As photographers in this digital day of ours, creating the perfect images is simply not enough to get by. To expand our client base, one of our highest priorities has to create a strong online presence.
This may seem daunting at first but put yourself in the shoes of our fellow photographers only 10 to 15 years ago. There was no internet, marketing required a lot more time, effort and physical networking and this all came at a much larger financial cost. To add to this, everything was film which increased the cost and all but eliminated the possibilities of doing “free” “marketing” or TFCD shoots to rapidly increase our portfolios and spread the word of our talents.
These days, with digital technology, those costs are a lot less but this does not mean that the digital era does not come with its own set of complications. The phrase “the paradox of technology” comes to mind here. Technology is here to make our lives easier and, in doing so, it ends up making it more difficult. With the ease we feel in the beginning, the amount of social networking, online galleries, and access to creating and maintaining our own websites, we soon realize that, as easy as it is to create this presence, it is just as easy for thousands of other photographers to create this presence, essentially making marketing ourselves a lot more difficult.
Please note that, writing this, I am no expert in SEO and am only sharing my experiences in marketing my fledgling website online. Whilst looking for quotations from various web designers (all way out of budget and all claiming to give you the best SEO), I decided to research this subject a little more and discovered, with a little relief, that SEO is not really something that someone can just “do” for you, then it’s “done”, it is an ongoing process that requires constant attention. It can also become an extremely complex process and it is highly recommended you do your research thoroughly before you embark upon setting up your online presence to ensure the basic structure for SEO and your online presence is in place.
SEO means search engine optimisation. It is the art of making your online presence more easily accessible to search engines such as Google and Bing.
In the beginning of my photography career, I would post albums upon albums on Facebook and was convinced that the work would flow in. When it didn’t I was somewhat disappointed and soon discovered 2 rather pertinent facts: Google does not search inside Facebook. If you type in a name, for example, into Google, it will give you a result of the person’s Facebook profile and that’s about it. It will not search further for any more information regarding that person. If you are a photographer in Johannesburg and someone types “Johannesburg photographer” into a Google search, it will never show the Facebook info in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Page). All the images you upload are instantly renamed with their own renaming protocols and are not discovered by a Google image search. The other pertinent fact I discovered was, if all my Facebook friends had not, by now, hired me for my services by now, the chances are slim they would ever hire me. For these reasons I had to drastically expand my online presence.
Let’s start with Google. Google’s search protocols are constantly changing and are kept strictly under lock and key but the good news is that there are good general guidelines in getting your website “up there” in a Google search result. A few things to keep in mind at all times when working on your SEO: Google’s search protocols, being extremely dynamic, are also becoming more and more intelligent. In the old days, Google used to look for keywords and “most popular” sites. Guys used to use tricks like programs that generated large quantities of hits on your site and make use of “keyword stuffing” to increase the “ranking” of their site. The technology used by Google these days prevent that from happening. These days, trying to “beat the system” is invariably going to hurt your rankings and definitely prevent you from getting your photography website from appearing in that coveted front page of Google SERPS. Another thing to remember at all times is to always put yourself in the shoes of the person who is searching for your services. Always ask yourself “What would I type into Google to search for me”? This is, in the long run, going to be invaluable to your future as a commercial photographer.
Remember at all times: The only way SEO is going to work for you is if you do it CONSISTENTLY, CONSTANTLY andCORRECTLY.
Having said all of that, we need to start somewhere and I can think of no better point than your website. This is the point that already strikes fear into people’s hearts. The common misconception is that one has to be adept at coding or Dreamweaver or an all out software engineer to create a website. If you are not very computer illiterate then I would suggest you hire someone to do this for you as if you attempt it on your own, without sufficient computer literacy, things can and will go wrong for you. There are, however, a large amount of free and pay sites, WordPress and Yola, for example, that will enable you to build a website without having to have a knowledge of coding. I am a massive fan of Yola as it is easy to use, there is a local help line, and they have built in structures for you to improve your SEO. What I also prefer about using one of these site builders is that, as learn more about SEO, you can apply the changes yourself and in doing so, you will know exactly where you are with your SEO and will also be reassured that it is done correctly.
Either way you chose to go, read absolutely everything that you find in this Search Engine Optimisation section first.
As I go along, adding sections on the relevant topics, you can adjust your own website accordingly.
Your first step is to create your website. As silly as this sounds, Google applies an ageing period to all new sites which means for the first 6 to 12 months, you are not really going to feature as your site does not have a Site Authority (more on this later). What you need to do is decide what site builder or web designer you want to use, get your domain registered and get your basic framework in place and get it published as soon as possible to begin this ageing process. You can populate it later.
Google uses approximately 100 criteria to “crawl” sites but for now focus on this list of some important criteria (don’t stress if you don’t understand it clearly yet, the items will be covered in later sections) in order of approximate importance and aimed at photographers specifically, that Google uses to rank a site:
- Keywords used in link text, both linking to your site and linking out your site. These links are not only important in quantity but also in the quality of the site linking to or from as well as how relevant the “anchor text” they are part of. This is covered in the Links Section
- Keywords used in the title of the individual web pages. This is covered in the Keywords Section. Please note: if you change the page title of the existing site, it will render the existing incoming links useless. Read section on “links” before changing it.
- Keywords in the heading and body of your web pages. This is covered in the Keywords Section.
- Web Pages that contain relevant text of at least 200 words. This is covered in the Keywords Section.
- Keywords in images and how to do it. This is covered in the Keywords Section.
- How often your site is updated. This is rather important as Google measures this frequency and uses it to measure how often it needs to crawl your site, e.g. a news site with a high authority is crawled a number of times a day. This is covered throughout and is vital.
- How fast you are at creating new links (in and out)
- How old the site is.
A few things to remember when setting up the structure:
- Don’t go too deep. Your “Home Page” is called the Root. After that you typically want to have your other pages, e.g. Studio Photography, Wedding Photography, etc. These are now sub sections. If you have, like I do, a Gear and Gadgets page it will have more sub sections, i.e. lens reviews, equipment reviews, which is another level down. Google does not like going lower than 3 levels as its “spiders” have a limited time on your website. Rather have as more pages in the first level with relevant text than have them at further down the levels.
- Make sure your “Title Pages” contain the primary keywords. I.e. Don’t have a page called “Studio” or “Studio Stuff” or “In The Light”. At best rather have the title “Studio Photography” which is a reasonable strong keyword set to use. This can be seen in the address bar when you navigate to the page, e.g. http://www.barendcraven.com/studio-photography.php Note here that Google recognised a hyphen as a space separating keywords and an underscore reads everything as one word (if you are coding the page, if you are using a site builder, it will put the hyphen in automatically.
- Make sure your headings also contain the relevant keywords. These are referred to as H1 and H2 and if not present, Google will chose the first words. Looking at the above link, you will see the words “Studio Photography” as opposed to “What I like to do on a rainy day” in the large grey block at the top of the page.
- Steer clear of fancy flash sites and content other than text or images (as a photographer) these visuals are not easily searched by Google. Google searches plain text and images. If someone is doing a specific search for a “flash” or “.pdf” item it will come up in the SERPS but will be “orphaned” i.e. clicking on the result will take you to the pdf or flv file only and not to your site. Remember also if you have to have downloadable .pdf’s for model releases etc, ensure that the text in the .pdf is not similar to the text in any other pages on your site as Google will mark it as suspect with dire consequences.
Remember at all times when setting this up and populating your site:
YOUR SITE MUST CONTAIN QUALITY AND USEFUL CONTENT THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ AND ACTION.
This cannot be repeated often enough. If your site looks amateurish or is hard to navigate, people will leave it straight away. No amount of SEO will help you. You want to change visitors to customers and only a quality site will lead them to complete a form or send an enquiry. Google also measure a “hit” on your site as opposed to a “visitor” (someone who “browses” your site)
Once your domain is registered and your site structure is setup and published, you are ready to populate it and we can move onto the next section, Keywords.