Most photographers have a completely wrong mindset when it comes to SEO.
They’re either trying to use old SEO techniques from 5-10 years ago, aimed at tricking Google into ranking them higher (techniques which have not only stopped working but can also actually hurt your rankings these days).
Or they’re up to date on the current SEO principles, but they invest too much time and effort into SEO work instead of prioritizing other (more important) website changes.
I call it “SEO procrastination”.
This article is my attempt to cure photographers of SEO obsession and to give you some sense of perspective.
SEO work is important, but other website improvements are sometimes better worth your time.
Why do photographers have this relationship with SEO?
In short, because SEO is simpler. Presumably, you just follow some SEO tips and tricks online, and you end up with more traffic on your site. More traffic, more profit, right?
— Alex Vita (@foregroundweb) March 18, 2019
Taking the right decisions and doing the actual meaningful work is always more difficult:
- spending some time to understand your audience requires introspection, research, analysis.
- trimming down your portfolio to only showcase your best work requires fighting with inner fears and being able to let go of some of your past work
- improving the user-experience of your website demands a change of mindset, a focus on your audience and not yourself
- website tweaks require technical skills or hiring a web professional, which comes with its own set of hurdles
SEO, on the other hand, is an easier target to aim at. It’s (wrongfully) considered a game you can win if you just follow some “rules”.
These examples clearly show the traffic & SEO fixation:
- “I am looking to have SEO work done as I just recently checked my google analytics and they are really awful.”
- “I struggle with understanding how to correctly “do” SEO, and it shows in Google search results. My site is usually buried on page 15 or 19 when I enter search terms that I would like/hope to bring my site up.”
- “Site is functional but I am hoping changes we do will help SEO to get me to page one sooner than later.”
- “Whether I’ll add new content to the website in the future depends if it’s required for SEO.”
EVERY SINGLE ONE of these photographers had bigger problems or mistakes on their websites (low-quality images, poor copywriting, outdated design, technical issues, etc.), yet they were focusing all their attention on SEO at that moment.
I want to help you get a better sense of perspective.
The way Google ranks websites has changed, and the way consumers look at the rankings has also changed. Obsessing over Google rankings is likely to cause considerable damage to your business. (source)
Better rankings lead to more organic traffic. Then what?
SEO offers the promise of relatively-cheap organic traffic, and everyone’s obsessed with traffic.
But if your main focus is raising the number of visitors, you’ll soon notice that you’ve hit a ceiling. You’ve either reached your small niche’s limit, or the niche is too large to be noticed by more people. (Pushing this ceiling higher can be done with advertising, and FB ads are all the rage these days, but there’s still a certain “diminishing-returns” limit).
Google Analytics can tell you a lot about whether your traffic is performing poorly. Here are the “bad signs”:
- bounce rates are high
- traffic is growing over time, but conversion rates are declining (if you’ve set up goals)
- the pages/visit ratio is low
The solution is to focus on conversions!
If you can increase the percentage of people that actually take an action on your site, then any future traffic-increasing efforts will be even more effective.
Website changes that can increase conversion rates and get you more sales/clients
So, when paying attention to conversion rates more than traffic, what should you prioritize when working on your photography website?
There are many relatively small and inexpensive tweaks that can really give you surprising results. Some require research and are more laborious, while others are what marketers call “low-hanging fruit”.
You don’t need to implement them all (in fact, general recommendations rarely apply to all types of websites out there), but do keep an open mindset and see which of them work for you.
1. Understand your audience and update your site copy
Step back, decide who your website is for, and what you want them to do on your site: is it to contact you for a project, to purchase some prints, to read your blog posts?
Changing the wording on your photography website is a great way to increase conversions. Copywriting is both a science and an art, it’s what can make visitors trust you and eliminate any potential doubts they might have.
This article can teach you some copywriting basis, as well as list professional copywriters (with experience in working with photographers) that you can hire to help you out: Copywriters for your photography website & 10 tips on improving your own writing
A great benefit of improving the wording on your site, especially on the homepage, is that it makes it all clear for your first-time visitors. They’re always in a hurry, they don’t trust you yet, so they’re looking to quickly understand what your site is all about: your services or products, examples of your best work, your contact info, etc. (Optimizing for repeat visitors is more difficult, and should only happen after you’ve nailed the first part)
2. Create a flow through your website
Neglected by many photographers, using call-to-action buttons throughout your site is a great way to guide people to your most important pages.
You’re not forcing them to visit pages, you’re just encouraging them to follow your story on a specific path (for example, after the homepage, you’re taking them to read your services, then showing them examples of past work and testimonials, then presenting them with the contact page).
Everything you need to know on this topic is here: Using call-to-action buttons to guide people through your photography website
Tracking how your CTAs perform can be done in Google Analytics by checking the “Pages/Session” and “Bounce Rate” reports over time, or even better, the “Behaviour > Behaviour Flow” report:
3. Improve small design details
Even seemingly-insignificant changes (like font sizes, element spacing, background colors, button designs, etc.) can eventually have a big impact on what and where visitors end up clicking.
Website design is obviously quite subjective, but it’s important to remember that your website is not meant to please you, it’s meant to be enjoyed by your audience. Any personal design preferences you might have might be detrimental to your site’s goals.
Hiring a professional web-design, even just for giving you a thorough review of your existing design, might help you realize where you’ve gone wrong and then polish it into a thing of beauty.
Generally speaking though, if I had to do an 80/20 analysis on how to improve a site’s design, I’d say:
- be sure to include plenty of whitespace
- improve readability by making the font-size larger than you think (at least 16px), with a very comfortable line-height (1.5+)
- simplify, simplify, simplify
- elements that are part of a grid, need to be properly aligned right down to the pixel. Here’s a snippet from a design makeover case study I did a while back: “Our eyes like alignments, it’s the “je-ne-sais-quoi” that makes a design look clean.”
4. Restructure your homepage
With older website, I often see this: the homepage has become a “dumping ground” of… stuff. All new bits of content, new promotions, and services, have all been added to the homepage over time, without any sense of purpose.
You need to be disciplined enough to take something out when you want to add something in. Image if a fashion brand just keeps adding new collections to their storefronts. I know it’s an exaggeration, but the point to it constantly be curating your homepage content, to only promote your most important services/products at that moment in time. It’s a great way to keep things fresh.
Give people fewer choices and eliminate distractions, and you’ll notice they’re more likely to take action.
So the homepage needs to include a short bit of text explaining what the site is all about and to provide entryways into the most important sections of your site: your featured galleries or portfolio, your services, your products and/or your blog (it all depends on your goals, of course).
5. Simplify your navigation menu
Has your site’s menu also kept growing over time? Are you linking to old pages that no longer represent your photography business?
It’s time to clean it all up, reducing the number of top-level menu items (and using dropdowns in a smart way). If the navigation is overwhelming (or “too clever”), all that organic traffic will get confused and leave your site more quickly.
This guide is a must-read: Navigation menu best‑practices for photography websites
6. Make your contact info easy to find
This can be boiled down to the following principles
- make sure your Contact page contains both a contact form and your email address (as a link). Some visitors prefer one over the other.
- place “Contact” in your navigation menu (where it usually sits last)
- consider adding your email (or a link to the Contact page) in your site’s footer, throughout the site
- also place your email (or a link to the Contact page) at the end of your About page (which is another place where people expect to find some contact info).
7. Update your photographer bio
The About page is a great opportunity to inspire trust, to form a closer connection with your audience, to convince people they should work with you.
But writing about yourself is hard (especially if you’re just starting out). Choosing a good self-portrait image is also hard.
Follow this article to help you create a more engaging Bio page: The complete guide to building your amazing photography “About” page
8. Tightly edit your portfolios/galleries
Don’t just throw all your past images into your site’s galleries. All that post-SEO organic traffic will see them and get bored.
Instead, do the hard work of only picking the top images from your past work, the most impressive ones. Quality over quantity. Visual impact over a jack-of-all-trades impression.
Unless we’re talking about stock archives, private client galleries (or other archival galleries/collections/folders), showing only your best work is the way to go.
This 5-step process can help you narrow down your best work: The process of selecting images for a strong & coherent portfolio
9. Improve website performance
Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool is the industry standard for identifying website performance problems.
You get a bunch of suggestions on how to improve load times. Some are easier to fix than others, of course; you might need to consider hiring a web developer to handle the more advanced stuff.
But you should start caring about your site’s performance, it has become an increasingly important factor in Google’s algorithms, and every extra second greatly impacts your conversion rates:
10. Go back to blogging regularly
So many photographers start out with great intentions for their blog, but it then falls by the wayside.
Blogging doesn’t have to be that complicated, you can just show examples of your past work, talk about your services, show teasers from any current projects you’re working on, etc. Batching multiple posts in one sitting will save you time.
If you’re doing it for the right reasons, blogging is a great addition to any photography website. And getting back into the habit of publishing new blog posts regularly is a great way to bring new life to your site.
Bonus: Double-check for any other big mistakes
The suggestions above are “sensible” ones, actions that can take you from “good” to “great”.
But sometimes photographers overly-focus on SEO without being aware of bigger technical or structural problems on their sites, things like:
- using 2 or more domains for the same site (jumping around from one domain to another, not to mention the duplicate-content concern)
- website not mobile-friendly
- having many broken links
- useless (actually: damaging) intro pages
- auto-playing music (don’t get me started on this…)
- ugly branding and overall design, etc.
Go through this entire list and make sure you’re avoiding these mistakes, before moving to SEO work:
- Clarify your photography website for first-time visitors to help drive more business (ForegroundWeb)
- Why it’s time to stop obsessing over search engine rankings (theEword)
- SEO Has Evolved To Search ‘Experience’ Optimization (Forbes)
- Conversions vs. Traffic: Have Your Cake and Eat it Too! (Kissmetrics)
- Why You Shouldn’t Over Obsess About Google Rankings (Inc.)
- Get Over Your Obsession with SEO Ranking (ChannelFutures)
So let’s get rid of the Search-Engine-Obsession! Photography is not just a hobby, you should be treating it as a business. And managing a business is all about priorities and asking yourself the hard questions.
SEO is the sort of thing that promises
free cheap traffic, but photographers pursue it at the expense of working on improving their conversion rates or adding more quality into their website. The time it takes to get good results from SEO sometimes makes it less worthy of your time.
There’s a time for SEO work as well, of course, but focus on the “low-hanging fruit” first, and make sure your website completely nails the items discussed in this article. Then you can start worrying more about traffic and SEO.
Prioritize things better, and you’ll see faster results.