When It Comes to SEO, a Picture Is NOT Worth a Thousand Words

As a photographer, you face unique challenges in optimizing your Web site for search engines. Fundamentally, you want your site to showcase your work; unfortunately, a picture is not worth a thousand words to Google.

Sure, Google takes hundreds of variables into consideration when building search engine result pages (SERPs). But while a human can look at your photographs and feel the expressed emotions, understand the story you’re telling, and get a sense for what your expertise is, a search engine needs to be told with text.

That’s why, for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, it’s important for your site to combine text-rich content with a solid visual representation of your work.

Adding Text Content to Your Web Site

Chances are, there’s a lot you can say about yourself and your work on your site. For example —

Home Page. Use your home page to convey clearly what your specialty is, your passion for your work, the geographic location where you shoot, and maybe the amazing number of clients for whom you’ve provided quality work. Write three or four paragraphs to place on your home page, including the keywords identifying you with your specialty.

Bio Page
. While a one-paragraph bio may work for your profile on Photo.net, it’s not going to fly here. Believe me, I understand that writing your own bio is difficult, but you need a minimum of 350 words (again, incorporating your keywords). You’ll probably show up in search engines when someone searches for your name even with a short bio, but the trick here is for your bio page to tell Google they need to associate your name with your specialty. Oh, and this bio needs to be completely different from any other bio you have on the Web — Google hates duplicate content.

Blog. If you are so inclined, start a blog (not a photoblog, that’s different) where you can write about your specialty, describe techniques you use, talk about recent assignments, or anything else you’d like to write about.

Services Page. Create a page that uses your keywords to describe the services you offer and all the ways your clients can come to enjoy your work. Again, you want enough content to appropriately convey the topic you’re covering. One or two paragraphs is not enough.

History of Your Specialty.
Show that you’re more than just a person with a camera; you’re a photographer who maintains a passion for the art form. Host a page on your site with a history of your specialty.

Photographers You Respect. Contrary to popular belief, it is OK to link to other photographers, and it is possible to do so without losing business. Build a page to showcase your five favorite photographers. Talk about why you enjoy their work, how it influences you, and anything else about them you’d like to mention. And link to their sites. (If you’re concerned about losing business, you can always choose photographers who are outside your region or market.)

Placing Keywords in Your Content

Remember that while you’re creating content that’s readable and useful to human visitors, it’s critical that it be noticed by Google.  These pages are designed to be a gateway to your site — helping visitors to find your portfolio and see your work. And that means they must be rich in keywords.

The use of keywords is how search engines determine the terms for which your site should rank. For example, one of your key phrases might be “Houston wedding photographer” or “Boston freelance photojournalist.” There are tools available online to help you research the best keywords for your business.

The thing is, while keyword research is important, it is useless if the keywords aren’t used correctly. From what I’ve seen out there, many photographers would be better off printing out their keyword lists, putting them in an envelope and mailing them to Google rather than continuing with their current practices.

Here are a few pointers for putting your keywords to use in a way that will actually make a difference in your search ranking —

  • Keywords should be different for each page of your Web site
  • Use no more than two key phrases in your title tag and always write unique titles for each page of your site
  • Add keywords next to your name in the header of your bio page (Joe Schmoe – Wedding Photographer)
  • Name your images using your keywords
  • Place your keywords in the alt tag of your images
  • Place keywords in the captions for your images
  • Use high-level, relevant keywords to categorize your photos
  • Use specific keywords to tag your images
  • Try to work keywords into the URL of the page

How well you will rank depends on how many other sites are competing for the same keyword. If you have three sentences of text on a page you want Google to display when someone searches for “wedding photographers,” it’s simply not going to happen without a major off-page (SEO tactics applied outside your Web site) campaign. If you’re looking to rank for a phrase like “amazing wedding photographers in Maryland,” you can probably do so with correct keyword usage and minimal off-page efforts.

Tracking Your Results

Once your site has plenty of text-rich content with appropriately placed keywords, it’s important to track your results so you can continually improve your search position.

It isn’t enough to install a data-collecting feature on your Web pages like Google Analytics; you should be paying attention to what the data tells you, too. The data collected in your analytics package is your key to really understanding what your visitors are looking for and how you can fill the needs they have.

Here are a few key performance indicators you should be listening to, because they are relevant to SEO and how your Web site is doing its job —

Bounce Rate. Depending on the report you’re looking at, this will either be how long visitors stay on a page, or an average of how long they have been on your site. Here’s a secret that some search-engine consultants will deny, and many don’t even know: your bounce rate is an important factor in how long you keep your position in the search engines. If your No. 1 rank drops down to No. 5, look at your bounce rate to see if it’s gone up recently.

Referrers. This is how people are getting to your site. Referrers include search engines, other Web sites, an e-mail with a link to your site, or any other way someone may find you. You can begin to review what Web sites have links to your site and pass on the most traffic, and what search engines you get your visits from.

Region. Pay attention to where your visitors are coming from geographically. If you’re in Texas and the majority of your traffic is coming from Maine, you may want to review how and why you’re attracting so much traffic from that region. You can usually get pretty granular in this report, down to the city. This will also help you gauge any local advertising you do that is intended to push people to your site.

Build text-rich content around your images, place keywords correctly across your site, and learn how to follow up with analytics, and you’re well on your way to a search-optimized photography site.

5 Responses to “When It Comes to SEO, a Picture Is NOT Worth a Thousand Words”

  1. I have been searching for an explanation just like this and I now have a lot more work to do on the site particularly around the alt image, the home and bio page.
    Thanks for this it has REALLY helped.


  2. Levi - nice intro to search considerations for photographers. I'd just caution people not to go overboard with the keywords. You mentioned the word "keyword" (or its plural) 23 times in the article, which gives the impression that it's ALL about the keywords.

    Yes, *text* is critically important but the reason why text (and keyword use) is important is because it's about providing context for the site, as well as providing content that Google is going to think is relevant. (Hint: Using the word "DC photographer" 20 times doesn't make your site 20x more relevant than if you'd used it once.) In other words, the practice of "keyword stuffing" doesn't work.

    You provide a great intro to SEO for photographers; I wouldn't want people glomming on to "keywords, keywords!" and missing the bigger picture. (I.e., do keyword/market research, target long-tail and attainable queries, provide context, go after the local market, write unique copy, make sure your site has multiple pages each optimized for something different, etc.)

  3. @Colin - I'm glad it helped out! Keep up the good work and never be afraid to ask questions.

    @Melanie - Thank you for mentioning what you did. It forced me to go back and realize that I should have mentioned a something rather important regarding the use of keywords.

    Do not target anymore than 3 or 4 (and that is really stretching it, I usually go for 1 or 2) keywords per page.

    This was really intended to focus on what to do with the keywords rather than the research to find them and what to look for. Perhaps I should go back and write that one up too. And btw, I completely agree and want to emphasize, using your keywords too much (stuffing) will do much more harm than good.

  4. Excellent article Levi.

    I've just completed a ten week course on business blogging and SEO for websites and your analysis is spot on!

    Content is king and while there may be ways to cheat your way to the top these will only be short lived. As you say text is the key in addition to building links coming into specific web pages within the site.

    On our last lesson it was also pointed out that there are far more hand-held devices able to access the Internet than computers. This is certainly food for thought when as photographers we like to stick large high resolution images on-line.


  5. Hi Levi, It is always nice to be searching for something and run across the site of someone you have met. I remember meeting you at SEOMoz Seattle last summer! I am going to foward your article to a photagrapher friend of mine. Good work! Thanks.

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