2010 Posts

Can Google Dance?

Because the search engines are continuously tweaking their ranking algorithms, any SEO work done on a website, be it on-page or off-page, can never be be deemed final. I always make a point to let my audiences and my SEO clients know that the “correct” adjustments to a web page today won’t be the same ones needed six months from now. SEO is a moving target.

Recently I received a call from an SEO client letting me know that her page had dropped in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and asking what might have happened. She’d changed nothing on her page and, as far as she could tell, nothing had changed on her competitor’s page, yet she had dropped below the competitor for her search phrase. She asked, “Could it be the Google dance?” Let me elaborate about this dance…

In the past, the “Google dance” generally referred to the time period when Google would rebuild its rankings and back then it lasted from three to seven days and took place about ten times a year. Things have changed though. Now, those who pay attention to such things speculate that Google now performs index updates about every week, with the most movement occurring on Mondays. These are usually small adjustments to their algorithm and index. Major dances still occur, but with much, much less frequency.

Google’s data crunching occurs at its data centers located throughout the world. Google won’t disclose where they are, or even how many there are, and the Google fanatics try constantly to figure out where they are and how to access the separate indexes each generates. In 2008, Eric Scholfeld created a lot of buzz by blogging:

There are 36 data centers in all—19 in the U.S., 12 in Europe, 3 in Asia, and one each in Russia and South America. Future data center sites may include Taiwan, Malaysia, Lithuania, and Blythewood, South Carolina, where Google has reportedly bought 466 acres of land. (Read the entire post.)

Because Google has multiple data centers, sharing upwards of 12,000 servers, the updates to their index have to be transferred throughout and these ongoing, incremental updates only affect part of the index at any one time. So the SERPs put out be any data center might differ from that put out by another.

Yesterday morning, just to see what might be happening, I searched for “Knoxville Photographer” at two different data centers and two different SERPS were presented:

Search one

Search number one

Search number two

Search number two

There are two giveaways that the data centers are indeed out of sync. (You can click on each to enlarge if you’d like.) First, the total number of pages indexed for “Knoxville Photographer” in search one is 308,000. In the second search it’s 319,000. And, even more telling is the top result: in the first, “Knoxville Photographer Dave Carroll…”, and in the second, “Seaton Shoots”.

Of course, there is no way to know when the “Major Major Dance” is taking place, but when it does, ranking do go awry, some pages are temporarily in limbo and don’t show up at all. Then they reappear, sometimes in a better position than they were in before the dance, and things settle down. It’s a non-ending cycle; one that can definitely put companies for whom search is critical in their marketing into a frenzy and drive SEO consultants such as myself crazy.

If your site has indeed dropped and stays there after things settle down, you’ll probably need to get back to optimizing your site to “satisfy” the new algorithm. Take a look at what the sites that are ranking above you have in the way of critical page elements for SEO and adjust accordingly.

Repeat after me: “I won’t let this SEO nonsense ruin my day. I won’t let this SEO nonsense ruin my day.”

You Comment and I Follow

Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

You Comment I FollowMost SEO experts agree on at least one thing: incoming links to your web pagees are very important when it comes to determining where your page will appear in the search engine listings. An impediment to getting these valuable links is that, by default, most blog platforms are set up so that a “Do Not Enter” sign is added wherever a link appears in a comment. This means that search engines will not “count” the link as they are crawling the internet. In geek-speak this is known as a “no-follow”, originally designed to help stop comment spam. With today’s ease of comment moderation by blog owners it’s really not needed. In fact, what it actually does is remove some of the incentive for your readers to contribute the blogging community by commenting on your posts.

What can be done about this? Do what I’ve done, I’ve turned off “no-follow” because I appreciate my reader’s comments. How? It’s easy. If you use WordPress, use this plugin. If you use Blogger for your blogging, then read this instructional post on how to modify your template.

So if you’d like, please feel free to comment and include a link to your site. We’ll both benefit; you’ll have an incoming link to your site and I’ll have an engaged readership!

Score This: Photog 1, Cheapskate 0

We’re all pretty tired of being asked to shoot on spec, shoot for a low fee with the promise of more work, and that sort of nonsense. These two ads appeared on the Seattle Craigslist over the past two days. I think you’ll enjoy reading…

Need Photographer (originally posted March 10th)

We are a 5 person construction company and need to update our website and brochure with NEW images of our staff. We would like to give an opportunity to the right photographer to take our company images. Ideally we need a formal and an informal picture, also a landscape shot of our company vehicle. Basically these pictures will help us get off the ground and renovate our website.

If you do a good enough job on our company portraits then you will ideally be awarded a future PAID contract to take pictures of our job sites (once we get a job!). We will want to have the rights to be able to use the photos on our website and brochure/print media. You will get a boost to your portfolio!

Experience in corporate photography along with a portfolio is a MUST or your email will be disregarded. We are looking at scheduling the shoot within the next week so be prepared to move fast!

And then a clever photographer posted the following:

Need Construction Crew (originally posted March 12th)

We are a 5 person photography company and need to update our photography studio and shooting space with NEW office spaces for our staff. We would like to give an opportunity to the right construction crew to build our new company digs. Ideally we need a formal and an informal working space, also a landscape crew for our out side shooting area. Basically these structures will help us get off the ground and renovate our old space.

If you do a good enough job on our company building then you will ideally be awarded a future PAID contract to build structures of our photography clients (once we get a job!). We will want to have the rights to be able to exploit you as we see fit just for credit and a great job! You will get a boost to your structure building skills!

Experience in corporate building along with a portfolio is a MUST or your email will be disregarded, after all beggars can be choosers. We are looking at scheduling the construction within the next week so be prepared to move fast!

I don’t know who the authors are, if they care to be identified, I’ll add proper attribution if they contact me. What do you think?

These Six Books Are Must Reads

OK, I admit it, I have a Kindle and I’ll probably buy I bought an iPad. I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I can remember. Here’s a list of books I’ve read that have really made an impression on me, some new, some older, but all still available. I’ve listed them below in no particular order.

Please let me know what you’re reading in the comments, I’m always looking for a few suggestions!

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Hardcover)
by Seth Godin
A linchpin, as Seth describes it, is somebody in an organization who is indispensable, who cannot be replaced—her role is just far too unique and valuable. They are, after all, the essential building blocks of great companies. To not be one is economic and career suicide. Learn about your “lizard brain”. Seth’s on the A-list of speakers for business and he’s the only speaker I know of that has his own action figure! You read his daily blog don’t you?

Negotiating For Dummies (Paperback)
by Michael C. Donaldson
Yes, it one of the yellow “For Dummies” books we’ve all seen, but this quick read will get you from “zero to sixty” in no time at all. Read it and put the concepts into practice, you’ll amaze yourself at how well they work and help you to get what you want in a negotiation!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Paperback)
by Stephen R. Covey
One of the must-haves for anyone in business. It’s one of those I go back to from time to time for a quick re-focus of what I need to do to be successful. Enough said.

Value-Added Selling : How to Sell More Profitably, Confidently, and Professionally by Competing on Value, Not Price (Hardcover)
by Tom Reilly
Hands down, the book that’s helped me the most in my business. Adding perceived and actual value to the product we sell, photography, is the key to being able to increase your fee on a per job basis. I’ve just ordered Tom’s new book, Crush Price Objections: Sales Tactics for Holding Your Ground and Protecting Your Profit but haven’t started it yet. I’ll probably get started on it this weekend on my flight to WPPI in Las Vegas.

The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence (Hardcover)
by Tom Peters
We’re in a people business. Next to your creative eye, your “people skills” are the most important asset you own. I managed to secure a pre-publication copy of this fantastic book. You can pick it up, read a few tips, leave it and come back to it any time. Tom is one of the best writers around on business management, his real-world examples are worth the look, I guarantee you’ll learn something.

Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness (Hardcover)
by Jeffrey Gitomer
No matter what you do for a living, you’re a salesperson first. You’re selling every day, whether it to potential clients or your spouse and children. This is a book that you can pick up and read for five minutes between calls or read from cover to cover in a few hours. It’s a treasure trove of inspiration for every photographer out there who has lost a bid for whatever reason.

I’ll Be Presenting at WPPI

I’m really looking forward to getting out to Las Vegas this coming week for the 2010 Convention and Trade Show at the MGM Convention Center March 4-11. It’s always a huge gathering of photographers from around the world, with a great lineup of speakers, this year including me!

I’m presenting a Platform program titled “Smart Web SEO Means More Bookings” on Monday, March 8th from 6:30-8:30pm. From the program description: “Do you know what good search engine results mean for your business? How do you direct clients to your site? Is your website getting buyers to stop and take notice? Blake Discher combines his Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expertise with his successful photo business savvy in this head-spinning session. Do not miss this chance to learn how to market your business with both on-page and off-page SEO techniques. Blake talks candidly about what your website needs to make it work for you.”

One of the best things about presenting around the country is that I get to meet a lot of photographers and share a lot of information that has helped me to be successful. Visit WPPI’s main convention website for more details.

And if you’re going, please stop by and say hello!

How is Your Website’s Usability?

Like every photographer out there, you have website. By now, you’ve made the design decisions that give your site its “look and feel.” The two most important considerations you may not have given much thought to are, one, your site’s visibility in Google and Yahoo! search results; and two, your website’s usability. In this article we’ll focus on the usability aspect of website design.

Listed below are a few items to consider when either designing your new site or redesigning your existing site:

Communicate Your Message Clearly
Today’s photographic buyers and art directors allocate minimal time to initial website visits, they’re primary goal is to locate a photographer (or two, or three) that “fits the job.” So you must quickly convince them that spending some time on your website is worthwhile.

Provide Information Your Potential Client Wants
Photo buyers must be able to easily (and quickly) determine whether your sample images and capabilities meet their needs and why they should do business with you. What is it that you can offer that your competitors do not? What differentiates you from the other photographers they’re considering? Is it your style? Your experience? Get your message out right up front, or make it easy for them to get to this sort of information within your site.

Offer Intuitive, Simple Navigation and Pleasing, Consistent Page Design
Remember your reader. He or she will learn the “flow” of your web site if you provide consistent, predictable navigation methods and content that shares design elements from page to page throughout the site. Provide “quick links” that serve as easily accessed shortcuts to the paths that you believe people will want to follow most often, such as your portfolios. Don’t bury important links in body copy. And be sure to use a pleasing color palette. If you aren’t familiar with Adobe Labs’ Kuler initiative, here’s an online article about it from Communication Arts magazine.

Equally important, don’t have links that only appear when a portion of a photograph is rolled over with a mouse. Studies have shown that a person arriving at your website from a search engine query will click the ‘back’ button if they don’t find what they came for after seven seconds.

Content, Content, Content
I can’t stress it enough. We all show pictures on our websites. Don’t forget to “introduce yourself” to your website visitor. Share some personal information with him or her. These days we’re getting less and less “face time” with potential clients, so you need to let your website do your selling. We all shoot great pictures. Here’s a few things you could write about on your site: your working style, your clients (don’t go overboard
here), your experience, what it is you do when you’re not working. Maybe your last great assignment; here’s where a blog can be a useful tool, but only if it matches the “look and feel” of the rest of your site. And today, more and more photographers are including some sort of “behind the scenes video” on their sites.

Hopefully these thoughts will get you thinking about your internet presence. Look at other photographer’s sites and put yourself in the position of a first time visitor. What is it you like, or don’t, about the site? Was it easy to move around in? Was your experience a good one? Or did the site’s flash animation require you to roll over the beautiful model’s eye for the “Portfolio” link? You get the idea, now go work on your studio’s website!

A version of this article first appeared in ASMP’s Professional Business Practices in Photography, (Seventh Edition).

Yes, People on Your Website Need to be Released

Many photographers forget that their websites are a form of advertising and as such the individuals in the images must be released. Put another way, if your website is used to attract potential clients or customers, it is a commercial advertising vehicle. Your use of the likeness of any person on your website would likely be deemed an advertising use, and might violate right of privacy/publicity laws.

The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) has Property and Model Releases along with a great tutorial on releases, on it’s site, available to anyone here. I keep copies of the simplified release in my camera bag and in my car’s glovebox. That way, even if I’m carrying a point-and-shoot camera while visiting a park with my son, I have releases handy.

Worth noting, because the question will likely come up, is the question of editorial use. My friend and photographer consultant Leslie Burns put it rather eloquently recently: “The reason that editorial usually doesn’t require releases is that the courts have decided that, in the balance, the freedom of the press is more important than an individual’s right to privacy/publicity. That’s it. Not because of anything dealing with profits.”

At the end of the day, my advice is: get releases, always. I tell other photographers in my lectures: You’ll never have to say no (because the subject is not released) to that Fortune 500 company when they see your great shot on Flickr of your mountain-climbing buddy and want to license it for an ad. It happened, (and it’s going to happen more and more), a Fortune-500 company did license a shot after coming across it on Flickr. You never know!

(A portion of this article, written by me, Detroit photographer Blake Discher, first appeared in The American Society of Media Photographers’ widely read Strictly Business blog.)

SEO Friendly Blog Post Titles

There was a recent post in one of the professional-photographer-type forums by Nashville shooter David Bean about “behind the scenes video” that a lot of photographers are starting to feature on their websites. He provided a link, http://blog.visualreserve.com/?p=256, which from an SEO standpoint is not very useful. That’s the default URL structure for WordPress permalinks, which is what the permanent URL for your bog posts are called.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I called David to ask if I could use his post as an example and he said “absolutely.”)

The part of the URL “?p=256” contains no keywords and therefore can cause indexing problems for search engines. In fact, even WordPress refers to these as “Ugly Links!” The easiest way to correct this problem in WordPress is to go into “Settings”, then “Permalinks”, and select “Day and Name” which would give you something like:


That gives you the date of the post, then a “/”, then a hyphenated version of the title of your post. This is much more SEO-friendly than the default permalink. WordPress refers to these types of links as “Almost Pretty.”

But the best solution is to have WordPress generate what it refers to as “Pretty Links.” Do this by selecting “Custom Structure” under the “Common Settings” choices. WordPress utilizes pre-defined references to various post data so that you can construct your URLs any way that suits you. I’d suggest a structure that give you links that include the category name followed by the post title. So your URL might look like:


This structure contains relevant keywords for a blog discussing “negotiating” such as the one you are reading, and could help to improve search engine placement for the post. To change you structure to produce links like that I’ve described, add the following code in the “Custom Structure” box:


To see a complete list of the post data reference codes and read a bit more about this, visit the official WordPress information page covering this topic.

Good luck!