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Tips & Tricks

‘Understanding SEO (That Search Thing) A Basic Starting Point for Photographers

By Pye Jirsa on August 23rd 2009


For this entry, we asked our Photography SEO expert and friend, Zach Prez, author of Photographers SEO Book to share some insights on how to get started on SEO in the photography industry. Enjoy!

Search engine optimization can provide your website a constant stream of new photography clients. SEO for short, has been my home for many years, as I’ve helped many photographers improve the search engine ranks of their websites. This first post starts very general for beginners with simple background. I’ll explain a little about SEO, the two basic techniques (Yes, just 2 ¦ I told you I would make it simple), how search can help your business, and how to get started. Feel free to ask specific or more advanced questions at the SEO Q&A web page or check back for future posts.

SEO Defined: Search Engine Optimization is the process to improve your sites ranking and placement on popular search engines. SEO involves making minor adjustments to your website in an effort to appear higher in search engine results. I’m talking about the non-paid, sometimes called organic, links that appear down the middle of the search results page. The paid sponsored links that sometimes appear at the very top or right side of search results is a different subject called SEM (Search Engine Marketing or Google Ad Words). I use “search engines  and Google interchangeably. Google captures over 60% of the US searches, and if your site ranks high in Google it also typically rank high in the other major search engines. Do yourself a favor and focus solely on your rank in Google. To get there, learn a little bit about how it works.

The Starting Point of SEO: The Two Primary Components

Google’â„¢s ranking process uses an algorithm that is extremely complex and in many areas completely secret. Furthermore, it is always changing. But, the fundamental principles are commonly known. Two basic SEO techniques take advantage of these principles are 1) text on the page and 2) links to the page.

1) Text on the Page – Keywording Page Content

The goal of keywordingyour page content is to match your page text to what Google users might type into a search.Google returns the best results by looking at what a user typed into search, then finding web pages that use those same words. If you are a San Diego based commercial photographer, then placing the keyword term “San Diego Commercial Photographer” throughout your site content is key to being recognized as such by search engines. Google looks for words from the search phrase in a number of places on the web page including:

  • The URL of your site (domain name)
  • Your site title, description, and keywords (meta data)
  • The text words on your site

So, now we know that when a user searches for something like “San Diego Commercial Photographer,  Google looks for web pages with that specific keyword content. This keyword comparison makes up the minority portion of the search engine ranking process. However, developing the appropriate keywords within your content should be the first thing you approach when optimizing your site for search engines.

2) Building Backlinks – Quality Links From Other Sites to Your Page

The ranking portion of Google’s process looks at the links (commonly referred to as “backlinks”) coming into your page from other websites. Google ranks sites higher that have lots of links pointing to it, since it figures that sites that have lots of external references must be of higher importance and value than those that don’t. Some factors that go into how well your site ranks include:

  • The number of websites linking to your site
  • The popularity and importance (otherwise known as Page Rank or PR) of the websites linking to your site
  • The link text used in the link anchor tag itself

Building quality inbound links is defintely the more difficult and time consuming portion of our two basic steps to SEO. A few link ideas to help you get started include getting listed on partner websites, local websites, directories, etc.

Advanced Techniques – The Social Media Photographer

The above is plenty for the average photography business, but by no means comprehensive or in depth. To give you an idea of a more ideal and complex search optimization strategy, take this social media illustration.

Add a blog and forum to your website, as well as Twitter page where you can promote and invite others to join, comment, and contribute. Interlink your sites appropriately in addition to writing articles or blogs for others websites (that link back to yours). Put buttons on your pages that make it easy for users to share and save your pages via social media bookmarking sites such as Digg, Stumble Upon, Delicious and more. Post your well-tagged photos and videos to multiple sources. Assuming you did the right keyword research ahead of time, all of these activities create web pages with many different content types that are rich in keywords and lots of backlinks – all the things that search engines love.

The Time Commitment

Before you get heavily into improving your sites SEO, it is important to go into it with the right expectations. SEO is a long process and in the best of circumstances can take anywhere from 12-18 months to begin yielding solid results if your industry is already full of online competitors (which photography is). In addition, if you want to yield results in a 12-18 month period, expect to spend a good month preparing your website content, and around 10-20 hours each week thereafter doing activities to seek out quality inbound links. Obviously, the amount of time that you put into this area will directly impact the amount of time it will take you to get onto Google’s first page of organic search results for your respective keyword.

Because SEO is such a time consuming process, this area of the business is often outsources to companies that specialize in this area. However, regardless of what you hear, never believe anyone telling you they can “Guarantee your site on the first page of Google’s organic search results within 6 months.” Any SEO professional will tell you that they can never gaurantee a specific deadline or time when your site will appear in the first page of organic search results. In fact, many keywords are nigh impossible to obtain a high enough search engine ranking to appear on Google’s first page of organic search results. It all depends on the industry, and how competitive are your targetted keywords. In general, the more broad your search term, the more difficult it will be to capture a high search ranking.

Benefits for Your Photography Business

The very first search result gets 25% of the clicks! Search is such a competitive space that I would not expect any measure of search engine referrals without a top 10 Google rank. There are too many sites to rank in the top 10 without effort, so at least a minimal amount of optimization is mandatory if you expect users to find you, because they certainly aren’t picking up the yellow pages! Optimize your photography website once for search engines, and expect to spend time maintaining your search engine position for a long time. Imagine the value of promotion the first page of Google search results provides. Tens, if not hundreds or thousands of searchers are exposed to those free listings. Consider what your competition pays for banner ads, paid ads, or event booths. True, these can have ROI, but rarely do they offer the residual client stream that a high search rank will continue to provide. Your website link will appear long after you have completed the search engine optimization process – free advertising. Consider how much time, effort, and money you’ve invested in your website. Don’t let it become a billboard in the dessert. Invest a percentage of your time or budget toward website promotion so that your beautiful website can be found. In my case, I spend about 10 times more energy promoting my website than on the site itself. Many times you win a new client from the promotion alone (or search result title, as it were).

Get Started with SEO The best thing you can do is start simple, check your results, then build from there. Focus on developing one important phrase that you want to be found for in search engines, then experiment with some of the basic optimization techniques to see if you can improve your rank for that phrase. For example, use that phrase in text on your homepage and then after a week or two see if it made an impact on your Google rank. Then begin building quality links back to your site and check again to see what impact that has made. In some cases you may have a photography niche or a location that does not have a lot of searchcompetition and your optimization efforts will quickly be fulfilled. Sometimes phrases too competitive to rank for and you may have to settle for something more unique, or in a less populated location.

If you’re looking for additional information, you can check out Photographers SEO Book. It provides a simple formula for finding your key phrase, an optimized splash page text example, plus a list of places where photographers can get free links – everything you need to get started without a heavy investment.

Good luck and if you have any comments or additional ideas, please list them below!


Written by Zach Prez, author of Photographers SEO Book

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

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