine via email.