Every time I’m at workshop or networking event and photographers find out that my background includes over a decade of SEO and social media experience, it usually spurs a lot of discussion amongst the group. It starts with one question, which leads to another, and before long, it’s turned into a mini workshop of its own. One thing I have learned from those conversations is that a whole mess of misinformation out there about SEO.
This post is the first in a series that will help get all the basics of SEO in order. Like other aspects of running a business, a proper SEO strategy isn’t something you can “set and forget.” It can be tedious and time consuming, but it’s a vital part of a successful photography marketing strategy.
Depending on what type of website you have, you may have plug-ins or modules that handle some of this for you, or at least make it easier to manage. If you’re a WordPress user, it doesn’t get any better than Yoast SEO. It’s the gold standard and makes SEO management for your entire site EASY.
Photo File Names and SEO
If you’re uploading images that are named something like “DSC_07655,” it is one of the first habits you need to break. Google and other search engines need to know what your photo is about without even seeing it. A generic file name doesn’t do that, so you need to use a descriptive, accurate file name.
Here are a few examples of how to approach file names in some photography categories:
Local SEO is only growing more important, so it’s helpful to start with the location of the photo. Then be descriptive, keeping in mind the main subject of the photo. File names are not the place to be creative or whimsical. The name of the photo should be factually accurate and specific.
Alt-Text and Photos
Ever hover over an image and see a little pop-up near your mouse that describes the image? That’s courtesy of alt-text. Alt-text was designed to be a description in case there was an instance where an image could not be loaded. It isn’t often that people need to rely on alt-text for information, but alt-text is used by those who may be visually impaired (their screen reader tells them what the image is), or people who have turned off image loading for reasons like being in a place with slow internet connections or to save data.
For all intents and purposes, alt-text should never be left out. The reasons above are good, but alt-text does play a big part in SEO. If you don’t take my word for it, you should take Google’s word for it. Similar to file names, alt-text should be factual and descriptive, and user-friendly.
A common mistake I see amongst photographers already using alt-text is “keyword stuffing.” That’s when someone chooses to stuff every keyword they want to rank for in the alt-text area. But Google is onto that, and sites that use keyword stuffing run the risk of being marked as spam, and therefore penalized by the search engines. Yes, that does happen, and yes, it’s more difficult to have that reversed than it is to just do it right the first time.
If you are looking at the HTML, this is where the alt-text is:
<img src=”keywordedfilename.jpg” alt=”this is where the alt text goes”/>
As I mentioned above, most website template sites have this pulled out for you, so all you need to do is add the text itself and the template will do the rest for you when you publish your post or your page. Some will automatically import the file name as the alt-text, which is nice if you are already using a factual, descriptive filename.
Here are some examples of what alt-text should look like:
Okay:<img src=”maui-sunset-beach-wedding.jpg” alt=”maui”/>
Better: <img src=”maui-sunset-beach-wedding.jpg” alt=”maui beach at sunset”/>
Best: <img src=”maui-sunset-beach-wedding.jpg” alt=”maui hawaii beach wedding at sunset”/>
In the above example, someone who can’t see the image or a search engine will easily be able to discern that the photo is of a wedding on a beach in Maui, Hawaii during sunset.
Reduce Photo File Size
Nothing is more frustrating than landing on a photography website that has stunning images, but you have to wait FOREVER for them to load. Not only that, but you have to wait forever for each and EVERY page to load. Why? Because the photographer hasn’t optimized the image for load times.
As photographers, it’s important to showcase our work to the best of our abilities. But here is another example where stepping into the user’s shoes is important. Don’t let their first impression of your work be frustration!
One thing that is easily avoided with image load times is looking at the size of the display on the site. There’s no reason to load a full 2500×1500-sized image for an image that will be on a static page in 500×300 size. Scale the image to the size it will be shown.
With wedding photographers especially, photo blog posts can have dozens of images in them, all of them large and beautiful and designed to fill the whole monitor. Those file sizes are enormous and take a LOT of time to load. However, there are resources that can help.
JPEGMini is one of my favorite tools. It optimizes the file size without losing image quality or resolution. They also have a plug-in for Lightroom so you can reduce the file size during export. In my screenshot below, you can see that the original size of the photo I uploaded was 19229 KB, but after using JPEGMini, the file was reduced to just 6392 KB, about three times less in file size. But the file itself still looks great.
Another service is BlogStomp. I have not personally used BlogStomp, but many of the photographers I know use it and find it valuable. It integrates with WordPress, and it has the ability to add alt-text and file names, too.
OpenGraph is Your Friend
Have you heard of OpenGraph? Even if you haven’t, you’re interacting with elements of it every day. OpenGraph is the technology that helps social sharing look beautiful. A product of Facebook, OpenGraph isn’t limited only to Facebook. Pinterest uses it, as well.
If you’re using a plug-in or module for your SEO, or even in some website templates, this functionality might already be built-in and easy to find. But if not, here’s how you add OpenGraph to your blog post or page. You add this right after the <head> code.
<meta property=”og:image” content=”http://example.com/link-to-image.jpg” />
When someone shares a link to the page on Facebook or Pinterest, your beautiful image will show up correctly in the News Feed or in the Pin. In the image to the right, you can see that there is a nice, large photo, with the appropriate title underneath it. The small paragraph underneath is the meta-data description of the page/post underneath it (and nicely so, as they abide by the character count).
If you share a link to a website on Facebook and the photo shows up as a thumbnail (or not at all), it’s because you don’t have OpenGraph implemented. User experience is the best way to gauge whether or not something is good for SEO, and OpenGraph creates a positive user experience.
Advanced SEO Techniques for Photographers
These are just a few of the absolutely necessary parts of SEO that you can’t ignore if you’re a photographer. And, this is just the start. Future posts will dive into more technical components that can elevate your SEO, like images in XML sitemaps, link-building techniques, using Webmaster Tools, deep dives into Google Analytics, and how to take advantage of Schema markup. Hopefully this first installment will help you build-in SEO best practices to your workflow. With hundreds of photographers all competing for the same business, the little details can truly help you stand out from the rest.