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Q&A #19 – SEO edition: titles & meta-descriptions, menu items, blog snippets, image rankings & more

I’m answering your questions about photography websites, business, marketing, SEO and more.

You can ask me anything. I’ll try to answer within 24 hours, and the most useful questions get featured here on the newsletter too. Need any help with your website? Don’t hesitate to write, I’m all ears.

Thanks to Jane, Karen, Ally, Ariel, Zoe, Christy & Andrew for these questions.

Check out my answers below, and jump in with your own thoughts by sending me a message or leaving a comment below.

 

 

“Should SEO titles and meta-descriptions be specific to THAT page?”

Full question: “I’m starting to work on my SEO titles and meta-descriptions for my pages and am a little confused. I did my homepage and I get that, but should my other pages have titles and meta descriptions that describe my business in general or are specific to THAT page? Any advice you can give me would be great.”

The SEO tags should indeed be specific to that respective page, not about the site in general.

Let’s take a generic “Testimonials” page for example.

The SEO title could be:
“Newborn & family photography testimonials | Jane Doe”

And the SEO meta-description could be:
“Kind words I received from clients after our newborn & family portrait sessions in the [location] area.”

For the dedicated Newborns portfolio page, they could be:
“Professional newborn photography in [location] | Jane Doe”
“In-home newborn photography sessions to help you capture these precious moments and recall your sweet baby. Currently serving [location] and surrounding areas.”

Sure, for more generic pages like “Contact” you have less room to be creative, so keep it simple there (“Get in touch” / “Send me a message to ask about my availability… etc.”).

Use the text that you have on each page to help you craft the SEO tags, which would basically become a summary of the page.

Don’t forget the goal for all of this: people will see those SEO titles and meta-description in Google search results. How you write them can encourage users to give you their precious “click”

Disclaimer: I’m not a copywriter – or even a native English speaker – so please rephrase so that it sounds natural to you :-)

 


 

“Where should I put keywords if not in filenames or ALT tags?”

Full question: “If you’re not supposed to put your keywords in the file name or the alt tag box, where do you put them. I only have a few keywords so they do get used over and over for almost every image. Not sure what I can do about that. In your post on Image SEO, in the “Now Do The Work” section, I would have liked to see what was put into the WordPress media info. Thanks for your articles.”

Referenced article: Image SEO essentials: How to optimize for Google Image search to drive more traffic to your photography website

Referenced paragraph:
“Working on this type of SEO requires an image-by-image process. If you’re automating it (by repeating the same captions and ALT tags), you’re doing it wrong. Each image deserves its own unique metadata, and Google will “appreciate” that.”

Referenced image:

You can definitely use keywords in the file names and ALT tags of your images.

But if they get repeated too much, Google will simply know that you’re trying to over-optimize for them and will start to ignore them. Copy-paste jobs are not recommended for ALT tags.

On this topic, see point 2 in my “Dinosaur SEO tactics” post here: Multiple images shouldn’t share the exact same ALT tags and captions

And I’ve now updated that example media library photo with how the metadata fields might be filled in. Notice that none of those tags include the photographer’s name (because he’s not trying to rank for his own name).

WordPress image in media library example

But you could try to work your niche into those tags, while keeping it sounding natural, of course.

Follow-up question: “Thanks for that info. In the alt text box, I usually put something like “active senior rowing by photographers in [location], [location] photographers, [location] photography”. Should I add more specific key words i.e. [location] family photographer, [location] wedding photographer, etc?”

You could indeed use more specific phrases (which include relevant words, instead of just the site/brand name).

But definitely no comma-separated lists like in your example, just choose one variant per photo.

And vary them up, instead of having the same ending/suffix in all ALT tags.

 


 

“Do the menu items count for SEO?”

Full question:
“I just listened to your amazing interview on PhotoBizX.

So now I must action some of the things that you talked about. Wow, you shared a huge amount of information!! Thanks.

Alex can I ask if the menu items especially in the main menu count for SEO?

I don’t mean in terms of usability which helps/is seo, but how does Google see the words in your menu and the order they appear?

I was told before by someone that helped me a bit with my website that the order the items appeared made a difference to Google and so did the words that were used to label the menu items. Is this true? Thanks”

Glad you liked that interview, thanks for the kind words!

To check how your website’s code is seen by Google, simply use a tool like Browseo.

First of all, on some WordPress themes, you’ll notice that your site has the navigation menu links twice in the code, once for the main menu, and once for the mobile menu. It’s normal, many themes do that.

The navigation menu items are just simple text links (inside a <ul> unordered list element), and they have almost no SEO value on their own.

Google pays more attention to your SEO title and meta-description, and to the H1, H2, H3 heading tags on the page (that describe the main topics and hierarchy of your content), among other factors.

The navigation menu is technically just a row with links to your other pages. They’re useful for SEO in that it helps Google index your other site pages, but that’s pretty much it.

The words you use in the menu items (aka the labels) matter very little, just as much as any other internal links on your site. Furthermore, site-wide links are partially ignored by Google (in terms of keywords) in an effort to prevent sites from trying to from over-optimizing using such repeating links (in the header or footer, showing up throughout the entire site).

So to recap, I’d say that you should NOT worry at all about the menu items from an SEO perspective. Just make sure you’re including your top pages there, and that you’re using words that accurately describe those pages.

You’ve heard me say it often, and this is another good example: stop obsessing over insignificant SEO details, and focus your time and energy on other things that matter: Don’t obsess over SEO: 10 things you should be taking care of on your photography site before doing advanced SEO work

 


 

“Can all my blog snippets be the same?”

Full question: “Can my blog snippets all be the same or should I make each one different?”

All the meta-descriptions should be unique!

If you copy-paste them to be all the same, Google will start to ignore them (since it knows you trying to over-optimize for something). And if you go over-board with the copy-paste job, it can even hurt your rankings.

Here’s some more information on this topic, taken from my detailed SEO guide:

Let’s explore the best practices for meta descriptions:

  • Write for humans, not search engines. Convince them the page is worth a click, and do it honestly.
  • Keep it shorter than 158 characters (including spaces). If you make it longer, it will get truncated in search results. On mobile, Google displays a maximum of 120 characters.
  • Once again, don’t repeat meta description, don’t use boilerplate text, don’t end with branding copy here too (“Description… | John Doe Photography”).
  • Don’t use non-alphanumeric characters (especially quotes) to prevent meta descriptions from being cut off. (Single quotes are OK)

There are times when Google won’t display your meta description in search results, and instead decide to use small snippets from your page content. This has two possible causes:

Your meta descriptions need to be improved; they weren’t considered good enough by Google, especially when they don’t accurate describe the page content.

The search query better matches some other parts of your content. Google knows best.

Touching on this last point, some people decide not to define any meta description whatsoever, basically letting Google choose whatever snippet is most relevant for the search query. This is a valid strategy. So my recommendation is this: if you can write compelling and honest meta descriptions, do it, it will yield the best results. Otherwise, let Google extract it from the page content as needed.

 


 

“Can I trust SEO reports in Alexa?”

Full question: “I removed blog some old blog posts on subjects that are irrelevant to by business + clients. But now when I look at the ranking site Alexa, it still thinks that my site’s subject is [those old posts]. I also resubmitted sitemaps, but this was only more recently, so perhaps that’s where I went wrong. Do you know about this Alexa site? Is it reliable or authoritative? How long does it usually take for changes to be reflected? (I know, how long is a piece of string, right?) thank you!”

Don’t worry about Alexa. They don’t really have access to real site data (like in Google Analytics or in Google Search Console).

They just use aggregate data from multiple “shallow” sources and do estimates.

And they also have a very long delay for updating this estimated data (couldn’t tell you how long, but apparently months).

Bottom line, Alexa and other sites like SimilarWeb or Neil Patel’s Traffic Analyzer are very inaccurate, to say the least.

If you enter your own site in there, you’ll likely spot pages there that have no longer existed on your site for a long time.

So just check these tools every months or so to see if they’ve updated their reports. Until they do, simply ignore them.

A better bet is to use Google Search Console for this type of data (under Performance > Search Results).

 


 

“What should I do with media pages ranking in Google?”

Full question: “Thanks for all your great content! I had a question. I did a google search on my business and I noticed several links to media images on my site, some of which were old media images that aren’t even being used presently. Is there a way to tell google not to include certain images in search results, at least as a standalone image? I use WordPress by the way. Thanks so much!”

I checked your website now, and yeah, a lot of media attachment pages show up in Google for your domain.

This is indeed a valid concern. WordPress automatically creates an “attachment page” for any image you upload to the media library. And those attachment pages are usually just shallow pages with little-to-no text on them. Not ideal for SEO.

Since I see you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin, so solution is actually just turning a switch on (redirecting attachment pages to media files).

You can learn more about it here: Media / attachment URL: What to do with them?

 


 

“Can H1 tags be more descriptive? Wouldn’t longer H1 tags and page names make the URL structure clunky?”

The following website elements can all be different from one another:

  • page title
  • H1 tag
  • page URL (aka “slug”)
  • menu item text
  • SEO title

Sure, by default, when you add a new page and you enter a title, that then gets used as the H1 tag, as the slug, and also used in the navigation menu.

But you have full control over all of those (especially if you’re using WordPress).

Let’s take an example: say you want to add new a page about your a new service you’re adding to your business: shooting cat & dog portraits.

You call the page “Pet photography”.

What WordPress does is that use that page title in all other elements I mentioned above:

But you can go and customize all of those details for the page:

  • page title: Pet Photography (this is how you – and only you – would see it in the admin area under Pages, so you know what the page is about)
  • H1 tag: Creative pet photography in New York (or whatever your specialty and location is)
  • page URL: domain.com/new-york-pet-photography/ (instead of just /pet-photography/, for SEO purposes)
  • name of the page in the navigation menu: Services
  • SEO title: “New York pet photography services | Jane Doe” (or something of that nature)

Ultimately, all these custom elements give you greater control over both SEO and how visitors experience your website!

 


 

Your turn: ask me anything. I’d love for this to become a valuable “repository” of answers from the entire community of photographers.

You can help with that by getting involved:
1. Ask questions. Send them to me via email or on Twitter (@foreground).
2. Answer questions yourself. If you have anything to add to any of my answers (or can answer from a different perspective), jump right in! I’ll share relevant notes with other photographers so everyone can benefit.

Off-topic or inflammatory comments may be moderated.
Please add VALUE to the web, thanks!
 

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