Expert Advice: Getting Started with SEO
Friday December 17th, 2010
by Maria Luci
Before coming to Wonderful Machine I spent my days writing websites specifically geared toward SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and explaining to clients why we created the sites the way we did. I’ll admit, the sites were not about beauty—they were focused on being found in the vastness of the internet. Ideally, I’d love for our photographers to find the perfect median between form and function, but for now, I’m just going to focus on some simple, easily implementable tips for photography websites.
Bryan touched on SEO in his June Ideabox article, Web Marketing 101 (Photographer’s Edition) but I want to delve deeper into a few specific instructions that I feel our photographers should follow.
First and foremost, if you can afford to, get rid of Flash. I can’t express how much Flash can hinder your website’s productivity. I know Flash is just that, flashy, but there are much more effective ways of making your site look nice while also driving traffic and creating a user-friendly interface.
There are a good number of reasons that Flash use should be limited. The biggest of these reasons: search engines cannot read Flash! Flash is generally light on HTML text, which search engines heavily rely on for indexing. There are instances where entire Flash websites can show up as a blank page to a web crawler. I understand that you want to present yourself in the most visually appealing way possible, but the most beautiful website does no good if no one can find it.
To be fair, there are ways to use Flash and still be visible to search engines. However, this includes coding “ghost” HTML content to play in the background of your page, and if you’re going to go through that much trouble, you might as well design a great looking HTML site that is both SEO-functional and attractive at the same time.
Second, Flash slows down many of your portfolio sites. This can make visiting your site frustrating to the clients. Not only are Flash sites often slow, they don’t always work the way you want them to. Finding information, clicking on links, and even just moving from photo to photo can become a hassle.
There is a good number of other reasons you should try to steer clear of Flash. You can read a list of the top 8 reasons to avoid Flash like the plague on the website of Antezeta, an SEO and web analytics consulting firm. Some of their reasons include analytical reporting issues, usability concerns, and the important fact that many people disable Flash.
Ok, now that we’ve dealt with Flash, the next step is optimizing your content for SEO. Text matters. Most photography websites have very little written content. It’s important to add information such as your location, name and specialties, into the text on each page of the site. (Important note: always make all text visible on your HTML site. Text that is “hidden” by either making it the same color as the background or by some other method is considered black hat SEO and can get your site blacklisted by search engines, never to be seen again!)
Now, I can understand not wanting to fill your beautifully laid-out pages with text. This is why all of your images must have ALT (Alternative) tags. ALT tags give a written description of the photo so that web crawlers—automated programs that systematically browse the web and provide search engines with up-to-date data— can easily read and assess what your site is like. It can also help you be found through Google Images. However, you can’t just plop anything into the ALT tag, and you don’t want to overload it with keywords. My recommended ALT tag description would go something like this:
Keyword, Location, Name of Photographer or Business
An example might be:
Aerial Photographer San Francisco, CA Maria Luci Photography
Conceptual Photographs New York, NY Maria Luci Photography
A lot of photographers put just their name in the ALT tags or have their name come first. This would be great if you’re Ansel Adams and people are searching expressly for you; the rest of us should assume potential clients are generally searching for commercial photographers in, say, Boston, or Miami.
Feeling overwhelmed? Not ready to overhaul your site just yet? Let’s work on your blog, then! Having a blog is a great way to drive traffic to your site and have yourself indexed higher in Google or other search engines. Blogs are generally set up in an SEO-friendly way and drive traffic naturally to your website. Writing posts keeps users up to date on your recent projects and also allows you to add keywords that wouldn’t naturally fit into the site.
Another great feature of blogs is linking. Linking out can greatly increase your website’s authority. Links back and forth from other reputable websites give your site more weight to search engines and (hopefully) a higher rank. As Bryan said, search engines are trying to figure out how to create the best search results. They do this by reading your site and seeing how the links and keywords relate to other websites. You need to make your site as legible as possible.
Blogs are a great way to get started. So if you don’t already have a blog, get one; and if you do have a blog, update it! Regularly. (And don’t forget to link back to Wonderful Machine’s blog now and then!)
Well there are about 100 more things I could go into about SEO. But for now, I think I’ll leave it at these five things:
- Try to minimize your use of Flash.
- Make sure your context-appropriate and keyword-rich content is written on your site (and not in Flash where it can’t be highlighted, copied by humans or read by web crawlers).
- Add ALT tags to every photo on your site.
- Links, links, links.
- Blog your heart out.
In the end, there is no magic formula for SEO. All you can do is try and not be afraid to make some changes.