Search Engine Optimization for Photographers
Search Engine Optimization Iis the way you get people "(clients) to find your web site.
Why your photographic web site probably sucks!
Pretty catchy title, hey? Or course, I probably haven’t seen your particular web site, but if yours is like most photographer’s that I have seen, it sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that your pictures aren’t beautiful, I’m saying that the site isn’t doing what it is supposed to do or possibly could do. If you’re like most professional photographers, the main reason that you put together a web site is to drum up business, right?.
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As I see it, a professional photographer’s web site has basically two functions.
1. To communicate various details about our business. We all use our web pages to communicate many details about our business. For example, we will most certainly want to give out our contact information, driving instructions, and maybe even a client list to assure any prospects that we have "been around" and that other companies trust us enough to do their work.
2. To show clients and potential clients our portfolio. This is probably the most important use of the photographer’s web page. In the old days, we used to lug around our portfolio from agency to agency or from company to company hoping that one of these prospects would like our work enough to hire us for a project or two. Hopefully the buyer would like that first job we did for them so much that they would turn into a repeat client. Now a days, we photographers still have our portfolios but we now depend more and more on the Internet to show prospects our portfolios. The great advantage of a web page is that people can see our portfolio without ever asking us to show it to them. That’s if they can find our site?
I’m a little reluctant to share this information with the rest of you guys, but more and more of my work is coming from the Internet. Usually, it’s companies that have found me via some search engine, saw my web page, liked it, and hired me over the phone to do a shoot for them. Yes, it does happen. And it’s happening more and more every month. I think it shows that people are becoming more and more comfortable purchasing items and services over the Internet. For those of us that can recognize this trend and be ready to capitalize on it, it means lots more money in our piggybanks.
Like I mentioned above, the chain of events goes like this?
Found me via a search engine, saw my page, liked my work, hired me.
No one will ever hire you if they can’t see your work and they can't see your work if they can't find it on the search engines. And that’s why your web page probably sucks. So, you don’t think that your web page sucks. Try this. Go to Google and type in "photography" or "photographer" and your city. If your web site doesn’t come up on the first three or four pages, it isn’t working hard enough for you.
I want to give you a few tips here on how you can get people to find your web page on the Internet search engines. Please realize that I am a photographer and I am NOT a S.E.O. (search engine optimization) guru. I’m certainly no guru, but here is what I know on the subject of S.E.O.
Tip #1. Pick your battles. You probably realize that you can’t "come up high" (CUH) on every search done on the Internet, nor would you want to. Your goal is to let people find you when they are looking for your specific services. You have to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. The person searching is going to type in two or three words that define what they are looking for. Try as hard as you can to figure out what those words are most likely to be. Those words or phrases are called your keywords. Choosing those keywords is a very important task. If you choose incorrectly, it may cost you quite a bit of money.
When I designed my first web page, I came up with a list of words and phrases that I thought represented my business. (Pittsburgh, photography, photographer, commercial) Every time I searched for myself on the engines, I CUH and I thought everything was hunky dory. Then, one day just for the heck of it, I asked a client a hypothetical question. I said, " If you wanted to find a photographer in Dallas Texas to do a job for you, how would you do it"? He said that he would go to Google and type in "Dallas Photographers". Photographers? I never even thought of that. It seemed so obvious, but somehow I had overlooked it. I went to Google and did a search with his key words and sure enough, I was nowhere to be found. I learned a lesson. Don’t take your key words for granted. The most important thing you will do when optimizing your page is to come up with the correct set of key words.
Tip #2 Know where to put your key words. This is where things get a little technical. Don’t worry too much. I don’t know enough to get too technical.
A web page is a computer file that is made of different types of fields and these fields tell the computer to do different things. As I understand it, there are four places that search engines look for information that eventually determine where they list your page.
If you don’t maintain your own web page, don’t sweat it. Just tell your designer what you want him or her to put in these fields. They’ll know what you mean.
The "title" field is the copy that gets saved when you "bookmark" a web page. I guess that search engine developers think that that is a good representation of what is on the page. Many web designer give more thought to how the words look like and less to what they communicate to the search engines. The words will never look like anything if the person searching, doesn’t find your page in the first place. In other words, try to stuff as many ?key words? into your title as possible. Instead of my title saying "M I C H A E L R A Y P H O T O G R A P H Y". I would be much better off with a title such as "Michael Ray Photography Pittsburgh Commercial photographer". That way I get four key words into the title. In the first example, there were no recognizable words at all because of the spaces between the letters. Starting to catch on?
The next field that you need to be concerned about is the meta tag "keywords." The Keywords field is the place where you list the words and phrases that describe your business. Don’t let the name of the field mislead you. You will want to come up with words and phrases for this field. The reason that you want to come up with phrases, in addition to individual words, is because if someone does a search using your phrase, your page will come up higher than someone else who has those very same individual words in their keyword list. For example, If someone did a search for "Pittsburgh photographer" and my keyword list contained the phrase "Pittsburgh photographer" my page would appear higher than another photographer's page who listed those same keywords individually. Just for fun, do a search on "your" keywords and then look at the source code for all the pages that CUH.
The next field to deal with this the Meta tag "Description." Search engines will often use this field if they include a short description next to your listing in their search results. This field should be a clear and concise sentence packed with as many keywords as you can stuff into it. Since people may very well end up reading this sentence in a search engine listing, make it readable and use proper punctuation. I have read that search engines place more relevance on complete sentences as opposed to random phrases (non punctuated lines of copy).
The next area of your web page that will effect your search engine placement, is the first 250 words on the index page. This is where most photographers get into real trouble. If you’re like most photographers, you have little or no copy whatsoever on your pages. Computers and search engines can’t tell what kind of photographer you are or how good your photos are. And to make things worse, many web designers use graphics to replace much of the copy that does appear. Your logo my say "Cleveland’s most wonderful fashion photographer" but all the search engine sees is "logo.gif". Some people add an ?alt txt? file with verbal descriptions of the picture, but I hear that most engines ignore this information. Search engines love "copy" and don’t give a hoot about pictures. You have to figure a way around that if you ever want to CUH on the engines. You may actually have to sacrifice some of the aesthetic appeal of your site to make it more search engine friendly. When you do write the copy for your web page, you again want to pack the copy with as many keywords as you can and still make it sound logical. Don’t go crazy with the keywords either. I have read that you do not want to repeat any keyword more than seven times. Some search engines actually will penalize you for trying to "get over" on them. Some people try different tricks to maximize their placement. Some of the tricks work and some don’t.
This brings me to a subject that I know will really upset many of you. Search engines hate Flash. Flash is a movie file and search engines can’t see into the flash movie to read their much beloved copy. If your page is flash, you might as will cut your wrists right now. Ok, maybe that isn’t necessary, but don’t count on ever CUH on the engines. You can add the title, keywords, and description fields to the flash site, but you can’t add the copy that some of the engines look for.
Google is King, by the way. Most searches done today are done on Google. All search engines have their own way of determining how they will list our sites and all these ways are closely guarded secrets. These secret ways are what differentiate them from their competitors and therefore, remain closely guarded. There are actually some very good forum web sites where Search Engine Optimizations experts gather to give their theories on how Google (http://www.seo-guy.com/forum/) and the other search engines function. I sometimes lurk on these forums and this is what I’ve learned. Remember, this is ALL theory, bits and pieces gathered and assimilated in my very limited brain. So look out and remember the source.
There is something they call "the sand box effect". This theory says that no matter how relevant your site is, your stuck in the sand box (very low listing) for the first six months after registration. There are also people that believe that the longer your site has been in existence, the higher you will appear, all other things being equal. From my experience, I have come to agree with both of these theories.
Google places a great deal of weight on how many highly ranked sites you have linked back to your site. Google ranks sites on many factors and the higher the site’s ranking, the higher up on the search engine listing that site will appear when the relevant search words are used in someone’s search. The Google ranking is based on a scale of one to ten. If your page is ranked a 3 and you can get some higher ranked sites to link to you, your site will eventually be ranked higher too.
So, this is what you need to do to CUH on the search engines
1. Dump the flash
After that, you need to let the search engines know that your site is ready, willing, and able. There are free search engine submission page on the Internet that will submit your page to a bunch of sites for you. My favorite is http://submitexpress.com/submit.html
And another thing? See if your ISP has a stats program attached to your site. The stats program will look at the ?Web log? file on the server that houses your web site and will give you a bunch of really good information. It will tell you things like how many visitors you are getting, how long they stay, what pages they look at, where the visitors are coming from, and what phrases they used on a search engine to find you. Really good, useful information. If your ISP doesn’t offer this service, you can buy some relatively inexpensive software yourself.
Search Engine Optimization for Photographers
If you have any comments or suggestions regarding anything you find in these pages, please feel free to contact the author and he will be glad to respond.
© Michael Ray 2008
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