Most people will look for a photographer in their area. Usually, after asking for a referral from friends or family, if they can’t find one, they go online, typing in something like “(Subject) Photographer (Area)”.
Do you really think they will make it to the second or third page?
Whoever floats at the top of these search results, will have a very high chance of booking that potential client. That’s why, as photographers, we feel the importance of being found on top of the search results all the time.
How well did you do in 2016? Were you featured right there at the top or buried down on a search results page that nobody ever takes the time to click through to?
If you want to improve in this direction, you’ll have to remember that search engines evaluate your website constantly. So you will need to work on optimizing your website just the same.
Moreover, the way search engines like Google rank their search results is constantly changing and trends can be noticed throughout the years.
In this article, I’m putting together a checklist with 17 tips for optimizing your website to be found in Google (also called “Search Engine Optimization”, or in short, “SEO”) you should implement in 2017.
1. Stick to only one website
Do you have multiple websites linked together? This won’t help with your SEO, but rather force you to spread your marketing efforts in more than one direction. One website with a solid reputation is infinitely better than several websites poorly optimized.
To decide that they want to work with you, visitors only need one website where they can clearly see what you have to offer. You don’t have to work on a website, a separate portfolio, a blog and another website somewhere else. Keep it simple and focus on making your website relevant, beautiful and to the point.
2. Ditch that lousy hosting provider
Unreliable hosting is a waste of money. Yet it also makes room for malware attacks or security issues and can negatively impact your search engine rankings. For example, if your website is loading very slowly, Google will penalize you.
Consequently, you will want a provider who enjoys a good reputation, has great customer support and allows you to scale as your business grows. Imagine optimizing your website to be at the top of the search results, only to have it crash and show errors because you’re getting too much traffic. Yikes!
3. Configure Search Console & Analytics
If you’re going to use only two SEO tools for managing your website’s SEO, those will have to be the Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) and Google Analytics. Both tools are easy to create an account with and to set up. They will give you valuable hints on who’s visiting your website and how Google is crawling your website.
More specifically, with the data you will gather on these two accounts, you’ll be able to see what kind of keywords people used to find you, where they’re from, which pages they looked at, what links they clicked and even how long they stayed on your website. This information will be very valuable for improving your website, so that more visitors will find their way to your photography business.
4. Start regularly posting on that blog
If you don’t have a blog yet, make a priority from starting one in 2017 and publishing blog posts on a regular basis. Google loves these regular updates that keep your website fresh, up to date and interesting to visitors. Plus, you’ll attract more and better clients and grow your reputation.
If you have a website on a platform like Squarespace or WordPress, an option to add a blog to your website is already built in and easy to set up. Make sure you add a link to your blog to your website’s main menu, to help visitors find it easily.
5. Switch from keywords to semantics
Search engines analyze the words users type in when looking for a photographer and compare it with what shows on your website. In 2017, this matching process and determining if your website is a relevant reference for the people’s searches will focus more on semantic fields instead of simple keywords (those words users type in Google).
The search engines will want you to write content that feels more natural. Instead of using a keyword such as “wedding photography (location)” 10 times throughout a page, you should use more relevant words, such as “for a wedding in (location), search a photographer who”, “your wedding photographs in this gorgeous park in (location)” or “photos on your wedding day”. This doesn’t mean you will have to stop using keywords, but rather that you shouldn’t obsess that much about it. Instead, write from the heart and as detailed as possible, about the real needs of your audience.
6. Insert social media buttons
On social networks like Facebook or Instagram, users are very active and interact all the time. The more people talk about your services on those networks, the search engines will take it as a signal that your business is important and people are interested in it. This will increase your odds of having your website displayed among the first search results.
While you don’t need to spend days promoting your business on social networks, you should give your website visitors more instruments to reach your social accounts. You’ll notice that there are many SEO tools on Squarespace, WordPress or other similar services, that you can download and use to easily insert social media buttons throughout your website. Some are profile buttons, that send your visitors directly to your social media accounts. Others are sharing buttons, that let visitors directly share your content on their accounts. You should use them with confidence.
7. Keep it simple
Just like you, Google wants the best experience for your visitors. So you need to make your website look good, with a clear structure, allowing pages to load fast and for people to easily find the information they need. For instance, it shouldn’t take more than two or three clicks to access any of your website’s main pages. In a nutshell, you will have to keep your website simple and intuitive.
Try to refrain from making notification messages pop-up on the screen. Do not display ads that cover other elements of your website, forcing visitors to close them in order to continue navigation. And try not to add special effects on menus and buttons – all these could make your website look cool, but they can also annoy your visitors, not to mention that they will make pages load slower.
8. Tweak the Page Titles
The title you give to a page – like the title of a blog post – is actually called, in technical terms, a Headline. The Page Titles we are now talking about refer to a title you give each page to indicate search engines what the content on that page is about. Page Titles and Page Headlines are not the same, because the last ones you can directly type in the content of the page, on the first line, with a bigger font.
The Page Titles (also known as Meta Titles) are the titles that will show up in the search results. Ideally, they should contain a keyword and your business name (like “Wedding Photography by MyBusinessName”, on a font width of maximum 612px and with no more than 70 characters in length – if they are longer than that, they won’t be fully displayed in the search results and will look bad. The Yoast SEO plugin for Wordpress is a very simple and easy to use tool that you can install on your website and let you fill in all these titles, while also giving you hints on what else you can optimize on each page.
9. Revise Meta Descriptions
The Meta Descriptions can also be easily filled in by using the SEO Yoast tool. Under each page of your website’s text editor, you will have a special field where you write the text and that’s all you need to do. What are these descriptions, you wonder?
Meta descriptions are the texts that show up in the search results right under the page titles. Google claims it doesn’t take these texts into account when evaluating your website. But the truth is that if you pay attention to this section, you will gain your readers’ attention, making them click and visit your website.
The more people you attract, the more Google will appreciate your website. An important rule to follow is to keep these descriptions under 160 characters (for the same reasons as with the titles, to be fully visible on Google). Also, use keywords to help readers better understand what they will find on that page and make them as enticing as you can, to attract visitors click on them.
10. Organize text with HTML headings
Rolling your eyes from so many technical terms? The explanation is easy to grasp: when Google sends its crawlers to scan and evaluate your website, the crawlers can’t read and process information as humans do. Instead, they rely on HTML headings to understand the information easier, to see where you have titles, where you have subtitles and where you have less significant information. These HTML headings help crawlers to scan the text, but also better format your text, creating a more visual and intuitive format for your human readers. Using them can only help you.
No worries, though, you won’t have to know the HTML programming language in order to use these headings. All text editors, no matter if you have a WordPress website or something different, have a special menu from where you can select these headings. You just need to select the text you want to format and look for an option in the menus labeled as < H1 >, < H2 > and so on. All it takes is a simple click to insert one of these headings.
There are six different headings in total, from < H1 > to < H6 >, and a few simple rules on choosing what to use. For instance, you shouldn’t have more than one H1 per page. This heading is dedicated to the title, where you are also using the most important keyword of that page. For subtitles, you can use as many H2 headings as you need, whereas for the titles of the less important sections of a page you can use all the other headings. Very important, do not use these headings to format the content of your paragraphs!
11. Craft SEO-friendly URLs
SEO-friendly URLs are simple, intuitive, and developed around a significant keyword for that page. Their role is to tell your readers (because Google displays them in the search results under the page title) and the crawlers what a page is about. You have probably noticed on some websites URLs in a format like this one: http://www.mywebsite.com/index.php?cat=301&mode=tst&var=83hh. Avoid such links as much as you can.
Instead, pick lean, meaningful and SEO-friendly formats like http://www.mywebsite.com/services/. It will be more inviting, easier to notice, and will help your pages rank higher in the search results. The platform your website is built on, where you log in to edit pages and add blog posts, has a special setting from where you can select the format of the URL. You should be able to choose between several different formats and once you have selected one, all your website URLs will automatically have that format.
12. Test page loading speed
Would you stay on a website that takes ages to display its content? I guess you won’t, so it’s easy to understand why the longer it takes to load your website pages, the faster visitors will leave. It’s surprising and a bit concerning how only a few seconds of delay could cost your business money and also the visibility in the online. If search engines notice your website is slow and people leave it soon after they have arrived, they won’t display it among the first results, hence the poor visibility.
To see how your website is doing on this chapter, test your pages’ speed with this tool. Also, make sure you rule out all the details we mentioned at the “Keep it simple” tip.
13. Take a look at your photos
Every once in a while, have a good look at your photos. I don’t mean to look at your photos and admire them (though you can do that too), but rather to analyze how optimized they are. Optimization for search engines doesn’t refer just to text content, but also to images. As a photographer, you probably have many photographs on your website, not just on the portfolio section. So you have even more reasons to tweak your photographs.
The image optimization should begin before you upload the images on your website. The filenames must have descriptive and relevant titles, while their size shouldn’t exceed 150kb. Once you have added them to your website library, make sure you fill in all those fields for title, URL, ALT text and captions, introducing significant keywords.
Your goal here is to offer as many text details to successfully substitute the image itself. If, for whatever reasons, visitors cannot see the images on your website (your website has some technical problems or the devices from where they access it don’t properly load images), they should be able to understand what visual content is missing from there just by reading the photo title, caption, alternate text and so on.
14. Go mobile
More and more people surf the web from their mobile phones. If your website isn’t optimized for mobiles, it will display the information in a poor format, annoying, and difficult to navigate. Again, this will make you lose business so you can’t afford to ignore mobile friendliness anymore.
Access this page to test how mobile friendly your website is. If you get the OK, no need to worry about it. Chances are it already is, because website themes are following this trend, being optimized for mobile from the beginning. If not, you will receive some recommendations of what you need to improve. Follow those steps until you get a positive result.
Alternatively, you could work with a web developer to create a dedicated mobile website from scratch. When you have one, search engines will check if users navigate from mobiles and automatically redirect them to your mobile website.
15. Focus on Local SEO
Local SEO is generally about using geographic cues with your keywords. Like initially mentioned, people look for photographers from their living area. If you’re not spreading clues about the area where you are doing your business, you risk drawing in traffic without relevance, that won’t gain you clients. Just like with the slow page loading, if people click on your website, notice you’re living far away from them, and leave the website fast, the search engine will, again, think your content is not relevant.
Your goal is not just to drive traffic from search engines, you want the most relevant traffic you can get. You want people who land on your pages to spend as much time as possible. Therefore, the first thing you should do is to register your business through the Google Business service. By doing so, you are officially letting Google know that you exist as a business. When creating your Google Business profile, you will be asked to provide many geographical details that will allow the search engine to suggest your website to its users, based on the geographical details it gathers about those users.
Another essential aspect of local SEO is to create a consistent contact profile that will show up everywhere online. Your contact details must be the same on your website, on your Facebook profile, on your Instagram account and everywhere else. Consistency is the key with this type of optimization.
16. Build quality links
The number of links from other websites to your website is another important indicator for search engines about the popularity and utility of your website. Of course, having other users posting links to your website on their social accounts, websites or blog posts isn’t enough. Ideally, those links should come from websites that have a higher rank in search engines (meaning they are considered authoritative) and that also have some relevance to your business.
For instance, it’s one thing if your website is mentioned on a small blog with gift-giving guides and a totally different thing if you’re mentioned on the website of a major event planning company or on the one of a highly popular photographer. The second link is way more valuable. In order to gain such valuable links, there’s no better way than to reach out and build solid relationships with the people behind those websites. It’s a process that takes time and should happen naturally – if you force things or just exchange links, Google might notice and penalize your website.
17. Don’t cross the black line
Getting your website listed on the first page on search engines can be achieved in different ways. Some of these ways are considered shortcuts, helping you to rank higher and faster, without necessarily „deserving” it – by that, I mean without meeting all the criteria that search engines consider relevant. These shortcuts are named black-hat SEO techniques.
A few examples include posting low-quality content, overuse of keywords, hiding rich-keyword fragments in white fonts, making deals with other websites to exchange links and so on. Google condemns these tactics and will punish you harshly if it catches you. As tempting as it might be to speed things up, don’t force it because you risk having your website completely excluded from the search results.
I know it might seem like a lot. It certainly feels overwhelming and intimidating. But instead of obsessing over technical terms, your main goal should be to constantly improve the experience of people who visit your website. Whatever you want to change, ask yourself: is this going to help my clients? Will it make things clearer for them? Will it make my website more intuitive and easier to access? Will it make content and photographs easier to browse and understand?
Search engines are your friends, not your enemies. If they ask you all of the above, while it might seem like a pain, ultimately, it’s in your clients’ best interest. You’re on the same team here.