Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization for photographers

Recently, someone asked me for advice on optimizing their web site for search engines.

Being a former web developer and consultant, I have quite a bit of experience with search engine optimization (SEO). Over the years I’ve optimized many of my clients’ sites and my own web sites with very good results, and I’m happy to help other photographers and artists with this however I can.

In a culmination of this effort, a couple of years ago, I performed a major SEO project for one of the country’s largest real estate investment trusts, an owner/manager of hundreds of rental apartment properties nationwide. This six-month project involved lots of research and analysis, resulting in specific tactical recommendations. I learned a lot during this project.

More recently, I’ve found that even with the advances in web technology (e.g. Web 2.0) and all the new web applications and protocols around today (e.g. social networking) that the fundamental principles of online marketing and SEO still apply. Following is some introductory info about search engine optimization.

First, it’s important to understand that for any web page to show in search engine results, especially the top positions, you are mainly concerned with "relevancy", from the perspective of the engine. All search engines try to determine what pages are "relevant" for a given search phrase, using a variety of methods.

A search phrase can be anything; it’s all dependent on what the user searches for, and some topics/subjects have many more relevant pages than others. For example, a Google search for "photography" generates about 309 million results. (Good luck placing your site in those results…) A search for "infrared photography" results in about 430,000 pages, and "abstract art photography" generates around 10,000 results.

So, the first lesson is to be as specific as you can. Granted, fewer people will be searching for specialized topics, but you have a much greater chance for success if your web pages are targeted to them specifically. If you try to reach the masses with generalized terms, and your web page gets lost in the noise, you won’t reach them anyway.

To optimize a web page for a given search phrase, there are a few things that need to be done:

1. Determine the top 1 or 2 search phrases (one or multiple keywords) for which you want that page to appear. Might be something like "Denver Wedding Photographer" or "Lansdscape Photography Yosemite". Again, BE SPECIFIC.

2. Do searches for those criteria on the top search engines – Google, Yahoo, MSN etc. Also, keep track of up-and-coming engines and check those, too.

3. Make note of the sites holding the top 4 or 5 positions on each. You only care about first-page results; in general, don’t worry about pages beyond page 1.

4. Click the links to those sites, and one by one, research their content (see below) to see how they achieved the top positions.

The goal is to optimize each web page for the chosen phrases, based on the content of that page: don’t optimize the whole web site the same way. Some pages can be optimized for same or similar phrases, but in general, think of optimization as page-by-page, not sidewide. You really only need to optimize the most important pages on the site.

Following the initial research (above) decide which pages to optimize, and which phrases to use for each page. Then make sure the phrase(s) appear in the pages in the following places:

1. Title – this is what shows in the title bar of the browser window, and is used for the title of the search engine result. This is one of the most important aspects of search engine relevancy.

2. Description – this Meta tag determines what will show as the descriptive text in the search result and is very important.

3. Body content – the phrase should appear often (say, 5 times, minimum) throughout the regular body text on the page, without being overt. (Don’t just repeat the words over and over, this is "search engine spamming" and your site may get banned from the engine.)

The idea is to make sure the page text is relevant for visitors – the SEO must be friendly to humans first. Make it sound normal to the reader! Then fine-tune for the engine.

You can break up phrases with punctuation, and the engine will see them the same. For example, the sentence segments

If you like art, photography is a good choice.


Our gallery is the best place to buy art photography.

…are two good instances of the use of a phrase in different ways.

4. Links – all the pages on the web site should include some text links to the optimized pages. These links should use the keywords/phrases in their text; links using images (such as graphical buttons) don’t have the same relevance as text links.

5. NOSCRIPT and other hidden text – this will require further investigation on your part, but using optimized "hidden" text in areas such as NOSCRIPT will improve rankings.

6. ALT tags – use the keywords in the ALT tags on images on the optimized pages.

7. Links from other highly relevant sites – after doing all the other optimization, this will be the thing that pushes the site highest in the rankings. You need people with other highly-ranked sites to publish links to your site. You can post links to their site too, if you wish, but the highest relevance comes from one-way links from sites that yours doesn’t link to reciprocally.

After optimizing your page(s), you can expect to start to see better results in the search engines from between a week up to several months, depending on the search phrase and your competition.

Once you’ve achieved good position, it’s important to keep those pages online, potentially "forever". When doing updates to your web sites in the future, it’s best to leave those well-ranked pages alone. If you don’t want people to see them anymore, remove all links to that page except in your site index. That way the engines can still find them.

I hope this gives you a good start on what’s required to optimize your web site. Feel free to post questions here.

For additional information, here are the two best web sites for free SEO information:


  1. Nat, I would like to create/have a professional looking web site, with shopping cart available. Your design is very clean, fast to use and professional.

    Would you please either share the developer info (you?) or pass along info for design and hosting. SmugMug is OK for friend stuff, and I hear that some others are quite expensive for hosting…?
    Thanks, Jeanne


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