By Rob Miller
One of the most important ways to gain traction in the marketplace is Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) It is also possibly one of the most misunderstood and most neglected tasks for creatives.
Most photographers have a website but do you know how well it ranks? Do you know how clients are finding you? Or whether they are finding you at all? Everyone loves referrals and working with our existing clients, but we all need brand new business coming in to grow our companies. SEO is one way you can do this inexpensively and effectively. You can always pay someone to do it for you, but you can also do most of this yourself.
There are many free tools to use to see where your traffic is coming from. These tools will track your hits (sessions) how many people are looking at your site (visitors/users) what interests them (page views) how much they look around (pages per session) and how long overall they are staying on the site (bounce rate.) Google Analytics is a free utility that gives you great insight into your traffic patterns. It works with almost any website no matter where you host it. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram business accounts have similar metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your posts but this tool specifically relates to your website. A comparative set of graphs show progress over time on my site.
This is a snapshot of my website from 2015 And then again in 2019
As you can see my overall page view count has increased, but my pages/session has decreased. My organic search ranking has doubled as I have been adding new content regularly for the past 4 years. These numbers vary month to month but I now have actionable data to track the progress of the site over time to track what works and what doesn’t. (In case you are wondering, the spike in traffic was when I posted my website on a large photography related Facebook page. The link got people to my site which helps my ranking, but the visitors were other photographers. It won’t likely bring me any business, which is the whole point of SEO) My ranking could actually be better as I have been busy and did not post much for the past 6 months but this shows I am at least getting several unique users visiting almost every day which is good.
Check the load time of your site and pages using any online website load speed test. If you are seeing slow load times you may want to remove any excessively large image files or poorly written scripts or plugins that slow down your site. Sometimes changing to a newer, more responsive theme will help also.
I like to export my images for use on the web using Lightroom but it can also be done in Photoshop using the built-in export features. In Lightroom I set my export settings to around HD resolution (1920 px on the long edge) and limit the file size to somewhere between 500-1024 kb. The last step is important because it will take an image down from about 2-3 MB to 500 kb (0.5 MB) The smaller the file size, the more compressed the image becomes. You will probably need to experiment and inspect the results to find the sweet spot where the details look good for you. When exporting for social media I export at 2048 px on the long edge with no file size limit as that is currently the “preferred” size for Facebook for the best quality results. There is no set rule for any of this, but that is what has worked well for me.
Finally, be sure your site is mobile friendly. The term that describes this concept is “responsive” and what that means is that when the screen is made smaller on a phone or tablet, the content is able to dynamically resize to fit. Currently my website gets 50% of all traffic from mobile devices and that trend will only increase as time goes on.
Be generous with linking to other sites. Similar to tagging your subject or client in an Instagram post, when you link to other sites containing relevant content it will boost your ranking and especially boost theirs. When others link to you, it will boost your ranking because it tells search engines that you have something relevant to say. Whenever you can receive links from established websites and other companies it is always a great thing for your SEO. Listing in online directory services, using social media, and asking your clients to link back to your website or project are all good ways to bring in traffic.
Text is important! Photographers are visual artists and we all want to display our beautiful work for humans to see. The issue is that search engines are not humans. Unless you properly tag each image, the internet won’t know the content and won’t display it to the humans. Adding a title helps, but you can also add other keyword rich metadata such as captions, alt text, and description. Additionally, naming the images in a relevant way can boost the search result raking too. Instead of naming your photo “DSC_1234.jpg” you can call it “red_hibiscus_flower.jpg” for instance. The descriptive name will help your photo rank well for that search term. I also include my business name in front of the title so people know where the image came from.
Here is an example of a real estate image on my website. I have added relevant search keywords for anyone searching for real estate photography or twilight imagery in North Idaho.
But you’re not a writer?
Do it anyway.
This is the one thing that you can do for very little or no upfront cost that will transform your search rankings. WordPress is the most popular website and blog platform but most every website provider now has the ability to add blog posts or “projects” to your site. If you aren’t sure what to write (like me most of the time) just tell a little about the project, the subject, or the client along with the images. You will get better over time if you stick with it. It’s like a virtual photography resume with all the latest work displayed first.
One of the fastest growing segments of the marketplace is video. Whether you are producing it or sharing it, high quality video keeps the attention of your viewers. Vlogs, how-to videos, behind the scenes (BTS) and offering free industry tips & tricks are all good ways to share your message with viewers. Content can be uploaded to Vimeo or YouTube and embedded into your website easily with the click of a button. Uploading original content to YouTube under a business/brand account also may help your SEO ranking on Google. YouTube includes an increasing amount of advertisements and “suggested videos” at the end which may often be from your competitors’ pages, so many people are switching to an ad-free Vimeo account instead, or doing both.
Analytics helps you know how much traffic you are getting now, and to track your progress over time to see what type of content performs the best. Optimizing the speed of your site with small images, having a responsive theme for mobile, and using high quality inbound & outbound links will improve your ranking too. Tagging your images tells search engines what your photos are all about. And Blogging is important to give search engines new, relevant content on a regular basis and to increase your search rankings.
Start measuring, optimizing, and sharing. It will be time well spent on your business.
This is an excerpt from an article originally published here.