Basic SEO principles for photographers

Let me guess — you’ve probably googled “SEO for photographers” and felt a tad overwhelmed by the sheer volume and technical difficulty of much of the information you found there.

If you’re like most photographers, you’d much rather spend time practicing your craft, working on your portfolio, and delivering amazing work to clients than trying to make sense of all the ins and outs of search engine optimization (SEO) for your photography website.

Yes, SEO can be confusing, challenging, and technical.

But if you want potential clients to find you online so you can create that amazing work, then spending some time learning the basics of SEO will be well worth it.

That said, getting overwhelmed right out of the SEO gate isn’t what we’re after here, so we’ll start with a handful of fairly simple-to-implement principles that can help you improve your search results.

Consider the following suggestions the tip of the iceberg when it comes to optimizing your photography site for SEO. If you’re feeling ambitious after getting the basics in place, you can go down the rabbit hole and read some of the more exhaustive and technical resources on all things SEO for photographers, of which there are quite a few to be found with a simple Google search. (See? That’s the power of SEO.)

6 SEO 101 optimization tips

  1. Keep it simple to start

  2. Don’t let all the techie articles on SEO frighten you.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that Google wants to deliver high-quality, relevant content that answers specific questions searchers have. So, at its core, effective SEO involves creating that kind of content.

    Sure, there’s a lot more to SEO when you get to the advanced stage of optimizing your site for search, but understanding this key concept is where you should start.

    In the case of your photography website, it’s all about making it easier for clients to find you with relevant content that answers key questions they’re likely to have about your products and services.

  3. Determine your goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)

  4. Before you get started making SEO tweaks to your website, consider your goals.

    Yes, you want to drive high-quality traffic to your site, but that traffic must be in service to your larger business objectives.

    Once visitors arrive at your site, what is it you want them to do?

    Once you determine your KPIs, you’ll probably realize you don’t need hordes of traffic to meet your goals, just enough to hit your key business objectives — whether that’s 10 new high-quality leads per month, 50 new email subscribers, or five new consult calls booked.

  5. Focus on a handful of on-page site elements

  6. Page title, page headings, and page (or meta) descriptions

    The page title is what you see in your browser tab and what shows up in Google results. Page headings are the H1 headings on each web page, and page descriptions are the meta descriptions.

    Meta description

    According to yoast.com, the meta description is “a snippet of up to about 155 characters…which summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched-for phrase is within the description, so optimizing the meta description is crucial for on-page SEO.”

    Most website platforms, such as Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix, allow you to edit these elements in the backend.

    Title tags

    Title tags are HTML elements that, you guessed it, contain the title of a web page. Google usually displays the first 50 to 60 characters of a title tag, so it’s best to keep yours to no more than 60 characters.

    When deciding what to include in your title tags, consider what your ideal clients are searching for. This usually includes a specific type of photography. Most clients also look for photographers who are nearby, so be sure to include location information as well.

    In most cases, you’ll want to include your name or your business name if it’s different, the services you offer, and location. For example, “Ansel Adams | Wedding Photographer | San Francisco, CA” or “Adams Photography | Wedding Photography | San Francisco, CA.”

    Also include the page name in your title. For example, your services page would be: “Services | Ansel Adams | Wedding Photographer | San Francisco, CA.”

    URLs (also referred to as “slugs”)

    This is the title of the blog post, which you’ll want to shorten to the most important words.

    An active blog

    It’s key to have a blog that you regularly update. Google recrawls your site each time you add new content or edit/update previously written content, which helps your search engine ranking.

    Set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console 

    Google Analytics provides data about the performance of your site: who’s visiting it, where they are in the world, which links/sites they’re coming from, and more.

    Google Console provides information about which sites are linking to yours, potential technical errors on your site, and information about keyword queries.

    Both can help you track SEO performance and further optimize your site.

  7. Conduct keyword research

  8. According to Google, “The most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query. If those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information is more likely to be relevant.”

    There are many keyword research tools available to help you determine your most relevant keywords, such as Ahrefs (paid) and Ubersuggest (free).

    Both of these sites feature blogs with plenty of articles on all things SEO. If you want to learn more about keyword research in particular, the Ahrefs blog is a great place to start, especially their post, “How to Do Keyword Research for SEO.”

    Determining keywords and topics that have low competition but high search volume isn’t an exact science, which is where a keyword research tool can be helpful. Still, in most cases, ranking for super-competitive keywords will be an uphill battle.

    What these tools can do for you, however, is give you intel on what people are searching for related to your photography niche, how much competition there is for those topics from other sites, and how much daily search volume those topics generate.

    What are people searching for when they’re looking for your particular kind of photography? Use those keywords at a minimum to get started — for example, “portrait photographer Chicago, IL” or “Chicago, IL, portrait photography,” and/or other similar variations. And be sure to optimize each on-page element to include your target keyword.

  9. Don’t split up your website and your blog

  10. I’ve worked with many photographers and reviewed dozens of photography websites, and one thing that has always baffled me is why so many seem to have a photography website and a separate, external blog. My guess is some website guru said this was the way it should be done, or the site template those photographers bought was set up this way.

    Suffice it to say that spreading your online presence across several sites will not help with search engine optimization; in fact, the opposite is true. You want one main website with any other elements you choose — a blog, a place to order prints or albums, etc. — to be housed on that site for best SEO results.

    This would be a good time to talk about blogs — yes, you need one if you want to up your chances of, no. 1, getting found in search, and no. 2, demonstrating your expertise and establishing your brand.

    Keep in mind that Google likes searchable content, so in addition to your blog, you’ll want to add copy to each of your individual web pages as well. A site with mostly images and very little to no text probably won’t help your ideal clients find you.

  11. Optimize your images

  12. Google loves a fast-loading website, and so do your potential clients. If you’re uploading full-size images, your site won’t load as quickly as it could.

    Image files should be under 500 KB; under 300 KB is even better.

    Also remember to add ALT tags to your images and keywords in image file names. An ALT tag is HTML code that describes the content of an image to a search engine. Using keywords in your ALT tags can help the image show up in Google image results.

Conclusion

There are a plethora of things you can do to optimize your photography website for search. What I’ve covered here is just a handful of the basics.

I could have easily written 50 – 100 more tips for you, but that would be overwhelming for both of us. Start with the suggestions here, then do a deeper dive into the abundant SEO resources on the web once you’ve got the basics in place.

And remember, your ideal clients are searching for your services, so if your site has high-quality content that answers the questions they have about services like yours, you’ll be off to a great start.

This article is originally published on Jan 28, 2020, and updated on Jan 30, 2020
Kimberly Houston is a conversion-focused marketing copywriter. She loves helping established creative service providers attract and convert their ideal clients with personality-driven web and email copy, so they can stand out online, and get more business, bookings, and sales.

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