Building the Best Website for Photography – Part 2 – SEO

October 13, 2010
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In the previous post, I discussed various photo-hosting services and discussed why I thought PhotoShelter was the best option. I’ll expand on that a little further here in regards to a term that intimidates a lot of people: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. Truthfully, SEO is not terribly complex, especially if you use the tools PhotoShelter has already provided for you in addition to some WordPress plugins that have taken any and all complexities out of the practice.

Optimizing Your WordPress Blog

As mentioned in the previous post, a blog is a must these days. It’s not just a good way to show off your favorite photos and let people know about exciting adventures you just returned from, but behind the scenes it’s a search engine magnet. Each post you can fill with rich, new content makes that magnet grow a little bigger. Modern search engines such as Google and Bing don’t have a way of distinguishing interesting content from boring content, but instead use complex algorithms that take into account not just how many links you have pointing to your site, but also how frequently you update your website. If you make regular blog posts, you’re giving the search engines what they love to see: fresh, new content for them to digest! WordPress on a self-hosted site is my software of choice because it’s quickly become the industry standard and literally has thousands of plugins to make the experience more enjoyable and customizable.

Certainly having your WordPress blog set up properly for search engines to read easiest helps out quite a bit as well. Here’s a few plugins for WordPress that will take much of the work out of it for you:

  • All in One SEO Pack
    This plugin is an absolute must for your WordPress blog. You can either use it straight “out of the box” or make some tweaks to fine tune it and it optimize everything on your blog for the search engines.

  • Google XML Sitemaps
    Back in the old days of the Internet, people used to have an HTML page called a ‘sitemap’ that pointed to every page on their site to make sure search engines knew about every page. As websites became more complex, though, Google came out with a new standard to simplify everything into an XML document. While it’s not important for you to know exactly what that is, you should have one on your site and simply installing this plugin will take care of it for you, indexing every page on your WordPress site, thereby allowing the search engines to ‘crawl’ your entire site much easier.

  • AddThis
    There’s quite a large variety of these plugins out there, but this is one that I’ve settled on recently. Any one of them will accomplish the same thing, so feel free to browse around for some kind of Sharing plugin that allows you to post your content on social media networks, such as, Twitter, Facebook, and many others. While I’ll discuss it more in Part 3 of this series, these plugins provide an easy way for you and your visitors to share your content over multiple sites of the Internet.

  • Feedburner
    One plugin that gets overlooked a lot is Feedburner. This plugin will take your RSS feed and redirect it through the Feedburner service. RSS feeds are relatively old in the social media world, but have been picking up a lot of momentum lately thanks to sites such as Google Reader, that allow you to ‘subscribe’ to a site’s feed and then have them all in one convenient place that you can even share with your friends and contacts.

Optimizing PhotoShelter

PhotoShelter Example
Example of SEO tags in PhotoShelter

Many photographers think that since their main content comes from images, then there’s not much point to learning anything about SEO. Actually the opposite would be true. Since search engines are based on text, it makes it that much more important to make sure your images are getting ‘seen’ by them. Luckily, PhotoShelter‘s taken quite a bit of the work out of it for you. They’ve tagged essential elements in your back-end with a small, green ‘SEO’ tag to let you know that filling out that particular field on your image, for example, would be beneficial for your SEO efforts. You can see it on everything from pages waiting for you to edit, such as your About page, to your keywords in each image. I personally believe that you should have all of your images’ metadata completely filled out before uploading it to the Internet. That way, all those steps are already done.

PhotoShelter has gone to great lengths in working with the major search engines to ensure that everything is complying as best as it can to get your photos ranked as high as they can. As if that wasn’t enough though, they also came out with an "SEO Cookbook" specifically for photographers and newly revised for 2010. If you want to see your rankings climb, I would suggest giving this ebook a good read. It’s packed with useful tips to make sure photographers are doing everything right in getting their site noticed.

Another great tool on the back-end of PhotoShelter is the SEO Grader. They’ve developed a program that will evaluate your efforts as far as your About page, image keywords, gallery descriptions, etc., and inform you of how well you’ve done what you can to maximize your site for SEO. It’s worth running through it to make sure you’ve covered all your openings.

Using PhotoShelter and WordPress Together

PhotoShelter‘s done a great job of taking the work out of posting your favorite new uploads onto your blog. With the Official PhotoShelter WordPress Plugin, you can add an image to your blog with just a few clicks. The best part is the image will link right back to your archive, making purchasing for your fans and visitors that much easier as well.

A black bear sow searches for food on a late autumn day in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Mike Cavaroc)
Black bear along Moose-Wilson Road

Here’s where it gets tricky though: you’re wanting to attract people to your images that are using text from search engines to find what they’re looking for. So how are people supposed to find you? Though not mandatory, there can be an extra bit of creativity involved here. Simply filling in a quick snippet about the photo itself, such as the location, time of day, landmarks, etc. with a descriptive title will get the job done. Take the image on the right, for example. A good title would be ‘Black Bear Along Moose-Wilson Road’ and then below the image I can fill in a few details that I was out looking for bears along Moose-Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park and came across this particular one that I followed around for a little while. Posting that and sharing them on social media networks (which will be discussed in Part 3), would be sufficient to help out search engine rankings.

What really sets out some posts from others, however, is when you get into a story. I could leave that bear post at that, or I could go on a rant about the lack of respect black bears along Moose-Wilson Road were receiving a few weeks ago, which I did. In posting that, I received much more recognition than a simple photo with a short description. People are visiting your site not just because they want to see your pretty pictures, but because they want to learn about you, and that particular post gave them an insight into who I am and why I love to photograph bears. Things like that will keep people coming back.

A well-thought out descriptive title is also important. You want to think about what your potential target audience would be searching for and gear your post and title around that. In the example above, I knew there were lots of people viewing the bears along Moose-Wilson Road, so I knew people would be searching for something to the effect of "black bears along Moose-Wilson Road." Even in this post itself, I used the phrase "Best Website for Photography." That way if someone happens to search for that, I have a much higher chance of showing up than someone who might actually have the best website for photography. That was actually a trick I learned in watching PhotoShelter CEO and founder, Allen Murabayashi, while giving a talk on SEO at the 2010 Telluride Photo Festival (see how I snuck that in there too?). Any combination of words you can think of that you think people will be searching for, you want to be finding clever ways to plug in to your posts and titles.

The final point I’ll make is that you also want your titles and descriptions to be specific. You would think you would want to be number one when someone searches for something simple like ‘black wolf.’ No photo buyers, however, are looking for that broad of a term. Most of them are buying with a specific location in mind to go with a story. Something like ‘Black Wolf in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park’ will give you a much better chance of being found. The same goes for people buying prints. If someone just returned from a vacation, they want something to remind them of that area because maybe they just don’t like any of their snapshots. Rather than using something like ‘Yosemite National Park’, you’d have a much better chance of getting people to find you by using ‘Fall Leaves in Yosemite Valley.’

In the next and final part of the series, I’ll be going into the social media aspects of photography and why that can actually be the most important part of the whole process. Stay tuned!


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