Almost every professional photographer I speak to about lead generation asks me the same question at some point during our conversation:
“How can I get more website visitors from the search engines without having to pay for expensive ads?”
While Google AdWords and paid advertisements on select photographer directories might bring in some website traffic, it can quickly eat into our precious marketing dollars. For example, if we don’t carefully manage those ad campaigns, we can easily burn through our daily advertising budget for Google AdWords, or Facebook ads, before the day is even halfway over, often with no sales or concrete leads to show for it.
At the end of the day, the actual cost per click may be relatively low, but the real cost of acquiring a new client from such ads can be much higher, depending on how many clicks it takes on average to produce a serious lead.
Organic Search To The Rescue
Although paid ads can serve a useful purpose for some, it’s obviously preferable for our photography business to appear as high as possible in the natural search results.
It stands to reason that the higher our website ranks for any given search the more traffic we’ll see.
But the question many photographers have then is:
“Okay, but how do I get my website ranked more highly in Google?”
This is where SEO (search engine optimization) comes into play.
To optimize our websites effectively, we must understand the basic principle that the job of the search engines is to provide the most relevant and interesting results possible for a particular set of keywords.
Google and the other search engines achieve this goal by ranking web pages within the search index using complex proprietary algorithms.
Our SEO task is to help the search engines achieve their goal without trying to manipulate the system in any way with undesirable methods (often referred to as “black hat SEO“).
Choose Your Keywords Carefully
The biggest mistake that I see photographers make with SEO is chasing the wrong keywords and keyword phrases.
For example, it seems natural at first to aim for such phrases as “professional photographer“, “wedding photographer“, or “portrait photographer“.
Unfortunately these phrases are so generic, appear on so many websites, and are searched for so often that there’s very little chance of being able to rank highly for them.
Not only that, we may not even want to, since those phrases don’t fit the criteria for what we call “buying signals“.
What are buying signals?
Consider this example. Someone who types “wedding photographer” into Google could be someone looking for information on how to become a wedding photographer, for a book on wedding photography, or a YouTube video. It’s a very general search in terms of its intent, and doesn’t give us much of a clue about what they’re really thinking about.
On the other hand, someone else types “traditional wedding photographer in Memphis TN”. Here we have someone who is looking for something a lot more specific, and they’re much more likely to be in a buying mode, since there’s a much higher chance that they’re actually looking for a wedding photographer to hire for their wedding.
The key buying indicator in this example is the addition of the location.
It’s All Local
With the possible exception of destination photographers, most professional photographers operate within a fairly well defined local area, with a target market that usually lives within 100 miles or so of their studio.
It therefore makes sense to choose keyword phrases that represent the local market, and to create content that can rank well for those keywords.
I know this might sound strange, but the next mistake I see is photographers forgetting to put their studio address on their website! On many occasions where I’ve been asked to mentor a photographer, the only way I can figure out where they actually are is to Google the area code for their phone number!
Not a good start!
So don’t make the mistake of assuming that your target market will know where you are. Google certainly won’t have a clue unless you make it obvious! Your address is the first indicator of the area you serve, and should ideally appear on every page of your website – usually in the header section.
Be Creative About Keyword Usage
So where should you put your keywords, and how often should you use them?
If you’ve been around SEO for any length of time, you may have heard the term “keyword stuffing“, and this is certainly something to avoid, but what does that mean exactly?
Keyword stuffing is the term for when we use the same keyword phrase over and over again, in an unnatural way, to try to influence the search engines. Technically, it comes under the umbrella of what Google likes to call “over-optimization” and can result in your web pages being given lower rankings, or even removed from the index altogether.
This could spell trouble for the professional photographer who is trying to rank for something like “wedding photographer in Memphis TN“, because repeating that phrase more than a few times on a page just doesn’t read right for the audience, and the search engines will easily sniff it out too.
However, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, as it were, and this problem is no exception.
Firstly, the search engines are becoming very smart about understanding the context and semantic meaning of text, especially English. The ranking algorithms don’t just count words these days, they also have a good idea about related words, sentence structure, and the general meaning based on surrounding text.
We can put this to our advantage by using variations of our keyword phrases to achieve a similar result. For example:
- “Looking for a wedding photographer in Memphis TN?”
- “Live in Memphis TN and searching for the right wedding photographer?”
- “Have a wedding in Memphis TN? Find the best photographer here…”
- … and so on.
By the way, as a rough guide to avoid being flagged for keyword stuffing, your keyword phrases should appear no more than 5 or 6 times for every 100 words of text.
Are some places better than others on a web page for our keywords?
Yes, some areas are more important than others when it comes to keyword placement, so we should make the effort to include our most relevant keywords in places where the Google robots assign the most weight.
- The page title (found in the <title> tag of the page header)
- The meta description (found in the HTML header section)
- In the main heading (usually specified by the <h1> HTML tag)
- In sub-headings (<h2>, <h3> etc.)
- Emphasized using bold, underlines, and italics
- As the anchor text for internal links
Note: “Anchor text” is the actual text that a user would click on to visit a link. Having keywords in your anchor text for internal links is important for establishing relative relevance of pages within your site.
It’s Not Just The Text!
One objection I hear from photographers is, “I’m a photographer, not a writer“, which is actually false!
First, if you want to be a professional photographer then you must stop thinking like a photographer, and start thinking more like a marketer.
Second, you better learn to write, or have someone do it for you, because there is no way around this if you seriously want to rank anywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re writing novels or anything like that – in fact, a conversational and friendly tone always works best.
If you do find it really hard to write, then record yourself talking about your topic, and then transcribe it into text.
Whatever method you choose to create your website copy, it’s essential, both for your target audience and for the search engines.
However, aside from all that, the good news is that there are also other ways to deploy your chosen keyword phrases without risking a slap from Google.
Through images and photographs.
The Google robots cannot “see” photographs and understand what they are (at least not yet), which is one of the reasons why Flash-based websites perform so poorly in the search engines, so you might wonder how we can use images for SEO.
As it turns out, we can add keyword phrases to images in certain useful ways:
- As part of the image filename
- In the “alt” attribute of the HTML <img> tag
- In the “title” attribute of the HTML <img> tag
- As part of the caption (text that appears below the image)
- In a written testimonial from the client, displayed near the image
The point here is to be creative and constantly thinking seriously about how your web pages are constructed from both your audience’s perspective and the search engine’s viewpoint.
In a sense, you’re trying to help the search engines better understand what your website is about, who it’s aimed at, and how relevant it is to the subject.
If you can do that, and provide real value to your website visitors at the same time, you’re well on your way to higher rankings and more traffic.
While working to constantly improve our website SEO is necessary in order to stay ahead, an increase in website traffic is only a part of the overall solution, and website visitors are more than just statistics to be counted by our analytics software.
They’re real people, with real needs and desires, and they’re all looking for something when they visit our website. With that in mind, I see it as our responsibility as marketers of professional photography to make sure we satisfy those needs by providing them with valuable content that helps them make the decision to contact us for a more personal conversation.
So, SEO is only the first step in a larger process. Once you’ve attracted them to the website, the next challenge is to present them with valuable and persuasive content that will lead them through your sales funnel to the point where they are compelled to want to talk with you.
About the Author
Nigel Merrick is a professional photographer, blogger, and business coach for other working photographers. Nigel’s blog, Photography Business, SEO and Marketing, helps professional photographers find peace in their business, love from their clients, and happiness in their personal lives by clarifying their focus on business and marketing.
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