A Search Engine Optimization Strategy for Photographers that Actually Works!

I can’t sit back and keep quiet on this any longer. When looking at a lot of professional photography websites out there, it appears to me that you guys as an industry have no clue how to optimize your website in order to rank on the first page of Google.

At least that was my initial impression. After doing a little more digging, I have to admit that I was wrong. It’s not your fault after all. It’s the so-called guru’s in your industry that you get your advice from.

Don’t shoot the messenger. The techniques taken from the first edition of SEO for Dummies that you are being taught worked great in 2004 but they are not going to get it done for you now. Stuff like:

  • Updating meta tags
  • Using alt tags for your images
  • Adding keyword stuffed descriptions for each picture
  • Link building

Plus any other Band-Aid you are putting on the problem. It’s not enough. You need a strategy, not a bunch of items to add to your todo list. In the post Google Penguin era, it’s time to stop searching for short cuts and crossing your fingers and time to start going the extra mile and doing this right.

Here is the Problem as I See It

When it comes to outranking your competition on Google, you’ve heard me (and about ¾’s of the Earth’s population) preach that “content is king.” That the only way to Google’s heart is through quality writing. It’s true.

The problem is that you are in an industry that doesn’t require much writing. Your content comes in the form of an image. I’ll take it one step further in saying that your writing often hurts the quality of your photography when you insist on yapping over your pictures in the form of an unnecessary description. It’s no secret that it’s there to appease the search engines and as your visitors that leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

Instead, you need to somehow optimize your website in order to rank on the first page of Google without mucking up all of your photographs or creating unnecessary content. That’s what I want to share with you today. So throw out the other garbage you are doing and commit to me right now that you will eat, sleep and breathe what I’m suggesting here. In return, I promise that you will be able to stop banging your head against the computer and start getting results. Deal?

First, Your Website

You have one right? Obviously. If you don’t, that might explain why you are not ranking at all.

I don’t want to get into a whole debate over your actual design since technically your design does not affect your search engine ranking. It does however affect your conversion rate, so if your site looks like hell, fix it. Like it or not people judge a book by its cover. Since you are a visual person, chances are it’s at least a decent looking site, so let’s assume that you are fine.

The only time design is a major problem with your ranking on Google is if you use Flash. Flash sucks. Google can’t read it. Your iPhones and iPads can’t see it. So you shouldn’t use it. I don’t care how much you love the little Star Trek sound effects you get when you mouse over buttons. It’s not worth what it’s going to cost you in lost business.

Gallery Categories
Your goal for your website should be to get people to your Gallery or Portfolio where you show off your best work. The secret to your gallery is to break it up into very specific categories using obvious names. For example, don’t call the wedding category something cutesy like “Your Special Day”. Use something obvious like “Wedding Photography” or “Wedding Photos”. I know it’s not as “she-she”, but it gets the job done on several different levels…your visitors, clients, search engines, etc.

Make sure you have a gallery category for every style of photography that you offer in the order that you prefer, making sure that each of your categories are descriptive. This might include:

  • Wedding Photography
  • Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs
  • Corporate Events
  • Maternity and Newborn
  • Product Photography

You get the point. Once your categories are set, fill them up with only your best work. It’s better to have 25 of your best than 100, 75 of which are just so-so.

Second, Your Blog

Wait a minute! Didn’t I say that you could do this without writing content? No. What I said was that you shouldn’t be creating unnecessary content and mucking up your pictures with keyword stuffed descriptions all for the sake of trying to rank.

A blog is a must. If you don’t already have one, you need a blog and you need a blog that lives on your domain with the rest of your site. No phoning it in by using Blogger.com or some other shortcut. Make it happen.

Now, before you go into your default setting where you start to whine about how you are not a writer, keep reading. You don’t have to be Shakespeare. You just need to be committed. The sites that live on page 1 earn their position and don’t complain about what it takes to get there. Capeesh?

The strategy I am proposing here is simple. Here is all you have to do:

  1. Make sure that you and anyone else in your organization that has any contact with prospects or clients carries around a pen and paper (or the digital equivalent) wherever you go.
  2. Anytime someone asks you a question you are to write it down exactly as they asked it.
  3. Go through each question and answer them one at a time. Your answers should be about 400 words. More if you need. Try not to write much less.

Pretty easy so far, right? Good…because you’re done! Within a week you should have at least 20 or more questions and answers. These are your blog posts. All you need to do is alter the question into a statement and make that the title of the post. For example, if someone asks you:

What is the difference between shooting digital and film?

You are going to write a blog post titled:

Top 10 Differences Between Shooting Your Pictures in Digital Versus Film

Then spend the next 400 words or so answering the question as best as you can.

Once you have a handful done, all you need to do is start to publish these blog posts twice a week. I would suggest publishing on Mondays and Thursdays but you can do any two days you want as long as you spread them out a bit and don’t schedule on the weekend since a lot of people aren’t in front of the computer on weekends. Whatever you choose, be consistent!

Third, Social Media

This is one of the best industries to leverage social media because it caters to your audience in such a visual way. You could easily gain a lot of attention just by regularly posting some of your best work and possibly striking up a little conversation.

Focus on 2-3 different social networks so you aren’t overwhelmed. More isn’t always better. Because of their visual nature, I would start with Facebook and Pinterest. If you are an overachiever, then I would also include Google+ since it is a visual medium as well and does have somewhat of an effect on your Google ranking. Twitter is good, but not the best for showing off pictures since you have click to view. We want people to see your work right away.

Make sure you carefully read the privacy policy and terms of service for each to make sure you are OK with whatever they claim they own and what not.

The rest is simple:

  1. Show off your best work. Post a few pictures from at least one photo shoot every day on Facebook and Pinterest. Or whichever flavor of social media you choose. Keep in mind that you may want to ask permission if there are people in the pictures. Use your discretion; I’m not an attorney!
  2. Say a little something. Notice “little” is in italics. Don’t say too much. Make a quick comment about what you loved about that shoot or that particular image. Ask open questions like “What do you think of this one?” Post two images from the same shoot and ask your followers which they like better. Make it interactive.
  3. In between sharing your photographs, make sure that you are posting your latest blog twice a week to the same networks.

And Now It’s Your Turn…

This may seem like a lot to some of you. Others may think it’s not enough. To both of you I just ask that you trust me and give it a shot. If you tend to be an overachiever and want to dive in a little deeper and work on your meta tags, sitemaps and some of the more technical stuff, I have a free SEO e-book that you can download, but it is not a replacement for what we talked about here.

It’s going to take a little time for you to build this up so please don’t get frustrated or impatient. Do this religiously for 3 months. Don’t miss a day. Have faith. Know that the end result is going to be big! Throw everything you have into it as if your business depended on it…it does. If at the end of 3 months you see absolutely no difference in how often the phone is ringing you can give up and go back your ad in the Yellow Pages and unsubscribe from my list if you joined (hint). My guess is that you won’t.

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