The Complete, Always-Updated Guide To SEO For Photographers
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Written, curated, and updated by Corey Potter – Fuel Your Photos founder.
Table Of Contents
How to use this guide
SEO is a very complex topic, and we could never cover EVERYTHING there is to know about search engines or how to optimize for them. In fact, we don’t even know everything. Even some of Google’s own engineers have admitted that they “don’t fully understand” how parts of the algorithm work.
That is why we have written this guide to teach you the ranking factors that are MOST important for photographers in 2017 and beyond. We want to give you the top 20% of information that will yield 80% of the results.
Even so, there is alot to digest here. We don’t expect you to learn it all in a single sitting. Just like photography, SEO takes practice. Think of this guide like the manual for your camera. We’ve taken special care to make this guide responsive and easy to use on any device.
As a special bonus, we’ve also created a 12 page printable PDF that will allow you to follow along and take notes throughout the guide! These worksheets are FREE for all of our email subscribers!
One Quick Note
This guide is meant to be a starting place if you want to do SEO on your own. If you’re looking for someone to help you with SEO, we’d love to help you with that as well. Here are two ways to get help:
1. Join the free Facebook group and ask questions or ask for referrals.
2. Click the button below to submit your details to get a FREE website review.
WHAT IS SEO?
What are search engines and how to I optimize for them?
Let’s start with the basics.
SEO = Search Engine Optimization
Search engines are the connectors between humans and the vast content of the internet. When you want to find something on the internet, you type into a search box and the engine returns a result from the index.
Whoops, I’ve already started using SEO lingo.
Let’s rewind. Instead of me explaining how search engines work, you should really go check out Google’s own interactive story: How Search Works.
And even though this video is a little old, it is a classic and still very relevant:
Understanding the difference between “indexing” and “ranking”
When Google discovers your site and deems it worthy, the pages will get saved into Google’s database (called the index).
At this point, your site has been indexed by Google. This is a critical first step. You cannot rank until your site has been indexed. This is also true for changes you make to your site or new content (like blog posts). Google has to discover the new content and index it before it can be ranked in the search results.
The easiest way to check to see whether a site or page has been indexed is to do a site:search on Google. Just go to Google.com and type “site:yourdomain.com” (without the quotes, and replace with your website). You can also do this search for a specific page if you want to check to see whether it is in the index.
If you want the most accurate and up-to-date information, you can check your index status in Google Search Console.
Google will automatically crawl your site and look for updates on a regular basis. If you want a certain page to be indexed faster than Google normally crawls your site, you can ask Google to index the page from Search Console.
Just go to Crawl>Fetch as Google, enter the page you want to index, click “FETCH” and then click “Submit to index”.
The process is similar for Bing.
Once your site is indexed, it can be considered for ranking!
When someone performs a search that might be related to the content on your site, the search engine needs to compare your site with all the other sites in the index.
Your site can rank for a variety of keywords, and it can even rank in different positions depending on the searcher’s location, history, device type, connections, and preferences.
I talk much more about this, and HOW to track your Google rank in this post:
Quality is the most important thing!
Do you want to know the secret to ranking on the first page of Google (or any other search engine)?
BE THE BEST RESULT.
If you want to rank among the best, you need to actually be the best.
Google’s primary objective is return the highest quality results for every search. If Google can help people answer questions and solve problems, those searchers will continue coming back (and sometimes clicking ads).
If Google starts to display terrible results on the first page, searchers will give up and go somewhere else to find information.
Google has an entire quality handbook that you can read for yourself. If you understand these guidelines, you’ll understand what Google considers to be quality. Then you can optimize your content to meet those standards.
Here are just a few questions you can ask to determine whether your site is the best result:
- Is my site 10x better than the sites that currently rank on the first page for my keywords?
- When someone visits from a search engine, are they HIGHLY satisfied with the information they find? Does it answer their question fully so that they no longer need to visit any other websites?
- Is it exceedingly clear what my site is about? Could you tell within a few seconds of landing on the page?
- Is my site easy to navigate on all devices? Is the critical information available in a few clicks or less?
- Does my site portray me as an authority in my industry? Would visitors trust the information they find on my site?
- Is my name/brand synonymous with the keywords I want to rank for?
THIS is what SEO is all about. Ensuring that search engines (and visitors) can find the signals that PROVE your site is the best result.
Always think about your website visitors first. Search engines will always evolve to mimic user behavior.
Setting up your essential tools
Now that you understand a little more about how search engines work, I highly recommend setting up a few essential tools before continuing the guide. I’ve included links in the tools section below.
Setting the stage for success.
Your website is your home/storefront on the internet.
If you start with the wrong foundation, it can be incredibly difficult to build a perfect home.
When setting up your photography website, there are some technical aspects you need to consider. You’ll also need to put some thought into the structure of your site before you start adding content.
Picking the right website platform
The first thing you’ll need to decide is which platform you’re going to use to build your website.
Search engines are (for the most part) platform agnostic. They could really care less which tools you use to build the site as long as the final product is high quality. Your clients probably don’t decide if they are going to hire you based on whether you shoot Canon or Nikon. In the same way, Google isn’t going to decide whether to rank you based on the platform alone.
That being said, your client probably WOULD have a problem if you told them you were going to shoot their wedding with an iPhone. Similarly, Google may have a problem if you are using a platform that is known to have usability problems or poor performance.
In general, as long as you can make adjustments to the key components of your website (more on this in chapters 4-6), you’ll probably be able to rank just fine.
When it comes to photography websites, there are 3 main platforms that we recommend.
WordPress accounts for about 25% of the internet! There is a reason that small companies and major corporations alike trust WordPress to handle their websites. WordPress allows for the ultimate flexibility, and is excellent for SEO “right out of the box.”
However, just like good ol‘ Ben Parker tells Peter… “with great power comes great responsibility.”
WordPress does require that you purchase your own domain, hosting, and you’ll probably need to buy a theme. You’ll also be responsible for your own backups and security.
On the plus side, WordPress is free and open source. When all expenses are considered (domain, hosting, theme, etc) the price is usually very similar to other popular website builders.
Showit5 utilizes WordPress, but is not the same as WordPress.
Showit still has a few SEO limitations, but they make up for it with their beautiful design options. User experience is becoming increasingly important for SEO, and it is no doubt that Showit5 makes it easy to create a website that will delight your visitors!
Squarespace is beautiful because it is simple.
With Squarespace, you’ll be able to have a solid website up within a few hours. Squarespace takes care of all of the technical issues like domain registration, hosting, and backups, and also offers excellent support! If you like one of the Squarespace templates, you’ll probably enjoy using Squarespace.
WordPress is our favorite by a large margin, but we’ve seen sites rank well with all 3 of these platforms!
If you decide to use WordPress, realize that not all themes are created equally. Same thing with hosting.
For hosting, we recommend (and use) Siteground. For a more custom tailored (and managed) solution, check out Imagely.
For themes, check out:
Your website and blog should be a single entity
Your website and your blog should not be two separate properties. This was really common with photographers for many years, but technology has changed and it is no longer necessary to split them if you are using any reputable platform.
If you want to read more about this topic, I wrote a long post about where to put your photography blog.
Here is the summary:
Your blog should be in a sub-directory of your site on the same domain with any other content.
You should only have ONE website
When you have more than one domain, you are splitting your authority between them.
One of the most important ranking factors is the number (and quality) of websites that link to your website (we call these “backlinks”). We’ll talk about this more in chapter 9. Backlinks are the strongest contributor to pagerank. Although Google no longer publicizes this metric, we know that it is still important. Moz’s “domain authority” mimics pagerank and we see a very high correlation between high domain authority and high rankings.
Trying to build up your domain authority for multiple websites can be VERY challenging. In fact, you would need to consider all of the SEO factors in this guide for each website individually, which can be a daunting task!
I understand that sometimes photographers want to have multiple websites for different aspects of their business. One for weddings, one for high school seniors, one for boudoir, etc. There are cases when this MIGHT be a smart move. If the businesses are truly separate and you have the bandwith to promote and grow them separately, you can consider multiple websites.
Bottom line: If at all possible, you should only have one website for your photography business!
Be consistent with your domain
Your site can be accessed with multiple distinct URLs. Primarily, there is a www version of your domain and a non-www version.
To your browser (and to Google), these are different URLs that can be treated (and indexed) differently.
I won’t go too far into the technical aspects of 301 redirects and rel=canonical. This can get complicated very quickly, and I’ve seen some really unique cases where no guide could ever help ;). If you need help with 301 redirects or rel=canonical, let us know!
Here are the basics:
- Choose ONE version of your domain, and stick with it from now on. It doesn’t matter which one you pick, as long as you don’t change your mind later. There is absolutely no difference from an SEO perspective. I chose the www version for my domains, mostly because I think people tend to use it when linking and because Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and other giants use the www.
- Use this version consistently on your social media, local citations, and when asking others for links to your site.
- Navigate to each version in your browser to make sure they are both accessible. Ideally one version should redirect the user to the other (using a 301 redirect), but a rel=canonical set to the preferred version is just as good to a search engine.
- Set your preferred domain version in Google Search Console. You’ll need to make sure to set up both versions first or you won’t see this option.
Further Reading: Canonicalization (Moz)
Make sure you aren’t blocking search engines
Occasionally, we come across photographers’ sites that are unintentionally blocking Google from indexing them. Yikes.
This is one of those things you should just double check, especially if you are using WordPress. There is an evil little checkbox on the WordPress Settings>Reading page that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” I know there are legitimate uses for this, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen this checked unintentionally. DO NOT check this box.
The other time this becomes an issue is if you are using an SEO plugin and accidentally check the wrong settings when you set it up. It can be surprisingly easy to flip a switch and noindex your entire site.
Some of the Yoast meta robots settings can actually be very useful. If you’re using WordPress/Yoast, it is a good idea to put some thought into noindexing certain archive pages. This not only helps prevent duplicate/thin content issues, but also prevents users from landing on unhelpful pages from search engines.
Check out the Advanced WordPress SEO section of Yoast’s guide for more info!
If you’re on Squarespace or Showit or almost any other platform, meta robots and robots.txt will rarely ever be an issue.
You can use Google Search Console to make sure Google is not being blocked!
Further Reading: Varvy Guide to Robots.txt
Your site should be responsive and fast
We still see an alarmingly high number of photography websites that are not responsive. If you’ve been around for a while you may be one of them. If you’re using Showit desktop, Prophoto5 or earlier, Bludomain, the older Photobiz templates or pretty much anything made before 2010, your site is probably not responsive.
Note that there is a difference between responsive and “mobile friendly.” Google has made a clear statement that responsive design is preferred.
A responsive website will dynamically adapt (or “respond”) to the device’s screen size. This accounts for not only mobile phones, but for the wide range of devices that exist today.
If you’re still on one of those old sites that is not responsive, now is a good time to update! Google started giving mobile friendly sites preferential treatment for mobile searches back in 2015, but this year they announced that they’ve increased the strength of those signals again. We predict that this trend will continue, and that eventually it will be almost impossible to rank if your site is not responsive.
Website speed is a hot topic for photographers. It is challenging to have a website that loads VERY quickly but also preserves the quality of your images.
From an SEO perspective, website speed is very important. However, we often see people obsessing over speed (usually because of the Google PageSpeed Insights tool) just to get a better score.
Speed affects SEO mostly because it affects usability. If someone cannot use your site because it is too slow, Google will consider your site to be low quality.
Generally speaking, people are only willing to wait a few seconds for a website to load. If your website takes longer than 10 seconds to load, you need to take aggressive action towards fixing it. If it is under 5 seconds, it is very unlikely that your load speed is affecting your SEO, even if you are getting a low score in Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Here are some tools you can use to diagnose your website!
Plan your site structure carefully
Having a logical website structure is not only critical for search engines, but also for your users!
You want each visitor to know exactly what your site is about, and how to find the information they are searching for.
Your site navigation should be clear and easy to understand. Clarity trumps cute every time!
Before you do too much work on your SEO, it can be helpful to map out your pages to make sure that your site hierarchy supports your content plan.
When you want to rank for more than one keyword, it is important to think about how your site can be an authority for each of these keywords. We’ll talk about this more in the next chapter.
One of the great things about a blog (especially WordPress) is that there are built-in features for achieving a logical site structure. Categories, tags, and date archives are all natural topical hubs. With some effort, you can turn these pages into valuable resources that will rank well in search engines. Unfortunately, most people miss this opportunity for ranking.
I’ve seen quite a few photography websites lately that don’t even have traditional galleries/portfolios. They use blog posts and categories to display their recent work in a logical way that visitors love.
Take some time to think about your page, post, category, tag, and archive strategy. How do they work together? Is it easy for visitors to navigate between them?
I’ve included links to a couple of free mindmapping tools at the end of this chapter!
Use schema to define your content
Schema.org is a universal vocabulary for marking up structured data on your website. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex came together to standardize the best way for webmasters to present information to the search engines.
Basically they are saying “This is the language our search engines want to speak, please try to speak this language. Otherwise we will do our best to figure it out, but if you speak this language, our search engine will be sure to understand.”
We are currently doing some in depth experiments on how photographers can best use Schema.org, and will report back when we have some solid results. However, we feel like it is an important enough topic that we couldn’t write a guide without at least mentioning it!
For now, if you’d like to learn more, start with these articles:
The JSON-LD Markup Guide To Local Business Schema | Whitespark
PICKING YOUR KEYWORDS
What words do people type into Google to find you?
Keyword research is a fundamental part of SEO.
If you are optimizing for the wrong keywords, you may be completely wasting your time.
Sometimes even a slight change in your wording can double your traffic.
This video shows you the method that I have found to be the fastest way to do keyword research that will be the most reliable.
While many methods and tools exist (and we’ll talk about some in this chapter), if you have limited time and want the quickest way to get quality keywords, start with this video!
Building a seed list
The first step in your keyword research is coming up with a few words or phrases that you can enter into the various research tools available.
This doesn’t have to be complicated, but it is important to note that sometimes people don’t use the same words that you may use to describe what you do. For the first step, let’s get as basic as possible.
To start your seed list, ask yourself three questions:
- What do I do?
- What do you call a person who does that?
- Where do I do it?
Here are some popular phrases for the first two question:
- wedding photography | wedding photographer
- newborn photography | newborn photographer | baby photography | baby photographer
- family photography | family portraits | family photographer
- high school senior portraits | senior pictures | senior portrait photographer
- boudoir photography | boudoir photographer
Try to keep it simple at this stage!
I know this can seem trivial, but I promise it can come in very handy when using some of the tools I’ll recommend in this chapter!
For the third question, you want to write down your physical location. Sometimes it can be helpful to expand that slightly.
Here are some things to write down:
- Your city or town
- Nearby cities/towns
- Your county
- Your region (eg, midlands, northwest, coastal, etc)
- Your state
- Nicknames for your city
- Local named areas (eg, business district, bricktown, uptown)
Merging your seed list to generate keywords and find volume
I already wrote about this in a post on the blog, and in that example I multiplied keywords using Google Keyword Planner.
If you want an even faster tool, you can use Merge Words.
Basically, you put you combine your work+location seed lists to get a long list of variations that people might use to search.
This is much easier if you organize everything in a spreadsheet 😉
In some cases this step is really overkill. I’ve found some gems using this method, but in the vast majority of cases, the keywords with the most volume follow one of two patterns:
- [city] [type of photography] photographers – EXAMPLE: dallas family photographers
- [type of photography] photographers in [city, state abbr] – EXAMPLE: wedding photographers in columbia, sc
Finding keywords that people actually use
Now that you have a really long list of local keywords, you need to figure out if anyone is actually typing them into Google.
It doesn’t matter where you rank for a keyword if ZERO people ever search for it.
The golden standard for checking search volume (especially in bulk) is the Google Keyword Planner Tool.
*Note: you’ll have to actually set up an Adwords account, complete with payment information and an actual ad before you can access this tool. You CAN set up an ad, and then immediately pause it after setup so that you never get charged. At this time, we don’t know of any way around this.
Again, the Photography Keyword Series on the blog has all the information you need on using the Google Keyword Planner tool. I even talk about filtering and a few hidden features.
Check out the series here:
If you haven’t already watched the video at the beginning of this chapter, now is a good time to check it out. That video covers using the Moz Keyword Explorer to check search volume. You’ll be limited to two main terms per day, but each one will give you a list of 1000 related keywords (with volume data for each).
I like using Moz for keyword research because they combine the Google Keyword Planner data with their own data to create their “volume buckets.”
In some cases, you may find a perfect keyword, but the competition is SO hard for that keyword, that it would be almost impossible for your site to rank (at least in the near future).
In these cases, it is often more beneficial to target lower volume keywords that have lower competition.
Determining the difficulty of ranking for a keyword is very nuanced. There are SO many specific factors that go into determining the strength of the top competitors. You’ll need to compare those factors against the strength of your site to determine your chances for ranking.
Generally, the most important factors are going to be the quality of the content (how well does the content of the page satisfy the query) and the backlink profile (how many, and what are the quality of websites linking to this domain). User behavior (how searchers interact with each result) is also a big factor, and we’ll talk more about that later.
There are two free tools that will help you determine how hard it will be to rank for a particular keyword. Both are limited to the amount of keywords you can check per day with the free version, but they should be enough to get you started.
Again, you’ll only be able to check two keywords, but the Moz keyword difficulty score is one of the most reliable in the industry.
I won’t go into how exactly Keyword Difficulty works, you can read more about that in this excellent analysis.
To give you a quick idea, if you’re using Moz, a difficulty of less than 20 is fairly easy to rank for, 20-30 is moderately difficult, and 30-40 is difficult, but not impossible. Once you get above 40, it starts to get VERY difficult.
This tool has quickly become one of my favorites for quick research. You’ll be limited to 5 searches per day with this tool. The tool is great at showing you some of the best variations of your keyword, and they have their own difficulty score.
The long tail
Now that you’ve done all of that work to research your main keywords, you can start to focus on additional keywords for your pages and blog posts.
You’ll usually find that moderately competitive keywords can take 3-6 months to start seeing page 1-3 results if you are doing all of the right things. Of course this varies per person, but SEO isn’t something that happens overnight.
If you want a chance to start getting search traffic within weeks instead of months, you should put some time into optimizing for long tail keywords.
The long tail gets it’s name from a graph of keyword volume distribution.
Basically, the long tail collectively represents keywords that get very little traffic individually. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that “Charleston Wedding Photographers” gets about 500 searches per month.
People in Charleston are also searching for lots of other things that are related to wedding photographers. But not as many people are using the same terms. So maybe “engagement session locations in charleston” gets 10 searches per month, “beach wedding photos in charleston” gets 20 searches, “wedding photographer average pricing in charleston” gets 5 searches, and so on.
Google even tells us that about 15% of daily searches have never even been seen before.
The data tells us that if the head term gets 500 searches per month, these other smaller (but related) terms get around 1600 searches per month. ***This is just a general rule of thumb, not a hard science.
The thing is, if you want to take advantage of those 1600 searches you’ll need to rank for a large variety of keywords, because individually they won’t bring much traffic.
With a little strategy, you can dominate the long tail!
For more details, read: Photography Keywords: Part 3 – The Long Tail
Because this will be very specific for each person, we are going to give you a list of tools at the end of the chapter, but I’m also going to let you access my spreadsheet of wedding photography long tail keywords so you can have a real-world example! This spreadsheet will also give you a great example of how to plan your content, which we’ll cover next!
Planning your content
We talked a little bit about site structure in chapter 2, but you can also diagram your site based on keywords.
Keep in mind that each page of your site can rank for multiple long tail keywords. Often we see one page ranking for 10-20 keywords based on 300-500 words of content.
However, each keyword will likely only show ONE of your pages. In other words, you’ll usually only get one page ranked per keyword. Google wants to keep the results diverse and fair.
When you’ve decided on your most important long tail keywords, you can start planning your content around those words.
We’ll talk about this even more in the chapter about blogging!
What to do when your keywords have no volume
In some cases you will find that there are no keywords that accurately describe what you do that people actually type into search engines.
In these cases, I have two suggestions.
1. Focus On Branded Search
Sometimes you’ll see that a specific photographer’s name is showing up with more volume than other keywords. This usually indicates that the photographer is so popular in this area that people know to search for them by name instead of searching for other photographers.
In these cases, Google often picks up on the fact that this brand is synonymous with “photographers in [city].”
Unfortunately, this takes time to accomplish. Your focus should be on building authority for your brand, getting links from local websites, and considering advertising options that drive people to search for your name (like radio or billboards).
This isn’t actually an industry term… I just made it up. It is like Inception, but for search. lol.
Basically, you have to intercept your customers by finding them where they ARE searching.
So for example, maybe you find that less than 10 people per month are typing in “dog photographers in raleigh” and maybe 10-20 people per month are looking for “nc pet portraits.” Neither of these is very impressive, so need to get creative.
Ask yourself: “What are dog owners searching for that would allow me to make them fall in love with my dog photos?”
Let’s say that you do some research and find that 200 people per month are searching for “dog parks in raleigh.”
You could write a blog post with the top 5 dog parks in Raleigh, and feature sessions you’ve done with dogs playing at the parks. You then include a few paragraphs about how you love to capture the dogs with their owners in action and all of the benefits that would convince a dog owner to hire you for a similar session.
Or maybe you find that people are searching for dog breeders. You work with a breeder to do studio portraits of prestigious breeds and write a blog post with how every full breed dog deserves a studio portrait.
Sometimes keyword research isn’t black and white. You have to get creative and think outside the box about how people are using search engines, and how you can get in front of them!
Keyword Research Tools:
Keyword Research Articles:
ON PAGE SEO
BASIC ON PAGE SEO
The most important places you should put your keywords.
Now that you have all of your keywords chosen, it is time to implement them on your site!
The best way to write your website is for the visitor. You never want to write ONLY for search engines.
However, when you know which words to use, you can be intentional about saying the things that search engines want to hear as well!
Keywords will appear naturally all over your site, but there are 5 key places that you want to make sure to use your target keywords.
Just like in the keyword research chapter, I’ve made a video to give you everything you need to know in the shortest amount of time. This video is about 20 minutes, but you’ll be able to see a real example of me updating my site with my keywords.
Oh, and BTW, a few weeks later, my site jumped 3 pages (from page 4 to page 1) on Google, and this video shows the ONLY changes that were made during that timeframe!
I’m not saying you’ll always see that kind of results, but it goes to show the power of getting the keywords in the right places!
The title of your page is an important SEO factor because it SHOULD be the biggest indicator of the main topic of the page.
For the user, the title shows up in 3 main places:
- The Browser Tab
- Search Engines Results Pages (SERPs)
- Shared Links
Because of this, the goal of your page title is twofold:
- Describe the content of the page accurately
- Encourage people to click
You’ll need to do both of these things while also trying to include the appropriate keywords and staying within the character limit.
Speaking of character limits, it has been changing quite a bit lately, and will probably continue to change in the future. For right now, a good rule of thumb is to aim for 55-57 characters, even though it is possible to fit as many as 117 😉
Another important thing to mention is that while most SEOs (and pretty much any SEO tool) will tell you to put your keyword at the beginning of your title (we also taught this for years), we’ve noticed that with photography websites, Google is very likely to rewrite the page title to put the business name first.
Yep. Google can rewrite the page title if it wants.
Here is an example:
The original page title (exactly as the conventional SEO wisdom would say to write it): Greenville SC Wedding Photographer | J. Jones Photography
Greenville SC Wedding Photographer | J. Jones Photography
Google’s rewritten page title:
J. Jones Photography: Greenville SC Wedding Photographer
(shout out to my friend Josh… his work is awesome… )
This is quite widespread among photographers, and because of this we’ve started recommending that you mimic the way that Google is rewriting page titles, especially for your home page.
[business name]: [main keyword]
This is less likely for blog posts.
For posts, we recommend writing a title that encourages a click. Come up with a title that accurately describes the post, but keep in mind some of the long tail keywords that people may use to search for that topic. Usually there will be much more flexibility with long tail keywords, because the competition is much lower. In other words, it isn’t quite as important to try to find an exact match.
A good default blog post title formula for sessions is:
[venue/location] [type of session] in [city] | [client names (if room)]
EXAMPLE: Adams Pond Wedding in Columbia SC | Corey and Ashley
However, it is totally fine to get descriptive here if your keyword research tells you that there are other good keywords you could target.
EXAMPLE: Fall Outdoor Wedding Ceremony at Historic Adams Pond Venue
The meta description is not a direct ranking factor for Google, which means that it would be completely pointless to stuff it with keywords.
However, your meta description is a big piece of SEO. After all, SEO stands for search engine optimization, and meta descriptions certainly need to be optimized for search pages!
Your meta description is used as the first choice for populating the snippet that appears on a search results page.
But notice how I said “first choice.”
Just like with the titles, Google can re-write the meta description to better match the query.
The PRIMARY goal of the meta description is to describe the page in a way that allows searchers to quickly decide if the page contains the content they are searching for.
You should focus on making the meta description enticing to click!
Notice how Google re-wrote that snippet to include an exact match of the query. They are basically saying: “You’re looking for ‘engagement session locations’ and THIS is an example of why we think this page will help you.”
While the length can vary depending on the device, rich snippets, and other factors, a good goal for meta description length is 150-160 characters. Going over this length won’t necessarily hurt, just don’t let your important words get truncated. However, keep in mind that sometimes if you get someone’s attention, the truncated text will make them want to finish reading!
You should specify a unique title and meta description for every page (including blog posts) of your site!
Headings are a way to logically organize content on the page. The heading tags – H1-H6 – are also intended to allow designers to control the style of the page.
Headings signify topics, which is why they are important for SEO. The largest words before a body of text are very likely to give a clue about the content of that text.
This is one of those things you shouldn’t sweat TOO much, but typically we recommend at least including an H1 tag, which can (and usually should) be the same as the page title.
Body copy (the text in the paragraphs on your page) is normally pretty straightforward.
However, with photographers it can be challenging to find places to put enough text on your pages, especially when you want to keep your site’s design minimal and focused on the photography.
To be honest, not including body copy is probably one of the biggest mistakes that photographers make with their SEO.
Most conventional wisdom recommends using at least 300 words on any page, but a study by serpIQ found that the average first position result on Google had about 2,400 words!
With photographers, 2,400 words is probably a little extreme (unless all of your top ranking competitors have that much copy), but it would not be unreasonable to aim for 500-700 words on your most important pages.
We don’t recommend writing text solely to please Google, or trying to stuff keywords onto your page to increase the word count, but we do recommend trying to incorporate some natural text into your design when possible.
When possible, your pages and post should contain the target keyword in the URL. This can also be called the page slug.
I’m almost hesitant to even add this tip, because often it is misunderstood, or the value is overstated.
You should NOT be overly concerned about having an exact match domain, or using really long URLs to stuff in keywords.
Your URL should be an indicator of the content that is included on the page. For example, if you have a gallery of wedding images, the URL might be example.com/wedding-gallery.
You don’t need to go overboard and make a URL like example.com/best-wedding-photos-in-columbia-sc-wedding-gallery.
We recommend keeping the URL as short as possible, using the main target keywords for the page when it makes sense.
If you are still confused about what to do on this topic, check out Moz’s 15 SEO Best Practices For Structuring URLS.
Using natural language and semantic keywords
Speaking of natural text, Google and other major search engines are becoming increasingly aware of semantic keywords. Semantic keywords are words that would naturally be expected to appear alongside your main keyword.
Google looks for these associations to ensure quality. Imagine going into a burger restaurant that didn’t serve fries or an ice cream shop that didn’t have vanilla ice cream. You would probably question their legitimacy. What if you went to a school that didn’t have books or computers? Would you believe that education was a priority?
If your site is about weddings photography, Google probably also expects to see words like: marriage, dress, rings, cake, bride, groom, reception, dancing, ceremony, church, and flowers.
If you aren’t using these words, can Google really trust that your site is ACTUALLY about weddings?
When writing the words for your website, you should always write naturally in a way that accurately describes what you do. When you know the best keywords for your site, you can be intentional about finding ways to use them naturally.
Optimizing your photos for search engines.
Image SEO is especially important for photographers, and often the best practices that you’ll read online are extremely impractical for photographers who are displaying hundreds of images.
There are a few KEY things you can do to optimize your photos for search engines!
We’ve already talked about the fact that your website should be fast. One of the most common reasons that photographers have slow websites is that their photos are too large!
There are so many factors to consider here, but let me get to the bottom line quickly…
The files that you upload to your website should almost always be UNDER 500kb. In fact, 300kb is an even better goal.
If you are uploading full size images, your site is destined to be slow.
*Note: some website platforms encourage uploading full sized images because they handle optimization on their end. If this is the case for you, I would encourage you to verify that the images are being handled as expected and that the final size/quality is acceptable.
Here is a video where I discuss some of the factors that can help you determine the proper pixel dimensions for your images, along with some options for compressing your images before uploading!
In an ideal world, each photo on your site would have a unique name that gives an idea what is contained in the photo.
This might be practical on a page with 3-5 images, but when you are uploading 50-100 images to a blog post, it just isn’t practical to rename each file separately.
Because of this, I recommend exporting from Lightroom with a unique name sequence for each session.
Don’t go overboard with keywords here. Keep it simple, and indicate what is in the file.
In this example, the filenames look like:
If you wanted to break it up a little, you could do 2 or 3 exports from an event, based on location. That way you aren’t having to rename EVERY file, but you can still vary the filenames a little.
File name is certainly considered, but the overall importance as a ranking factor is likely very small.
In other words, the payoff for spending HOURS renaming every file individually is probably not going to be as high as the payoff for writing good alt text for every image.
Alt text stands for “alternative text” and is an accessibility feature. If someone is using a screen reader or has images disabled in the browser, the alt text will be read or displayed instead.
The easiest way to understand what should go in your alt text is to think about how you would describe the image to a blind friend in as few words as possible.
Alt text is an excellent place to include semantic keywords. Focus on describing the images accurately more than including specific keywords. If you can get your main keyword into at least one or two images (naturally) do it!
Avoid keyword stuffing or using the same alt text for every image on the page.
Keep in mind that alt text is also used when the image is shared on Pinterest and in Google image search!
It is not uncommon for large wedding blogs to do Google/Pinterest searches for images that fit one of their image roundups. If this is something you are interested in (a great way to get high quality backlinks), you should also think about using alt text in a way that might attract publishers. You can get some inspiration by looking at past roundups!
Title, description, caption and other fields
Often, the fields on a website builder will use terms other than “alt text.” Sometimes, these fields still affect the alt text, even though the builder uses different terminology. It is important to understand which field is affecting the alt text so that you can fill it out on properly.
Google also suggests “providing good, descriptive titles and captions for your images.”
Keep in mind that these fields are often not utilized by your theme or builder, even though they exist.
For example, if you are using WordPress, you can fill out a title and caption for every image. However, if your theme settings do not display the title or caption, they are usually not included in the HTML, and therefore they are completely useless to Google.
If you are going to take the time to write titles and captions, be sure they are displaying on your site, or at least in the HTML!
Google doesn’t ONLY look at the image to determine the contents of the image. They also consider text directly adjacent to the image (because it is usually referencing the contents of the image), the page title where the image resides, links to the image, and even shares of the image (like on Pinterest).
Feel free to download/share, or use on your website!
Writing content that search engines love.
A well-utilized blog can be one of your most valuable SEO assets as a photographer!
A blog allows you to generate fresh content on a regular basis, and it also allows you to target long tail keywords and grow your total search traffic!
The key to blogging is consistency. Find a rhythm that works for you and stick with it!
Using Yoast to write the perfect post
If you are using WordPress, Yoast makes it easy to get your SEO right on every post! In this video, I walk you through how to get the important green lights in Yoast!
Writing Titles For Your Blog Posts
A common SEO mistake I see photographers making is adding their main keyword to the title of every single blog post. This video will help you come up with a structure for your blog post titles that works every time!
To access the spreadsheet in the video, click here: http://bit.ly/blog-post-titles-FYP
ON PAGE SEO
LOCAL (MAP PACK) SEO
Be one of the top 3 map results!
The map results utilize a very different algorithm than the normal organic results. While many elements are the same, there are also a new set of elements that are critical if you want to be one of the first few results on the map!
Some of these elements are based on the searcher’s physical location (which is not necessarily something you can optimize for), but there are some important things you can do to improve your local SEO
NAP - name, address, phone
In SEO when we talk about NAP, we aren’t talking about getting some rest. Although that sounds nice too.
NAP stands for: Name, Address, Phone #
When you choose the way that your business will be displayed online, you need to be consistent.
Every time that you list your business name, your address, or your phone number online, it needs to be exactly the same.
This will allow the crawlers to recognize all of the places where you show up online. You’ll see why that is important when we talk about local citations.
For photographers, it is very common that your business address may also be your home address. Sometimes you may not want that being used online to reference your business.
While I can totally understand this concern, I can also tell you that if you want to compete in local searches, it is very important to have a physical address that can be verified by Google in the area that you are trying to rank.
In fact, I even believe that it is important that you make that address visible, and use it across all of your citations. If it isn’t possible to do this with your home address, I recommend finding a way to rent an office space or meeting space.
*Note: while UPS store boxes and P.O. boxes (listed as a suite number) were once “allowed” for verification, Google has started to crack down on this and it is very rare that you can get away with it. Even if you do, if someone reports the address as incorrect, Google will likely remove your business immediately (we’ve seen this happen).
Here is a video with some evidence for the importance of displaying your address.
When Google considers which businesses are authorities in an area, it needs to verify that the business/website is a real local business. Google doesn’t want to list results on the map when there is not actually a business at that map location.
The more points of reference that Google can use to verify your address, the more trust they will have in your site.
This is where local citations come into play!
Just like social media, local citations are also a great way for you to dominate the SERPs for your business name. Some local citation sites also allow reviews, which will allow you to be more visible when people are doing research to decide whether they are going to hire you.
There are quite a few local citations that you can get, but we’ve found the following to be the most important for photographers:
Reviews are an important factor in proving a business’ reputation.
Keep in mind that a search engine can’t come over to your studio and meet you. They can’t go interview your past clients and ask them what you are like. They need to look at the internet for signals that you have a solid reputation. Reviews are a big part of that.
According to the 2015 Moz survey, reviews account for over 8% of your local ranking.
The number of reviews isn’t the only important thing either. Search engines also consider things like the diversity of reviews and the review velocity (the rate at which you require new reviews).
Getting reviews on a regular basis should be a regular part of your marketing workflow.
Your potential clients are probably also searching for reviews of your business before they hire you.
Don’t believe me? Start typing your business name into Google and see if you get a suggested search for “reviews.”
Today, people search online for everything before making purchasing decisions. Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). You want to make sure you are shining during this critical decision-making moment!
Maximizing your social reach to impact rankings.
Social media does play a role in SEO.
Google wants to know that your brand is popular, engaging, and trusted. It can get some clues about these things from social media!
For the majority of photographers, social media probably doesn’t play a MAJOR role in their ranking. The difference in social signals from a large brand and a small local business is significant, and Google understands that difference.
That being said, there are some markets where social may be more important than others, and there are certainly some great opportunities to use social media to improve your visibility in search engines!
Optimizing your profiles
One of the most important things you can do is to optimize your social media profiles to be consistent with your SEO efforts.
- Use your home page meta description (or similar text) in the “about” sections of your profiles.
- Make sure your profiles use the EXACT same NAP as your website.
- Verify your profiles with your address or phone number that is listed on your website.
- Make sure you include a link to your website on every social media profile.
- Turn on reviews to get rich snippet results in the SERPs.
When your profiles are set up correctly, it will strengthen your brand, and allow you to totally dominate the SERPs for your name and business name!
Mentions and shares of your site
You can install social sharing tools on your website to increase the chances of your brand being mentioned and shared on social media.
However, unless you are photographing something that the general public would be interested in seeing (like popular themed sessions or a large charity event) it is hard to get people to share the average client post on social media.
You can use a tool like Buzzsumo to look at the most popular content of other photographers. Use a photographer that you know gets great shares on social media as inspiration for the type of content that is performing well!
Let the search engines know you are an authority!
Submissions, features, and credits
Getting featured on popular (and relevant) blogs is one of the most important things you can do to demonstrate your authority as a photographer.
This is especially true for wedding photographers because the wedding magazines/blogs are very influential in the industry. There is a VERY high correlation between first page rankings and being featured in a handful of the most popular wedding blogs.
We have a blog post in the queue that talks more about this process, but for right now we have an awesome list of wedding blogs that accept submissions, ranked by domain authority. There are also several articles at the bottom of the spreadsheet with tips on how to get featured.
Click the image below to visit the spreadsheet!
Local businesses, vendors, and influencers
No matter what kind of photographer you are, you have a unique advantage when it comes to link building!
Websites owners are already accustomed to linking to photographers to credit their photos.
I know that photographers are always complaining about people who want to “pay with exposure,” but this is a case when it could actually be worth your time to exchange your work for “exposure.”
Keep in mind, these links might not bring you direct work, but they’ll increase the authority of your domain, which will allow you have better rankings across the board, including for your local keywords!
A few ideas of ways that you can offer your services in exchange for a link:
- Do a simple headshot for a blogger or business owner
- Volunteer to photograph a local charity event (or even sponsor the event)
- Cover a local event and send your photos to local press
- Offer to photograph other vendors/venues in your industry
- Partner with a local web designer who needs simple area photos for their designs
In many cases, directories are completely worthless for SEO. You’ll even see some very reputable SEOs making videos that tell you to avoid directories all together.
This kind of advice comes from the fact that in general, there are some REALLY spammy directories on the internet.
However, there are some reputable directories in the photography industry.
When thinking about link profiles, search engines need to answer, “What kind of sites would we expect to be linking to an authority in this space?” If it makes sense for your business to be in a directory, it may also be helpful for your SEO. Although we can’t say that joining one of these directories will certainly help you, we can confidently say that because of their reputation, they will not hurt your SEO.
Here are a few of the reputable directories you can join.
*Note: all require a paid membership, and I do not recommend joining if your only motivation is getting a link.
Professional Photographers Of America (PPA) | Find A Photographer
Fearless Photographers (Wedding)
National Association Of Professional Child Photographers | Member Directory
American Society of Media Photographers | Find A Photographer
A list of important updates to this document
8/17/16 | First Published
8/20/16 | Added Free Worksheets!
9/1/16 | Added URL subtopic to chapter 4
1/15/17 | Minor fixes, updated special offer, author info, website review info. Added section on writing titles for your blog post. More blogging content coming soon!