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What Every Photographer Needs to Know About Keywords and SEO

Relevant photography keywords are necessary for healthy search engine rankings, and a key part of how to market your photography business to the right people at the right time, but they can be a real pain to deal with sometimes!
The concept is simple enough: People search online using keywords and phrases, and your website pops up like magic in the results, right?

Yeah, right.

For such a simple-sounding idea, there’s a surprising amount of confusion and misinformation on which keywords to use, how to identify them, where to use them, and how often.

Worse than that, photographers seem scared to death that one of Google’s angry animals, such as Panda or Penguin, will pounce on their website and render all their hard work a waste of time by penalizing them for some cryptic wrong-doing.

So, what are the real answers about photography keywords?

Let’s find out.

Photography Keywords: Too Much Information, Not Enough Answers
There’s so much information available about keywords from all kinds of sources, but you have to be careful about what you read and especially how you apply that information to your photography website.

Most of that information is perfectly valid, but it must be taken in the proper context. Just because a tip is useful doesn’t mean it’s applicable to your business.

Pick The Right Tool For The Right Job
Thankfully, the amount of actual misinformation is quite small in comparison to the overall volume of available information. The problem is that a lot of what’s available is written for a very general audience. That means you have to decide how useful that information really is to you as a professional photographer with a small business.

It’s like using a racecar to take the kids to school. There’s nothing wrong with racecars, but they’re usually less effective on short runs around town (even if they do look cool!).

Likewise, if you’re not careful, you can easily get excited about some random strategy and start applying it to your website without realizing the potential harm.

Welcome To The Article Marketing Craze
This is essentially what happened for a few years when everyone jumped on the article marketing bandwagon. All manner of silliness ensued and low-quality articles popped up all over web.

Dubious practices became popular, such as article spinning (the “black-hat” method of creating similar articles with the same meaning, but using different words). This degraded the perceived quality of article syndication websites, causing web users to doubt the validity of Google’s search results.

To combat the rising tide of Internet spam, Google unleashed its angry Panda on the world, sending webmasters into a mad panic. Suddenly, websites that had done very well from article marketing now found themselves writhing in the mud at the bottom of the SEO pond.

Sadly, many photographers who had innocently sought paid help from some of the less-scrupulous SEO companies also found themselves dealing with plummeting rankings, penalized websites, and a massive drop in new clients.

SEO Is Not A War Against Google
That chaos happened because people failed to remember that SEO is all about helping Google to better serve its customers (searchers) by providing high-quality content for Google to promote to its users.

This reaction happened all over again when Google’s Penguin stormed onto the scene, this time penalizing websites with over-optimized content (a far less easy fix for the average webmaster because it can involve dealing with other non-responsive webmasters).

If only people would remember that search engine optimization is not a war against Google – it want to be your friend and help you succeed!

Tip #1 – Keep Your Photography Keyword Strategy Simple
So, with all the information about photography keywords, what’s a photographer to do?
First, and foremost, keep things simple!

With some exceptions, most photographers are small businesses operating within a finite and well-defined geographical location. Therefore, the strategies and tactics that apply to a global or national business aren’t going to be the same ones that apply to you.

In fact, when it comes to SEO for photographers, you have a distinct advantage over the bigger companies.

To begin with, the range of photography keywords and phrases you need to rank for is far narrower.

In many cases, it might be no more than a handful of high-volume keywords:

  • “Toronto wedding photographers”
  • “Best wedding photographers Toronto”
  • “Wedding photographers in Toronto”
  • “Top wedding photographers Toronto”

Some of the photographers I talk to get discouraged by such a small number of photography keywords and phrases, thinking that it somehow limits their options. The truth is, fewer keywords is great for you!

For one, it keeps things simple. It also drastically reduces the amount of work you need to do, especially with regard to your photography blog, as you’ll see later on.

Tip #2 – We Heard You the First Time! Stop Repeating Your Photography Keywords

A common SEO-related question is:
One piece of advice tells me I should choose the photography keywords I want to target and then use them everywhere on a blog post or web page. But, then another expert will say that Google hates too much repetition of keywords on a page. Which one of these is correct?

This is a tricky question to answer because both pieces of advice are correct – up to a point.

To help you understand what you should do, here are the facts, as we know them today:

  • FACT: If you want a page to rank in the search engines for a particular phrase or keyword, you should definitely know where to use your keywords and target the most strategic places in the content.
  • FACT: Using your keyword phrases too often in your content, repeating phrases unnaturally, writing text purely to satisfy the search engines, or creating low-quality (content-poor) material is almost guaranteed to raise a red flag with Google.
  • FACT: Google does like to see your keywords in certain places on a web page, and is smart enough to figure out the context of the rest without you having to belabor the point.

Tip #3 – Some Photography Keywords are More Important than Others
One crucial piece of information you might not find everywhere is that there are three types of keywords.
The first two are often referred to as:

  • Head Terms: Sometimes called “primary keywords”, these are broad and very general (usually three words or less) that cover a wide topic. The competition to rank for these is often high, but possible to overcome in a local market.
  • Long-Tail Keywords: These keywords are usually three or more words, with specific intent and meaning, often signaling a readiness to buy. Competition is usually less, making them much easier to rank for.

However, lurking between the primary (head) keywords and the long-tail keywords is another group that we can think of as secondary keywords.

Your secondary keywords might not have quite the same well-defined intent of the long-tail phrases, but they are more specific than the primary keywords and indicate a high level of interest in the topic.

Some examples:

Primary Keywords:

  • “Toronto wedding photographers”
  • “Photographers in Toronto”

Secondary Keywords

  • “Affordable Toronto wedding photographers”
  • “Best wedding photographers in Toronto”

Long-Tail Keywords

  • “Toronto wedding photographers who specialize in black and white”
  • “How to find a wedding photographer in Toronto”

So, Why Is This Important?
Many photographers incorrectly believe that they must include their main keywords on every page of their business website to improve their rankings.

If you make this mistake, and then try to add your primary keywords to every page on the website (I’ve seen this done countless times already), you’ll quickly run into what we call “keyword cannibalization”.

It’s A Keyword-Eat-Keyword World!
Google ranks web pages, not websites (although there are undoubtedly website-level metrics involved, we don’t to worry about those at this level).

Each web page is treated as an individual piece of content and ranks for its own photography phrases and keywords.
If we try to add the same keywords to every page on a website, we’re essentially putting all of our pages in direct competition with each other, causing them to cannibalize those keywords – with the strongest contender winning the battle.

Problem is – the winning page might not be the one you want!

Photography Keywords Action Tip
Think carefully about the hierarchy of the keywords you want to target. Consider which are your primary keywords. Then look at which ones are secondary, and which are your long-tail keywords.

It helps to keep a spreadsheet with this information, so you always have the bigger picture to refer to when creating new content. It will also help you easily figure out where in the big picture to insert new keywords as you discover them.
All you need to do is follow a simple hierarchy whenever you publish new content:

  • The home page should target the most broad, primary keyword phrases
  • Cornerstone content, such as important articles, should target your secondary keywords
  • Your individual blog posts should target the more general, long tail keywords

If you follow this pattern and remember to create internal links between related content, you’ll be well on your way to showing Google that you understand exactly how your business and website are structured. This will help them to serve your most appropriate content to the people searching for you.

And then, everyone wins!

[via Black Star Rising]

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