Search engine optimization (SEO) is nothing more than a fancy buzzword used to describe what we do to help Google help their customers (people searching for stuff) find the information most relevant to what they’re searching for.
In an ideal world, SEO would be an easy job.
Marketers would write stuff, publish it online, Google would find it and add it to their index (filed under the appropriate keywords), cross-reference it with how popular it is (by counting incoming links and social metrics), and then people looking for the most relevant information would see it pop up in their search results.
Sounds easy, right?
Sadly, because some of the less-scrupulous Internet marketers out there decided they didn’t want to play fair, we now find ourselves caught in the middle of a never-ending battle between Google and those who are constantly trying to “game the system” by exploiting loopholes or stretching Google’s ability to keep up with their so-called “black hat” SEO tricks.
Welcome to the war between Google and the Internet spammer…
Obviously, this makes SEO more challenging for the rest of us.
And, to make it more interesting, Google seems bent on turning their search engine into something resembling a supercomputer intelligence from the realms of science-fiction.
But it’s not all bad, and the difficulties we face with SEO don’t have as much to do with observing Google’s rules as they do with avoiding those tactics Google frowns upon.
In other words, if we don’t try to cheat the system, and we approach SEO with the needs of those for whom our content is intended firmly in mind, we should be okay.
If we play by the proper rules of good SEO, most of which basically come down to common sense, there’s no reason why the average professional photographer who serves a relatively small local area (for example, a specific city or group of towns) can’t rank on the first page of the search results for their target market.
What Is SEO?
SEO should be used to help Google get a better understanding of what your content is about and who it’s intended for. To achieve that means using a variety of skills and tactics on the appropriate pages of your website, properly optimizing each one for the keyword phrases your target market might use to find it…
The most commonly held notion of SEO is that it’s something you do to your web content after you’ve created it.
While this can certainly be true, especially if you want to further optimize what you have, there’s a much better way of creating your content in the first place to avoid much of the “after work” and save time in the process.
A much cleaner approach, and one more in line with the guiding principles of good SEO is to consider it as something that happens as a natural by-product of your normal content creation process.
In other words:
- Know what the purpose is of the content you want to create…
- Know which keywords are the most appropriate for that content…
- Know who it is you’re creating it for…
- Know the important places where your keywords should be…
- Know the goal of the content (what you want your reader to do once they’ve read it)…
- Then you create the content for your readers first and foremost, at the same time keeping SEO in mind to guide you along the way…
For example, if you want to write an article about creating portraits in the local park, you could just write it and then wrestle with the SEO afterward.
Doing so would probably take more time in the long run, and you run the risk of upsetting the flow of the article or making it hard to read because the keywords feel like they’ve been squeezed into the post as an afterthought just for Google.
A better approach is to look at the overall topic to see if there are any useful keywords that attract a reasonable amount of searches, and then to build the content around those ideas.
Because the post is then created with both the intended reader and Google in mind at the same time, it will appear more natural and will perform better in the search results, especially if it’s enticing enough to attract links from other webmasters and shares via social media.
Why Does SEO Matter?
The answer to this question is also simple:
If no one can find you, they can’t hire you…
Photographers often mistakenly assume their photography website will automatically appear in the search engines, and people will therefore be able to find them easily.
As a result, they don’t make any real SEO efforts, so it comes as a shock when they don’t show up in the search results and their phone doesn’t ring!
This mistake is being made mostly by photographers with template-based websites, who assume their hosting company is responsible for their website marketing, or that SEO is somehow “built in” to their template.
Advertisements and claims that templates “come with great SEO” only add fuel to the fire, and the situation gets even worse if the template is based on Flash (thankfully, we don’t see too many of those around these days).
Another misconception is that Google can somehow compare the photographs of one photographer with those of another, and then decide which of the two photographers is the “better” one. Clearly, this isn’t the case (at least, not for now), but you’d be amazed how many photographers harbor this suspicion because they fail to understand what’s really at work in ranking other photographers above them.
Granted, the dry-sounding and rather technical work of SEO isn’t as exciting as actually creating photographs or working in Lightroom or Photoshop.
But if you don’t optimize your website to attract the right kind of paying clients, you won’t get to photograph too many of them!
In the end SEO matters because, without it, your photography business can only go backwards, falling ever lower in the search results and allowing other photographers in your community to beat you in the online marketing game.
But isn’t SEO complicated and difficult?
It depends upon how deep you want to go with it, but basic SEO (enough to make a good difference to you) is easier than you might think.
As you go through this guide, I’m going to give you some simple checklists and tools you can use to make the job quicker so you can get back to doing what you love most – creating photographs for your clients.
To get started, here are just a few reasons why SEO is something worth pursuing:
- No one can hire you if they can’t find you…
- SEO doesn’t happen by itself…
- It helps you attract the right kind of client…
- Showing up in the search results makes you independent of other platforms, such as Facebook…
- Avoids the need to pay for Google ads (Facebook ads are a different story)…
- Marketing without good SEO is simply too hard…
- SEO is an ongoing process (not set it and forget it)…
#1: Help People Find You
As I mentioned at the beginning, the simple truth of website marketing is, “if they can’t find you, they can’t hire you”.
With so much business happening online these days, website marketing is more important than ever, and SEO is by far the best way to make sure your website is found by the people looking to buy what you’re offering.
This is especially important now that mobile usage is so widespread. More and more people use their smartphones and tablets to browse the web while they’re on the go, and they want immediate and clear answers to what they’re searching for.
#2: SEO Needs You
Contrary to what some photographers might think, SEO isn’t something that happens all by itself.
Without at least some strategic planning, your website is left to the mercy of Google and the other search engines, allowing those who do pay closer attention to their SEO to race past you.
Imagine trying to drive blindfolded in a car race.
You might get somewhere but the chances are high it won’t be the finish line!
#3: Attract The Right Client
Your future photography clients are out there, right now, waiting to find you, but they’ll have a hard time if you don’t show up when they search Google for a photographer.
This is where knowing your ideal target client, in as much detail as possible, helps you tremendously.
Doing so makes it easier to understand the language your potential clients might use to find you in Google, and you can then incorporate those essential keyword phrases into your marketing copy in a natural way (instead of trying to stuff them into non-relevant content).
As your website ranks higher for your target keywords, you’ll start to see more visitors to your website who fit the profile of your ideal client.
#4: Platform Independence
It’s important to be in control of your own space on the Internet, and relying too heavily on other people’s Internet real-estate for your marketing can be a big mistake.
Facebook, for example, can (and do) change the rules whenever they feel like it, potentially rendering business pages almost useless as a direct marketing platform without resorting to ads.
On the other hand, your own website domain, under your complete control, combined with a strong SEO strategy, is a much better alternative.
Such a combination will serve you well for as long as you own it.
You make the rules, you decide what content is published and when, and you control the keywords being used to help drive visitors to your marketing.
#5: Escape Google’s Paid Advertising
SEO isn’t the only online marketing method available, but it is the least expensive in the long term (especially since you can do SEO yourself).
However, you could use paid advertising, such as Google AdWords, to capitalize on important keywords as people search the web, but it can quickly become expensive and has been known to gobble up the daily advertising budget very quickly in the hands of the inexperienced advertiser.
Paid advertising on Facebook does have a big role to play in your business, and it’s fast becoming even more important, but good SEO allows you to avoid or limit what you have to spend on Google’s AdWords system.
Of course, although you can do SEO yourself, it’s still not 100% free because you’ll need to factor in the time you spend on it, but it makes financial good sense to any photographer with more time on their hands than money.
#6: Makes Marketing Easier
To say SEO makes the rest of our marketing easier might seem like a strange thing to say at first, but it’s actually quite true.
For example, if we optimize our web pages for keyword phrases that signal a “buying frame of mind” on the part of the searcher, we can expect that person to have a better chance of connecting with, and responding to, our marketing copy than someone performing a more general search.
This is where the “long tail” of search comes into play.
In case you’re not familiar with it, the phrase “long tail” refers to the enormous number of almost-unique searches performed every day, and specifically the more detailed search phrases with 3 or more words in them.
For example, “Los Angeles wedding photographer” is technically a long-tail phrase when we compare it to the more generalized phrase “wedding photographer”.
Of course, the page the user lands on (the one optimized for their search phrase) must still use engaging marketing copy and a compelling call to action in order to capitalize on the opportunity, otherwise you run the risk of them consuming the content and then leaving without taking action or raising their hand as a potential prospect.
You don’t need me to remind you how difficult it is to market your photography without any website visitors, so SEO can make your marketing a lot easier.
#7: SEO Is Ongoing
As much as we would like to, there’s no “set it and forget it” with search engine optimization, especially given the frequent updates and ranking changes from Google.
Every piece of significant content you produce, whether it be a web page, a blog post, a video, or any other type of content, must be included in your SEO strategy in the right way to provide the biggest return on your investment.