10 Avoidable SEO Mistakes for Photographers

Don’t fall victim to these classic SEO blunders that can waste time and decrease your chances of ranking well. Almost every photography website violates 3 or 4 of these, so some quick correction can elevate results higher than the majority of competition.

1. Flash site without a splash page or blog

An all Flash website, even one with an HTML shadow version, has an extremely uphill battle when trying to rank. An estimated 15% of your Google score is calculated by text on your page, which is invisible to Google (for the most part) when it resides within a Flash animation. If a search engine has trouble understanding the topic of your site (because of hidden Flash text), it has less confidence to rank you well.

Flash does come with advantages, like stellar photo presentation, music, and the ability to awe a potential client. The SEO workaround for these sites is to present an HTML homepage or splash page in front of the Flash, telling search engines everything you need to tell them. Similarly, a blog attached to a Flash site provides readable text.

Pickup the Splash Page SEO Guide for the skinny on exactly how to optimize a splash page.

2. URLs without keywords

URLs are among the most important on-site ranking factors. Search engines see keywords in URLs as a strong signal for what your page is about. If a page on your site has a URL looks like this: www.yoursite.com/?page-id=5, search engines can tell what the subject matter is. Change the URL to www.yoursite.com/san-francisco-childrens-portraits, and suddenly it’s very clear, even without looking at the page. Make sure you have search engine friendly URLS.

3. Same title for all pages

A searcher types a phrase into Google, then Google goes and looks for pages about that phrase. It looks first at webpage titles, because a title most accurately describes what a page is about. If your Flash site or blog uses the same title for every page, a search engine thinks your site is about one thing. In reality, you want to rank for many different things (like wedding, bride, engagement, receptions) and therefore need a different page title for each of those topics.

Check your page titles by typing site:yourdomainname.com into Google. This shows all the pages on your site found by Google, and each underlined link is a page title. Make sure each title is unique and captures a different segment that would be valuable to people searching for your business.

4. The same major phrase in all your titles or image alt text

Many photographers get the fact that they need keywords in the title to rank well. Often overlooked is that search engines can only rank 1 page from your site for any given keyword phrase. If you’re trying to rank for California Photographer, only one of your pages can be successful. For major competitive phrases that page is almost always your homepage. It makes no sense to put “- California Photographer” at the end of every page title. Your intention should be to rank your homepage for that phrase, and save every other page for a different unique phrase. You’ll get a lot more traffic when your subpages stop competing with your homepage, and start ranking for related phrases that are less competitive.

The same is true of alternate text for images. When your image text describes the image, you’ll use tons of related keywords that help you rank for very niche searches. Don’t bother adding “-California Photographer” at the end of every image when the page is about “Ritz Carlton Wedding”. Try to rank for Ritz Carlton searches instead.

5. Inadequate text

SEO mistake #1 talked about how search engines need text on a page to understand the topic. Even without Flash, many photographer do a poor job of giving Google text that the page needs to rank well. The minimum standard is about 300 words to give search engines confidence that the page has substance and meaning to potential searchers. 300 words for every page and blog post becomes easy when you add testimonials, contact information, related links to top pages/galleries, and add captions for each photo…

6. Missing captions

Right after users read the headline, they look at the first image on the page, then read its caption. It’s human nature. Captions are read more than the page text! Search engines use captions to understand the context of an image because a compute can’t visually see an image like humans. Captions are a great way to integrate keywords into the page, while adding to the overall word count. Use very specific words to help the page and image rank for non-competitive keywords. An example caption: 4-year old girl in a red GAP dress and beanie dances for an urban photo. You can picture the image and imagine the story on the page simply from the caption – so can Google.

7. Wasting time on meta keywords

Meta keywords are that list of keywords you type into a field of your website system, telling the world what you want to rank for. If ranking were that easy, everyone would be ranked #1. Google stopped using this field years and years ago, so laying out your keywords in meta data just wastes time and reveals your desires to anyone who looks at your source code. If you’re not comfortable leaving the field completely blank, put one phrase there. More than a couple phrases gets spammy.

8. Blog tags and categories

Blog tags do the same thing as meta keywords… nothing for SEO. If you think you’re proving value for users that want to click on your blog post tag, check your analytics to see how many people are clicking them. This is done easily in Google Analytics by clicking Content > Top Content and searching for /tag. Trust me – nobody clicks your tags and they provide duplicate content Google doesn’t care for much.

Categories only have value if they appear in the URLs of the blog post. This post for example has a parent category of /seo and a child category of /keywords-meta-tags that add keyword power to the URL. You need an advanced permalink structure to take advantage of this and most photographers don’t need it. If you’ve named your categories something like California Photographer, California Portrait Photographer, and California Wedding Photographer then you’re not helping your SEO. If you use categories, they should be named something appropriate for your website users to help them filter posts, like Weddings, and Portraits.

9. Load time

Google spends even less time on your site than your users. Don’t let everyone pass up your site because it takes forever to load. Google officially announced that page speed is a factor in ranking well. Flash sites and blog homepages (with 10 posts and 10 huge images in each post) are notorious for slow-loads. You can lose a lot of traffic from impatient searchers and search engines.

10. Image filenames

We talked earlier about how search engines can’t see an image like humans. Search “reads” an image through it’s alternate text, caption, and image filename (the name of the image on your computer). Tell Google more about your image by naming it 3-year-old-red-dress.jpg instead of DS001.jpg. Hyphens help distinguish the individual keywords and are the preferred naming convention for SEO. Imagine how much keyword information you can give Google when you’re posting hundreds or thousands of images to your website!

4 Responses to “10 Avoidable SEO Mistakes for Photographers”

  1. Photoblog Alliance December 7, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    Great stuff, Zach. Just implemented some these into my blog through the All-in-One SEO plugin, an invaluable resource. Had a question about #3: Is it a negative to have the name of the blog in each title? Right now, I’ve got it set up to show the post title and then name of the blog. I find this helpful when I’m searching Google, does anyone else?

    Thanks for the great info. Keep up the good word for the photo blog community!

    • Photo SEO December 7, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

      You don’t want the same phrase in all your titles. That confuses Google into thinking the post is about main phrase A, when the post is really about specific phrase B. When trying to rank for specific phrase B, you don’t want other words in the title diluting it’s power.

  2. Jayme Franklin February 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Amazing information! gonna have to buy your books :-)

  3. Micah G Robinson November 14, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    Good info for us wedding photographers!
    Glad I’ve stayed away from flash even more so now (besides the fact that all flash sites look the same)

    Keep if up man!

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