SEO Is Not Just For Wedding Photographers Anymore

- - Websites

I know that for a wedding photographer or a local portrait photographer, SEO (Search engine optimization) may be one of the most important things for their business after the images. What could be more simple for a potential client than typing city and state plus the word photographer in google? I’d never given it much thought for editorial and commercial photographers because there are better ways to find those people and the results google used to spit out were never that great. Well, I think times are changing and when I see Dan Winters buying keywords (here) I know they’ve changed quite a bit (several years ago he didn’t even have a website).

I think about SEO a great deal now, because I build websites for a living, but the thing that struck me the other day was how many times in the past I’ve typed into google the name of an advertising campaign or a story in a magazine that I saw somewhere but forgot who shot it and never, ever, found what I was looking for. This will and probably has already changed as a new generation of photographers blog about their shoots and those of us blogging about the industry in general report who shot what for whom. There are other reasons photographers want good search results of course but the amount of times I’ve tried and failed to find someone this way seems like a good reason for everyone to think about it.

Anyway, now I’m business partners with Erik Dungan, someone who’s spent many years helping wedding photographers improve their search results and building websites that are SEO friendly, so I thought I’d ask him some questions about it.

Can you tell me the biggest SEO myths and how they came about?

The biggest myths tend to be outdated information from the web 1.0 (or earlier) days. For some reason, this bad information keeps circulating into the hands of new photographers every year–like a bad email forward.

The biggest myth is definitely that meta tags provide any meaningful impact on your search engine rankings. People learned long ago that it was easy to game the system with meta keywords. Search engines haven’t given the keywords any significant weight for a few years now. The meta description affects how your result is displayed–but it too has little (or no) weight on your position.

Second (especially for photographers) is that Flash-based websites can’t be optimized well. If you embed your Flash correctly, provide alternate content, and use links appropriately, Flash sites can be optimized just fine. I’ve done it for several sites. Adobe’s recent announcement could make things even better–but even now, getting a Flash photography site on page 1 is possible.

I’ll throw in another myth regarding searching behavior. For some reason, photographers often worry about how their site ranks when searching for their name. Trust me, if a potential client knows of you by name, they won’t have a problem finding your website. Worry about your market and areas of expertise. Optimize for those searches, provide appropriate content, and the long tail of search terms will fall into place.

I’ve always thought of SEO as stuff you do to the code of your site, programmer stuff. Are there really things photographers can do on their own without mucking about in the code?

Definitely. One of the biggest is blogging. Good blogs naturally use layouts, page elements, links, and URLs that search engines love. Setup a blog and make sure you have links between it and your site’s home page. Then, blog at least once a week about the jobs and projects you’re working on. Search engines love content, so make sure you’re blogging about photography. People love tutorials and behind-the-scenes stuff. Regularly blogging about photography builds appropriate content and improves the chances of getting quality inbound links. Who cares if no humans read your blog. The search engine benefits alone are worth it.

Also, many websites include a CMS of some sort, allowing you to adjust elements of the site without getting your hands in the code. For example, your browser title is an important ranking factor and many control panels let you adjust that.

On the other hand, I always encourage photographers to be brave and get into the HTML code for simple things. It’s not for everyone, but c’mon–if you can calculate exposure values in your head, I hope you can edit a TITLE tag without doing any major damage.

And what about in the code. What should photographers make sure their website designers have done?

Related to my above point, the more you can control aspects of your site (via a CMS or control panel), the better. That goes for SEO changes or simply keeping your site fresh with new images. The days of having a developer build a site from scratch and having to call/email him for every minuscule update are over.

If you’re building a Flash site, there are some additional questions to ask. You want to make sure your Flash is embedded properly–using OBJECT/EMBED tags is not ideal for SEO. You want to make sure your Flash content is embedded with JavaScript and that it’s mirrored as HTML content in one way or another. If this paragraph doesn’t make sense to your web designer, it’s time to find a new one :)

I’ve heard a few pitches from SEO companies where they’re basically saying they can game google or that they work closely with google. Is this a scam?

I’m hesitant to call anyone a “scam” without hearing the pitch, but I’m leery of most SEO pitches–especially if they’re cold-calling you. Be skeptical of any monthly subscription offer. Any of the following pitches should also throw up red flags:
“we will guarantee you #1 ranking or Y amount of traffic” (no one can make guarantees like that)
“we have a partnership with Google/Yahoo! and we can put you at position X” (I’ve heard this one myself … organic searches don’t work this way and its easy enough to do your own ad campaigns)
“we will submit your site to all the major search engines for $x per month” (since that’s not necessary anymore, it’s not something I’d want to pay for … especially monthly)

There are more, but in the end … real SEO pros don’t seek you out–you seek them out.

Ok, give me you best tips for getting higher and better search results.

Ok, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll toss out 10 tips that will help photographers here rank higher. I wont go into too much detail, but I’ll keep an eye on the comments and try answer any questions people may have. You can also find more info just by searching around.

Establish a baseline

1. Make sure you have web stats installed on your site and your blog (Google Analytics or Mint)
2. Install the Rank Checker plugin for firefox. Plug in any keywords or phrases that are important to you and see where you rank now. Check it every 1-3 weeks and add new phrases as you see them in your stats.

Blogging

3. Set up a blog (WordPress if you want it on your own site; SquareSpace, TypePad, or WordPress.com if you want a hosted version) and start blogging once a week.
4. Make sure your blog links to your site’s home page and vice versa.
5. Collaborate with 3 industry peers. Link to their site and/or blog (on your blog’s sidebar) and ask them to do the same. NOTE: I don’t advocate huge, convoluted link-trading schemes. I’m talking about peers that you actually know and work with.
6. Submit your blog to Google Blog Search and Technorati. You only have to do this once and some blog systems will do it automatically.

Site updates

7. Edit your browser title, making sure that it contains at least 2 keywords/phrases that are important to you. This is easily the biggest “bang for your buck” update that you can make.
8. Update your About/Bio page. Don’t just write about how you fell in love with photography after your dad gave you his old Rollei. Write about what you do, where you do it, your specialties, and past clients.

Local search

9. Submit your business to Google’s Local. It takes a few weeks to get in there, but it’s worth it.

Inbound links

10. This tip is a bit general (and related to #5), but inbound links (links to your site from other sites) are crucial for SEO. Contact peers, mentors, agencies, editors, clients, or local publications that you have worked with and have a good reputation. The goal is to get a link to your site. It could be from a “recommended photographers” page, a blog post, or just a simple credit/byline. When it comes to local publications, be creative–offer to write a how-to article or take some headshots.

There Are 53 Comments On This Article.

  1. really great info. I love getting this kind of info esp right now since i’m doing a big update soon. On a side note do you checkout danwinter.com someones in trouble.

  2. Thanks you for opening up this topic. I have just begun to research seo and there are so many myths out there. thanks for some real dope. I have been finding a strange lack of interest in this topic among fellow editorial shooters. You would think people would want to be found out there.

  3. I just checked the Dan Winters link to google. It is good to know Dan Winters Photo is not the same Dan Winters who is a fugitive con man. I hate when that happens.

  4. Thanks for the insight, it’s easy to take what you read on the net for granted. For example I thought meta tags played a significant role in SEO but they don’t and now I know that.

    Submitting to google’s local is a great Idea, I did so last year and now I can be found on google maps alongside local photographers which is good because I’m only a student.

  5. Excellent points and Erik has certainly been on top of this for some time. SEO is an important part of any marketing plan and mix. As a wedding photographer and also a seller of websites I have been following SEO closely for a while, Erik hit it on the head with this tip list!

    I would also suggest that things take time, so be consistent with what you are doing to raise your organic ranking. SEO should be a small part of an overall marketing plan for photographers though…take care of those who can refer you first and use your new seo info to get new leads through the door! Thx Rob and Erik

  6. What’s interesting is that the “old school” or old school thinking photographers dump a ton of money into offline directories, source books, etc.

    An established art director is probably going to have a decent list of photographers so they are less prone to consult an off line directory. Younger, newer people who hire talent are MUCH more likely to hit goggle. This is only going to happen more as time goes on.

    There are a few photographers in Phoenix who have great work, but I can’t even find ‘em on google.

    On the flip side there’s me, starting out having no money to spend on advertising I leveraged flickr and blogs and now google very well for the Phoenix Arizona market.

    I get calls every week from people needing PR or editorial work in phoenix because many of my prospective clients are in NY or elsewhere. I always ask, “how did you find me”.. they say google! (or flickr, which they click through to google)

    Sure others may be just as qualified as me, however if my work stacks up and theirs is nowhere to be found on “the goggle” who do you think gets the job (or a chance on the job)?

    ~Adam / AcmePhoto (on twitter, flickr, etc)

  7. This information is really great and appreciated. I love getting this kind of information especially right now since I am doing a lot of research in the same area and soon going to update you all on that. Just keep updating the visitors the same way with such useful and important information.

  8. @Teddy

    The ALT property used in the image tag and the actual file name are key things to consider. So, say you had a headshot of Miley Cyrus and you wanted it to come up when people did image searches. You might display that image in your HTML like this:

    Beyond that, the surrounding content of your site will also influence the rankings of image searches.

  9. Also, I can’t stress what J Sandifer said (#8) enough and I should have mentioned it in the interview.

    SEO is a marathon–not a sprint. I see a lot of photographers expecting instant results and getting disappointed when they they don’t happen.

    You should expect to wait at least a week or two before Google will re-crawl your site and cache updated content. Beyond that, it still takes time for rankings to build as the engines find new links and content. I’ve seen things happen fast–but that should be considered the exception, not the rule.

  10. FYI, if you’ve not been called by the “we can get you top notch rankings on google”… bla bla blah… “SEO” scammers I have conveniently recorded a phone call so you can listen to the absurd things they say.

    Like, “we have the back door keys to google”

    A direct quote
    “Our technicians have been given the back door key (which is a mathematical equation) to google” (1 min into the recording)

    Net Opt Technologies http://www.netopttechnologies.com/ claimed this.

    Listen here:
    http://twixxer.com/xe

    Also “the new keys come out every few weeks ) at about 7 min’s in.

    ~AcmePhoto

    PS: The call is 20 min long, so do some editing while you listen. Google the searc terms I said, @ the end the guy is claiming to not see my site, but instead is reading off 8-10 names from the google map.

  11. Have any NY based editorial photographers actually received work through google? Aside from the very occasional corporate stumble I just can’t see it mattering if the client has never heard of your prior to googling “ny based portrait photographer…”

    Rob’s comment about archiving your campaigns for future searches is really smart though – I have definitely tried to find out “who shot what” and failed more often than not.

  12. Regarding your point #3 on blogging, you don’t mention Blogspot for blogging. What do you think of it and why didn’t it make your list? I’m curious because I’ve been using Blogspot and did so on purpose because it is already part of the Google “empire”, plus I’m not hyper technical and the others seemed more complicated to set up.

  13. @Marlene

    Blogger is definitely quick and easy to set up and use, and the FTP publishing option is a plus. However, I think most Blogger blogs lack in having that “professional” look. The blogger bar at the top is especially annoying (although it can be removed with some CSS trickery). In terms of hosted blogs, I would put Blogger 4th behind SquareSpace, TypePad, and WordPress.com. Of course, 2 of those aren’t free so I guess I’d put Blogger as my 2nd free+hosted option.

  14. I am fairly sure that the poster site paid for Dan’s ad – I would guess they do it for all of the posters they carry. I don’t think this example helps your point.

  15. Thanks for the information. I’m going to follow your recommendations. It’s a slow and steady process for us old-schoolers to get up to speed in leveraging the web for marketing. I grew up on cold calls and face-to-face meetings.

  16. This is great advice. Before I used some of your tips I would google myself and business, and I couldn’t find anything. The problem is that there are like 40 billion people with my name and worse other photographers. Now I come up on google in the top using Scott Shepard Photography. My blog is starting to reach the ranks as well and it is brand new.
    Thank you for your commitment to this community. You have been a great asset for us all.

    P.S. You are spot on about website services like Livebooks. I like what you are doing with your company. I think you have set the bar higher. Too bad it went live after I had finished my site with Livebooks.

    Best Regards,
    Scott Shepard

  17. Tip #11

    Sign up for http://www.google.com/webmasters
    It’ll track the terms that your webiste is googling well for and rank them. It archives them, so you can click “2 weeks” or 2 months ago and see if you are higher or lower for the term.

    Also it counts the inbound links as well as the terms used in the hot link to your site.

    Simple and free.

  18. @19
    i think youre right. i do the web-shizzle for my company & am in knee deep in SEO stuff. the only paid links in the dan winters example on the google search are those on the right-hand side of the page for the poster site.

    but then again, i only see the ad words “sponsored links” in FF and not IE so maybe there’s a browser issue at play.

  19. Great post, i can’t even tell you how much your blogs are helping all of us make our businesses stronger at a time when the market is so saturated and the economy is failing. Thanks!

  20. Adam @ #9.

    ” An established art director is probably going to have a decent list of photographers so they are less prone to consult an off line directory. Younger, newer people who hire talent are MUCH more likely to hit goggle. ”

    As Rob as pointed out before, the AD and PE’s at high and medium level agencies and magazines receive hundreds of direct mail and email blast per month. Their stable of choices are packed. Then’s there are the online portals live Workbook, Photoserve, ASMP Find a Photographer, etc. at their disposal.

    Mike @ 16 is right. They rarely need to use search engines to find talent. Having a site that is SEO certainly helps, but I really think a majority of clients using Google, Yahoo, whatever will be lower end clients.

    Best…Stan

  21. This is in regards to post #23
    I just reread my post and it isn’t clear. I should have made those separate points . When I said “ your spot on about website services” I was referring to the advice that people like Rob Haggart and Leslie Burns gave out about looking toward the buyers needs and functions. The advice, about what a good website has for features and usability, was the “spot on part”.

    Stan @27
    I think you have overlooked the fact that many people now use their phones to google for a contact number. An art director may remember my name but not have my comp with him. What can he do? He can google me. Try scrooling through 10+ pages of names to find someone you had expected to be on or near the top of the list.

    Regards,
    Scott

  22. @29 Robert Benson

    Nice blog setup and very cool images. If you don’t mind, I’d like to offer up a couple small suggestions that would improve your blog’s effectiveness in terms of SEO (and help the other readers) …

    1. You definitely want to change the permalink structure in WordPress. Right now, you’ll see that all permalinks are of the format ?p=123 in the URL. Search engines give weight to the URLs of your site–when they have keywords, it can improve your rankings.

    In WordPress, you can change this under Settings->Permalinks. “Day and Name” or “Month and Name” are the best options IMO.

    2. I would try and write slightly more descriptive/keyword-laden post titles. Post titles are in H2 tags–these headings are often deemed important by search engines. Therefore, if you can get some keywords in there, it helps.

    For example, your post about the Inc. mag cover is titled “Inc Magazine Portrait”. I’d consider expanding it to something like “Inc Magazine September 2008 Portrait: Aaron Hall of San Diego’s Borrego Solar Systems” … that might not be perfect, but you get the idea.

    Other than that, the blog is looking great. Nice work.

  23. Excellent post with lots of useful information. Blogging certainly works. I went from not being on the first page in Google about a year ago, to being most of the results on the first page currently – and it’s amusing to go through stats to see the searches which people use to come to my page or my blog.

    And in regards to tip #9 on Google Local: after completing the form etc, I got a confirmation call within 30 seconds and I could be found on Googlemaps a few minutes later. Quite useful that.

    Mike

  24. Just to be very clear, Regarding my post # 23

    I could not be any more pleased with my choice to have LiveBooks create and host my professional photography website. Their customer service is the best that I have encountered. The site works fast and the images load big and look great. The back end suite makes it easy for anyone to be able to constantly update and provide fresh content for their target market. They will soon offer browser redirect for the Iphone and such. Please don’t listen to anyone that tells you a Livebook site is not SEO friendly. I personaly placed Google Analytics tracking code in my site, using the online edit suite. Google has index my site and can even index your images if you want. Again as easy as selecting that option in the edit suite. Not to mention the second html site that gets built and rebuilt every time you update your site.
    For anyone that thinks I am shilling, your nuts. I paid my money like anyone else. I did receive a great discount through ASMP, and you can too if your a member.
    Rest Regards,
    Scott Shepard
    http://www.scottshepardphotography.com http://www.scottshepardphotography.blogspot.com

  25. As a manager for a large industry leading website… you advice on SEO is spot on! Those are some great ideas… especially about blogs. Google just LOVES blog. Content is King.

    Now as a web guy… I do have to say… this post breaks your site in IE. I’d normally wouldnt be viewing your site in IE, but my Feedreader uses IE as a base for internal browsing. I verified that in at least IE7 it is broken. The line I believe in question that causes problem is:

    you can calculate exposure values in your head, I hope you can edit a

    I’m guessing you were trying to use an example of a “a href”??? in IE… the individual post ends right there… and viewing your frontpage you get all the posts up to this one, and the site ends. (and you sidebars never load)

    You should use the CODE tag for pumping out straight code in WP without it trying to run the code.

  26. Just this week I landed a job simply because a photo editor found me through Google.

    In many ways I agreed with Stan or poster #29 that I thought of people using Google to find photographers as more low-paying clients.

    The client that found me though works at a 1 million circulation magazine in Australia and has me shooting an editorial package on a high-profile visitor to the states.

    Lesson learned.

    SEO is a valuable tool for photographers.

  27. Yea I agree I delete any bad or misspelled comments from my posts, it amazes me how many people who do not write in good english. To improve grammer I would reccommend some college level english classes!This is the link directory where you can submit the URL to your homepage. Powered by AwebLink Directory.
    http://www.aweblink.net

  28. Excellent, must reading! One of the most rational and accurate post I have come across.

    I would only add that the best way to max the benefit from blog is to merge the blog content manager with the typical flash site. (A link alone between the two really does not provide much.) We have a blogsite themplate that will replace the splash and info parts of a flash site and dramatically improve SEO. Also having all of your content (images, info and blog) on one URL enhances the photographer’s brand.

    -Marc
    http://www.prophotoblogsite.com

    ps – We currently have a cross platform upgrade offer for current flash site owners
    Just enter UPGRADE at check out and save $99.
    http://www.thinklikeabride.com/theagency/kertesz/purchase/

  29. Hi, SEO photographer’s website is quite hard to deal with because photographers takes photos only. They don’t really know how to write or never wrote too much because they want to keep your focus on their pictures.

    I always suggest photosgraphers to wrote something, build a blog and write so I can optimise around their contents and build more key phrases. I even told my client (who is photographer) to just let me know the info of the image and I create text content for him. That generate more enquiries but make the website more text in stead of photos. Hell, guess what, he don’t like that much of text and want me to remove it. Nevermind because he paid for it.

  30. A great article, and thank you for sharing this information. It’s good to know that we don’t have to fall prey to some of those unscrupulous and often fake SEO people that keep cold-calling me!

    Thanks

    Nigel Merrick
    Merrick Photography

  31. Simply explained and hits the nail right on the head for me. I’m a Milton Keynes based Wedding Photographer (UK) and this has been the most informative post i’ve read on a subject still mysterious to me. Thank you so much.