Today’s post is about the role that search engine optimization (SEO) plays in the effectiveness of your photography blog and why the world of SEO might not be all that you thought it was.
If the many questions I receive each week from photographers asking about SEO and blogging in general are anything to go by, there’s a lot of confusion about what SEO is really all about and how much you should focus on it with a blog.
It’s well-known that Google loves blogs, but that doesn’t always mean we have to go crazy with our search engine optimization. In fact, if you do too much in the way of SEO (and you need a lot less than you might think) that can be more of a hindrance to the success of your website and blog in the search engines, so it’s good to know how much SEO you really need to do.
What Are The “Rules” Of SEO?
SEO On Photography Blogs For Better Client Connections
Want to make more meaningful connections with prospective clients? Your photography blog is a great way to do that and do well with SEO. Here's how...
Every week, I get a lot of questions from my podcast listeners and blog readers asking about SEO for their blogs and how they can get ranked higher in the search engines.
One of the common themes seems to be related to the widely-held perception that Google is constantly changing the rules and that SEO is never the same from one day to the next. For example, a strategy that worked fine yesterday might land you in the equivalent of Google jail tomorrow.
It might come as a surprise to some photographers that, in fact, Google haven’t changed the rules at all since the day they launched their search engine back in the early 1990’s!
But what about all these new algorithms with funny names like Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and Hummingbird? Surely, those are major rule-changers, right?
Well, kind of, but not really.
The basic rule of SEO, in the spirit that Google first envisioned it, is for us to simply help Google to help their customers find the most relevant content to match what they’re searching for.
For example, if someone is looking for a great wedding photographer in their city then Google wants to show search results that highlight the best choices they can find, right?
To that end, choosing and using the right keywords has always formed the basic ingredient for a good optimization recipe.
Keywords are used to give Google a good idea of what a page or post is about, or the questions it aims to answer for the reader, and they work a bit like book titles and the classification system in a library, which help readers find the most relevant books for them.
But, while keywords are still important, together with quality links from other websites, those are no longer enough to satisfy Google in their quest to truly provide the most relevant results possible to those searching the web, especially since marketers have been manipulating the landscape of keyword-based content since day 1.
Instead, with the new Google algorithms in place, keyword-rich content can easily be trumped in the search results by quality content that real people will find useful, informative or entertaining.
As you probably know, SEO as most of us have come to know it revolves mainly around tactics and strategies designed to exploit loopholes and weaknesses in Google’s systems – to try to game the system as it were and to artificially influence the ranking of our web pages and blog posts in the search results.
Most of Google’s updates have been designed to close those loopholes, strengthen areas where rankings might be unduly influenced, and to actively penalize those websites that flagrantly disobey the guidelines that Google have set forth about best SEO practices.
The other updates, such as Hummingbird, represent major shifts in the way Google interprets the user’s intent in their search requests. In a way that feels like it came straight from an episode of the Twilight Zone, Google are moving ever closer to a more humanlike understanding of what people actually mean when they type a search based on the many thousands of other clues and the mountain of data-points they collect every day.
They can’t quite read your mind – yet – but it can sure seem that way when you look at some of the results being shown for the things you’re looking for.
So what I want to talk more about today is how photographers can properly optimize their websites and blogs to better help Google do their job without ever worrying about upsetting Google or suffering some kind of ranking penalty as a result of using questionable SEO strategies.
The Problem With SEO Overwhelm
The SEO world isn’t known for its abundance of comic relief and there are no SEO-based stand-up comics that I know of, but here’s the funny thing about SEO:
The best thing about SEO is all the information that exists about it on the Internet, while the worst thing about SEO is all the information that exists about it on the Internet!
By far the biggest problem I hear from photographers on this topic is they feel totally overwhelmed and confused by it all.
Not surprising is it, really?
Not only is there a ton of information on SEO out there, much of it is written in ways that only a Nobel prize winning computer scientist could understand. When you finally do get the layman’s translation you then find it directly contradicts the information you just spent hours deciphering from a different expert.
Frustrating to say the least, right?
All that’s left, after everything has been translated, boiled down, and interpreted for the masses are a few basic nuggets that essentially tell everyone to just use the appropriate keywords in the right places all over their website and blogs and you’ll be sure to rank on page one in no time.
To paraphrase the old saying from Field Of Dreams: “Keyword it and they will come…”
And how’s that working for you?
Unless you have a LOT of content, and even then probably, not terribly well would be my guess.
SO What Went Wrong?
For one thing many marketers focus on the concept of “traffic” as a major measure of success, but I’ve always felt that the word “traffic” dehumanizes our visitors. Traffic is something you’ll see if you stand in the middle of the Interstate at 7am on a Monday morning – a meaningless blur of people rushing by. Although, depending upon which Interstate you pick, it may be more of a frozen tableau than a blur, but you get the idea.
Evidently, someone forgot to mention that there are actual living and breathing people on the other end of those Google searches – people with desires and needs we could fulfill if only we stopped treating them as just numbers on a Google Analytics graph.
Those people are looking for photographers like you to create beautiful work that adds meaning and value to their lives.
Instead, traditional SEO treats them as if they’re zombies from the Walking Dead with no real mind of their own, desires, or purpose.
After all, a thousand website visitors a week is great for pumping up our egos, but utterly useless if those visitors aren’t the least bit interested in the style or type of photography we offer.
To do it right we need to create exceptional content that actually means something to our target audience; something they will enjoy watching or reading and that they will want to share with their families and friends because it makes them feel good about photography and how you use it to bring meaning into their world.
A blog is a wonderful platform for that.
And it’s not as hard as it sounds.
It’s Time For A Change Of Thinking About SEO
The first thing to do is to change our thinking and focus less on the quantity of visitors and more on the quality of those visitors.
By quality, I mean how closely they match the profile of your ideal client – that one person you absolutely love to work with. By the way, if you don’t have a very clear idea of who your avatar actually is – the persona of your ideal client – then how will you know how to attract them or what to give them when they arrive?
For example, imagine a passionate gardener saying they want to landscape their garden to attract more insects.
Well, do they mean butterflies or mosquitoes? Depending on what they do with their garden, it could go either way, but only one of those options will make for a pleasant location to sit outside on a sunny afternoon with a nice cup of tea. The other will send people running for the nearest bottle of bug spray.
In other words, 50 carefully-targeted people who love and value the power of photography are far more valuable to you than 500 people who are only looking for the cheapest deal in town, or couldn’t care less about the sentimental aspects of photography.
Therefore, stop focusing so much on getting more visitors, and concentrate instead on attracting the people you really want to work with.
So how can you do that?
Your blog is a great vehicle for this by creating posts that show people more of your personality as a photographer, that demonstrate the experience you create for others, and the values and beliefs you have about photography as an art form.
Not only will those posts act as natural honeypots as far as SEO goes, your target audience will gravitate to them and congregate around them as they get shared through social media. If you stick with it and post consistently on your blog, you’ll find that your audience will get to know, like and trust you – resulting in a steady flow of interested leads who actually want to have a conversation with you about hiring you as their chosen photographer.
At that point, if you know from your own experience that you have a great track-record of turning real conversations into actual bookings, then you’ll know just how very valuable and powerful generating qualified leads will be for your business.
What Topics Can You Blog About?
This is a very common question, usually because photographers feel as if their readers will get turned off by seeing nothing but sneak peeks and highlights from recent weddings or sessions, and that’s true to a point. Too much of the same thing is going to make the blog look somewhat stale, so what can you do to create additional value?
All it takes is a little creativity and a bit of “outside the box” thinking – nothing radical or difficult, just think about things your audience will be interested in that might not even be directly related to your photography. Instead, they could be topics of mutual interest – things that inspire them in ways that are similar to the effect your photography is supposed to have.
For example, let’s say you’re a wedding photographer and you want to add another dimension to your blog other than the usual post that features the latest photos from a wedding.
You could blog about other vendors in your industry who are serving the same audience as you, and help to promote their businesses.
You could feature “proposal stories” that highlight the romantic side of weddings. You can really go to town on those with videos where you talk to the couple on camera to portray more of their emotions.
You could post reviews of your favorite wedding venues and capitalize on the search volume for those venues to send some of them to you and your website.
There are human interest stories from your local community, charity events, or simply your own personal thoughts on photography and how it impacts people’s lives.
It can really help too, if you use different forms of media in your posts. For example, video or audio mixed with the text and photographs, or infographics and carefully-crafted slideshows.
Plus, in addition to regular blog posts, you have the ability with a blog to create static pages that can act as hubs of useful information for your audience – places for them to find the answers to frequently asked questions and those questions they should ask but never think of.
These pages are the places where you will want to focus most of your SEO efforts in terms of targeting specific keywords, rather than on your regular blog posts, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
The only limit here is your imagination and your passion for the business you’re in.
Ah, but I’m not a writer! That’s another big roadblock that photographers use as an excuse for not blogging.
Well, here’s the truth of the matter.
You don’t have to be a writer – in fact, being a writer in the sense we traditionally think of it can be more of a hindrance than a help as it hobbles your writing and makes it harder for people to read, not easier!
So you have my formal permission to blog to your heart’s content regardless of whether or not you consider yourself to be a real writer.
A word of caution here though. Your photographs are not enough – you also need to tell the story!
On the topic of writing, I do have to stress that you do need words – hard to hear for visual folk like photographers, I know, but Google still needs text in order to understand what we’re saying and, more importantly, your readers will appreciate the stories behind your images so much more when you tell the stories, rather than just show them photographs.
Think of it like this – you wouldn’t dream of just showing off photos in a face-to-face consultation without actually speaking, would you? That would be like hiring a mime as a salesperson – as interesting and fascinating as it would be to see a mime trying to sell photography, I doubt they would get very far.
Obviously, any conversation about SEO on your blog won’t be complete without mentioning the use of keywords on your blog posts, and optimizing your posts so that they show up in the search results.
Or is it?
Keywords On Blog Posts
This is where so many photographers have an epiphany about the SEO efforts on their blog, and it usually comes with a deep sigh of relief, because you do not have to worry about all that SEO stuff on your regular blog posts. Pages, yes, and we talked a bit about those a few moments ago, but not posts.
Surely, you’re joking Mr. Merrick, is something I heard more than once on this subject. Sadly, I’m not noted for my comic genius so, no, I’m not joking.
Think about it for a moment – as a professional photographer who operates in a fairly small region, geographically speaking, there are only a certain number of useful keywords you can optimize for – somewhere between 10 and 25, and that’s being generous.
Every post you make on your blog essentially creates a new web page. Since Google indexes pages and not websites as a whole, and you can only target one main keyword with any given page, that means you’ll run out of keywords after just a few posts.
What do you do then? If you target another post at the same keyword, it will compete with your other posts for that same keyword in the search rankings and confuse Google about which one is the most important.
Google is insanely smart, but it’s also easily confused over such things, so it’s best to let your posts rank for the long tail phrases you naturally use in your posts instead. Long tail simply means keyword phrases with 3 or more words that are not searched for in great volume but yet are still very valuable because many of them can indicate a high level of buying intent on the part of the searcher.
In a sense, every word and phrase you write in your blog posts can be thought of as a keyword to some degree.
So, no, you don’t need to perform detailed SEO on your blog posts — a relief, right? Now you can just concentrate on creating stories and valuable content that will inspire and motivate your ideal clients into action.
If you follow some of these ideas and put them to use in your blog, you’ll find that your prospects will spend more time on your website, become more engaged with what you’re saying, and be more likely to share your posts with their friends, families, and colleagues.
They will also have a better opportunity to get to know, like, and trust you — leading to more qualified leads you can have that all-important booking conversation with, resulting in happier clients who will stick with you for the long haul.