The on going challenge of any small business is to attract new customers. A good discoverable web site is a key element in that process. With the rise of social media and The-One-Social-Network-To-Rule-Them-All (i.e. Facebook) many of us started to ignore SEO. After all, Facebook would drive enough traffic as long as we shared our content. That is no longer the case.
SEO has once again become important for many photographers as Facebook continues to decline, shed users, and generally hide content shared by business pages.
SEO for Photographers
The primary challenge facing photographers is creating content that Google (and if you are weird, Bing) will show to users looking for your service. Content is king and SEO is about making sure search engines understand what your content is about. “Aboutness” is tough for computers so we have to help them along.
Search engines are much more sophisticated today than they used to be. Just repeating a key phrase will no longer gain you rank. Appropriate repetition is one element, but there are many others.
Today, search engines are way smarter (scarily so a lot of the time), but we can still optimize our sites for them in an honest way. Today, legitimate SEO is about making sure your site has:
- Well written content with a clear topic (to the search engine and reader),
- Is structured in a way Google and other search engines can understand,
- Has auxiliary meta data to give search engines hints and that are honest,
- Is accessible to everyone including from any device and for those with visual impairments, and
- Is published regularly on a consistent schedule.
Start with Your Customers
The audience for this photo education blog is very different than for our commercial photography or wedding photography businesses. This blog is actually way easier for me to write. I tell people how to make pictures, and sometimes wax philosophical about photography as an art. It’s something I enjoy and it comes fairly naturally.
The writing for each of our blogs is distinct. I have to guess what my customers might want and write about it. For this blog, it’s easy. I’m a photographer and I teach. Just about every teaching interaction leaves me with a list of blogs I need to write.
Wedding photography is the other extreme for me. I love photographing a good wedding. It’s amazing. Writing about it later? Not so much.
Regardless, I need to write for my audience, mostly newly engaged women. If you are looking for the secret to that, I don’t have it. What I do think I know is that personality plays a lot into who they will pick and that they are looking to see themselves in the photos they like. I try to write blog posts that convey our personality and let our photography speak for itself.
The struggle is real. After a couple hundred weddings, that is tough. There are only so many ways you can say “the bride was beautiful, the groom handsome and they lived happily ever after.”
Attract Photography Customers via Google
To complicate that process, you need to attract your customers in a crowded market. The more crowded the market, the more common businesses are offering a service, the tougher it is to get to the top and be noticed.
There is really no magic to SEO. It just takes long term consistent work. There is no silver bullet, no technical spell you can chant while dancing around your computer. And there is no company you can pay and instantly be on the first page of google for any given search. Anyone selling you instant results is a liar. Sorry…
Be Specific and Be Local
Search is personal. Google uses the user’s past search history (and what they clicked on) and their location to order search results. They probably use other things too, but we can only guess. Knowing that actually helps you focus your efforts.
Your business should have a real address, even if you work out of your home and never meet customers there. Google typically shows people the most local results first.
Beyond that, be specific. If you are blogging a wedding for example, talk specifically about the exact venue, the city it is in and other details. Those details may be what leads people to your page.
Write to a Search
What do I mean? When you sit down to write a blog post as a photographer, know what people will (hypothetically) search for to find it. This is your key phrase. In a way, it becomes your topic (or should be tightly linked to it).
If you find yourself not writing about you key phrase, you might need to either revise the post, or change the key phrase. In the end, the blog post should be a good well written answer to the question you key phrase poses.
Content is King
Google succeeds as a business when a user searches for something and then finds what they want. That is their mission. Knowing that Google’s business success is tied to showing users what they want, your goal as a content creator should be to create content people want to find more than other similar content. That may seem circular, but it isn’t. Let’s break it down.
The phrase “content people want” seems self explanatory. How about an example? People love kittens so you write a blog post about kittens with lots of pictures.
DONE! You will rule Google!
Not so fast. The other part of my statement was “more than other similar content.” The web-site-full-of-cute-kittens market is pretty saturated. In the end, you are competing for rank against other similar content. To have any chance of getting to the top, your content must be more interesting than the competition. It must also start to gain a reputation. It’s hard to do that with just a single blog post.
Consistency is Queen
While content is king, being consistent is equally important in the long run. To torture the metaphor, without the queen, their is no heir and the line dies.
Consistently publishing content about related topics is another way to indicate “aboutness” to a search engine. Google considers things an article links and is linked by in search placement. Beyond that, it’s a numbers game. Each and every blog post about some variant of, for example, “Austin Weddings”, is one more a bride might find.
You might be successful 1 out of 10 blog posts. If you publish once a week, you will have 5 highly discoverable posts and 42 less well performing posts. That is 400% more than if you publish once a month, which means 400% more visitors, and 400% more inquiries.
Beyond that, search engines seem to reward sites that consistently publish new material. Consistently means on a regular schedule, whether it is weekly on Mondays at 8AM, or Monthly on the 1st and 15th at 3PM. Pick a schedule and treat it as a real thing. And, write consistently about related things. You can have more than one thread, but make sure you have threads, not isolated blog posts.
Google rewards sites that help it succeed. That means, if people come to your site and stay, Google will reward you. Like wise, if they click on your site and then immediately return to the search and go somewhere else, Google will punish you.
Beyond writing good content, you have to make sure your content is readable. That might sound simple, but in a world of almost infinite types of devices from large computer screens to connected watches, it can be tough. You have no idea what type of screen your users will be viewing your site from.
Responsive design is suppose to address this, and if used right it can. In WordPress, you establish the overall design of your site by selecting a theme. Picking the right theme will get you 95% of the way there. My personal favorites are all from Studio Press, the creators of the Genesis framework.
Close the Loop – Google Search Console
Working without feedback is difficult. If search is personal, how do you know what experience your audience is having? How often are they finding you, and through what search? What percentage of them are clicking through to your site?
That is where Google Search Console comes in (Bing has one as well. Just google it. 🙂 ). Once activated, it will give you detailed information about search results you appeared in, your ranking, and how many clicks those impression generated. As with anything, look for trends. What content is doing well and how is it being discovered? What content is not being discovered? In both cases, adapt in future content.
Speed matters, and it matters on mobile devices more than other places. If a visitor bails out of your site back to google, you get punished. One way to make that happen is to have a site that takes more than 3 or 4 seconds to load on their device.
Ideally, most pages on your site should load in under 2 seconds. To accomplish that you need fast hosting, but that is a big topic for another time. There are a lot of things you can change on your site and in your content to speed things up without shifting hosting companies.
The first step is to evaluate why your site is slow. I normally look at GTMetrix. They analyze a URL and provide feedback. Take their suggestions seriously. The Waterfall analysis can be particularly useful if things seem to “stall” during load. Often one resources is causing a lot of problems, and just as often, that resource comes from a plugin or other optional feature you can disable.
Optimizing the speed of a WordPress site is a complex topic, but here are a few quick wins:
- Use a caching plugin to enable caching. I use WP Fastest Cache Premium because it “fixes” most of the caching complaints via one plugin, but there are many other options.
- Insert the correct size images in your blog posts and pages. I upload 2000px images, but insert “large” which on my template is the right size. That way I have a bigger version if I need it in the future, but don’t slow things down serving the larger image.
- Focus on the main pages people will land on, such as your home page. If you only have one really FAST page, make it your home page.
Wrapping Up: SEO for Photographers
SEO is an infinite game. There is no finish line. Luckily, once you establish the habits, it isn’t to bad. Many of the issues, like site speed, respond well to a continuous-improvement approach. Once a month, work to improve a given metric, say page load speed. Spend an hour or two on it and then walk away.
Likewise, work to make each blog post as good as possible and don’t obsess over pasts posts. Learn from the past and just do better each time.
And of course, find tools to help you. I, like most people, use Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. It does some nuts-and-bolts stuff under the hood to improve your sites search engine friendliness. More importantly however, it provides real time analysis of your content as you create it. Work to get two “green lights” (SEO and Readability) from Yoast, but don’t obsess over it’s suggestions. It’s suppose to aid in creating good content not get in the way.
If there is one thing you should take away from this blog post it is this: be consistent. Publish often and work to make each post as useful as possible to your audience. If you do that, you will start to rise to the top of the results before long.
Andrew is a photography instructor teaching students of all skill levels in Austin, TX through Precision Camera and independently in San Diego, CA. He runs workshops around the United States.
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.
Andrew is a full time wedding and commercial photographer in both Austin and San Diego. Andrew is a club founder and multi-time past president of North Austin Pfotographic Society.