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.
This is the last of three installments: in part I, we addressed the foundation of the Photographer's SEO Pyramid: "Search Engines and Me" covered the strategy, "My Keywords" explained the importance of planning for specific keywords. Part II was about "the meat" and what you should spend most time on.
Today, we cover the tip of the pyramid.
On-Page OptimizationBack in the early days of SEO, when search engines were not that sophisticated, properly using specific HTML tags on your website would go a long way in helping one's rankings. Search Engines didn't have the means they have today to analyze a page's relevancy and usefulness to visitors (remember: love your visitors – and Search Engines will love you back.)
But Search Engines still have a lot of room for improvement, and although our view is that it is of decreasing importance, getting a few details right will still help your SEO efforts: there are few HTML tags (included in the code of your pages) you should know about. This is where things get technical – consult with your designer if you are not familiar with HTML!
The Title tag
The Title tag, in HTML parlance, denotes the title for your page. It is displayed in the browser bar (not on the page itself), and it is the text that Search Engines display in search results when linking to a page.
The Title tag is still very important, and should include your keywords. As it also shows in search results, it is a good idea to include some element of branding.
- Home page: “Berlin Wedding Photographer Ralf Wolf”
- Category page: “Barcelona stock archive | Joe's Travel Stock Library”
- Image page: “Royalty-Free Photo: woman smiling on beach”
The H1 tag
The H1 tag is the title that is displayed on a well-formed HTML page (putting a piece of text in a bigger, bold font is not the same as explicitly indicating in the code that it is the title).
When a visitor clicks on a link, he expects to be taken to a page with the same (or very similar) text in the page title: the H1 tag is therefore a natural place to insert keywords specific to the page.
Adding the website's main keywords, as in the Title tag, might also make sense if you are not able to repeat them elsewhere on the page, and as long as it looks sensible to your visitors.
The ALT tag
The ALT tag is connected to an image: its purpose is to specify what text to display instead of the image if the browser cannot display the image. As Search Engines cannot (precisely, at least) analyze an image's content, the ALT tag should include the image's caption.
A page can also include META tags, that are not displayed anywhere on the website. They include the META Keywords tag. While the META Keywords tag might sound like a good place to insert relevant keywords, it is, in fact, useless, Search Engines like Google ignore it: since visitors don't get to see its content, it is irrelevant to the all-important visitor experience. Google does sometimes use the META Description tag, but only in place of an excerpt in search results, not as part of the ranking algorithm. So if you use it, make sure it is enticing (so that more searchers visit your website), and clear at the same time (so that few visitors would go back to the search result page!)
Use relevant keywords in the links from one page to another. For example, if your website is about “aerial photos” grouped by location, a link to the Europe category on the front page should read “Europe aerial photos” (or whatever search term your want this gallery to be optimized for).
When two galleries are related but their hierarchical organization doesn't show it, it is also a good idea to cross-link them.
Duplicate content and the Canonical tag
Search Engines don't like duplicate content, as is a sign of potential abuse. For a photographer though, it often makes sense to include the same image in several different galleries / categories. When doing so, identify the primary page for that image, and use the Canonical tag on all other pages with the same content to indicate what the primary page is.
Adding text on a photography website, to describe images and galleries, is a good idea. Make sure your website pages include your keywords in these places too, like they do on internal links and titles. A word of caution though: don't overdo it! Keep a high standard of quality (no need to repeat a keyword and its synonyms 5 times in a sentence) – your visitors must remember your website for its great and helpful content, not for its spammy feel!
AnalyticsA number of free tools can help you better understand how visitors interact with your website – and follow important SEO measures.
Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools help you:
- monitor how Google crawls your website (and identify potential issues) ;
- get a host of useful information about your keywords on your websites, searches that people do to find you, incoming links, etc...
Power tip: use it to tell Google what your main target market is!
Google Analytics is a powerful and free tool that gives you advanced reports on your website traffic. Of particular interest are:
- The Traffic Sources report: identifies the external websites that send you visitors, as well as the searches that people perform on Search Engines before finding your website. And if you notice people coming through a keyword you didn't think about, you should build around it!
- The bounce rate: what proportion of visitors don't go past the first page, the lower is obviously the better. Related: average visit time and number of pages viewed.
The bounce rate for visitors coming through search engines is a very important measure, as it indicates how relevant your website is for their search!
There are alternatives to Google Analytics, for example the free StatCounter.
Micro-TuningThere is always room for improvement. In SEO, micro-tuning (beyond the all-important great fresh content and more quality incoming links) can be about refining keywords, adding better descriptions and more relevant keywords to your images, or testing new titles.
The key question to ask yourself is whether these improvements are worth your time as a photographer, within the role you give to SEO in your overall marketing strategy.
In other words – Would Pareto approve?