Search Engine Optimization (how to rank high in Search Engines results) is often confusing to photographers. SEO played a key role in PhotoDeck's history, so we've put together The Photographer's SEO Pyramid to help photographers focus their SEO efforts -- whether they are PhotoDeck members or not -- and debunk a few myths.
This is the first of 3 parts. We hate marketing books whose content could fit in one tenth of their actual length, so we've strived to keep The Photographer's SEO Pyramid concise and to the point.
A complete industry has grown around SEO, often full of hype and smokescreens, so it's easy to feel confused (it's in the industry's interest). SEO doesn't have to be complicated, and the fundamentals are actually fairly simple. Magic tricks are not required – but work is! So it should be a positive sign that most of what we'll cover is common sense.
From the bottom up: Search Engines and Me
The foundation of SEO is your marketing strategy. How do you attract clients to your website, and at what cost? There are multiple ways to promote one's business, and SEO is one among them: if repeat clients are the best clients, word-of-mouth referrals are probably the best lead generator. Targeted mailing lists, paid online or offline advertising, publicity stunts are other ways. All have their upside on one hand, and their cost on the other (and using several at the same time compounds their effect). SEO is no exception.
If you sell construction materials online, chances are that more traffic means more business. Few people browse the Home Depot website just for fun. But you're a photographer, and there is something radically different with a photographer's website: it's full of great images that are a pleasure to simply look at (or try to grab for free, depending). If you want to grow your business, you don't want any kind of visitors, you want potential clients – that's especially true for online stock archives. With this in mind, what role can SEO play in getting more potential clients to your website? Only you know.
When defining the role of SEO in your overall marketing strategy, and defining targets, be realistic. Getting the top spot in Google for the search “travel photos” is not impossible, but it would probably take years of focus and hard work. On the other hand, first-page rankings for “--insert your city name-- wedding photographer” is both highly desirable and attainable, depending on the amount and quality of the competition. Similarly, targeting a high rank for “energy stock photos” sounds like a thoughtful plan.
Does it look like having a focused and specialized business would make SEO easier? It certainly should! In fact, you will notice that if you have a focused business plan, SEO will require little additional work over what you would do anyway.
Note that SEO is a long-term endeavor. It takes several months for SEO changes to pay off, especially for websites on new domains. As we will see later, it all has to do with trust. Our advice? Setup and use your own domain name as early as possible!
My keywordsOnce you're clear with what you want to achieve with SEO, the first concrete step is to define what search terms (keywords) you want to target. “Oxford wedding photographer” is not the same as “Oxford professional wedding photographer” -- likewise, “Oxford images” and “Oxford stock photos” are different. And you cannot optimize for everything at the same time, so you have to choose your keywords carefully.
You can have several layers of keywords: for your whole website, and for individual galleries or pages. They must reinforce each-other and be semantically linked, though. If you have different content for different, unrelated keywords, consider setting up different websites!
Your keyword choice is impacted by two main factors: how often people search for them, and the competition. For example, “New york photos” is searched for a lot, but the competition for these keywords is also tough, so it will be difficult to rank high. On the other hand, “stock photos of dried fruits” isn't searched for often (!), but there is virtually no competition either.
Searching in Google for your keywords will give you a good indication of the competition. If you want to go deeper, Google Adwords' keyword tool is great to refine your choice (and get new keyword ideas). Its purpose is to help online advertisers select keywords to bid on for paid search results, but it provides insights into search volumes and competitiveness, that are useful also for SEO purposes.
To be continued next week...