SEO (a.k.a. PITA)

So, you’ve got your URL, you’ve got your host, and you’ve either spent money on a web designer and are sufficiently broke now, or you used a template that your host provided, maybe did some customizing, and although it’s not entirely unique in the digital universe, it’ll do just fine for now.  So put some photos up and become the next Ansel Adams, right?

If only…

No, sadly, there’s a whole science to this web thing.  Have you ever seen anyone’s “About” page and noticed that many times, people will talk about themselves in the third person?  Ever wondered how narcissistic someone has to be to refer to themselves like that?  In some cases, it’s true, but in most cases, it’s simply an attempt to have more references to their name on a page.  The more times their name shows up, the more importance that page will have when a search engine goes looking for their name, and thus, the better the chances that someone will find their site.  But yes, in some cases, it’s chutzpah, plain and simple.

This is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.  Basically, it’s answering the question, how do I get my site higher up in the search results?”.  This post will only touch on the basics of SEO, as there are people who make their entire living doing nothing but this, and I’m not one of them.

There are many things you can do to improve your SEO ratings.  Since Google is currently the king of search engines, I’ll be referring to them, but that doesn’t mean that you should completely exclude the others.  Fortunately, many of them use the same basic points, so making them all happy can be pretty standardized.

Thing 1: Content!

As a photographer, you need content.  Lots and lots of content!  Google’s spiders crawl not only for pages, but also for images.  I believe that it generally looks for 100 images or more.  If you’ve been in the game for years, that’s not much, but if you just started, a hundred images worth posting can be daunting.  If you don’t have a hundred good images yet, then don’t post a hundred.  Only post the ones that you are proud to display.  It is better to be lower on the search rankings for now and build your way up, than to start up high and have everyone who views your page write you off forever as a joke of a photographer.

Remember, when deciding what to post, especially if you are starting off, use workshop shoots, use one-off’s that you’ve taken on the street, use whatever.  It doesn’t have to be a full collection.  As time progresses, your individual collections will build, and you’ll be able to wean your photos accordingly.  After all, you may still like some of your one-off’s enough to keep them!

The trick, though, is to have variety, and appeal.  Have an honest friend (not mom, unless she’s pretty blunt) critique which photos you’re going to post.  You may have gotten ten really great shots of your dog, but if they’re anything close to similar, vet them down to one or two, at most.  You want to photograph animals?  Talk to your neighbour; see if you can photograph her furball, too.

THING 2: PAGES

Like Images, Google loves pages – the more, the merrier.  Having a number of pages seems to convince Google that you’re more than just some schmuck who spent 99¢ on a web page to post blurry pictures of their family reunion from 1983.  It also loves to have site maps to figure out where all these pages link (efficient or lazy?  You decide).  Many site hosts provide automatically updating site maps as part of the agreement; talk to your host about this.

Thing 3: IPTC Metadata

Information Interchange Model (IIM), developed by the International Press Telecommunications Council back in the 90’s, is better known as IPTC headers, or IPTC metadata.  Are you glad we use acronyms?

Google is smart, but even it is only so smart.  It can read text coming out the wazoo, but even it can’t tell you what an image is.  That’s why we have IPTC metadata.  The metadata is basically descriptive text, telling it what it’s looking at.  Think of it like the TV text for the blind, or SNL’s Garrett Morris doing Weekend Update for the hard of hearing.  And for you kids who are too young to remember the original, here’s Garrett Morris in Family Guy (sorry about the quality – I couldn’t find a better clip of this).  If you watch the SNL clip first, you’ll see where Family Guy got the bit from, including the “goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow” line.  And yes, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

So, you need to populate your metadata.  Here are some things to consider when doing so:

  • File Names – Make the file name descriptive.  If I’m searching for classic cars, an image named “1960_Corvette.jpg” is going to rank higher than an image named “IMG_4065.jpg”.
  • SEO Headlines – Make your SEO Headline something intuitive.  That’s what will show up on the text search results, so that’s what people will be using to judge whether or not they want to investigate further.  Remember, this is the Internet age.  With all the information available to people, attention spans are at an all-time low, so you need to let them know what you’re offering, NOW!
  • SEO Description – Same thing as SEO headline.  This is a plain English (or whatever your language is) description of the image in question.  Use descriptors, because the search engine spiders are still looking through here for keywords for ranking purposes, but this will help people confirm if this is where they want to be or not.
  • Keywords/phrases – One way that I have consistently read/heard it in documents and videos is “think like a searcher.”  As an example, I’m in the Niagara region, so my first instinct would be to use “Niagara” and “photography” as key words on my site, but that’s not effective.  If someone’s looking to hire someone in my line of work, what would they search for?  Would they search for “Niagara” and “photography?”  No, they’d probably search for “Niagara photographer“.  So, putting the key phrase of “Niagara photographer” in my home page is going to bring me close to the top than having the separate words of “Niagara” and “photography” would.

Same goes for images.  Use individual words, but if your image is of a Chevy 454 engine, don’t enter “big” and “block”.  Use “big block”.  The separate words will mix you in with an almost infinite number of other combinations of search results, and you’ll wind up near the bottom of all of them.  Of course, also use “Chevy 454”, “Chevy 454 big block” and other combinations you can think of.

Just don’t flood your keywords with useless words.  Google doesn’t like that, and will flag you for it.  Remember, it’s their house and their rules.

Thing 4: Outside References

One thing that Google loves more than anything is outside references.  If your site is mentioned elsewhere, Google gets harder than Chinese algebra!  Getting your site name listed in other places isn’t difficult.  An easy way is to get on forums and include your site name in your signature. Another way is to get a blog like this, and refer back to your site from time to time (Kyle Edwards Photography, in case you’re wondering (shameless plug 101)).  It works because I’m going through wordpress.com, not .org, so my blog is actually found at kyleedwardsphoto.com and my photo site (which has a link to my blog) is at kyleedwardsphotography.com.  That was intentional, so if you mess up and get the wrong one, you can still get to both.  Plus, there’s an issue with Photoshelter over wordpress.com, but that’s another post.

So the point is, get shameless references back to your site whenever you can!  If you can get them linked to your name and not just your URL (as I did in my first example), so much the better.  As with my photography vs photographer example, if someone is searching for me as a photographer and somehow remembers my name but forgets my URL, they can still find me by searching for “Kyle Edwards photographer” or “Kyle Edwards photography” and still get enough hits to find where they’re going.  …see?  Even I resisted the shameless plug that time.

Well, that was a whole bunch, and there’s a WHOLE lot more to it, but I figure that should be enough to get you started.  By the way, SEO is not like other things up until now; this one never ends.  There’s a whole lot involved in it, and it’s the song that doesn’t end (yes, it goes on and on my friend).  And that’s why it’s a PITA, and I don’t mean the food!

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