The Photographer's SEO Pyramid - Part II, aka 'The Meat'

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.

Seo pyramid Invest most in the lower blocks!

This is the second 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.

Download the full Photographer's SEO Pyramid as a printable PDF via this link »

Today, we'll cover what you'll spend most of your time working on... The Meat.

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Content is King

The mission of a search engine is simple: when someone searches for a term, he should find something that matches the search and will please him.

Google is famously full of PhD graduates that put tremendous amount of intelligence and work into accomplishing this mission. For example, it's easy for a search engine to know when a searcher goes to a website, and then goes back to the result pages because the website didn't meet his expectations.

Tricking search engines to get a low-quality or irrelevant page high in the rankings used to be relatively easy, many years ago. It might still be possible today, but would then require skills, efforts and risk tolerance that don't make sense for an ongoing business concern – especially when search engines evolve every day and heavily penalize abuses.

To succeed, you must prove to search engines that your website is genuine, valuable and relevant to the search terms of your choice. You want search engines to trust your website, like your clients trust you.

Therefore, here is our guiding principle to SEO for a working photographer:

Love your visitors – and Search Engines will love you back.

We don't need to tell you that great images will be more successful than poor ones. But there is more than that:

  • Make sure the images are highly relevant to your targeted keywords.
  • Quality, and quantity: quality should drive everything you do with your website. But you need quantity, too (while avoiding redundancy), and having a well-populated online archive is valuable both for your clients and for search engines.
  • Add new images often: your website should always have fresh content!
  • Caption your images carefully – using the targeted keywords, and semantically similar words. Search engines have a limited ability to identify the content of an image, so descriptive text and keywords are important, and they also help your visitors. Make sure those are relevant to the image! Add descriptions to your galleries, too.

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A helpful website

Your visitors want a website that is fast, well organized and easy to navigate. So do search engines!
  • Get a fast website. Fast software on a fast host. That's where self-hosted PHP scripts (e.g. WordPress without optimization plugins) or cheap hosts tend to fail. Speed is important for your visitors, and Google publicly states that it is a criteria in their rankings too.
  • Let it be clutter-less and easy to navigate: in website design, clarity beats cleverness and coolness. Your visitors should find their way easily. If you use nice buttons in your navigation, make sure they are still, code-wise, text links. With the recent progress in CSS styling, there is no reason anymore to design buttons in PhotoShop!
  • Organize your work in a hierarchy of galleries and sub-galleries, semantically grouped. This helps both visitors and search engines know what your website, categories and images are about.
  • If your website uses Flash, make sure that it loads quickly and that you have an exact, well-maintained mirror HTML site.
  • Repeat the same keywords in links pointing to a page and in the page title. If a user clicks on a link that says “New York Images”, he will expect the page to display the same “New York Images” in the title, or something very similar – that's basic usability. And it will help Search Engines link that page to your keywords, too...
  • Sitemaps are not compulsory, as search engines should be able to follow links to find all the content on your website, but are still a good idea, especially now that sitemaps can include images. There is something reassuring in a clean sitemap that matches the website content. Search engines should be able to detect automatically the sitemap.

PhotoDeck websites are based on clean, well-formed HTML. We focus on their response time (only 140ms on average!) and use a variety of mechanisms to make sure they are as fast as they can be. We also provide simple and clear navigation, as well as designs that let your content do the talking. Galleries can be nested to create a well-organized hierarchy, and breadcrumbs (link hierarchies) help both visitors and search engines leverage it. Naturally, we also provide search engines with complete XML sitemaps behind the scenes, including every image on a site. When we use special effects (e.g. overlay image information), we do it in ways that does not hinder their indexability by search engines.
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I am Famous

Great content on a well-built website is necessary, but not enough. Search engines don't take risks: they put more popular websites on top. The underlying logic is: the more websites link to your website, the most popular and the better is must be. So you want links from other websites that point to your website (“incoming links”). As many as possible. But you don't want any kind of link:
  • You want genuine links. Don't buy links. Don't exchange links with irrelevant websites. Links should be valuable for the human beings that will see them and click on them. Search engines are good at detecting link-swapping exercises, or even worse, “link farms”. Remember: love your visitors – and Search Engines will love you back.
  • You want quality links: an incoming link has little value if it comes from an unknown or low-quality website. Look for links from trusted, well-established pages, relevant to your keywords.
  • The text on the links (“anchor text”) counts. Ideally, it should match closely your keywords.
Myth 3: I just need to swap links like crazy Get as many links are possible, but always make sure they are genuine and relevant. One-way links are better!

Some tools on the internet estimate websites' “Page Rank” to measure their relative importance. Also look at alexa.com for information and traffic estimates.

Alexa Alexa.com information for a popular site

Getting incoming links takes time and work – in fact this is the crux of SEO. Some suggestions:

  • Look for well-established, relevant (and moderated) directories and ask for your website to be listed.
  • Write articles on well-established, relevant online publications (did we write yet again “well-established, relevant”? We did). Writing also helps you position yourself as an expert and put your work on the map, SEO or not.
  • For example, a fly-fishing photographer would aim to get links from fishing shops, fishing directories, write about photography in a prominent fishing online magazine, write about fishing photography in a photography blog, etc...
  • Twitter, Facebook and other popular services are a good way to multiply your online exposure and link to your website: it's good for business (if you're at least slightly active, that is), and it's good for SEO too.

And if your visitors love your website, they will also link to it spontaneously!

Outbound links

A few links to external websites (on the pages where they are relevant) will help establish your website as a useful resource, part of the wider community. Do not confuse with link-swapping though, and make sure they are indeed useful links!

In the next part, we'll complete this article with somewhat more technical on-page optimization and analytics tips. They are really details compared to what we've covered so far, but details can count too...

Update: Download the full Photographer's SEO Pyramid as a printable PDF via this link »