Before the pandemic (remember the days before “extreme togetherness”?), Miami, Florida-based photographer Sonya Revell decided that she wanted to improve her online status. Sonya has done a lot of portraiture work for big-name clients, but she also wanted to do more advertising and editorial work. In addition, she also really enjoys conceptual photography and would like the opportunity to do more of that. If you look at her site, you’ll see all of those interests represented in her work, but she needed to express all of those ideas in her SEO strategy, which cannot be based on the content of the images.
So when Sonya came to Wonderful Machine SEO consultants Will Good and myself for an SEO Audit, we knew we had an interesting challenge on our hands: how to effectively modify her site and SEO strategy, which were already strong in a number of respects.
As we always point out to member photographers (and commercial photographers in general), they’re in a funny position SEO-wise. No photographer wants her website to appear at the bottom of the SERPs (search engine page results) for her location, which before anything is going to be “[place] photographer.” Being identified with a location — especally a studio location — is one of those funny categories that significantly increases a photographer’s SERP standings. But at the same time, commercial photographers frequently get the kind of traffic that should be going to retail photographers. If you’re wearing both hats, then it doesn’t hurt. But if you’re only aiming for one type of client, you might prefer the retail clients find someone else.
That’s precisely why SEO is so important: you need people online to know the kind of photography you do and the kind you don’t do. Think about the web as an elevator pitch. You’ve only got a few seconds (if that), so get to the point! You need to make sure that Google is doing everything to make that elevator pitch perfect ( … but not like the movie’s sequels).
There are at least ten categories examined by the SEO audit: Domain authority, SERP ranking, Google Analytics, URL Structure, Metadata, Images, Backlinks, Site Speed, Blog, and Navigation. Other categories might be included if they are helpful. In what follows, we will touch on a few of these categories.
To get a sense of the general “health” of the site, we look at each site’s domain authority (DA), speed, and number (and quality) of backlinks.
Sonya’s site’s DA was lower than she might like, but actually pretty respectable amongst her Miami peers and other member photographers. Every site has a domain authority score, which is really just an algorithm devised by the analytics company Moz, and the DA depends on the time that a site has been around and the number and quality of backlinks that a site has (links from other reputable sources leading to this site), among other things. To give some examples of DA, the New York Times (nytimes.com) has a DA of 95, and Google’s is 99. What this means is that in its particular domain or field (major news source) it has high rating as a trustworthy site.
In terms of speed, PageSpeed Insights (a Google developer tool) showed a very strong score on the speed of the desktop version of her site but a lower score for the mobile version. This is actually pretty common because of the different demands that mobile and desktop devices put on sites.
Lastly, we saw that Sonya had a moderate number of backlinks, which is another criteria affecting the domain authority and general SEO strategy of a site. The number and quality of links from other sites to a photographer’s site raises the general domain authority of any site. Sonya will want to increase the number of links to her site in the future, which will slowly raise the status of her site. But it’s important those links be from quality sources and not merely a set of personal Facebook profiles, for example.
In order to raise her position in the SERPs, her site’s speed, and ultimately her domain authority, we made a couple of suggestions. First, we recommended that she revise the meta-titles and meta-descriptions for her pages. Meta-titles are supposed to be between 55-70 characters long and meta-descriptions should be between 120-150 characters long. We found that a number of pages had titles and descriptions that exceeded those lengths and didn’t prioritize keywords with which she wants to be identified. We also offered keyword suggestions for her specific industry that would optimize her rankings.
For example, the meta-title of Sonya’s home page was “Miami Photographer Sonya Revell is a Portrait Advertising Editorial Lifestyle & Conceptual Photographer in Florida,” which is actually 114 characters. Google does not penalize you for long titles, but if you look at the Google SERPS image above, you’ll see that Google truncates her meta-title down to 50 characters — that also means that those words, in particular, may be used as search criteria. As it happens, Sonya’s got the most vital information in those 50 characters.
Meta-titles and meta-descriptions are just a few of the types of tags that Google’s robots crawl in order to determine where a site should fit into its SERPs. It’s vital that a photographer uses those tags effectively to advertise not only what she already does, but also what she wants to do. For example, a photographer like Sonya has some confidence that her editorial clients will not find her through Google or any search engine — that’s not really the way they work. For this reason, it might be strategic for her to drop “editorial” from her tags altogether. That is wasted space which is better set aside for specialties in which she would prefer to be featured and will be sought through Google.
Another set of tags for Sonya to address are the infamous and much dreaded alt-text tags. Platforms like Squarespace and Photofolio, to name just two, provide ways for a photographer to avoid the process of providing alt-text for each individual image, which can be a help. But alt-text is an opportunity for each photographers site to draw a connection through the subject of the photograph back to her site.
For example, Sonya’s had the opportunity to photograph a number of Miami VIPs, and that kind of traffic is invaluable. One of those subjects was Maya Valentine, who is the press secretary for Florida Representative Steny Hoyer. If you search “Maya Valentine portrait,” one of Sonya’s images will come up in those search results. As it turns out, Sonya has precisely this alt-text for one of her images. Another person whose portrait she’s taken is the professional basketball player Enoch Contreras. See what image comes up first in a Google search. Alt-text takes forever to go through and individually create for each image, but it’s an investment in the future of your site. What Sonya’s done has already paid off for her, but there are always other opportunities.
Sonya’s SEO audit showed her a number of ways she could improve on her SERP rankings, and we’ve gone over some of them above. As it turned out, Sonya has already established a reasonably effective SEO strategy, which required decisions about how she wanted to represent herself and what keywords would allow her to successfully do that. Each photographer has to make those decisions in light of her own career goals and the realities of the market.
After our audit, Sonya went through and made several of our suggested changes, including the image sizes — which affects site speed — and migrating her blog onto her site domain to take advantage of that “SEO juice,” as an erstwhile colleague used to say. She still has lots of changes to make, but we are impressed she started with the hard stuff. About the audit, she had this to say:
I finally had a chance to go through the audit, and it has been very helpful!! I’m glad I decided to move forward with it. I have already started to take steps to implement some of the suggestions you made.
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