Search Engine Optimisation for Photographers

As well as being a photographer, I've built and worked on hundreds of websites in my time. I've also developed a healthy interest in SEO, so thought I'd share some nuggets of wisdom I've picked up over the years to help propel your site up the search rankings...

You've probably heard of SEO, and you've heard that you need it. You also know some companies can provide it (at a large cost, usually), and you also know that they promise the earth.

"Top of Google? No problem! That'll be eight hundred pounds a month please!"

Seriously, some people.

Before we start, let's touch upon the basics of SEO. Search Engine Optimisation (according to the hallowed Wikipedia) is, "the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's "natural" or un-paid ("organic") search results".

So how do we affect the visibility of a website? Before I continue, I'd just like to make this disclaimer:

Search Engine Optimisation isn't a quick fix. It's an ongoing process which never ends, and you could happily dedicate the rest of your life to studying the behaviour of Google, and how your site operates within Google's framework and algorithms. Which are ridiculously complicated, trust me So much so, my brain is throbbing merely thinking about it.

However, that said, there are a number of things you can do to improve your site in the eyes of Google. They involve getting your hands dirty, but put your gloves on and come with me...

Page titles

Page titles are the pieces of text that appear at the very top of your browser. For example, an optimised page title would be, "Page Title | Subtitle of Website | Title of Website". For example, "How to Cook an Aubergine | Northwest Barnsley Aubergine Growers | Barnsley Aubergine Association" (okay, not entirely serious, buy hopefully you see what I'm implying here). The page title should always contain keywords that are relevant to the page itself ("Aubergine" being the keyword I'm targeting here).

Meta description

This involves rolling your trouser legs up and wading into the HTML code of your site, but it's worth it. Without boring the aforementioned trousers off you regarding the vast array of meta tags you can add to your site (oi, wake up at the back!), there's one you need to add to every page of your site - that's the meta description. It looks like this:

<meta content="The text contained in this rather sexy meta description is a, erm, description that tells Google / search engines in general what the article / page is all about. You'll also, more often than not, see this text on a results page after conducting a search in Google, which (if it does its job) means that you're more likely to click on the link and read the article." name="description" />

Meta keywords - NO!

In the "golden era" of the Internet (circa 1998... ah, halcyon days... ) you could amend yet another meta tag (hurrah!), namely the meta keywords tag. It looks like this:

<meta content="keywords, go, here, they, should, be, descriptive, Britney, spears, xxx, etc" name="keywords" />

Back in 1998 (wipes tear away) adding this line of code to your site with a few... ahem... select keywords would be enough to propel your site to the upper echelons of Google's search results. That's because (a) the majority of World Wide Web users were perverts back then (some things never change), and, (b) in 1998 the number of websites that existed was approximately eleven.

Anyway, times have changed. Google now ignores meta keywords, so it's really not worth including them. Yahoo does take them into account however, but seeing as Yahoo can barely organise a hearty celebration in an alcohol fermentation facility, they're really not worth worrying about.

Page Headings

These are the pieces of code contained between <h1></h1>,<h2></h2>, <h3></h3> etc. For example, the most important heading on any page is the h1, and then next important is h2, and so on. Again, think of relevant keywords that your readers will be searching for.

Friendly URL's

Otherwise known as the page address, and again, should contain relevant keywords.

Alt elements

Again, this requires dabbling in the code (deep breaths, head between the knees, relax... ) An alt element is a descriptive tag for your images. For example, img src="picture-of-redbus.jpg" alt="Picture of a red bus". This isn't just good for accessibility, but also tells Google what the image is (the keywords contained within the URL of the image is also important, by the way).

Internal links

Let's say you've written a Pulitzer Prize-winning article about the best way to cook aubergines (hey, you might. Aubergines are lovely, and very versatile.) Within the article you make reference to another cracking article about a tomato and sea bass bake-type-thing you've knocked up for your family. Adding a link to the tomatoey-fish article from the aubergine article tells Google that, (a) the content and subject matter of these two pages are related, and (b) your site isn't just a random collection of pages tossed together at the last minute; it's a coherent body of work.

External links

It turns out that your article about aubergines has captured the imagination of the BBC (God bless Auntie), and they've decided to link to your article from the homepage of the food section of their website. Two things have happened here. One is that your server will invariably fall over from the sudden influx of visitors, as when you launched your site you decided that the £2 a month hosting package would be more than enough for the three saddos that visit your site each month in the hope of finding aubergine-based recipes. Secondly, Google will look very kindly on the BBC link, as it's a very popular site visited by millions of people (i.e. it's an authoritative source of information), and the subject matter of page that links to yours is related - they're both about food / cooking etc.

However, if a very unpopular gardening website decides to link to your aubergine recipe, this won't carry much weight and thus Google won't reward your site, as the two subjects are unrelated, and the source website is unpopular. So before you decide to visit and pay a schoolkid in a bedroom in Croydon to "legally" set up 1000 links that point to your site to bump it up Google's search results, think again.