A mother kisses her smiling son.

10 steps to perfect SEO as a photographer

July 14, 2021

Search engine optimization (SEO) among photographers is like politics at a dinner party, or the opposite sex in high school: something most of us pretend to know well, even if we’re utterly clueless. Learning SEO might seem intimidating as a photographer, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The simple fact is, most explanations and how-to guides about SEO have missed the boat.

At its core, SEO is about simplicity: making things fast, useful, and easy to find. If you keep those principles in mind, the rest will fall into place.

Here are 10 ways to improve your website’s SEO performance:

1. Make sure your site is appearing on Google (Low Effort, Huge Impact)

Many SEO guides will skip straight to meta titles, alt tags and performance. But all the SEO in the world won’t matter if no one can find your photography website in the first place. It’s critical that Google indexes your pages so they can even appear in Google search.

Moreover, it’s critical that Google indexes the pages you want it to and nothing more. If a bunch of your half-finished pages or broken links are getting indexed, it will bring your SEO score down.

If you have just built a new photography website or switched from an old site, this is even more important. You must submit your sitemap to Google, otherwise Google will not find any of your new website’s pages. If you have any broken links from an old site or because you deleted a page, you should set up redirects so these are not 404 errors.

How do I submit a sitemap?

Good news! If you’re using a CMS (content management system) like WordPress or Wix, you likely already have a sitemap made available to Google and other search engines. To make certain, you can check what pages Google knows about by searching site:yourdomain.com or checking “coverage” in Google Search Console. If your pages aren’t showing up in Google, you’ll have to generate your own.

Focal's sitemap (bookfocal.com).
A sitemap is a list of pages contained within a web domain.
2. Hide low-quality pages with Robots.txt (Medium Effort, Medium Impact)

The Google Search Console will also show you if any of your old, outdated webpages are still visible. If you find any pages that shouldn’t be showing up on search engines — either because they’re broken, no longer relevant, or low quality — you’ll want to block search engines from indexing those pages. To do that, you’ll need to include a ‘noindex’ meta tag in your page’s HTML code. To learn how to do this, read this guide from Google.

3. Use descriptive meta titles (Low Effort, Huge Impact)
What is a Meta Title?
This is a Meta Title

A Meta Title is, very simply, the title of a page that appears in search results. It's important because it's one of the primary tools Google uses to match someone's search to the right results.

If you're in Victoria, for instance, and you want people to find you when they search "Victoria Wedding Photographer," you probably want some of those keywords in your Meta Title.

Another way to think about it is to imagine you were a customer and searching Google for "Victoria Wedding Photographers." Would you click on a page with your current Meta Title? Would it grab your attention? A common mistake photographers make is using their company name as the Meta Title (e.g. Lachlan Shum Photography). This isn't very descriptive — and if I'm looking for a wedding photographer in Victoria, none of that title stands out as what I'm looking for.

Think about what people are searching for when they’re browsing for photographers. Most likely, their search looks something like this: “[Your location] [shoot type] photographer” (e.g. Maui family photographer).

Photographer Melissa Whittington's website, Rainbows & Hot Fudge.
Focal-designed websites are built with SEO in mind.

Your Meta Titles — the title that shows up in your browser tab and functions as a “name tag” for your webpage — should reflect this. Instead of meta-titling your page ‘Gallery 1’ or ‘Services’, make sure you’re capitalizing on sought-after keywords. By using descriptive Meta Titles that speak to you and your work, you’ll rank higher in search results.

4. Run a speed test on your website (Medium Effort, High Impact)

Google will seriously penalize your photography website for slow page loading. But it’s not just Google you want to impress — put simply, it’s a poor user experience if your clients have to wait five seconds for your wedding gallery or investment page to load.

Luckily, there’s a solution. Google’s PageSpeed Insights will analyze the contents of a given webpage and offer suggestions on how to improve its speed. If your site is slow due to things like too-large images, you should resize them. Wherever possible, keep photos to a maximum of 1000 pixels on the long edge. (You can use a tool like Compress JPEG to shrink files.) This should keep your file sizes under 200 kilobytes — and really, you can go even smaller when it comes to file size. Remember: around half of web browsing is on a mobile device.

5. Segment your work for better site relevance (High Effort, Medium Impact)

Google wants to show users pages that are relevant to what they’re looking for. A good way to do this is to separate your site pages by category of photography.

This goes for your investment page, too. Customers don’t want to scroll past your wedding, newborn, maternity, and boudoir packages to find out how much your family sessions are. Keeping your pages targeted allows Google to serve your most relevant pages when someone searches for “family photographer in [your location].”

Focal's storefronts are segmented so your customers find exactly what they're looking for.

6. Add descriptive alt tags to your images (Low Effort, Medium Impact)

Photography websites, by default, tend to have a lot of photos. It comes with the territory. But while they might look pretty, photos mean very little to the Google bot crawling your site. Without an alt tag, that crawler sees the page as blank. Adding descriptive alt tags to your images helps Google know what’s on your page.

What is an alt tag?

An alt tag is essentially a short description of an image. Imagine you had to describe an image to someone who is visually impaired. A good alt tag will describe what’s in a given image — so, if you’re looking at the image below, an alt tag might be “a young boy plays at the beach in Vancouver’s Trout Lake while his parents watch.”

A young boy plays at the beach in Vancouver’s Trout Lake while his parents watch.
Credit: Hannah T. Photography

7. Boost your ranking with internal linking (Low Effort, Medium Impact)

Google likes pages that are linked together with the other pages on your site. Part of how the search engine determines your page’s importance is by how many of your own pages link to a given page. (More links = higher importance.) For instance, your homepage will be considered very important, because — most likely — you’ll have links in your navigation bar to return to it.

Want to improve your internal linking? Start with these two actions:

  1. Add a footer to your website that includes links to all the pages on your site.
  2. If you have a blog or gallery, ensure you have a section for "other blog posts you might like."
8. Get an SSL certificate for your website (Low Effort, High Impact)

Have you ever been to a website and seen the dreaded “this site is not secured” message? Did your neck and shoulders tense as you fought the urge to toss your phone or laptop, as if it were infected? SSL (secure sockets layer), or TLS (transport layer security), keeps your website in the clear. Essentially, it’s a protocol that ensures any data going between servers and web browsers is private.

Google will penalize your site if it is not SSL-secured. If you want to avoid having your clients get the “attackers might be trying to steal your information” message, tightening your security is the first step — and it’ll pay dividends in your search ranking.

A screenshot of a privacy error message on Google Chrome.
Avoid the dreaded "Your connection is not private" message at all costs.
9. Ensure all your pages have H1 headers that match a user’s search keywords (Low Effort, Medium Impact)

SEO ranking is about structure and hierarchy — having an easily-navigable website and web pages. One way to please Google and its kin is by making smart use of H1 headers on each of your pages. This helps with accessibility and readability, but also getting your page to rank higher. As Silverdisk explains, “Search engines use spiders to crawl web pages and index websites and these pay most attention to the content wrapped in H1 tags.”

That doesn’t mean you should start keyword stuffing in an attempt to outsmart Google. Search engines have caught up to that lazy approach. But what’s important is providing relevant, useful content. If your clients are searching for an elopement photographer in Seattle, Washington, then make sure you’re including an H1 header with those keywords (assuming, of course, you’re an elopement photographer in Seattle, Washington, and not a scrap metal collector in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia).

Two easy ways to add an H1 heading to your pages:

  1. On a gallery page or blog post, list the location and venue of your shoot (i.e. [venue name] [photography type] [city, state/province]). That way, when someone searches for a photographer in their area (e.g. “Starling Lane Vineyard Wedding Photography Victoria, BC”) your page’s H1 header is a direct match.
  2. For your homepage and “About Me” section, make sure you’re hitting the right keywords: “Hi, I’m [name] of [company name], a [category] photographer in [location].” That way, when someone searches for your name or just your specialty (e.g. “Newborn Photography Victoria, BC”), the page’s H1 header is a match — and you reap the SEO benefits.
10. Run SEO Test Tool to catch anything you missed (Med-High Effort, Med-High Impact)

If you’re browsing on Google Chrome, there’s a handy tool you can use to measure your photography website’s SEO performance and track improvements. Right click on your website and select ‘Inspect,’ then look for the double arrows. Click on those and select ‘Lighthouse’ from the dropdown menu.

A screenshot of Google's Lighthouse tool.
Lighthouse can help you prioritize ways to improve your SEO performance.

From there, select ‘Generate Report,’ and you’ll be presented with a rundown of your site’s current performance. You can click on individual items for more insight into suggested improvements.

A screenshot of Google's Lighthouse tool after generating a report.
Lighthouse will rank your site's performance, accessibility, adherence to best practices, and SEO score.

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