The video link below has been aimed primarily at WordPress Sites. But some of the content will be relevant for any photography website.
Summary Of SEO Actions For Photography Websites
- Decide on the longest edge for your photos in pixels before you start building your site. If you’ve already built your website, you might have to re-import your images, especially if you’ve gone for let’s say 4000 pixels longest edge. Huge pixel dimensions lead to large file sizes in bytes; which leads to slow page loading times, which is a negative search ranking signal.
- Export at lowest possible JPEG Quality for the smallest file size in bytes.
- Compress your photos further by using either a standalone app or one of the many online apps. The best online app is www.squoosh.app If you use WordPress consider buying an image optimising plugin – like EWWW IO which can do the optimising automatically on upload.
- Name your JPEG files to describe their contents, i.e. photo-of-a-kitten.jpg is better than img001.jpg
- Use the HTML “alt” attribute (alternative text) in the HTML <img> element to describe the image.
- Add a caption to your photo if possible. You might have to use the HTML tags <figure> and <figcaption> to achieve this.
- Make sure your HTML Title element accurately describes the page contents. “Photo Gallery” as a title is pretty meaningless. Whereas “Isle of Wight Photo Gallery” gives Google some idea what your page is about.
- Use the Meta Description in the <head> of a document to summarise the page. This Description is often used in the search results to describe your page.
- Even on your Gallery pages add some text as a preamble to your gallery. Google prefers text over images. A few lines will do to reinforce your title with a few words of introduction.
- Write naturally with an awareness of the keywords that are likely to be used by someone querying a search engine. Write for the reader, not the search engine. Do not flood your copy with keywords.
- Use a correct document outline. Use headers in the right order. And use lists to bullet point your text where applicable. The more structured your content, the better.
- Make sure your site works on all devices from desktops to the smallest mobile phone.
- Use a site like GTmetrix to test your pages load times. Any site that takes more than 2.5 seconds to load on s mobile device is seen as “Slow” by Google. Take note of its recommendations.
- Make sure web caching is being utilised. Some web hosting companies have caching implemented as a part of the hosting plan, some don’t. Ask your hosting provider what they recommend.
- Consider a CDN (Content Delivery Network), to speed up page load times. On WordPress, some image optimising plugins offer a CDN as an addon. There are a lot of options so ask your hosting provider what they recommend. If they won’t give you advice, you’ll have to do your own research.
- Use Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to get feedback about your site’s search performance.
- Join “Google My Business”, “Bing Places for Business”, and create a Facebook Business Page.
- Social Media is important as it raises your business profile, and it might drive traffic to your website in the short term. Don’t forget to post regularly to Social Media. Nothing says I don’t care like an unused Facebook Business Page.
A Life Cycle of a Web Search
- The Search Bot (Internet Robot) systematically Crawls the web following web links. The search bot parses the content from the websites it crawls. Googlebot is Google’s web crawler.
- Once crawled this content is then indexed.
- Searcher queries a search engine (User Intent).
- The Search Engine looks into its index and uses hundreds of algorithms to show results that match the user intent. Google admits to having around 200 SERP ranking factors (algorithms). Plus they use human website reviewers as well.
- Google might deliver these results in many ways including The Knowledge Graph, Direct Results, Featured Snippets and the Rich List.
- The search results are increasingly being personalised to the searcher. These personalised results could take into account current location, and previous searches for instance.
These search algorithms are very complex. You cannot just create content and expect to be listed in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) immediately.
If your webpage answers the user’s intent and loads reasonably fast and is usable on mobile – you stand a good chance of being listed in the SERP – along with every other qualifying webpage out there.
The hard bit is getting a front-page listing. That requires good quality content above all else.
Trust & Authority
Trust and authority is not a phrase that Google uses in their search documentation. Do a Google site search if you don’t believe me.
SEO “Experts” have come up with the phrase Trust and Authority, and as such any proclamations made about trust and authority by SEO practitioners should be treated with some scepticism.
Backlinks (Incoming Links)
Some SEO experts think that backlinks, from trusted websites, are the biggest contributing factor for a high search engine result page ranking. I think Backlinking is a positive ranking signal, which is carrying less weight going forward.
It’s pretty obvious if the US government is linking to your site, it’s safe to say Google would take that as a positive ranking signal, (assuming that Google trust Donald Trump).
For example, let’s say you are a well-known university professor writing about your subject on a well-known university website. That might be seen as a positive search ranking signal by Google. And, I’m going to make the assumption, wrongly, or rightly it’s because of the following reasons:
- The domain would be trusted. Most well known educational institutes have unique domain names. like “ox.ac.uk” Oxford University.
- Assuming the professor hasn’t been living under a stone, Google will likely know something about the professor.
- The content would be well written, authoritative and structured. And importantly be very similar in content and style to other articles written by academics in the same field.
In fairness to SEO experts, Trust and Authority would be a non-mathematical way of describing what some search algorithms are actually measuring.
Finally, the general consensus in the SEO world as of 2019, is that Google is downgrading the importance of backlinks to a website.
My guess is that Google is getting better at understanding content as machine learning algorithms get more accurate with time.
My belief is that the more Google understands webpage content less weight it gives to incoming links to a website.
SEO Recommendations For Photographers In More Detail
Make your Images load faster
- Decide on what pixel dimensions you are going to use for your photos. You don’t need to go to 4000 pixels longest edge as that will lead to slow page loading times. I now use 2000px longest edge as I think this covers most device screen sizes and leads to less browser resizing.
- In your, Image Editing Software, export your photos at the lowest possible JPEG quality for the smallest possible file size in bytes.
- Further, optimise your images using one of the many online or standalone solutions. The big one that stands out is a web app called Squoosh.app.
- If you’ve got WordPress there are some very good plugins so you can upload your photos (skip No.3) and let the plugin do the image optimisation. I’ve covered this topic here.
- Try and avoid sliders if you can, as pretty as they are, they slow a webpage’s download speed. I’m a hypocrite here, I can’t resist a slider.
Make Your Images talk
- Use the HTML “alt” (alternative text) attribute in your <img> element to describe your images.
- Make the image filename describe the image i.e. “picture-of-a-ginger-cat.jpg” instead of img-0001.jpg
- Use Captions below the image if possible. That might require the use of the HTML tags <figure> and <figcaption>
Use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) – HTTPS
This will ensure your site has HTTPS rather than HTTP. The Google Chrome web browser now puts ‘Not Secure’ in the browser bar as a warning if a site doesn’t have SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). It is claimed by some (not by Google) to be a positive search ranking signal if your site has HTTPS.
Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
Google favours sites that work on mobile devices. If your site does not work on a mobile device it’s guaranteed to get your site pushed down the SERP rankings. This is definitely true if someone is doing a Google search using a mobile device. Google is not going to serve up pages that don’t render well on a mobile device.
The terms Responsive and Adaptive relate to sites that work on a variety of devices. The word Adaptive is old hat now, and Responsive is used more often. Bottom line – your site better work on all devices.
If you have a separate mobile version of your sites like “m.mysite.com” and another site called “mysite.com” for desktops, this is not ideal. It’s best to have just one site for all devices.
It is not fundamentally wrong to have a mobile-only URL version of a webpage. Google will know which URL version to show depending on the device doing the search. It just adds complexity and can cause problems in the SERP.
Write A Descriptive Page Title
This section is about data stored in HTML <head> of a page. This is not visible to an end-user on the Webpage itself.
Title tags appear on the browser tabs. Also, when you bookmark a site it becomes the bookmark name.
Also, the Title is normally used in the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) as the Title of a listing.
Titles are important. Make sure your title is succinct and describes the subject of your page or post in the optimum number of words which is 50 to 60 characters.
Go over 60 characters and the Title might be truncated in the SERP. It’s possible that Google may even rewrite your title in the SERP. Bizzare but true.
Use The Meta Description
The Meta Description like the title sits in the HTML <head> section of a webpage which is not seen by the end-user.
It’s there to give search engines a summary of your page.
It used to be very important, and it was often abused by people who flooded it with keywords.
It’s still important and can show up in search results as a summary of your page.
This is how it appears in the <head> of the document for a page I did some time ago.
<meta name=”description” content=”Getting image size right when exporting from Lightroom is not easily understood by beginners. Hopefully this article will help.“>
This is the Microsoft Bing Search Result which uses the Meta Description in its entirety. But the <title> is truncated notice the ellipsis at the end of the title.
This is a Google Search result. Notice it does not use the Meta Description. It takes some text from the third paragraph of the webpage. The <title> is not truncated.
Hang On! This is Google again. It’s decided to use the Meta Description on this occasion. Also, note the truncating of the Title
So the takeaway is this. The meta description and Title could be used in the SERP and is therefore important.
The Meta Description is less important than the content
I see the meta description and Title as a complimentary summary to the content of your webpage which is often used in the SERP listing of a page.
I don’t see the Meta Description as a very important ranking signal. Plenty of webpages without Meta Descriptions are on the front page of the SERP for a given search.
Do you think Google would not show well written relevant content from a fast loading and usable webpage because the Meta Description is not present, or not perfectly worded?
If you use WordPress, the SEO plugin Yoast allows you to edit the Meta Description.
If you are on Website Builder like Wix or Squarespace you should have access to the Meta Description also.
Or, you might have to go inside the code to do it yourself.
Meta Keywords – Don’t Bother
Meta Keywords also lie in the had <head> of a webpage. Fill it in if you wish but it’s no longer a SERP ranking 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.
Don’t have ‘Thin’ Content
Sites with thin content and lots of Affiliate Links, or adverts offer very little to the reader. Google will not show a webpage in the SERP that has thin content that doesn’t meet the users intent.
Make sure the affiliate links are secondary to your content and flag these links for what they are – commission earners, so the reader is in no doubt about your affiliate links.
Give Your Page A Correct Document Outline
Use H1 header once only and at the top of a page. You can have multiple H1 tags in an HTML <section> for instance. But the main page H1 can only appear once.
Then structure your page with the correct headers as you go down the page.
Also, ensure that paragraphs are not too long, and lists are used where possible to bullet point data.
HTML Tables are not often used these days, but they can be ideal for Google to use in Rich Results.
Gain Trust and Authority
This is a vast subject and is argued about more than anything else in the SEO world.
Google doesn’t use the phrase ‘trust and authority’ in their search documentation.
What would make you trust a webpage, or give that page authority? It’s kids stuff really if you think about it.
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.
Now we have the Domain method for adding a property to Google Search Console. Which stops the need to declare a canonical URL.
Some hosting providers like Godaddy have a seamless method for registering your site with Google Search Console without messing with the HTML.
Once registered there are a host of reports you can run. Also, you can receive warnings about your site from a Google search perspective.
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.
What About Bing Webmaster Tools
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 Bing.
Don’t forget many people in offices have Windows system computers, that use the Microsoft Edge browser which is usually defaulted to use Bing as the default search engine.
Do join Bing Webmaster. Much of what is said about Google Search Console applies to Bing Webmaster Tools.
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 the SERP.
Social media is important in bringing people to your site. That, in turn, has got to be a positive ranking signal. 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 in the SERP if your social media accounts are getting a spike in traffic.
P.S. If you are going to link your website to your social media accounts and vice versa. Post once in a while on social media. A dormant Facebook business page is not a good advertisement for your business. Use it or lose customers.
To be honest I wasn’t going to mention Structured data as Photography sites wouldn’t normally need to use Structured Data.
Structured Data is a way of marking up data to make it easier for search engines to present.
For Google to recognise your Structured Data it would have to be written using one of the methods below.
- JSON-LD (recommended)
And the data is marked up using Schema.org rules.
Google has many ways of presenting search data and structured data helps Google present data to the end-user.
There’s no guarantee that Google will even use your structured data, as it would have done in the past.
Don’t use structured data if you don’t need to. Sometimes just using an HTML Table, or List can help data to be better presented in search results.
Using spammy methods with Structured data, for example, marking up content which does meet Schema.org ‘Types’ will guarantee a de-indexing of the offending page.
A web cache system stores copies of resources like images passing through it. Subsequent requests may be retrieved from the cache if certain conditions are met.
Using Caches improves page loading times significantly.
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 like Google Chrome).
- Some ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) use a Caching proxy server for frequently accessed content.
- CDN (Content Delivery Networks). A set of web servers distributed worldwide serving up cached resources of a webpage.
What actually gets cached is the resources that change very little like logos, CSS, and images.
All Caches have an expiry date and ‘freshness’ testing is done to ensure that the cached version is an up-to-date version of a web page.
Implementing Web 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 a page by page basis.
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). This site you are looking at now is on Site Ground and I use the SG (Site Ground) Optimizer plugin, which is part of my hosting plan, and I also use WP Rocket.
Before you implement any caching strategy, check to see if your hosting provider is providing caching already. If it does provide caching is there anything more that can be done to improve caching.
If your hosting provider does not provide caching still ask questions on how you can implement caching.
If you haven’t created your website yet, 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 web documents.
A CDN has an obvious advantage. It can serve up a webpage from a server physically closer to the user agent requesting that page. This will reduce network latency as there are fewer hops to the browser.
For example, someone in Tokyo does not have to access a site from a host server in London. As it’s very likely that the CDN provider has a server in Tokyo which can serve a cached version of the webpage.
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.
Testing Webpage Download Speed
There are many tools and websites that offer speed tests for webpages. The best in my opinion is:
GTmetrix has an easy to use interface and its recommendations are explained in simple to understand way.
Lazy Loading is a way deferring the downloading of a resource until it’s required to be displayed on a web browsers viewport (area of the screen seen by the end-user).
In reality, Lazy Loading is mainly used for images.
So, as you scroll down the page you would normally see a blurred image holder that gets populated by the actual image as you scroll down the page.
If you don’t use Lazy Loading the images will be downloaded all at once irrespective of them being in the Viewport of the Web Browser or not. This could increase the webpage loading time.
Be careful where you implement Lazy Loading. This is especially true if you are using Caching Plugins as they offer Lazy Loading, which could for instance clash with your Gallery plugins Lazy Loading.
Wix or Squarespace?
As of June 2019, both Wix and Squarespace have slow webpage loading issues.
Hopefully, Wix and Squarespace 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.
Metadata in Images (Exif & IPTC)
There’s something I think worth mentioning is Exif & IPTC data.
Exif = Exchangeable image file format (Camera Info).
IPTC = International Press Telecommunications Council (Copyright etc)
If you leave image metadata in your file, Google can read it.
But Google doesn’t say whether they use this data or not as a ranking factor. It’s very unlikely that Google would use this as a positive ranking signal. Image metadata is not an indicator of content quality.
So, maybe just leaving your copyright (IPTC) data is good practice if you are worried about image theft.
Personally, I strip most of my Exif data out – things like what lens I used are not needed in my opinion for search engine rankings.
The bottom line is Google reserve the right to use image metadata.
This image metadata could contain your physical home, or business address as well as your email address. Personally, I don’t think Google would use this data in any way – I honestly don’t.
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.
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 ranking in the 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 anyway.
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.
- SEO – Search Engine Optimisation.
- SERP – Search Engine Result/s Page/s.
- PageRank – Was Google’s first link analysis algorithm created in 1998. It ranks webpages based on the amount of quality incoming links (backlinks) to a page. PageRank data was publicly accessible via a web browser toolbar. Google no longer divulges PageRank as they did in the past. PageRank was open to massive abuse.
- Origin Server – Hosting Server where your site is actually stored.
- Web Cache – temporary storage of web content in various locations (including a web browser) which reduces network latency, and therefore can speed up delivery of web content.
- CDN – Content Delivery Network. Simply put, is a network of servers worldwide serving up cached versions of web documents from servers closest to the end-user.
- White Hat SEO – Good (acceptable to Google) SEO methods
- Black Hat SEO – Bad (unacceptable to Google) SEO methods.
- Grey Hat SEO – Not so bad SEO practices. But not recommended.
- Meta Element is HTML stored in the <head> section of a web document and not visible in the body of a webpage. A few important ones are listed below.
- Title Element – Description of the document as seen in the title bar, or tab of a web browser. It’s important to make the Title Element as descriptive as possible.
- Meta Description – An element which can contain a user-defined summary of a webpage. It is stored in the <head> section of a webpage, and therefore not seen by end-users. But it can be read by search crawling bots.
- Meta Keyword – User-defined word/s or even a phrase stored in the <head> of a webpage and not seen by end-users but it can be read by search crawling bots. No longer a SERP ranking factor according to Google.
- Alt (Alternative Text) – an HTML attribute which accompanies an image <img>. Designed for Screen Readers, and as a backup, if an image fails to load It also gets read by search engine crawlers.
- User Intent – Is what the user is actually searching for. Sometimes User Intent is not always obvious as often no transitional words are used – just keywords.
- Keywords – as far as SEO is concerned are words that make up a search query. These keywords represent “User Intent”
- LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) LSI Keywords are conceptually linked terms that search engines use to understand the content of a webpage.
- Longtail Keywords – Are very specific low volume searches made by a user that should match your product or service. The whole idea is you should guess what these search terms will be, then use these terms in your content. Some SEO experts are not convinced this is a valid way increasing your SERP ranking – and nor am I.
- Lazy Loading – Only loading a resource (an image normally) as you get near to the image scrolling down a page. This decreases webpage loading time.
- Search Bot, Googlebot, Spider, Web Crawler etc – A internet robot which systematically Crawls the web to Index the results for a Search Engine.
- Trust & Authority – Trust – For instance websites (already trusted by Google) that link to your website can make you trusted by Google. Authority – Does your content come across as being written by an expert? NB, I’ve never heard or seen Google use the words “Trust and Authority” myself but it would be safe to say it’s a logical way of ranking web content.
- Structured Data – a way of structuring data that makes it easier to display for search engines. Food recipes are good examples of data that benefits from structuring. Currently, JSON-LD is the markup code, and Schema.org is used to define types and properties.
- Conversion – In the world of the World Wide Web. Conversion is something you want your web customer to do. For example, buy something, or click a link for example.
- Backlink – sites linking to your site.
- Ranking Signal – Something Google Search takes into account when ranking your page.
- Bounce Rate – A web analytics term, usually expressed as a percentage. The percentage represents the number of searchers that leave your site after visiting just one page. A high rate could be interpreted as a bad thing. On the other hand, it could indicate they found what they were looking for.
- Google Analytics – A free (to must of us) tool that enables the webmaster to extract very detailed data about visitors to your site. In large enterprises, it is a very important tool. Install Google Analytics if you wish. I’d say most photographers will rarely make use of the data.