Anything marked up with the less/greater than symbols <> is HTML, code for instance, <section>, or <img>.
I cannot assume you even know what the acronym SEO stands for its “Search Engine Optimisation”. Google does not like the term as it implies you are writing for the search engine, not the user.
- Backlink – Incoming link from another website outside of your domain.
- <body> The meat of your page. The most important part of SEO.
- CSS – Cascading Style Sheets. HTML marks up. CSS Styles.
- <head> The first part of a webpage not seen by the end-user. It’s a container for scripts and CSS links etc. It is also where the <title> and the <meta description> resides.
- HTML – Hypertext Mark-up Language.
- Index – What Google’s search bot does with website data. It puts it into an Index.
- IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council). This is metadata for things like the Copyright and Title inside an image file.
- Meta Description which is in the <head> of the document and not normally seen by the end-user. A meta description is there to describe the page. Its use as the description in a search result listing is common. It does not serve any other function.
- Retina – High Pixel Density Screen. “Retina” is Apple’s proprietary name, but the name Retina has become synonymous with High Pixel Density Screens.
- Search Bot – The search robot that crawls the web following links. Googlebot for instance.
- SERP (Search Engine Result Pages).
- <title> Which is in the <head> of a webpage and not normally seen by the end-user. The <title> appears as the tab name in a browser, and when you bookmark a page the <title> becomes the name of the bookmark.
- User Intent – What a searcher is looking for; and that might not be clear as many users just use keywords, not complete sentences.
Photo Heavy Sites are bad for SEO
Page loading speed
Images take up a lot of space in bytes. A photo gallery, for example, is going to take longer to load than a webpage without images.
Slow loading sites are a negative ranking signal for usability.
Google Does Not Care About Your Photos
You might have stunning photos. Google’s search bot does not care about the quality – it needs to know what your webpage or photo is all about.
Photos need context and there are many ways of letting the search bot know what a single image or a Gallery page is all about. I will cover this subject later.
Google Search Guidelines
Google does have search guidelines: Webmaster, Quality & General. They are worth a quick look. The Quality Guidelines warn against spammy SEO techniques. The Webmaster Guidelines are more about the technical side of SEO.
Can Google crawl your site, is an obvious example of a guideline?
Summary of SEO Actions
Some of these actions are edited versions of Google’s SEO recommendations. They are common sense in many ways. I will get into the detail further down the page in the “Essential SEO Steps In Detail” section.
Can Search Engine Robots find you?
- A search engine bot will find your site if another site has a link (Backlink) to your site.
- You can register your site with Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools. Then you will be immediately visible to the search bot.
- Have a sitemap. The Sitemap gives search bots a list of the crawlable pages on your site. The SEO Plugin Yoast will do this for you automatically.
- Ensure your navigation menu works across your site. If you have a web page without incoming, or outgoing links and no navigation menu, it is unlikely that Google/Bing Bot will find that page.
Help Search Engines Understand Your Site
- Have excellent quality content that adds value.
- Use keywords in a natural way. Do not overuse them.
- Make your <title> descriptive. Avoid a generic <title>. The <title> should be unique and specific.
- Avoid having a webpage that requires user interaction to show content. Google sees this as a negative signal for accessibility.
- Surround your photos with as much contextual information as possible. We will cover this subject later.
- If you have 3rd party advertising or Affiliate links add rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored” in the <a> link. This tells Google not to follow these links or use these links as a ranking signal for your site.
- Your site should have a robust navigation menu with a proper hierarchal structure. Any page on your site should be reachable from another page in just a couple of mouse clicks.
Help your users (Usability)
- Do not use images to convey important information like names, or links. If you do use an image use the HTML <alt> attribute to describe the name or link.
- Test your site in is many browsers and devices as you can.
- Optimise your site for speed. A good caching plugin will do a lot of this for you.
- Optimise your images to the lowest possible size in bytes.
- Test the performance of your webpages using a service like GTmetrix.
Quality (Don’t be Spammy)
- Write, naturally, and don’t copy or scrape from other sites.
- Don’t use deception to get users to carry out an action. For example, entice someone to click on an advert.
- Don’t use techniques for artificially boosting your search engine ranking. Like buying backlinks.
- Offer something different which engages an end-user. Be original. Don’t copy others work.
Essential SEO Steps in Detail
Do you want to be found on the web? These following steps are essential for WordPress Photography sites.
SEO For Your Photos
Get the Pixel Dimensions right
Heads-up about WordPress and Pixel Dimensions
WordPress creates four other images for every single image it imports.
- Full Size – which is your original upload
- Medium-Large – which is not seen in the Media Settings
Go to Settings>Media to see your WordPress image dimensions
WordPress will not create pixel dimensions larger than the Full Size (original) image. For example, if you upload an image at 500 x 500 pixels, and the large size is set at 1024 x 1024 pixels — WordPress will not create the large size.
WordPress does not upscale images.
Themes and Plugins also create further sizes (pixel dimensions)
Further to the pixel dimensions that WordPress creates, your theme or your plugins will create further images with different pixel dimensions.
Your theme or plugin should tell you the sizes it requires for the galleries. This is usually in the Theme>Setting — hopefully.
If the information is not there then finding out is not easy. Some Image related plugins like EWWW IO & WP Retina x2 will show you the pixel dimensions of all sizes in the settings of the plugin.
If you know what pixel dimensions your gallery needs — try to stick to those dimensions. Especially the width.
What Pixel Dimensions should you use then?
I’m specifically talking about your photographs here.
More specifically I mean Galleries with Lightboxes or sliders. Places where you show-off your photos.
I’ve personally settled on 1600 pixels longest edge. Going over 2000 pixels longest edge is counterproductive.
I have covered the subject of Pixel Dimensions in another blog post:
I have a YouTube video on Pixel Dimensions and PPI
Export at a 50% JPEG quality or Lower
In Lightroom and Photoshop, 50% JPG quality is a good starting point. Go higher or lower for the best 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:
- Use a Standalone App or Plugin like ImageOPtim for Mac, or FileOptimizer for Windows. Or, use the JPEGmini plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture One.
- Use an online image optimizer like Google’s Squoosh App.
- Use a paid-for WordPress Image Optimising Plugin like EWWW IO
- 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 in your image editing software.
If you’ve no budget for a paid-for plugin use reSmush.it. It does a fantastic job for free.
Paid for plugins come with other add-ons like a CDN (Content Delivery Network). Some image optimising plugins will even convert your JPEG’s into the more efficient WebP format on the fly. And to top it off, they can do the resizing as well.
I have covered Image Optimising Plugins before:
Enable Lazy Loading
Lazy Loading ensures that the images on a webpage do not load at once but load as they come into view as you scroll down the page.
Lazy Loading will allow a user to interact with a webpage quicker without all the images downloading first.
There are many ways of implementing Lazy Loading. For example, a gallery plugin, an image optimising plugin, a web caching plugin, or your Website Hosting provider might supply a web caching service.
Make Your Photos Work On High Pixel Density Screens
Making sure your photos look crisp on high pixel density screens is important. As photographers, we want our images to look their best. Serving the right image to high pixel density screens ensures your image will not look blurry by stopping browser resizing.
There is one WordPress plugin that does the work of ensuring your photos look their best on high pixel density screens. Its name is WP Retina x2
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 gain more control.
You will require a bulk conversion if you have existing images.
Make The File Name Describe The Subject Of The Photo.
“img0001.jpg” is meaningless to a search engine. But “a-kitten-playing-with-a-ball-of-wool.jpg” is descriptive.
Google is clever enough to recognise the picture has a kitten and a ball of wool without any contextual information. But why not reinforce the subject of the image with the file name.
There is a WordPress plugin called Media File Renamer which can do automatic image file naming using the “Title” of the image using the IPTC Title from Lightroom or Photoshop. Media File Renamer has both free and paid-for versions.
Use The Alt Attribute To Describe The Image
The “alt” attribute will have different names depending on the way you view your media files in the Media Library. It’s either called “Alt” or “Alternative Text”
The “alt” attribute goes with 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. Add the Caption to the image in the Media Library, or even after an upload in a page or post.
The search engine reads the Caption. So it is useful.
Add An IPTC Title & Copyright In Your Image Editing Software
IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council)
For Lightroom and Photoshop users, both the “Title” and the “Copyright” is IPTC image metadata.
Search Engines will read The IPTC title. Also, Galleries can utilise the IPTC data to help populate the gallery.
This all helps Google understand your image and saves you having to populate the image Title box in the gallery.
Heads Up about Copyright
If you populate the Copyright in Lightroom or Photoshop and you include the Copyright on export. If your image appears in a Google image search the copyright will stay with the image. This many stop image theft or at least the downloader is aware of the copyright.
SEO Plugins and Webpage Metadata
Install The SEO WordPress Plugin called Yoast
There are other SEO plugins, but none are as good as Yoast and the free version is fine for most of us.
Use the wizard to setup Yoast.
Once set up it will do a lot for you without any intervention from you.
To make Yoast more effective you should change the Meta Description for every page and act on its recommendations. I credit Yoast for any success I’ve had with SEO.
Yoast will do many other things which will make your page more visible to Search Engines, like creating a Sitemap for search bots.
Heads-up, Yoast will automatically make your <title> become your <h1> and page URL, which is good SEO practice but slightly disconcerting at first.
Yoast is a must-have plugin.
Write A Descriptive Page Title <title>
Yoast SEO plugin can help with the populating of the <title>.
Your <title> is normally invisible to a web user on the webpage. It will show as the name of a browser tab or when you bookmark a page. The title is in the HTML head of a webpage.
The use of the <title> as the Title in your search result listing is common.
Keep the title under 60 words or truncation might occur in the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages). Or Google might re-write the title using parts of your copy instead.
The rewriting of Titles to reflect the user’s intent is common.
Spend as much time as you can constructing a title it’s the biggest driver of click-throughs to your site in the search engine result pages.
Retrospectively changing your title or URL six months down the line might damage that page’s ranking or even remove from the page from the index completely — effectively creating a new page.
Populate The Meta Description Tag
The Yoast SEO plugin will allow you to change the meta description on a page by page basis.
In the HTML, the meta description will look something like this:
<meta name="description" content="This a gallery of my latest wedding shoot">
Like the <title>, the Meta Description is in the <head> section of a webpage. and it is not normally seen. It is read by Search Engines.
Keep the <meta description> under 160 characters to avoid truncation in your search listing.
Change your Meta Description on a page by page basis using Yoast. Don’t repeat the meta description tag across pages. Make it unique.
The Meta Description can end up as the description in a search result. Not always though as Google might choose a part of your copy.
- The Title —may or may not be your Title.
- Snippet — may or may not be your Meta Description.
If a page fulfils the user intent but Google feels the Meta Description and Title are irrelevant to the user’s intent. Then Google will rewrite the Title and the Meta Description using the page copy as a primary source
Finally, the meta description is not a search ranking signal.
Write For The Reader Not The Search Engine
Good Copy without the unnatural use of keywords is good for SEO.
Using Keywords alone, instead of phrases, or sentences is a common way of querying a search engine.
Your copy needs to have those keywords for search engine visibility.
Do not flood your copy with keywords unnaturally as this will be a negative ranking signal to Google.
Unsurprisingly Google is clever in this respect. Do not treat Google like a deaf elderly relative.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEO experts that might disagree with my stance on keywords – they are wrong. Google is explicit in its documentation, videos, and blog about the detrimental (to SEO) overuse of keywords.
Very importantly for photographers: On your Gallery pages 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 (ignore this rule if it use in inside of a <section> tag.
Use lists where possible. The more structured your page is the easier it is for Google to understand the page.
Use internal linking
If you think someone reading a page on your site will get benefit from reading a similar page — link to the page.
If you use tags properly you can customise the site to automatically include related pages. For me, I have to go to Customise>Blog>Single Post and turn on “Show Related Posts“. If you don’t have that facility just use a standard link.
Use Structured Data if Possible
Structured Data is just a method of marking up data to make it easier to understand for search engines which in turn leads to richer results in the SERP.
The data scheme is schema.org which is a collaboration between the major search engines. Schema.org is their name as well as their web address.
The list of the types of data you can mark-up is growing all the time. Think recipes, events, film reviews, people, products, you get the idea.
Yoast does a lot in the background which you don’t see. For Instance, Yoast creates a schema property for a blog post which uses the schema.org “article” property.
If you choose “Organisation” in the setup wizard of Yoast, there will be an ‘Organisation’ property created for you.
With Gutenberg WordPress release we can also add two blocks when creating content if you use Yoast:
- How To
Heads-Up about Structured Data
There’s no guarantee Google will use your structured data in a search result.
Google doesn’t want you to leave their site – Google’s profits come from people seeing and clicking on Google’s Adverts (Adwords).
Google might present your structured data in the search results answering the user’s intent/question without that user leaving the Google search page. This scenario is becoming more common.
This could lead to fewer people visiting your site not more.
Check Your Spelling & Grammar
We all make mistakes. I use the free version of Grammarly as a Google Chrome extension. It’s good. There is a Safari Version.
Do Not overdo WordPress tags and categories
It is not good practice to have hundreds of tags and categories as it makes your site look confusing to both users and search engines.
Ensure Your Website is Usable On Any Device
A site that adapts to the different devices is a responsive site.
Most if not all WordPress themes and plugins are responsive to different devices from the largest TV to the smallest phone. Don’t assume this though do some testing.
If you have Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools, they will tell how your site is performing on mobile devices.
Take note of what is warns you about, and action any problems it highlights.
Here’s a quote from Google about usability.
When ranking results, Google Search also evaluates whether webpages are easy to use. When we identify persistent user pain points, we develop algorithms to promote more usable pages over less usable ones, all other things being equal.How Google Search Works
Ensure your site works on any Web Browser
Much of this is in the hands of our Theme or Plugin creators.
Do test your site on different browsers and on different devices. And inform whoever wrote the theme or plugin there is a problem on a certain browser or device. Especially if you are still in the first six months of free support with a paid theme or plugin.
Make Your Webpages Load Fast
We’ve dealt with bloated photos. But there could be a multitude of other factors slowing down the page loading speed.
If your site is loads slowly especially on mobile devices, Google will see this as a negative search ranking signal.
There are many things that can affect the page loading speed. One is having too many plugins.
It could be that your website hosting provider is causing the problem. You need to upgrade your hosting plan or change your hosting provider
It is possible to hunt down problems using GT Metrix or similar online tools.
Here’s a quote from Google’s search documentation about Page loading speed.
Since website owners can improve the usability of their site, we work hard to inform site owners in advance of significant, actionable changes to our Search algorithms. For example, in January 2018 we announced that our algorithms would begin to consider the ‘page speed’ of sites, six months before the changes went live.How Google Search Works
Implement Web Caching
Caching is the temporary storage of web data for reuse. It helps stop every request for data coming from the Origin Server (the hosting provider).
Caching will make your webpages load faster
Caches usually store data that doesn’t change often like your CSS, or images.
Caches can appear in various places for example:
- Your browser cache you are using now has a private cache.
- Website hosting providers usually have a dedicated caching server.
- Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) might have a proxy cache for often accessed webpages.
- CDN (Content Delivery Networks) use caching.
- Organisations often proxy caches
Find out what caching you have now. Your hosting provider might have a robust caching capability already.
Ask your site hosting provider what they recommend for boosting your caching performance. 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 is the best. WP Rocket plugin can also work with your hosting provider’s web caching. And importantly it works with the major slider & gallery plugins.
Heads-Up about Caching
All this caching can make updating your pages tricky to manage especially when updating your content.
Due to the online editing aspect of WordPress, you might have to do a lot of purging of your caches to ensure you are working with the latest version of your site.
Use a Content Delivery Network
A CDN is a network of servers worldwide in strategic locations serving cached assets of webpages closest to the end-user. This minimises Network Latency.
For example, if an end-user in Tokyo is accessing a page hosted on a server in London – network latency will slow page loading time significantly.
In the CDN scenario, the Tokyo end-user will access a cached version of the site from a CDN Server in Tokyo. Thereby reducing network latency and reducing page load time significantly.
There are many options with CDN’s. I’ve opted for EWWW Image Optimizer’s built-in CDN.
EWWW IO serves my entire site up via a CDN for a very reasonable nine US Dollars 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 at large enterprise websites.
From what I see 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 for Speed & SEO
There are many methods for testing performance, but the most user-friendly method is to use the website called GT Metrix
Some of GT Metrix’s recommendations might require web development skills to implement, but some recommendations you can do yourself like optimising images.
I also recommend Screaming Frog’s, SEO Spider Tool. The tool checks your site for things like Meta Descriptions and much more. In the free version, you can analyse up to 500 URL’s (Uniform Resource Locators)
SEO Spider is an auditing tool you can see all the important data in one place.
Try and get Backlinks from trusted sources
Don’t buy links. Google could de-index your site.
It’s logical that having a site that Google trusts that’s linking to you will be a positive ranking signal for a webpage.
Some SEO experts see backlinking the Mount Everest of SEO, the more backlinks the more you will rise up the SERP.
In my opinion, backlinks are far less important than your content.
The Page Rank Algorithm in the early days of Google was a backlink counter that also took into account the quality of the links. It was Google’s first algorithm. The “Page” in the name is actually “Larry Page” one of the founders of Google.
Don’t go in for the “I will link to you if you link to me” Google will see that negatively especially if the pages linked don’t share a common subject or theme.
Links are important, but as Google’s machine learning algorithms understand natural language and semantic meaning more.
There will be less emphasis on backlinks as search ranking signals in the future. In my humble opinion.
Add your site to Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools
If no one is linking to your site, Google and Bing will eventually find your site.
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.
Adding your site (property) to Google Search Console
The various methods are:
- HTML file upload
- HTML tag
- DNS record
- Google Analytics tracking code
- Google Tag Manager container snippet
Since 2019 you can add data to your DNS (Domain Name Server) records which eliminates the use of a Canonical URL. These DNS records are usually accessible if you bought your name from the same place as you host your site. If you are not confident ask your hosting provider to add the data for you.
A Canonical URL in this context picking one version of your site for Google Search Console to assess your performance on. That could be the non-www version: http://yoursite.com. The www version: http://www.yoursite.com as two examples.
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t go down the DNS route of registering your site.
With access to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, you can see how you are performing from a search engine perspective.
Many people have Google Search Console but never look at it. They are missing a lot. The performance reports alone give you so much insight into what keywords are bringing people to your site and the keywords which aren’t.
A red flag is when searchers seeing your listing many times (seeing = Impressions) but not clicking on your listing. It could be your Meta Description and Title needs to be more descriptive.
Optimising your website for search engines has nothing to do with Social Media.
Social Media is a valuable tool for marketing your business as it helps to bring people to your site. That makes you as a person, or your organisation more prominent. This could, in turn, lead to more hits on your website. But that is not SEO.
Having links to your social media profiles on your site is taking users away from your site. On the other side having links to your site on your social media posts is a must-do.
Google will know your site is receiving a spike in traffic from Social Media. Google might in the short term rank your webpages higher in the SERP.
I only mention Social Media here as it is necessary for marketing your business. Make sure your blog posts are on social media.
Bottom Line About Social Media & SEO
Every post you do on social media put a link to your site.
Add regular posts to your social media accounts
If you have a Facebook business page or a Google Business listing, post occasionally especially on your Facebook business page. Think of the impression you are giving the world if you have a Facebook business page which hasn’t had a post in over a year.
Finally – Have Patience and Stay Fresh
You can’t just expect to be 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.
Consider blogging to add regular content to your site.
If you have a website that has galleries and little content in terms of text. And you haven’t added a photo or a new webpage in a long time. You will slowly slide down the SERP.
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 to the world. If you add value search engines will notice you – eventually.
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 shown 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-size image will not have compression applied.
The other images created by WordPress and your theme will have compression 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 20% JPG quality and at 800 pixels longest edge. Your photos will look awful. On the plus side, no one is going to steal your photos.