- SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – a term Google does not like.
- SERP – Search Engine Results Pages.
- CDN – Content Delivery Network. Basically Servers worldwide.
- White Hat SEO – good (acceptable to Google) SEO methods
- Black Hat SEO – bad (unacceptable to Google) SEO methods.
- Meta Description – A user-defined summary of a webpage stored in the HEAD section of a webpage.
- Origin Server = Hosting Server where your site is actually stored.
- Search Bot, Spider, Web Crawler etc = The automated process of parsing data from websites used to populate Search Engine Result Pages.
- Keywords are words related to the intent of the person doing the searching on a search engine.
- SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) HTTPS protocol.
- Structured Data, or Schema Markup = data that has been organised in a structured way so that search engines can present information in an easy format. Like food recipes for instance.
- Site Map: XML (written in text) file showing the structure of your site to a search spider. Pretty much essential. If you are on WordPress any SEO plugin will do this for you.
- URL: Uniform Resource Locator, or more simply a Web Address.
Good SEO practices
Before I go any further there’s something that’s very important I need to mention.
If you don’t register your site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools or any other search engine site. And no one is backlinking to you. Then you will be difficult to find, but you will get found eventually by Google.
Here’s the list of good SEO practices in no particular order:
- Output your JPG’s at the lowest possible quality.
- Further compress your JPG’s (Adobe doesn’t compress JPEG’s enough) using plugins in WordPress, or standalone/online applications.
- Describe images via the HTML Alt tag.
- Make the image file name describe the image. For example “the-hay-wain-by-constable.jpg” is better “img0001.jpg”
- Make sure your site works on mobile, i.e. it’s Responsive and does not use a mobile version like m.mysite.com.
- Make sure your pages load quickly. Two seconds and under on mobile devices under normal network conditions is Google’s benchmark for performance.
- Make sure your site uses the secure HTTPS protocol. Recommended but not yet essential yet. It will be going forward.
- Implement Caching on your site. if you are using WordPress find a caching plugin like WP Rocket. If you are not on WordPress ask your hosting provider what caching they use, and what they recommend to enhance your caching capabilities.
- Consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
- Write descriptive page Titles. Not just “Photo Gallery” for example.
- Write a Meta Description (stored in the <head> of your webpage) of the content of your page. On WordPress, an SEO plugin will allow you easy access to this. Most popular website builders will allow easy access to this as well. Or, you might have to delve into the HTML to do it yourself.
- If you are using WordPress use the Freemium SEO plugin called Yoast there are others but Yoast is the best.
- Write some content for your site, even if this is just an About Me page. Google likes text over images.
- Create Google My Business, Bing for Business listings and create a Facebook business page.
- Join Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Do not ignore Bing. People on Windows systems at work use Bing a lot.
- Make sure your social media accounts have links to your website.
- Post on social media and interact with people.
- Test your site with one of the many web performance sites out there. Or, if you use Google Chrome, use the Lighthouse extension.
- Try and avoid using sliders on your site. They slow your site down.
- DO NOT overuse keywords deliberately for the sake of ranking higher in SERP. (Search Engine Results Pages) – It doesn’t work.
- Write for your readers, not the search engines.
- Give your page structure so it has a correct document outline by using headers in the right order. Try to use H1 only once and at the top of the page.
- Try to use internal linking to your own pages (other than the navigation menu). It helps Google understand your site structure.
- Try and get people to link to you. The more trusted the site is that links to you, the better it is.
- Spell and Grammar check your pages.
- Try and use Structured Data. As photographers were unlikely to need structured data but you never know.
Well, I’m a photographer, and I’ve been slapped down the Search Results Pages due to a slow loading site.
I was too proud to drop the JPG quality and pixel dimensions of my images. That led to a slow loading site which in turn affects SERP (Search Engine Result Pages). Of course, there are many other factors that lead to a low SERP position. But slow loading sites has become one of the biggest factors stopping a site getting listed in the SERP.
The reasons photography sites often score badly for SEO is as follows:
- Lots of Images. Images are the biggest contributing factor for slowing sites down. Images make up 90 per cent of the data on the web.
- Large Image file sizes. Photographers often will often favour JPG quality over smaller file size.
- Website Builders. Photographers will use Website Builders like Wix or Squarespace which often create slow loading sites. As of June 2019, this appears to be true.
- Lack of context. Photography websites have little text normally and therefore little content. Google favours words over images.
- Lazy. Some photographers cannot be bothered to populate the Alt tags on their images. An Alt Tag clarifies what an image is about for the search bots.
What About Bing
Google is the biggest player in the search engine arena. So, I’m not going to mention Bing too much. But, you should register your site with Bing Webmaster Tools.
Don’t forget many people in offices have Windows Systems computers, that use the Microsoft Edge browser which is usually defaulted to using Bing as the default search engine.
Isn’t SEO Nonsense?
No, it isn’t nonsense. But it’s an industry with its fair share with of people with no technical training and a large dose of self-confidence.
Unfortunately, some SEO experts use spammy techniques that can lead to short term gains. But, in the long-term, they do far more damage.
Digital Marketing is Good
Digital Marketing is important if you need to raise your business profile.
Search engine optimisation is arguably a branch of Digital Marketing.
If I was to employ someone to make my digital presence more prominent I would employ an expert in Digital Marketing. Not someone whose Job Title was SEO Expert.
Google Is Not Stupid
Google is constantly updating its search algorithms. Along with that, Google has a small army of human beings constantly reviewing sites.
If Google thinks you are trying to manipulate the search results by keyword stuffing your text, or buying backlinks to your site. Your site will be dead in the water in the long term.
Short term your site might rise up the rankings. But in the long term not only you will your site go down the search rankings. You might not even show up at all.
If you make the effort to read Google’s documentation and watch their Webmaster YouTube videos. The, you will learn that good SEO boils down to a few important things.
- Your site must work on a mobile device.
- Your site ideally uses SSL (HTTPS),
- Your site must load fast on a mobile device and be useable ideally in two seconds or under.
- Must have good quality content relevant to the search query.
- A site must have trust and authority. This trust and authority can be gained in many ways. It can be sites linking to you that already have authority. Or, it can be simply Google thinks you are an expert in your field. There are currently 200 factors affecting SERP rankings.
I could further refine this list and mention rich snippets and schemas, and the importance of descriptive Title Tags. But, I see these five things as the biggest contributing factors towards getting listed higher in the Search Engine Result Pages.
Not even Google tells Google about the Search Team
Google has an internal Chinese wall around its Search Team. Even Google’s employees are informed on a need-to-know basis when it comes to their search engine algorithms.
So if someone claims to be an SEO expert you’ve got to ask yourself how did they become an expert. And, by whose authority did they gain the title Expert, it certainly wasn’t Google giving them that title.
How Come Some SEO Experts Have a Proven Track Record?
Because in the past Google’s search algorithms were simplistic and open to abuse. And boy did Google get abused.
The methods some SEO experts using were given the term either Black Hat (Spammy) as opposed to White Hat.
These Black Hat methods included:
- Hiding text by making it the same colour as the background allowing for keyword stuffing.
- Buying Backlinks to sites
- Filling up the Metadata in the head of page with keywords
- Unnatural use of keywords in the text of a webpage.
All these methods no longer work to enhance your search engine rankings.
Google doesn’t even like the term SEO because it implies you are creating content for a Search Engine rather than a fellow human.
SEO experts are not the devil, and I’m not saying their services are totally worthless. Though some Web Developers definitely think that SEO is pointless.
If you’ve got a massive site with lots of pages, and you’ve been sloppy. Then getting someone to focus on the errors is a good thing. But, paying someone a king’s ransom is not necessary.
The skills of a Good SEO are:
- Good command of English.
- A good communicator (you might have to ask for Backlinks from other sites).
- Able to use Google Analytics and Microsoft Excel to create reports with metrics to prove that their efforts are working.
- Testimonials from previous clients, that you can contact.
Want To Learn SEO? try Google First.
Google have Guidelines. A good place to start is their Webmaster Guidelines. They also have guidelines on Content and Quality.
Get the Technical SEO Right First
I don’t like the term Technical SEO but it’s not going away because I don’t like it.
If I were to define Technical SEO. I would say it’s following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Or cynically put, technical SEO is something your SEO expert does not understand because it involves code.
What you do now for Higher SERP
Make your Images load faster
- Decide on what pixel dimensions you are going to use for your photos. Going above 2600 pixels on the longest edge is not necessary. If you are on WordPress check what size your theme wants for Gallery Pages. This is usually found in the “Theme Settings” under “Media”.
- In your Image Editing Software export out your photos at the lowest possible JPEG quality setting for the smallest possible file size.
- Further, optimise your images using one of the many online or standalone solutions. The big one that stands out, and it’s a Google product called the Squoosh.app.
- If you’ve got WordPress there are some very good plugins available so you can skip No.2 and just upload your photos and let the plugin do the work. I’ve covered this topic here
- Use Alt tags on your images to describe the image. And use captions if you can.
- Try and avoid sliders if you can, as pretty as they are, they slow a webpage’s download speed.
Use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) – HTTPS
This will ensure your site has HTTPS rather than HTTP. Google Chrome now puts ‘Not Secure’ in the browser bar as a warning if a site doesn’t have SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL is now a ranking factor for SERP. There’s talk of Google not showing sites in SERP if they not using SSL.
Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
Google favours sites that work on mobile. If your site does not work on mobile devices it’s guaranteed to get your site pushed down the SERP rankings. Well at least if someone does a Google search using a mobile device.
The terms responsive and adaptive relate to sites that work on both mobile and desktop.
Write descriptive Page Title Tags
Common sense really. In WordPress, the title is this first thing you start on a page, and it usually becomes the URL as well.
Use the Meta Description Tag
The Meta Description sits in the HEAD section of a webpage i.e. where it can’t be seen. It’s there to tell search engines something about a webpage.
It used to be very important, and it was often abused by people who flooded it with keywords.
The Meta Description is less important than the content on your page. See it as a complimentary summary to the content of your webpage.
If you are on WordPress, using the SEO plugin Yoast allows you to edit the Meta Description.
If you are on another Website Builder you might have access to Meta Description. Failing this you might have to go inside the code to do it yourself.
Meta Keywords also lies in the had HEAD of a webpage. Fill it in if you wish but it’s no longer a significant factor according to the Google Search Team.
Write Good Content
Write for your readers not for the Search Engines.
Always spell check. Even good spellers make typos.
Don’t scrape or copy others content. Google will know you are doing this. There’s no harm in asking permission to use someone else’s content and then mark it appropriately so Google recognises that you are paraphrasing others work.
Do not stuff your page with too many repetitions of keywords. Good content is nuanced and has a natural balance of keyword use.
Give Your Page a Document Outline
Use H1 once only and at the top of a page.
Then structure your page with the correct headers. Also, ensuring that paragraphs are not too long, and lists are used where possible to bullet point data.
Gain Trust and Authority
This is a vast subject and is argued about more than anything else.
How Search Engines rank your webpages is a closely guarded secret. It’s driven by constantly changing algorithms and human reviewers.
This trust and authority can be influenced by many factors.
I don’t know for sure what will give you more trust and authority. And no does anyone else outside of the Google Search Team.
There is no golden key. But, there is one definite way to gain trust. Get other sites that are trusted link to your website.
Quite who is trusted and who is not cannot always be apparent. But, if a USA government site is linking to your website – that’s good.
There’s no harm in asking for a link from someone, just spend some time in constructing the request. Think what are we both getting from this. Maybe praising the websites author in a web post might go a long way.
Google Search Console
Make sure you register your site with Google Search Console.
The registration process is a bit intimidating as it can require you to put metadata in the head of your webpages. That’s easy for some, not for others. There is a plug-in for WordPress called Insert Headers and Footers which is very useful for this.
Some hosting providers like Godaddy have a seamless method for integrating Search Console without resorting messing with site code.
Once registered there are a host of reports you can run. Also, you can receive warnings about your site from Google.
The warnings and reports are important. It’s Google’s way of telling you about the health of your site from the point of view of the Googlebot.
Do join Bing Webmaster. Much of what is said above applies to Bing Webmaster.
List your Business on Google, Bing and Facebook
Essential If you serve a local community. And, even if you don’t operate locally, get set up on Google My Business, and Bing Places for Business and get a Facebook Business Page.
This all helps your online presence.
To say that Social Media is very important for SEO is incorrect.
Instagram might make YOU more prominent.
But it is doesn’t have a huge impact on how Google ranks Your Webpage in SERP.
But, social media is important in bringing people to your site. That, in turn, has got to be an influencing factor in SEO. How much Google is influenced by your Social Media presence – only Google knows.
Social Media is transitory so your site might get a short term boost if your social media accounts are getting a spike in traffic.
P.S. If you are going to link your business to your social media accounts at least once in a while post something on these social media accounts.
Developer Mode and the Chrome Lighthouse Extension
Every web browser has a Develop Mode. Try this keyboard shortcut now.
Remember to use the same keyboard shortcut to close Developer Mode down afterwards.
Alt for Windows, Option for Mac. Command for a Mac, Control for Windows.
(Alt or Option) + (Command or Control) + I
As you will see there’s a lot of information in developer mode that many of us will not understand. All is not lost though.
There’s a Google Chrome extension called Lighthouse which can give you a summary of a webpage’s performance.
Lighthouse Google Chrome Extension
If you are browsing now in Google Chrome get the extension below.
Lighthouse is an official Google Tool for evaluating a website.
PS. You can run Lighthouse on any website.
Some of the recommendations of Lighthouse will require web development skills to implement, some won’t.
For instance, it might warn you that your images haven’t been optimised. This you can easily remedy.
On the other hand removing unused CSS could be beyond your control.
If you are using CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress for instance, you might be able to control some of the recommendations of Lighthouse by tweaking a plugin.
Other Website Testing Methods
The following sites will give you an overview of you webpage performance. I believe that GTmetrix is the most useful.
A web cache system stores copies of documents passing through it; subsequent requests may be retrieved from the cache if certain conditions are met
Web caches can be stored in different places.
- Host (Origin) Server Caching – on a separate server designed for caching.
- Web Browser Caching (on web browsers on your system)
- Some ISP’s use a Caching proxy server for frequently accessed content.
- CDN (Content Delivery Networks). A set of web servers worldwide serving up cached resources of a webpage for which you normally have to pay for.
What actually gets cached is the resources that change very little like logos and CSS, and images.
All Caches have an expiry date and ‘freshness’ testing is done to ensure that the cache is an up-to-date version of a web page.
How do you Implement Caching
How you implement caching is dependent on what environment you used to create your website.
Host (Origin) Server caching is controlled by your Hosting provider and is normally beyond your control.
If it’s Wix for instance you have to turn it on page by page.
If it’s WordPress you could get a Caching plugin like WP Rocket
Also, your hosting provider might have caching enabled as part of the hosting package, (that is becoming increasingly likely).
So, before you implement any caching strategy, check to see if your hosting provider is providing caching, if any.
If you haven’t created your site ask your potential hosting provider about caching they provide if any, and what they recommend.
CDN (Content Delivery Network)
A CDN is a network of servers in different geographical locations serving a cached version of static resources of a website.
A CDN has an obvious advantage. It can serve up a webpage from a server physically closer to the browser agent requesting that page. Which reduces network latency.
The other advantage of CDN’s is that they have very powerful servers, compared to most web hosting companies. Google Cloud is a good example of a CDN.
Even if your target audience is in the same country as your hosting server, you will get better performance with a CDN.
Do you need a CDN? Yes, if you want optimum performance.
Wix or Squarespace?
As of June 2019, both Wix and Squarespace have slow webpage loading issues.
Hopefully they will remedy the slow webpage loading speed going forward.
If you don’t believe me run a Lighthouse test on a Wix, or Squarespace photography site.
There are not many people who would spend a great amount of time pondering what website builder or framework to use in advance that would give them maximum ratings in SERP.
SEO is normally something you think about after you’ve built your website.
Plus, I hope no one creates a website with the sole aim of ranking high in the SERP.
You normally create a website because you believe you are adding value.
So, If I’m going to leave you with one statement which I believe sums up what SEO is about:
Write for your readers not for the Search Engines.