Search Engine Optimisation
If someone searches through Google or Yahoo for the service you offer, will they find you? This page aims to help you get to a place where you can answer 'yes' to that question.
What is SEO?
Having a website that the search engines cannot find does not work as a great marketing tool. International clients do look for photography and photographers via search engines, so you want to be sure that they find you. The process of making your site score well in search engine results is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
A client in Berlin may need an assignment done in Ghana. There is a fair chance that he would go online and search for something like 'Ghanaian photographer'. If that search phrase matches you, then you want to ensure that a link to your images and contact details comes up in the top 10 results so that the client can click through to your site, blog or directory listing from the very first search results page. So SEO is doing what is required to be found by clients via search engines.
Figure 1: Top 3 Google results for the phrase 'Ghanaian photographer'
Photographic sites do not usually score very well with search engines. Why? Search engines are most interested in text and photography websites are mostly about pictures. So to get your photographic site to score well with the search engines may take a bit of work.
To start doing SEO you need to decide what keyword phrase/s you want to be linked to you by search engines. There are a lot of tools to help you decide what keyword phrases to use, but essentially you are looking for a keyword phrase that clients would be likely to type into a search engine if they were looking for your photographic business. You can use the Google Keyword Tool to test out potential phrases you are considering. This tool will tell you how many people have been searching for that phrase. What you want is a phrase that a lot of people search for, but that has low competition. So take that same phrase and put it into Google and see which sites come up. Do they really match that keyword, or are you a better match? You have a chance of beating other sites if you are a better match and do your SEO well.
You are likely to do better with a niche keyword phrase like 'Ghanian photographer' than you are trying to win on the single word 'photographer' as the competition for that word is just too fierce. You may want to try for something even more niche like 'Ghanaian news photographer', but you may find that not enough people search for it.
People may search for you both by your name, if they know, and by the service you provide. You should work on winning for both those keyword phrases. Whatever phrases you select make sure they really do describe the services you can offer and are not just a great term for the search engines.
Now that you know what your keyword phrase is, you need to get that phrase appearing in various different places on your site. What you do not want to do, though, is 'spam' your site with multiple repetitions of your keyword phrase. Your website should be a positive experience for the user, not just for the search engines.
If you are looking at doing SEO on your website or blog you need to choose a page to start with. The home page is ideal. Here are some places on the page that are worth putting your keyword phrase into including:
If you have not already bought a url it is worthwhile using your keyword phrase in your url for eg www.ghanaianphotographer.com
Text on your home page
Use your keyword phrase in the text on your home page, but limit the usage to about once every 100 to 150 words eg As a Ghanaian photographer I have captured the essence of change in Ghana over the past 30 years...etc
There is a metatag called 'title' that should show as your keyword phrase. You may need to ask your site developer to do this for you.
Alt image tag
Again you may need your site developer's help with this. As many images as possible on your site should have 'alt image text tags'. These are the words that show in situations where pictures cannot be shown, such as on mobile phones. Search engines also read these tags.
Search engines like jpeg names that match your keywords, but on a database-driven photography site you are unlikely to use jpeg names with words in them as this is not good practice in managing your images. However, for the images on your home page it may help your SEO to put your keyword phrase in as the jpeg name.
Off-page optimisation refers to the portion of SEO that happens off your site. You may have done all the on-page optimisation right, but you are unlikely to score well with the search engines until you have got your off-page optimisation right.
Basically off-page optimisation is building credibility on the internet by getting backlinks, links from other websites back to yours. Each backlink acts as a vote of confidence in your site. Votes from high quality websites count for more than votes from lower rated sites. Votes from a range of sites count for more than hundreds of votes from one site.
The links that come to through to you are also more valuable if the link text that someone clicks on has your keywords in it.
Good link text: I recently hired a great Ghanaian photographer (the words 'Ghanaian photographer' click through to your site)
Bad link text: I recently hired a great Ghanian photographer click here to see his work (the words 'click here' linked to your site)
But of course you can only request this and you cannot control it in most cases.
The relevance to of the sites that click to you is important too. If a photographic website links to you it will have more relevance than a link from a friend's blog about his recent travels.
The age of the links also matter - the older they are, the more weight they have.
Link building is self-perpetuating. You need to raise your profile to get people to link to you. By linking to you your profile is raised and more people will link to you. But you have to start the process.
Link building is time consuming but as it is a significant portion of SEO it must be done.
Here are some ways to go about link building:
Get registered in web-based directories relevant to your service. DMOZ is a good free one to start with. Then search online for directories in your field.
Write articles and get them published on the internet with links back to you.
Write press releases and distribute them to websites in your industry with links back to you.
Check your stats:
Track who is already linking to you through your Google Analytics and send them your press releases and articles if it seems those are relevant to them.
Figure 2: Google Analytics website stats summary page
Be active on other sites:
When you are online make the effort to put comments on other peoples' blogs, answer questions on Yahoo! Answers or other sites and include links back to relevant resources of your own where you are allowed. But remember the online etiquette that you should not just be linking back to yourself, but regularly promoting other sites and other people too.
Again the etiquette of online interactions comes into play. If you link out to others they may pick it up on on their site stats and then link back to you. Those who were not aware of you may become aware of you through their site stats.
One of the easiest ways to get links is to create them yourself in your blog. You cannot rely on this alone, but it can contribute to your link building
Putting links to your website and blog on your social media platforms has less effect than other backlinks on your SEO but still has value, even if it is just to keep moving people on to the central point where they can buy from you, which would usually be your website.
There are many websites that give out free advice on SEO. It is worth signing up for some of their free courses. There are also numerous free tools that you can use for maximising your SEO.
A simple and clear course outlining the basics called ABCs of SEO is given by Suzanne Morrison. Photo Shelter has an excellent resource for photographers, the SEO Cookbook. There are some great tools given by SEObook and a free 7-day course which you can sign up for.
Other free online tools include the Google keyword tool that I have mentioned before to help identify the right keywords. You can check how many backlinks your own site has versus your competitors using the Link Popularity Checker Tool. An absolute necessity is having Google Analytics set up on your site - it gives you so much insight into what is working and what is not in your marketing campaign. If you have quite a lot of keywords and pages to keep an eye on, SEO Book's Rank Checker is huge help. Get an overview of your site with Website Grader which grades your site on numerous SEO related factors.
Some more advanced tools that give you insight into what Google sees when it looks at your site are the Google Webmaster Tools.