Search Engine Optimization, also known as SEO, can come off as intimidating for some people — especially if you haven’t had to work on marketing a website in the past.
We’d love to try and demystify this concept for our readers by offering some best practices and information.
By definition, SEO is a strategic process of continually updating the content and metadata on your website in addition to monitoring your site’s traffic and off-site factors to increase your probability of ranking higher in search engine results. SEO requires a strategy for both creating and organizing content on the site as well as acquiring quality backlinks from other sites across the web through marketing tactics.
It’s important to note that because of the rapidly changing algorithms that search engines like Google use, SEO should be seen as a process to maintain and update instead of a one-and-done task.
If you’d like to better understand some of the key words used in this post, we have an SEO Glossary that you can reference.
Here are our best practices you should follow as a photographer, especially when you are at the beginning of your SEO journey:
1. Know your audience
This step cannot be emphasized enough. Understanding your target audience is a fundamental step to building your SEO strategy. It informs what keywords you use, what galleries you choose to highlight, and how you adjust and update your site over time. Here are some questions to consider when defining your audience:
- What would you like people to search for in Google (or other search engines) to land on your website’s homepage? Be sure to consider your local market primarily.
- Who are your competitors in this space? If you run a Google search for the keywords you want to use, how are those competitors addressing their target audience by the way they write?
- What is the budget of your ideal client? Be sure to do your research and consider target demographics.
- What other sites/forums/modes of social media are your clients spending their time on?
- By the end of these questions, try to have one or two sentences that define your target clientele. The statement should include a target demographic, location, and problem that your photography will solve. Start the sentence with “My ideal client is…” The more specific you can be with this statement, the easier it will be to choose a marketing strategy further down the line.
For example, if you are a school portrait photographer, your statement may be “My ideal client is the parent of a high school student in urban school districts in Northern California.” You can use this to think of keywords for your website and images that pertain to search terms your ideal client will be entering into a search engine. That leads us to our second step, adding metadata to your Images.
2. Adding IPTC Metadata to your images
Your images on their own are not visible to search engine crawlers; there needs to be text for search engines to understand the image for what it is and to display credit accordingly, and that information is contained in IPTC Metadata. Many photo editing programs like Adobe Lightroom and PhotoMechanic allow you to add metadata before you upload, but in PhotoShelter, you can do this as well. Learn how to edit metadata in batch here.
It’s important to use the information you have from knowing your audience to guide your word choice. Specifically, keep in mind that search engines tailor results to your geographic location, so be sure to mention what areas you service.
Here are some key fields you should pay special attention to. They are also marked with a green “SEO” tag in PhotoShelter for additional visibility:
- Web Statement URL*
- Licensor URL*
For a description for what each of these fields should contain, we put together an On-Site Images & Image Metadata article to help, including advice on choosing keywords.
Particularly, the Web Statement URL and Licensor URL are new fields that Google’s Image License Metadata program will be looking for. In short, Image Search in Google will now show a “Licenseable” badge with the image thumbnail if the image is available for licensing, and take a user directly to a page where a license can be purchased. PhotoShelter has built these fields into our metadata editing tools to be fully compatible with this Google Image License Metadata program which is currently in beta. You can read more about our compliance in our “Valuable SEO Lessons Learned from Photographer Websites” blog post.
Here are a few tips taken from our support article about choosing keywords (not only for your “keywords” metadata, but for keyword phrasing that should be used across the site):
- Think about what you would want someone to search for to find your site and take your theory to Google. Add your keywords and let Google populate a list of similar searches to help inform what words or phrases you will ultimately select.
- Target a specific niche that your audience will be searching for. For instance, if what stands you apart from your competition is that you are a 35mm film and digital portrait photographer, be sure to mention this in page and image metadata.
- Keywords do not necessarily have to be a single word. Phrases are helpful as well. For instance, you can use “Colombian Arabica Coffee beans” for stock images instead of simply “coffee beans” to be specific to that image.
- Use at least 5 keywords per image and quantity of keywords is not as important as quality.
If you have time to review more about keywords, this video does a great job of explaining keyword seeding and stemming.
3. Pages and Page Metadata
With keywords in mind, the same principles can be applied to Page Metadata. Just like your images, each page of your site can provide context to search engines with a unique Page Title and meta description. A Page Title is a short description of a webpage that typically appears in your browser’s tab when viewing a webpage:
The Page Title should be relevant to the content on the page. When filling in your Page Titles, keep in mind that there is a strong correlation between the order of words in the Page Title and SEO success, so you’ll want to put your most important terms upfront.
- Bad: Joe Smith Photography | Serving the OC for 20 years
- Good: Orange County Commercial Photographer | Joe Smith Photography
Google recommends page titles of 70 characters or less. This doesn’t mean you’ll be penalized if you go over. The limit exists because search engines use the page title as the anchor text in search results.
Meta descriptions are used to describe the contents of a webpage. In search results, the Meta Description will often show below the page link:
We recommend making your meta descriptions 1-3 sentences long and including keywords that someone should search for to pull up your site. Some suggested items are the kind of photography you do, the location you are based in if relevant, and your name. For reference, Google generally truncates your meta description to around 160 characters for display and this description will not show on your visible site.
- In PhotoShelter, your Page Title for all single images in the archive will use text from your “Headline” field. If there is no text there, it will use the Title, then the Filename.
- The meta description (also known as Alt Tag) for your single image pages will pull from the “Description/Caption” field first, then defer to Headline and then “Title” in that order if there is no Description/Caption in the image metadata.
- For custom pages in PhotoShelter, you can designate your own unique Page Title and meta description for each custom page on the left pane when you click to edit the “Content Area” in the Site Builder.
4. Submit your sitemap to Google
When you are comfortable that your information throughout the site is solid enough for Google to know about it, it’s time to submit your sitemap to Google.
Google will still be able to crawl your website without this step, but we recommend it to help you understand your site’s performance. While PhotoShelter will generate your sitemap for you, it’s good practice to create a Google Search Console account to submit your sitemap to Google to have better visibility into your site’s performance. Google’s Search Console can also help you monitor how your SEO efforts are impacting your search engine performance over time. Read how to find your sitemap and submit it here: Google Search Console.
You can learn more about Google Search Console via our on-demand webinar hosted by Tech Support Specialist Amanda Yoder.
If this is your first time submitting the sitemap, put some benchmarks in place to measure your optimization’s effectiveness. Options here can be simple, like doing searches to see where you rank today in a general Google search versus after you apply SEO strategies and tactics.
Keep in mind that newer websites will likely need a few weeks to show in search results for your name. Or they can be more elaborate, like employing Google Analytics to gauge your progress more meticulously. It may take several weeks for search engines like Google to crawl and index your site, especially if it is brand new. You can read more about when to expect results in our Tracking your SEO Progress & Resources support article.
5. Marketing your Website
Once you have worked on your site’s metadata content, the hard and ongoing work begins: marketing your website (also known as off-site SEO). This is where a good SEO strategy will come into play. While we don’t have a dedicated department at PhotoShelter for SEO strategy, we do have some best practices to help you get started.
Work on getting backlinks
A backlink is a link on another site that leads to a page on your site. Generally speaking, search engine algorithms favor websites that are linked to by other reputable sites. Think of backlinks as a vote in your favor or an endorsement in the eyes of search engines.
The quality of your backlinks is more important than the quantity and some backlinks can happen organically as your website gains authority across the internet. Quality backlinks come from a credible website and have a high PageRank. Our resources article has suggested tools for tracking backlinks. Request backlinks to custom pages on your site, or to particular galleries or collections, since your homepage will usually have the most traffic on your site.
Here are a few suggestions on ways to get backlinks:
- Encourage clients with websites and/or social media profiles to link to your website and/or social profiles.
- Network and leverage any contacts you make while on a job. For instance, if you are a wedding photographer, you can network with the florist, the wedding venue, videographers, etc. and they can add you as a trusted partner on their website.
- Ask to guest blog or do an Instagram takeover for others who have established themselves in your target market.
- If you’re part of a social media group or forum containing your target audience, share your website or a link to your work.
- Add your links to your website in your social media profiles.
Start or update your blog
Having a blog and updating it regularly can be advantageous to your visibility online. Search engines crawl sites that are updated with a higher frequency more often than sites that are not updated frequently. Blogs update their content regularly with new posts so backlinking from your blog to your PhotoShelter website will help lend credibility to your PhotoShelter site. This credibility may result in a boost in your page rank (how high up you are in search results). You can also use your blog as a networking tool by linking to vendors who you have worked with in the past and they may return the favor organically.
Setting up a Google Business Profile
One great tool that you should consider setting up is a Google Business Profile. This tool provides you with helpful analytics about visitors and search queries used to find you, enabling you to make decisions that can enhance your local SEO.
Setting up a Google business profile is an easy process. When a potential client searches for your page, they will be able to see a synopsis of information you’ve filled out in your Google Business Profile on the right side of their search results page.
To get started, head over to google.com/business, select “Manage Now,” and follow the prompts to set up your profile. You have the option to add “Services, Products, sample Photos” and the ability to engage with reviews. You should always ask your clients to leave a review/testimonial. If you have a testimonial section on your website, we recommend adding those to your Google Business profile/description. It’s a good idea to ensure that any reviews, positive or negative, on your Google Business page have a reply from you. Google reviews can improve your search ranking and communicate trustworthiness to your potential clients.
Don’t forget to leverage your social media profiles to drive traffic to your website. Where possible, link to your website or pages on your website to which you want to bring higher traffic in your social media posts or profile. In PhotoShelter, be sure to add social follow icons to your site.
You can also use your social media to promote sales or coupon campaigns to reach your active audience in a medium used most frequently.
There are apps that will allow you to schedule posts to various social platforms. Hootsuite, a popular social scheduling app offers a free plan to get started. For additional suggested tools and resources, check out this article.
While this post isn’t an exhaustive list of best practices, it’s definitely a good place to start if you were having trouble with nailing down what you need to do to have your bases covered.
We also have an SEO Checklist you can use in our Support Center to help you through the process. Plus, check out our SEO best practices on-demand webinar for more practical tips and specifics. If you have questions you can reach out to our Support team at firstname.lastname@example.org.