SEO and Photography Websites: Seeing what Google Sees

SEO and Photography Websites: Seeing what Google Sees

As I mentioned in my last post entited Why SEO Matters to Photographers, links and link text make a difference in how you optimize your photography website for search engines. But how do we know if Google has indexed any of our pages?


Go to Google, and type in:

site:[your site url]


When you execute this search, Google will show you everything that it has crawled and indexed from your site. It even works if you’ve set up a PhotoShelter customized website and used a domain alias (aka CNAME).

I did a search for Christopher Morrison, who is a photographer in Tucson, AZ specializing in fine art landscapes, travel and stock photography. Christopher set up a CNAME of and wanted to ensure that his site had the best SEO possible.

The results for his Google indexed pages were good, but not as good as I expected…

Google had indexed all the links to all his galleries, but I didn’t understand why individual image pages were not being indexed (and consequently wouldn’t be found in Google Image Search).

Chris had thumbnails and text links to his various galleries.


But once you got into a gallery, the images only appeared as thumbnails without text links.


Google doesn’t really like image-only links because the search algorithm values knowing what it’s linking to. So the link text needs to be there, and it should be descriptive.

With a PhotoShelter website, you have the option of displaying a filename as a text link into the image, which I highly suggest. But equally important is making sure that you have descriptive filenames. For example, Chris could turn on the default names from his camera, which might appear as:


or he could use the SEO technique of renaming the files with keywords that match up to optimized terms that he found through Google AdWords. For example:


Good SEO is a combination of efforts, and every little attention to detail helps. Here’s the checklist:

  • use the “site:” search mechanism to determine if your site is being crawled
  • examine the listings to see how deep Google is indexing
  • if your images aren’t being indexed, make sure that you have text links to them
  • get the best SEO results by having descriptive file names
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Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 33 comments for this article
  1. Beau Harbin at 3:21 pm

    Allen, this all makes sense to me except one area. I use my file names to help make sure the image can be tied back to me and provide me with a date and id. This gives my files a unique file name with my identity attached. Then if someone is looking for a specific image, the file name can quickly tie their request and my library. So if I change the file name to something like mountain_lion.jpg, I am afraid I would lose all that. How do you suggest we handle this? Thanks much.

  2. Allen Murabayashi at 3:27 pm

    Beau, that’s a good question, and one that pits the goals of SEO against the goals of a good digital asset management system. i don’t have a good answer, except to say that it might be good to replicate your filename into another IPTC field, and then update the filenames once they get to photoshelter for seo purposes. remember, we embed your meta data into the photos, so in theory, as long as someone doesn’t do a screen grab or reprocess your image, the meta data with your original file should still be intact. in the future, i think DAM programs will be able to leverage image recognition to help you find your images within your own library.

  3. Paul Smith at 4:40 pm

    Hi Allen, I do have descriptive filenames, e.g. “1234-pitt_brad-01.jpg”, and the filename is displayed under the thumbnails in my galleries. However it still doesn’t appear as though the individual images are being crawled by Google. Somebody mentioned that it could be because the filename displayed under the image is not an actual link, it’s just plain text, whereas the gallery names under each gallery thumbnail in the galleries list is a link and Google crawls them fine. What is the solution for this? Cheers, Paul

  4. tim at 5:59 pm

    By suggesting that people change their file names into descriptive terms so that they can be indexed by google I think you could be leading people down the path to make a jumbled mess of how they store and retrieve their digital files. Especially if they have years images stored following a specific naming convention. Is there not a simpler solution such as Photoshelter allowing the IPTC headline field to be displayed and linked under each thumbnail. This IPTC field is intended for just this kind of short informative info, and it would not cause tons of headaches in renaming files and copying file names into other places to keep track of them from one hard drive to another. just a thought.

  5. Allen Murabayashi at 6:06 pm

    tim, i agree with you, except that google does look at the file name specific. for example, if you search on “grand canyon” in google image search, everything that comes up on the first few pages has the file name of “grand-canyon.jpg” or some variant. so having IPTC headline next to the image doesn’t solve the problem because they are looking at the source filename. as i said in my response to beau, SEO and DAM goals are two different things right now, which sucks for the photographer.

  6. ALBERTO at 9:50 am

    hi HAllen , I did change my files name , already have detailed descriptions and keywords. I made a test seraching with google exactly the name of my file, babelsberg cinema berlin, but can’t find any images, and I checked up to page 15.same with imagine search. well if I put my name it’s the first.. thanks a.

  7. Craig Joiner at 1:02 pm

    Allen, How will renaming our filenames help when PSA serves up all our images as “pixel.gif”? Surely Google will only ever see the source filename of “pixel.gif” which isn’t that helpful.

  8. janscherders at 4:10 am

    Allen, I just bought the standard subscription and installed Crisp theme while I think it best fits with my personal website I am now digging deeper into SEO and read your articles (very helpful)….but i now find that Crisp has no possibility of filenames in the Gallery Display. And in this article you say that EVERY Photoshelter Theme has this posssibility. I really like CRISP…. Jan Scherders

  9. Thomas Pickard at 8:08 pm

    This is all good…for now. Who is to say that Google won’t change the criteria for searching down the track and possibly make the importance of filename less important, or worse, redundant. And given how important it is to have a unique identifier for each image in any archive, making changes to a filename for the benefit of Google search – which we don’t have control over – seems mighty risky in my mind.

  10. David Robertson at 8:17 am

    Allen wrote, “i agree with you, except that google does look at the file name specific.” That may be so, but the only image that Google has indexed on my customised site ( is image fb-0464.jpg. It is linked to from another part of my site (non PhotoShelter part) where the image has an Alt tag. Interestingly, if I search – “” quite a few image pages are indexed but I cannot find them in Google Images. I’m not convinced (but I’m no expert) that its worth renaming images at all. I think it would be better if PhotoShelter could write Alt tags from the image IPTC Caption field. However, I have renamed 300 or so images as suggested as a trial and will wait and see. David Robertson

  11. Murray Edwards at 9:28 am

    For the first time I need a google search and it found one of my galleries on PhotoShelter, but it still does not find a images my itself. So this tells me that only the galleries are being crawled and based on the cache not on a very regular basis. So the question, Do you set up gallery after gallery in hopes that the images will be seen?

  12. Allen Murabayashi at 10:10 am

    @alberto: most experts claim that it takes about 3 months before changes you make are stabilized in Google, in part, because massive changes look like spam. @craig: that is a security mechanism. your real filename appears in the code. @jan: we’ll take a look at that. @thomas: you’re absolutely right. we are all at the whim of google’s algorithm. in their defense, they are trying to provide the best possible results, so their tweaks to the algorithm *usually* reward legitimate sites. @david/murray: the image crawler is a separate mechanism from the text crawler. the frequency at which they crawl will vary. SEO isn’t an overnight fix. You need to develop a long term strategy and commitment, and be analytical in the way that you adjust aspects of your site.

  13. Craig Joiner at 11:43 am

    Hi Allen, OK, I concede pixel.gif is just a mask but looking at the page source it seems our images are actually being served up using the PSA image ID, for example “” Indeed, for the few images from PSA I can find in Google Images, they all show up with the PSA ID and not the photographers image filename. Our filenames only appear in the code in two places; the title and the filename text (if present in the customisation).

  14. Ian Murray at 5:46 am

    The webinar said that metadata -caption and keywords- is searchable by Google. Reading the above it seems to me that this isn’t the case and that only text on web pages is found by Google Image search. Is that correct? I’m hoping for a PS-wide ‘solution’! Thanks Ian Murray

  15. Rebecca Marshall at 10:53 am

    Hi all, For what its worth I have just sought out David’s expertise at digitaltechparis to get my website SEO in order. It has saved me a lot of time and I would recommend his help to anyone that needs it Rebecca

  16. Murray Edwards at 11:08 pm

    PhotoShelter has got to get the SEO issue addressed. It’s disappointing when I do search for a specific topic, and no results from PS are found. I recently covered tornado damage in Central Alabama, I was one of the first photographers on site to document the damage, within hours I had a gallery up on PS and my blog. To my disappointment a Google search tonight finds Flickr images from someone who posts days afterwards, and my blog posting, but no PhotoShelter? I don’t expect that mine or anyone else’s PS site is indexed or crawled everyday, but when a couple of weeks go by and it still hasn’t been hit by Google tells me something is not quite right. I hope that the team at PhotoShelter trying to address this issue.

  17. Allen Murabayashi at 11:55 pm

    @murray, also, i looked at your website. you are using a javascript popup window function to link to your photoshelter galleries. it’s my understanding that google does not traverse these links. if you want to open a new window, but avoid the javascript call, you can simply set a target in the link. e.g. instead of < a href=”javascript:openpopup(‘blah’); > do < a href=”….” target=”foo” >

  18. at 5:05 pm

    Allen – I checked the Google stats for my PhotoShelter website. It looks like it is indexing 10 pages and the majority of them are galleries, there were a only a couple of images files indexed. The item that struck me the most was that the last time the site was crawled and cached was on Jan 28, 2009. I can see now why no new activity is being found. My personal site and blog are cached every 2 or 3 days. What can be done to increase the rate for the PS archive. A 30 day or more crawl does not permit anyone outside the PS community to been seen bt the search engines, thus the potential for less hits for potential image searches. Any suggestions? Murray

  19. DD at 8:38 am

    Alan, Your comments tend to indicate a misunderstanding of how Google indexes. 1) The only reason Google is finding your image names (.jpg .tif) is because you’re using them in the page TITLE tag. The solution, rather than changing all the image names is: 2) A simple template change. Put the CAPTION of the image in the title tag and hey presto! After a crawl the images will be indexed. 3) Will PS do this?

  20. Allen Murabayashi at 11:02 am

    @DD I respectfully disagree with your assessment on how the indexing works. The presence of a title doesn’t cause a page to be crawled — and besides, we only display filename in the page title if you haven’t provided an IPTC headline, so there is a way to provide text there. IPTC Description can be 2000 characters, and most experts recommend a page title of no more than 70 characters.

  21. DD at 12:52 pm

    Allen, Please read my posts before commenting on them. I said “After a crawl”, you said “The presence of a title doesn’t cause a page to be crawled”. Allen, you can “respectfully disagree” all you like. I have one stock portal up and working with Google having indexed each of the 7000+ images. I needed another stock site, which is why I was looking at PS. If you won’t take advice from someone who knows…you’ll be losing a customer, sadly.

  22. Allen Murabayashi at 1:05 pm

    DD, As I indicated, you can use IPTC Headline, which my definition, is the more appropriate field to populate a page title with. IPTC Description can be up to 2000 characters in our system — far to large for any reasonable page title.

  23. Rich Wagner at 11:58 pm

    Allen, I’m new to PS, and I understand what you’re getting at with file names containing keywords, but I agree with others that dismantling a DAM to generate keyworded filenames does not seem wise for the photographer. There are other ways to do this. As for the 70 character limit for page titles, others are also doing very well with Google Search while exceeding this limit. Here’s an example… Take this link that does very well in Google Search. Page Title: Stock Photograph of Western Diamondback Rattlesnake AA039889 – Search Stock Photography, Photos, Images, and Photo Clip Art – AA039889.jpg 138 characters The filename used by the photographer is AA039889.jpg as shown by: The “search” filename for the image on the page is: western-diamondback-rattlesnake_~AA039889.jpg as shown by the path: Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell where the keywords in the title and filename were pulled from, since the displayed images have zero embedded metadata (which is not good in its own right!). But regardless, the process appears to be automated. A Google search for “rattlesnake image stock” gives the following page as the SECOND search result out of 11,300 – pretty good. Yet each of the image filenames on this page is devoid of keywords! For example, So although keywords are likely important in filenames to improve SEO, it seems that this should be done on the database side of the equation – not by individual photographers with their image collections. If Google changes their algorithm, PS could then adapt and change the file naming strategy if needed, as well. A consistent naming convention by photographers is really critical to maintain unique image IDs and to track back to the original image, as Beau described. Regards, –Rich Wagner

  24. Robert at 5:00 am

    Nice article. I was recently discussing with someone if it matters if you name your image files to something descriptive. (next to a descriptive alt tag). After reading this article I tried searching for some random keywords and every result of the first few pages for every keyword, a result had the keyword in the filename. This could be a coincidence but I’m sure Google also looks at the filename. This does not mean that you have to rename all your images. With Apache RewriteRules you can easily Rewrite an URL to a specific image.

  25. portland SEO, user at 12:49 pm

    yes you are right google really see the complete labeling of a particular jpg with its link back,, so that it can take back to your site with your pic.. proper seo really require to do that thing.. just a little knowledge and you can do everthing that you have imagine.. you can also get help from Portland seo they also suggest a free seo to your site…

  26. Portland SEO, Purist at 6:51 pm

    It is about time people started to wise up to the fact that *little* SEO work will get you a long ways. Love your outline of what to do, it covers the basics just fine. I would offer that a hybrid of ID uniqueness be combined with more illustrative text, preferable using a common naming convention. btw, I agree with Allen in the earlier disagreement with DDS. The title is not solution, for a number of reasons.

  27. Vobonyknofs at 10:01 pm

    whoah this blog is excellent i love reading your posts. Keep up the good work! You know, a lot of people are searching around for this info, you can help them greatly.

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