Search Engine Optimization
What is it and why do I need it?
Well we all want to get higher in our Google search right? Whether we sell wedding services, want people to hit our blog or just want to get more people to our own personal site.
We type in search engine keywords that we think are relevant to our business, passion and/or location, specialty and such. Then you’re gutted to see you are not #1. Worse still is when you find yourself on page 37. That's a lot of clicking.
Google must have some club house or executive bathroom that you don't have access to right? Nope. You too can get the keys to the search results palace.
To get there you need to arm yourself with the right tools.
First off - Don't build your website entirely in Flash. Do NOT use Front page. Do NOT use Word. Search engines cannot see Flash. Yes, there are a couple little tricks in flash to get some words visible but it's just a waste of your time. Dreamweaver? It adds far too much extra code to be viewed as clean enough for proper ranking. It works, but you'll have to know how to clean the code up and save it properly to get that extra code out. Careful here. Front Page? It adds about 200 lines of code just to type "Hello world" on your website. Avoid at all costs. Word? Pretty much as bad. But you can use Word or Notepad to code a website yourself. That is the best route but the hardest. There are plenty of html tutorials on the web. I won't list any since you all know how to spell Google right?
So, you've got an html editor that makes clean code or you’re a whiz with notepad now. Next steps?
Title tag - I'll smack if you put "Welcome" in here. Tell your potential customers who, what, where, when and why. Better yet you are telling the search engines the same.
Bad Example: Welcome to Bob's Photography page. (WRONG)
Good Example: Bob Thompson - Exceptional wedding photography in the Austin and Dallas region
Now with title tags, you'll need one for every page. If your glamour page is done and you are ready to publish it, you add to it as such:
"Bob Thompson - Glamour photography in the Austin and Dallas region"
See how web crawlers will read your page? See how your sitemap.xml file (more on that below) will be created with the proper headings and links?
Now I just mentioned headings. Use the H1, H2, H3 tags in your html. That is what Google's algorithm is looking for. It's also looking for nice clean code. No color tags or size tags. To avoid this use a CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) include. It is a "make website look like this" template that you reference in the html. Very simple to use and create. Again, Google is your friend here as there are far too many sites to reference here.
Metatags? Hidden text? Typical no-no for Google most think. But I have seen no real world punishment for using them and legacy issues form older site allow Google to view these tags or blacked out text as "an evil necessary". I use them currently but in a muted form. Salt to taste.
So now the first 20 or so lines of your html are nice and clean. You’ve established who you are, what you do and told the webcrawlers that come looking for you that you are playing their game. In return for abiding by their rules they list you better than the person next door with crappy, bloated, non-compliant code. Now you need to get to stage 2, serving up content.
"I take pictures, good pictures. These are my prices." Seriously, who would get excited at this? Not me. Keep prices under wraps until you've built the value with your client or if you have a different kind of service then keep the prices clear and concise.
Newsfeeds. Pick a newsfeed for your website. Pick one that serves up some content relative to your genre. Do you do weddings? Then add some bridal newsfeeds that open a NEW window, not offer a quick exit away from your wallet. Do you shoot commercial? Add a newsfeed for something relative like fashion or style. Make it look good; make it look corporate but warm.
To soften that hard core coprorate look you add Special Offers, Demos, Webcasts, and Contact Forms. What do these do? A special offer is simply that, a way to appeal to someone’s pocketbook. Low on engagement booking where it's a day in the field and a day in post? Offer a deal. Demos? Have a little flash movie or youtube link that shows you working on a shot. Heck you don't have to say anything, have someone voiceover it. Show your passion for the craft. Webcast? What is that you say? Have a block of time where people can sign up and ask question about what you do and what you offer. Scared you'll only get one user? Who cares? Set it up; see if it works for you. Contact forms? Well of course we'll have those but make one that is VERY specific for those that WANT specialized treatment. Have a simple form and a complex form. What does all this have to do with search engines? They see these links to rich content on your site and you get higher up the ranking. Plus it adds GENUINE content for your prospects to interface with you. It's good for business.
Music on that classy, content rich page? No, bad dog. Web crawlers that find embedded wav, ogg or mp3 links run away and throw you DOWN the list hard. Even having and embedded file with the music turned off by default will kill your ranking. It's lame anyway - kill the music. Use it later/deeper in your site for a presentation OR in the flash or youtube link. Yes, using a swf (flash file) fools the webcrawler but it still freaks out he potential client surfing your site from work who mistakenly has their speakers cranked. Cube embarrassment makes your website get Alt-F4'd so fast.... Again - avoid music.
Start a blog. Why? Content that changes constantly. Google likes it and you can set it up to do anything you want. Deliver pictures, calendar of availability, feedback, etc. Sky is the limit here. I use wordpress personally. Not a plug, but it gets anyone not familiar a point of reference that is easy to work from.
Got PDF's on your site for pricing? Well that's good, but make sure you used Adobe Acrobat to create them, not a plug in from Word etc. Google knows this and will search your PDFs. Keep them in a PDF folder. BUT - make all your text content available with a LINK to the PDF. Google will like you. HTML plus the PDF. See? Sounds redundant but some people WANT the PDF. However, Google knows how upset people get when they click a link and then wait for Adobe to load and go "Aw crap." Excel files follow the same rules. Embed the table, but link to a spreadsheet. This is most likely related to pricing right? Good.
Site submission after all this too? Yes! You need to submit the site to google.com, dmoz.org (important), yahoo.com and yes - business.com. Now with Google you need to submit your sitemap.xml of course, but sign up for Google Analytics. Sign up for Google Ad Sense. Why? Google wants you to play the game and the more apps for webmasters you run the more they reward you. Play the game! But beware that you will have to seriously monitor your Ad Sense and exclude your competitors or sites you don't want people to go to from your site. Many will find it best to NOT use Ad Sense, but if you want to generate money on a blog perhaps, use it.
Now I'm not going to get into good web design (other than kill the music). What is good to someone is ugly to another and everyone's coding skills or wallet for web development is different. Remember that when your website launches - you need to start planning the next version. 6 months is almost the limit. That reminds me, I gotta get working on my site...
Now within a couple months this thread will require additions, amendments and changes I'm sure. The web is evolving and to do business online these days you need to be as liquid as the web is. Adapt, be creative and work the system. If I've missed anything you have come across recently in regards to SEO, please add it to the thread.
Remember there is a lot of snake oil out there about how to actually get your site higher. Research everything you read. Even what has been posted above, it might not all be true or relevant by the time you've gotten to this thread.
Some Wedding or Portrait shooters are going to read this and say "That's nice but my site needs to look good first." True - but a nice, arty website will get crushed by someone who has a gallery just like you but looks like a multi-million dollar operation who might have cheaper prices than you. Be warned, wedding shooters are getting web savvy - don't get left behind.
A special mention goes to Hallme.com for presenting a tremendous webinar that debunks many web myths. Their podcast can be seen here:
Their site is very tilted towards software VARs and serious web businesses. All businesses on the web are serious right?