Although I’ve covered SEO for Photographers without being web platform-specific. I’ve decided to list the Essential SEO Steps For WordPress Photography Sites.
I’ve also created a YouTube video
Here’s a link to a Google Search Console help page dealing with images it covers image optimisation in general. It’s worth a read.
The Most Important Steps for An SEO Optimised Site.
- Decide on the Pixel Dimensions You Are Going To Use
I’m specifically talking about your photographs.
WordPress does not make image size easy to understand. So I will explain more at the end of this step.
I’ve personally settled for 2000 pixels on the longest edge. Some will say that’s too large. Some say 1500 pixels longest edge is fine. Google doesn’t recommend anything smaller than 1200 pixels longest edge as this can make the image too small on some high pixel density screens.
But pixel dimensions are important if you care about your images looking their best on all devices. So if you want your image to look good at full size on a 5K Mac with a browser on full screen. You should be uploading at 4000 pixels longest edge.
But 4000 pixels on the longest edge is an extreme that’s not worth catering for. Especially as the file size in bytes would increase page loading time significantly – which is a big no-no for SEO. Plus the owners of 5K Macs are few and not worth sacrificing page loading speed for.
I believe 2000 pixels longest edge to be at the upper limit and suitable for most devices. At 2000 pixels longest edge, sometimes the web browser will do the resizing on very high pixel density screens like a 5K Mac – I can live with that.
But if a browser has to double the size of your image on any screen that’s going to be a very blurry image.
The bottom line is that the pixel dimensions you choose are your choice. You can import at larger pixel dimensions than the large size in Settings>Media if you want to. But try to get it right from the get-go. If you’ve already imported your images at pixel dimensions too large or too small – you’ve got some work to do.
A Heads Up About WordPress And Images
This is an optional read:
WordPress will normally create three more images for every image you bring in. If you go to “Settings>Media” you will see the three other image sizes: Thumbnail, Medium & Large.
WordPress refers to your original image as full-size
If the full-size image you are importing is smaller than WordPress’s “Large Size” – WordPress will not upscale an image to make a Large Size.
WordPress creates these other sizes to ensure that the right image size is delivered to the right device. Whether that be a desktop or a small mobile phone. Also, WordPress will also resize these images dynamically to serve the right size image to a device.
On top of this, your Theme will create its own pixel dimensions for galleries etc. You can sometimes see these sizes under Theme>Settings. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to find out what extra sizes your theme creates.
Your original image, the Full-sized image will not be compressed by WordPress.
The other images created by WordPress and your theme will get compressed using Image Magick compression at 82 quality. This 82 quality bears no relation to the 82 JPEG quality in let’s say Lightroom, or Photoshop when your export your photo.
It’s a big subject but if you’ve published already with let’s say images at 100% JPG quality at 4000 pixels longest edge. Your images are far too large which will slow your site down which is bad for SEO.
On the other hand, if you’ve published at less than 50% JPG quality and at 800 pixels longest edge. Your photos will look pretty awful. On the plus side, no one is going to steal your photos.
- Add An IPTC Title In Your Image Editing Software
Commonly just called the “Title” in the photo’s metadata. This “Title” is read by WordPress if you use a plugin like ‘Media Library Assistant‘. or PhotoPress. This IPTC title can be used as a caption for a photo on a gallery page, for instance, which helps Google understand your image.
- Export at the lowest possible JPEG quality, for the smallest possible file size
50% JPG quality is a good starting point. Go higher or lower for the optimal quality versus file size. Err on the side of low file size every time.
- Compress Your Photo’s File Size Even More
You have 4 choices:
1. Use a Standalone App like ImageOPtim for Mac, or FileOptimizer for Windows. Or, use the JPEGmini plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One.
2. Use an online image optimizer like Google’s Squoosh App.
3. Use a Paid for WordPress Image Optimising Plugin like EWWW IO
4. Use a Free Image optimising plugin like reSmush.it
With options 3 and 4, you are letting WordPress do the image compression. But, don’t forget you still have to keep the JPG quality as low as you can tolerate in your image editing software.
If you’ve no budget for a paid-for plugin use option reSmush.it. It does a fantastic job.
Paid for plugins come with other options like having a CDN (Content Delivery Network) built-in. And some will convert your JPEG’s into the more efficient WebP format. And with a CDN you usually have the options of the CDN doing the image resizing on the fly, which is more efficient than WordPress doing the resizing.
- Make The File Name Describe The Subject Of The Photo. “img0001.jpg” is meaningless to a search engine. But “picture-of-a-kitten.jpg” is descriptive.
There is a WordPress plugin called Media File Renamer which can do automatic file naming based on the “Title” of the image. It has both free and paid-for versions.
- Ensure The Alt Attribute Is Used To Describe The Image
The “alt” attribute might be called different things in different views in your Media Library. For instance, it might be called “Alternative Text”, or just “Alt Text”.
The Alt attribute accompanies the HTML ‘img’ selector and is spoken by Screen Readers for the visually impaired. It also read by search engines. Make it work for you.
- Enter A Caption For Your Photo
The caption will appear below the image on a webpage. It all helps describe your photo. It’s easily added to an image in the Media Library, or even after it’s been uploaded to a page or post. Again it’s read by search engines.
- Write A Descriptive Page Title
Your Title cannot be seen by a web user on the webpage. It can be seen in the name of a tab, or when you bookmark a page. The title is in the HTML head of a webpage.
The page title is important before you press ‘Update’ make sure it describes the subject of your page accurately.
A Title is often used in the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages), as the first line of a listing.
Keep the title under 60 words as it could be truncated in the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) if it’s over 60 words, or even re-written by Google!
- Make Sure Your Photos Work On High Pixel Density Screens
This is not absolutely essential. But as a photographer, we want our images to look their best. Sometimes your photo will be doubled or tripled in size by the web browser which leads to a blurry image.
There is one WordPress plugin that does the work of ensuring your photos look their best on high pixel density screens.
It’s called WP Retina 2x. If you understand nothing about high pixel density screens, just use the free version of the plugin and let it do its work. You can pay for an upgrade to give you more control.
- Install The SEO WordPress Plugin called “Yoast”
There are other SEO plugins, but none are as good as Yoast. and its free version is fine for most of us.
Yoast will automatically make your Title become your H1 header, which is good SEO practice but slightly disconcerting at first.
Use the wizard to setup Yoast which will do a lot of the heavy lifting around SEO for you.
Yoast will do many other things which will make your page more visible to Search Engines, like creating a Sitemap for Google and Bing.
Yoast is a must.
- Populate The Meta Description Tag
Like the Title, this resides in the head section of a webpage. So it’s not normally seen by the end-user. It is definitely read by Search Engines though.
Your Meta Description can sometimes be used in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) to describe your site.
With Yoast installed it will create a meta description tag for you based on the Page Title and the “Site Title” and “Tagline” information used in the WordPress “General Settings”. Which is ok, but not enough for optimal search engine visibility.
So for every page where you definitely want to show up in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP), edit the Meta Description in Yoast on a page by page basis.
- Enable Lazy Loading
Basically, Lazy Loading ensures that the images on a webpage are not loaded straight away but loaded as they come into view – which will decrease page loading times. It can be implemented via your gallery plugin, image optimising plugin or a web caching plugin. Be careful where you decide to implement lazy loading as it can break your site.
- Write For The Reader Not The Search Engine
Good Copy without the unnatural use of keywords is good SEO.
Sure, keywords are used by anyone searching for information online.
But just flooding your copy with keywords unnaturally will be seen as bad by Google. Unsurprisingly Google is pretty clever in this respect. Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-styled SEO experts that might disagree – they’re wrong.
Very importantly for photographers: On your Gallery pages make sure you use some text describing what the Gallery is about. Context is important.
- Have a correct document outline
Use Headers in descending order. Have only one H1 on the page (this rule can be ignored inside of a <section>. Use lists where possible. The more structured your page is the easier it is for Google to understand the page better.
- Check Your Spelling & Grammar
We all make mistakes. I use the free version of Grammarly as a Google Chrome extension.
- Add your site to Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools
Adding your site to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is absolutely vital.
If no one is linking to your site. You will be found eventually by Google and Bing. But if you register your site with Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console, you will visible straight away to the two search engines that matter the most.
For most of us, ‘adding’ of your site to Google Search Console has to be done by adding code to the head of your homepage. Or, using Google Analytics, or Google Tag Manager to verify your site
Since 2019 adding a record to your DNS (Domain Name Server) records which eliminates the use of a Canonical URL.
The Domain method of adding your site is best. If you don’t want to go down this route you might have to install the WordPress plugin called Install Headers and Footers and add the code to the head of your webpage to prove you are the owner of that site.
With access to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, you can see how you are performing from a search engine perspective.
More importantly, you will find out what both Bing and Google think is wrong with your site from a search engine perspective.
- Ensure Your Website Works On Any Device
For most of us, this is a given as most WordPress themes work on multiple devices from the largest desktop to the smallest mobile device.
So for 99.9% of us, this won’t be a problem – but you never know.
If you have Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools it will tell how your site is performing on mobile devices.
Take note of what is warns you about, and action any problems it highlights.
This also tells Google you care, which you never know, could even be a positive ranking signal.
- Make Sure Your Webpages Load Fast
This is one of Google’s biggest long term goals, it does not like sites that take more than 2.5 seconds to load on a mobile under normal network conditions.
Many users worldwide do not have the latest phones and maybe on they are on very slow networks.
So, If your site is image-heavy (which photography sites are) and slow loading on mobile devices, Google will see this as a negative ranking signal.
So much that has been said already here about image file size in bytes is vitally important if you need to be ranked by Google in the SERP.
- Implement Web Caching
Caching will make your webpages load faster.
But, caching can be problematic as you need to know what, if any, web caching your hosting provider uses now.
So the first thing is to find out what caching you have, if any, already.
Ask what your hosting provider recommends to boost your caching capabilities. If your hosting provider is non-committal, you won’t go far wrong using the caching plugin from WP Rocket.
There are free web caching plugins but you will find the paid-for plugin called WP Rocket the best. This plugin can also work with your hosting provider’s web caching. And importantly it works with the major slider & gallery plugins.
All this control can make caching tricky to manage especially if you are updating your content.
Due to the online editing aspect of WordPress, you might have to do a lot of purging of your web caches to ensure you are working with the latest version of your site. Be prepared for some bad language.
- Use a Content Delivery Network
A CDN is a network of servers worldwide placed in strategic locations worldwide to provide cached versions of webpages closest to the end-user.
A good example would be a webpage which is hosted on a server in London being served up to an end-user in Japan via a CDN server in Tokyo. And very importantly this will be a cached version of your webpage which improves page loading times significantly.
Even given your end-user is in the same country as your web hosting server, CDN’s will still decrease page loading times as CDN servers are usually far more powerful than most web hosting servers.
There are many options with CDN’s. I’ve opted for EWWW Image Optimizer’s built-in CDN. In fact, EWWW IO serves my whole site up via a CDN for a very reasonable 9$ fee per month under normal usage.
There are even CDN’s just for images out there which are quite affordable. Choose your CDN carefully as some CDN’s are quite expensive and aimed large enterprise websites.
From what I’ve seen KeyCDN is very affordable.
If you can’t afford a paid-for CDN, Cloudflare offers a free CDN for most of the static files on your site, but not images, unfortunately.
EWWW IO plugin is serving me well with its built-in CDN
- Test your Site
There are many methods but the most user-friendly method is to use the website called GT Metrix.
Take note of what it recommends. Some of GT Metrix’s recommendations might require web development skills to implement, but some recommendations you can definitely do yourself.
I also recommend Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider software for checking your site for things like Meta Descriptions and much more. It’s limited in the free version to 500 URL’s (Uniform Resource Locators).
- Social Media
Not as important as you might think.
Social Media is important as it helps to bring people to your site. And it makes you as person or organisation more prominent, but it does not necessarily me your website will get more hits.
Also, a spike in social media activity is probably a positive ranking signal for search engines, which probably will probably move your webpages higher in the SERP.
If you have a Facebook business page, or a Google Business listing, post once in a while. Think of the impression you are giving the world if you have a Facebook business page than hasn’t had a post in over a year.
- Be careful in your use of Tags and Categories
Every Tag and every Category will have its own webpage listing any posts you’ve published with those tags and categories. These pages are normally indexed by Search Engine Bots.
If a certain tag only occurs on a single post, there will be a tag page with just that one post on it, usually summarised. But of course, there will be the page itself. This could lead to duplicate content problems.
Plus it’s not good practice to have hundreds of tags and categories as it makes your site look confusing to both users and search engines.
That said, not everyone blogs, and if you are only using static pages then you won’t have to worry about categories or tags.
- Have Patience and Stay Fresh
Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t just expect to list at the top of Google Search Engine Result Pages straight away.
Keep creating content. Stay fresh. And that also means refreshing already published content to make it relevant.
The freshness of your content is a positive ranking signal for Google. It’s a bit like friends, if you don’t contact each other – you forget about each other. Keep posting, keep refreshing your content.
Don’t become obsessive about your SERP ranking. You are meant to adding value. If you add value search engines will notice you.
Don’t go in for – you link to me I’ll link to you. It doesn’t work.
Don’t copy others work.
Don’t be Spammy.