When you start a photoblog (photography blog) it can be a bit of a handful to get going, between picking the platform such as PixelPost and WordPress and a suitable theme to go with it, and then deciding on a domain name and blog name. Once this has been done and a blog created it can have the owners sighing with relief that it is finally over and that they can just start posting photos.
Normally many photo-bloggers are keen to get going and post a few photos over the next week or two and then wonder in dismay why that little statistics counter that they have chosen just isn’t moving much at all. This isn’t the case for everyone but it certainly isn’t rare either. Even I did a similar thing at first…
Here are some SEO (search engine optimisation) tips to help get you started. Many of these SEO tips can also be used by photographers or on any website. In another post I will give some tips on how to try to help get some traffic to your new photoblog.
The first thing to decide is what you want to be found for in search engines. I spent ages trying to come up with a meaningful name for my blog and settled on “Images and Thoughts.” My logic was that my blog was a collection of my images and thoughts… Of course with hindsight it was quite foolish as I didn’t want to show up in search results for terms anything like this. What I actually wanted to achieve was to start the process of building a web presence to establish myself as a photographer in my local area, so that if I wanted to go pro in the future, the foundations had already been laid by starting the name building process. I will come back to this tale…
Google Webmaster Tools
Google webmaster tools is an invaluable tool in the building up of your photography blog, or in fact any blog or website. It is provided free by Google and is very handy. After registering and adding your site to webmaster tools, you will need to verify your site to prove that you are the owner. There are full instructions available on the Webmaster Tools site; I chose to upload the html file that they provided to the root folder on my web host. If you chose to you can use the same account that you used for your Webmaster Tools account can also be used for Google Analytics if you want, which provides a wealth of web traffic statistics.
Remember my blog name title tale? Once I started using Webmaster Tools I could see that I was being included in a lot of highly unrelated search terms. I mean a lot. Great you might say! But no, showing up for all of the wrong terms means that your blog looks irrelevant and poor quality especially when few people click on your site. The other shock that I had was when I saw some of the terms I was showing up for such as xxx images, porn images and a whole manner of other unsavoury terms that you could imagine that go with the word images. Why? Because Images was the first word of my blogs name and was repeated on every single page of my blog. This meant that Google thought that I was saying that it was important. I had to get around this by actually making the images and thoughts text a logo and having it there as a background image for consistency. My blog is actually now called A North Devon Photography blog. You can probably guess, I live in North Devon and want to show up in search results for the area.
Sitemaps are extremely handy. While not essential, they provide a great way to tell search engines about your blog content. For WordPress a good plug-in to use is Google XML sitemaps. This plug-in is not only useful for Google despite the name. It is possible to submit your sitemap to Google via the Webmaster Tools.
Search Engine Friendly Images
Search engine friendly images are not really complicated to achieve. The first consideration is to name your images. Search engines will find it much easier to hazard a guess that an image file called lighthouse-england.jpg is an image of a lighthouse in England. The same can’t be said for an image called _img_123.jpg. It is also well worth trying to decide on a maximum size of your images and resizing them to this before you upload them to your blog. While you can upload images and resize them after by means of CSS styling it is much slower for users and now Google is getting very pro-speed. So any way that you can speed up your site is a bonus so that you don’t get penalised in the future.
Make sure that you provide ALT information for your photographs. This can really help SEO, especially as many images on photo-blogs are links. A simple approach is to use the image title. ALT information is not just used by search engines, If someone is partially sighted or blind for example, they may be using a screen reader which will tell them that there is an image on the web page and read the name of the image. ALT text has a great accessibility benefit as well as SEO benefit.
Pretty Permalinks/Vanity URLs
If your blogging platform is capable it is well worth enabling vanity URLS. In WordPress this is called permalinks. Google is able to read URL wording to help decipher what may be on the page. This has been abused by people in the past so is gradually being toned down in its amount of influence on search engines. It will still help though and is more readable by users too. It is much nicer to have yourdomainhere/photo-title than yourdomainhere/p?123. In WordPress this option is under settings > permalinks. It is worth noting that for this to work your .htaccess file in the web hosting root directory should be writeable while WordPress edits the file. If you have Microsoft Windows based web hosting this very likely may not work due to a lack of compatibility.
Blog Post Title
A blog post title is very important. It is very easy to just call posts untitled etc but this doesn’t tell anybody what the page is about. I try to describe my posts accurately such as “A Westward Ho Sunset”
Page titles are highly important to SEO, but don’t cram your title full of keywords because search engines evaluate the whole page to check if the whole page is relevant and tallies up. It is highly worth optimising your Meta title and description. I know before someone says it, search engines do not use Meta descriptions any more for ranking… But it is often what is seen in the text portion of search results when you do show up, so it is well worth getting right. It should read well and convince users that your page is well worth a read. If you share a link on Facebook it will be the Meta description that is shown too. There are several plug-ins available if you are a WordPress user to assist with SEO. On some sites I use the All in One SEO Pack and on others I use the FV Simpler SEO Plug-in. If I’m honest I am swaying towards FV Simpler SEO because it simply not quite as imposing in the sense of trying to get you to donate.
The plug-ins offer advice on post lengths and many conflict a little on the advice that they give. As a rule it is advisable whatever platform that you use to have a Meta title of 70 characters or less. I try to stay below 60-65 normally to give the title less chance of being cut short by search engines. For the Meta Descriptions it is good to try to stick to 155 characters or less. A site that can come in handy to check these rather than count by hand is http://www.lettercount.com/. There are lots of ways to check but maybe that is a topic of another post… It is also important that each page or post has a different title and description.
On Page Text
On page text is something that is often neglected on photo-blogs. It is well worth writing a paragraph or two about your photo, a: because it tells search engines what your page is about and b: it tells your users what it is about. Without text a blog of any kind can feel a little unwelcoming and cold. Your blog is your platform so make the most of it and share your thoughts!
It sounds simple doesn’t it? But posting on your blog is one of the best things that you can do for your users and search engine optimisation. It is actually quite difficult to consistently write and post content but it is well worth trying to do, it doesn’t have to be every day. It is much better to post once a week regularly then post erratically. This will keep your blog looking fresh and also keep your users coming back, and after all that is what is most important, right?
Tags and Categories
Many blogs use tags or categories as a way for users to navigate through your posts. It is well worth planning this carefully to suit your needs. I did mine so that the categories are the type of photography, “Landscape” for example. I have edited my template so that category titles read as “category” photography i.e. Landscape photography. I have my tags set up to be the geographic locations of my photos. This means that people and search engines can find my photos by location. I have done similar with my locations as my categories so that for example I a tag title might read “Barnstaple Photography”. Have a think about what you want to show up in search engines for while setting these up, they can be very useful.
The final tip for this post is that links are important. Search engines love links so it important to get others linking to your site, as these are nearly all virtual votes for your content. I say nearly, because not all links are equal, but that is another blog post. So try to get people to link to you! The best way to get natural links is to have high quality content that others want to share.
I hope my SEO tips for photoblogs come in handy for you. I will try to post more helpful advice about photography blogs soon.
A resource worth checking out to learn more is: http://www.seomoz.org/learn-seo