This was originally published over on my photo industry blog APhotoEditor and is republished here to demonstrate our commitment to making these sites as SEO friendly as physically possible:
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The biggest myths tend to be outdated information from the web 1.0 (or earlier) days.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.
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.
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.
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.
9. Submit your business to Google’s Local. It takes a few weeks to get in there, but it’s worth it.
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.
1. You can add one anytime. When you signup, 1 week later, 1 month later, 1 year later. It doesn’t matter. Just send us a help ticket or email and we’ll load it up.
2. If you don’t want to write blog posts that often we can remove the date from the posts. It’s a fairly easy hack and something I recommend so visitors don’t have to know how often you write.
3. Your blog can be located on any url you want: www.yoursite.com/blog, www.yoursite.com/news, blog.yoursite.com or even it’s own seperate url www.myphotoblog.com. Send us an email after signup if you want to somewhere besides www.yoursite.com/blog.
4. There are thousands of themes and plugin’s to choose from (just google wordpress theme to see), yours comes preloaded with a few of my favorite but you can upload a new theme or plugin at any time using the ftp access.
5. You don’t have to call it a blog. Call it news or latest pictures or behind the scenes, there must be a hundred uses for a blog so get creative and do something new.
1. Batch upload tool can upload hundreds of photos at once (I’ve done 425 in one shot).
2. Switch once for Free and $100 each time thereafter.
If you get tired of your design no worries just switch. How’s this for a sweet deal: after a year you want to freshen up your look, switch for free and only keep paying the $17/month hosting fee. We will have at least 4 more to choose from a year from now, if not more.
3. Image galleries stay put when you delete the image bank.
Ok, this is really a handy feature. I loaded 425 images into Antonin’s site for him, built all the galleries and sequenced the images, then we decided the contrast needed a little punch. So, I batch adjusted the contrast on my desktop, deleted all the images in the image bank and uploaded the newly adjusted pictures. If you don’t change the image names they load back into the galleries and sequence the way you had it. Genius.
4. FTP Access.
Everyone can use ftp to build client folders and store stuff on the server. It’s not for transferring all the high res from a shoot but certainly the selects and the low res edit.
5. WordPress Blog included.
You don’t have to get one when you start either, we’ll add it whenever you ask. Having a blog on your url http://www.mysite.com/blog is an excellent way to get seen in google searches. Also, there’s so many themes and plug-ins available, you can really customize and make it your own.
6. Google Apps for Email.
Google apps simply allows you to send and receive email at your site address (email@example.com). It’s very powerful and you can use IMAP, POP, Forwarding or login to their web interface to send and receive your email (that means you can send it to your phone or a desktop client like .mac or thunderbird). You can have up to 100 different email addresses on the same URL. There’s also a ton of other features like calendars and docs to take advantage of. Finally, google has the best spam filter in the business and they’re ultra reliable for delivering the mail 24/7.
7. iPhone and html mirror site automatically created.
Anyone can check out your site on a web enabled phone and the iPhone experience is especially cool. Google and other search engines can crawl and index your images because there’s a html version sitting next to the flash one.
8. Landing page slide shows.
Right after the intro (if you choose to have one) and before a portfolio or page is selected you can have a slideshow of your top images running. It’s so easy to create and you can set the speed too.
9. Fixed and fast or Big and Beautiful, you choose.
In Design 1 the image size is fixed at 878 x 585 and when you save for web in photoshop they load wicked fast. You can do the same in Design 2 but if you feel like it, go big and see how beautiful they look on a 30″ Apple Cinema Display. We recommend an image size of 1860 x 1140 and a save for web quality setting of 40%. That still allows for quick load time and they look amazing at full screen on a 30″ monitor.
10. Free upgrades.
Whenever we come out will a cool new feature your site is automatically upgraded. We have a centrally located admin control panel (it’s not deployed individually on all the sites) so when we add a new feature it automatically appears on everyone’s at once.
Here’s what’s coming down the pipe: Video, Audio, Password protected galleries, Hidden galleries, Sample image loading when you mouse over a gallery name and much, much more.
Bonus. Captions are imported from your image description in the file on your image (XMP, IPTC).
Your captions are automatically imported but they won’t show up until you review and approve them. Simply click on the image in the image bank and either edit or approve the caption that appears. Once you do that an image info link will appear next to the navigation on all images with captions.
1. Dead simple navigation
Navigation buttons on the bottom of the page that never move, so Photo Editors can grab one and click as fast as they can.
2. Email and phone always visible
You can actually put whatever you want there but zero clicks to grab the email and phone number is awesome.
3. Email a photo option
If the Photo Editor sees the perfect shot and wants to send it to the Creative Director, they can click the email a photo link and it’s done.
4. Deep Linking
Sending links to a specific portfolio or image within a site is easy with our deep links.
Visit my demo portfolio to see it working (here). Here’s a fly fishing story I assigned to James Nachtwey:
5. A picture on the bio page
Photo Editors love to see your picture.
6. No Music
Working at a magazine it’s either really quiet or you’re listing to your own music and websites with music can be awfully annoying.
7. No Slide Shows (Except the intro)
When Photo Editors are looking at pictures and get distracted (happens all the time) they don’t miss half your portfolio.
8. Big Thumbs
I’ve always found tiny thumbs useless, so on Design 2 I made the big enough to navigate by.
9. iPhone and html ready
Ever visited a flash website on your phone. It’s like it doesn’t exist. Our websites automatically create html and iPhone mirror sites that load when they need to.
10. The pictures look amazing
There’s something about a design that supports photography. That’s always been true in magazines and now you can see how a website design can actually enhance the photography.
Will I have FTP access to my site to set up client folders?
Yes, everyone has FTP access so you can upload a folder of images and give a client (www.mysite.com/client) so they can check out images from a shoot. It’s not for transferring all the high res images from a shoot (a few is fine) because we have bandwidth limits for our servers.
Is video supported?
Not yet but it will be. It took longer than expected to get these portfolios exactly how I wanted so we didn’t have time to fully implement the video by our launch date. I expect to have it fully functioning on these two designs within several months and everyone who already has a site will get it added on.
Why can’t I host the site on my own reliable servers?
The biggest reason is our admin control panel. It’s centrally located so that when we make an update to the admin (which we will do often to make it even better) it updates for everyone. Another reason is that it’s more effort and time to set everything up on your server so we can’t offer the great prices we have now. And finally if your site is not preforming properly on your server it will make us look bad so I’ll have to get someone to go in and fix the problem?
Yeah, but I still want to host myself?
Ok, I’m talking to the developers about how we can do that so send me an email and we can discuss. firstname.lastname@example.org
We really went all out creating this brand new control panel (admin) for A Photo Folio. It’s got so many cool features (a few that no one else has), I wanted to highlight them all for you here.
First off it’s easy on the eyes. A nice clean design with tabbed categories and sub categories for easy navigation.
The color control is amazing. There’s so many different possibilities, but I tend to like shades of grey combined with a couple “POP” colors for impact (can you tell).
There’s a whole bunch of fonts for your menu and title plus a couple choices for the text. I wanted to have several styles or contemporary serif’s and san-serif’s plus a few old standards that design people love. If you want to use your own title font just upload a jpg or png as well.
Ok, this is pretty standard but I love how it looks, you can move the order of the galleries and categories by just grabbing that grid spot on the bar. Sweet.
Stats of course, where would we be in this world without visitor stats. You can load google analytics or mint to get more information about your visitors.
Now, check out these kick ass features no one else has.
Image position. You can specify where on the page the image sit. This is especially amazing for your single images. In the past you would have had to photoshop it onto a blank page to get it centered or or over on the right. Not anymore.
Big thumbs. Ever tried to do an edit with those tiny thumbs. Not fun. We made them big so you can see what you’re looking at. Yipeeeeee.
Micro template control. I really like how you can adjust your logo position on the page and specify the font size and kerning. There’s also a few other controls specific to each design that really makes the designs fully customizable.
There you have it, several reasons why I think our control panel kicks ass.
How much time will a potential client spend on your website? I’ll bet the average is around 20 seconds, but I’ve spent as little as 1 second and as long as 10 minutes on a site. The first impression is critical (that’s where the 1 second comes in) because if the design, logo and the first image I see don’t add up to a certain taste level, then I’m probably wasting my time.
If you want to make a solid first impression, we’ve got you covered. That was one of the main goals when I formed this company: to offer help in all 3 of the areas where a first impression is made. We’ve built beautiful contemporary designs to house your photography, we have an art director standing by for a logo consultation, and I’m available for a portfolio consultation.
So, what happens after you make a good first impression? I like to describe the process as pluses and minuses. The more pluses the further I’ll keep clicking, but if the minuses start adding up I’m probably going to click out of there. A plus is a photo I’d hire you to take and a minus is a photo I’d be bummed if you took. Now, you can’t please everyone all of the time, so when I’m looking to hire someone for a job, running into a few minuses doesn’t immediately turn me off. There’s a point where too many minuses tips the scales in the wrong direction.
The bottom line here is this: make a solid first impression, then keep the dogs (bad pictures, I actually love a good dog photo) out of your book.
1. Your Name
2. Your Email
3. Your Phone
4. Your Portfolio
… and you have 5 seconds to deliver it. And, now you can.
I’ve spent enough time as a Photography Director hunting for a phone number or “gadzeeks” even the link to the portfolio to know these things need to be available the second a client visits your website. That’s why we constructed these sites with all that information readily available.
Hello and welcome to A Photo Folio. If you’re thinking of signing up or already have grab the rss feed or bookmark this blog, because this is where I’ll be posting any news, tips, tricks and of course my opinion on websites, photography and working in this industry.
As always, you can still find my usual photography insights at A Photo Editor, but this blog will focus in on using a web portfolio to land jobs.
I hope you like what you see.
A Photo Folio