Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a very broad term that covers basically everything involved with the process of getting website pages to rank well in search engines’ organic (natural, non-paid) search results. SEO involves the technical aspect of building the website code properly (my job), the publishing aspect of entering good content and keywords (your job), and the salesman aspect of actively promoting your website (also your job). In this post I will talk about all three aspects of SEO in a practical sense and will answer some common questions about it.
How do Search Engines Work Exactly?
Search engines use special algorithms to crawl your website, analyze the content, and rank your pages relative to every other website on the web. These algorithms are secret, and therefore SEO in general is somewhat of a voodoo science. There are some things we do know though:
• Getting good search rankings depends not only on optimized website code, but mainly on good content itself. Having a highly search engine optimized website is a solid foundation to start from, but that in and of itself is only the first step and it won’t guarantee high search rankings. Search engines care most about the content itself, as they should.
• There is no way to trick the search engines with sneaky SEO tactics (things like loading pages up with hidden keywords, filler content text, excess link swapping, etc). In fact this is dangerous because your website can actually be penalized if the search engines detect such shady SEO practices. In the early years of the web this might have worked, but search engines have evolved and don’t tolerate that stuff anymore.
• Your website content and code are still not the only ingredients considered by the search engines. They also look at the other websites that link to your site and how relevant they are to your content. And they consider how much traffic your pages are getting, under the assumption that if your page is getting high traffic it must have good content. These are but a few examples of external variables that can affect your page rankings.
• Considering all this, it should be no surprise that getting good search rankings takes time. The only way to guarantee immediate high rankings is to PAY for sponsored links, through programs like Google AdWords, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Organic rankings take time to develop – months or even years.
• It’s generally easier to rank well for more specific search terms. Unless you have a common name like “Mike Smith”, your site should show up fairly quickly near the top of the results when people search your name. On the other hand, you’ll probably never show up in very general search terms like “photography”, because in that case you’re competing with millions of relevant sites, many of which already have far higher page rankings.
Search Engine Friendly Website Code
WideRange Galleries websites are VERY search engine friendly. Coding for SEO is a high priority for me, and I keep myself informed and up to date with the latest in SEO best coding practices. Here are a few examples of technical SEO features that are incorporated into the WideRange Galleries Websites:
• All pages get their own meta titles, keywords, and descriptions. This means that when your pages show up in the search engine results, each page link is displayed with its own relevant title and descriptive paragraph.
• All pages get their own custom URLs using a system of URL rewriting, leading to clean, concise, legible, and relevant page addresses.
• Images get alternate (alt) text and title tags, to inform the search engines what the images are about.
• Galleries and photo pages use canonical meta tags to prevent duplicate content indexing and to inform the search engines of priority pages (for example galleries with multiple pages get ranked under the first page).
• Sitemaps are generated to give the search engines a comprehensive, easily indexed list of all pages and photos.
• In general, our gallery websites use clean coding techniques, lightweight quick loading page files, and no search-engine-invisible containers like Flash.
Search Engine Friendly Website Content
As I mentioned earlier, having a highly search-engine-friendly website is only the first step – the solid foundation, if you will. The most important aspect of SEO is the content itself, and that is in your hands. The WideRange Galleries admin control panel gives you all the tools you need to optimize your pages as far as content goes – you can enter keywords, captions, page descriptions, and custom URLs. Here are some tips on how to optimize your content:
Make sure that the keywords you enter are words that will actually show up on the page. Search engines reward your pages when there is a strong relevance of the keywords to the text on the page. One of the most common mistakes I see my clients make is when they load up the keywords with way too many keywords, many of which don’t even appear in the page text. This does no good. Any given page should have less then 20 keywords, and these should be directly relevant to the page text. You don’t have to repeat different keyword combinations; search engines are smart enough to figure that out themselves. So just list single words or phrases separated by commas. Keep the keywords concise and highly relevant: “Quality over quantity”. This meta tag analyzer can come in handy to see if you’re on track.
Give your photos captions. Remember that search engines can’t “see” images like humans can (although Google’s AI is getting there)! So even if it’s clear to you that your photo is a photo of say, golden aspens in Colorado, the search engine doesn’t know that; it can only read and index the text that’s on the page. So, go ahead and write a caption like “Golden aspens in Colorado”. You also might want to consider giving your images legible, descriptive filenames, which can help with image search results. Instead of an image filename like “IMG_4235.jpg”, try a more legible name like “golden-aspens-in-colorado.jpg”.
Continuing on that theme, text is good! Text is like food for search engine spiders; it’s easily digestible content. So, in addition to writing captions for your photos, you should also write intro paragraphs for your galleries, an intro paragraph on your homepage, and maybe even articles or photo journals using those gallery formats.
Update your site often. I know this isn’t always possible, but it’s definitely good to update your site on a regular basis with new photos. This will keep your viewers coming back for more, and the search engines will see that your site is active. It is also a good motivation to keep getting out there with your camera! An integrated blog is a great way to do this; it provides a more informal means of regularly posting your latest photos, thoughts, articles, or whatever it may be, along with the interactive commenting from viewers.
Finally, one last strategy to consider, which I touched on above, is that as far as the web and search engines are concerned, specificity trumps generality. If you have a collection of highly specific photos, mostly relevant to the same topic, chances are your website will perform better in search engines than if you have a general collection of photos ranging over a broad spectrum of subjects. Of course this may not be something you can or want to change, in which case don’t worry about it.
I’ll give you an example of my own website: www.MountainPhotography.com. As you can tell if you visit that site, I am all about mountain photography – it’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what my entire photo collection is about. That puts me at a natural advantage when it comes to search engines, because I have so much relevant content on the site! Not only that, but my photos are captioned as specific places with location names, not just general photos from who-knows-where. So not only is my content highly focussed, but it’s also specific in terms of location names which people might search for.
Marketing Your Website
One fairly common misconception is that once you build a website, the traffic will just come streaming in immediately. Unfortunately in most cases that is not true. Just like any business venture, you’ve got to put in some proactive effort with your website as well.
You can start by putting your website link in your email signatures and on your business cards. If you participate in a photography forum, put your website link in your signature there too. When you post in those forums, encourage people to follow a link for more photos on your website.
Social media is probably the biggest easy way to promote your site. Pretty much everybody is on Facebook, Instagram, etc. these days, and many people spend the majority of their internet time there! So start a Facebook page (and/or Instagram or whatever), put a link to it on your website, and post new photos there along with a link back to your site. People who like your photos will share them on their pages, and on and on. It’s really one of the most efficient and reliable ways nowadays of spreading your photos and driving traffic to your site.
You can add a newsletter signup form on your website and send off periodic email blasts to keep your viewers coming back to your site. It takes time to compile a substantial email subscriber list, but one good way to speed this up is to offer an incentive for subscribing, like a free wallpaper download for subscribers or something like that.
One really great way to boost your website’s search rankings is by publishing articles on other relevant highly trafficked websites, and include your website link on that article page. So from an SEO perspective it can pay off bigtime to invest some time into writing some articles relevant to your photographic area of expertise, then trying to get those articles published on popular photography websites or blogs.
These are the obvious initial online marketing techniques. I’ll stop there but the point is that you do need to proactively put your website “out there” and invite people to come visit. This is especially important for new websites, which can really benefit from an initial “push” of marketing to get a starting flow of traffic.
What about Hiring an SEO Service/Consultant/Expert/(Scammer)?
In short – Don’t do it!
Remember that your WideRange Galleries website is already VERY highly search engine optimized. There’s really nothing that these so called experts could offer for improvement on the technical side of things. And even so, the last thing you want is some third party guy mucking around with your website. So forget about any SEO service or spammy emails offering technical SEO consulting or services. This would really only be beneficial for someone with an old clunky crappy website that has lots of room for improvement. Not the case with our websites.
Another option they might offer is to help you optimize your text content. Again, this seems so simple to do on your own using the existing admin control panel tools, I’m not sure why you’d want to hire someone to attempt to do this for you. Waste of money.
One final service these SEO salesmen might offer is some kind of external traffic flow guarantee. Here we are entering very murky water; these services could utilize any number of spammy techniques to try to drive traffic to your site. Maybe they manage “link farms” (you know those spammy looking pages that you sometimes see when you type in a wrong website address?), or maybe they actually send out email spam, or maybe they have advertising affiliates that will actually attempt to place links on relevant sites? Or maybe they simply put your website on a fake robot hit machine that artificially inflates your traffic numbers. Who knows. The point is that these types of “traffic flow” services are shady and could very likely lead to more harm than good if Google has caught on to their schemes and penalizes your site ranking. And even if they do in fact increase your traffic, chances are that it will be random traffic, not good relevant traffic (people who are actually interested and might buy something).
So, I do not recommend hiring any SEO “experts”. Technically speaking, you already have by hiring us to build your site. Otherwise, you’re probably dealing with the same type of people who would gladly offer to sell you Viagra instead. If you’re going to waste extra money on SEO, you should just spend it on Google AdWords which is the only way to guarantee front page listings.
Bottom Line – The Basics of Good SEO
If you are already a WideRange Galleries client, you already have a highly search engine optimized website. You have the solid foundation.
So, the most important thing you can do is to make sure that you have good text content on your site, whether it’s image captions, gallery paragraphs, or other relevant articles and pages. Secondly, make sure that your keywords and descriptions for the various galleries, photos, and pages are concise and exactly relevant to the content of that page.
Remember, do not go overboard with excess keywords, or excess keyword links, or any spammy techniques like that. Try to think of the search engines as actual humans – what is clear and understandable by humans will likely be clear and understandable to the search engines (except for images, which they can’t see). Conversely, what is obviously recognized as spammy baiting by human viewers will likely also be seen (and penalized) as spammy baiting by search engines.
The other important thing is to try to regularly update your website with new content then actively promote it, whether through social media like Facebook, online photography forums, or other means online or offline.
I hope this article has helped give you a basic understanding of good SEO practices. While it is beneficial to follow these guidelines, it is important to realize that beyond these basic steps, most of the control over your website’s search engine rankings is simply out of your hands, so don’t lose sleep over this stuff! Just post the best content you can, promote it, and let the rest run its course.