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Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

Google Square Logo1. Keep Your Content Fresh
The search engines love, love, love fresh content. Change your site’s content as frequently as possible. This doesn’t mean have a blog as your home page. Doing so will bounce you up and down in the rankings since your copy is constantly changing as your new posts bump off the older ones and the amount of keywords changes with each post. One photographer I know puts up a “picture of the day” each morning. That’s a great way of changing up the page’s content without altering your body copy.

2. Create a Search Engine Friendly Website
Using a website that is based entirely in Flash and has no body copy does not provide search engine spiders information about your site. Google relies heavily on body copy to determine what a site is about and if a site has none, all things being equal, your site will not rank as well as a site with descriptive body copy containing your keyword phrases.

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Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

keywordWhen writing body copy for your website’s home page, it’s important to keep three things in mind. By now most anyone who is working on optimizing their website for Google and the other search engines knows that excessive placement of the keyword phrases for which they are optimizing can hurt their ranking in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

That’s known as keyword stuffing or keyword spamming.

Keyword Density

Put simply, keyword density is the ratio (or percentage) of the number of times your keyword appears on the page of your article, versus the number of words on the page. For example, if your home page has 500 words of body copy and your keyword phrase appears 5 times, your keyword density is one-percent. No one knows for sure what the search engines consider ideal — the number changes with every algorithm update — but conservatively, two to four-percent is probably in the correct range. I wouldn’t exceed six or seven-percent under any circumstances.

Keyword Prominence

Keyword prominence refers to how prominent your keywords are within key elements of your web page. Specifically, how close to the beginning of the page’s TITLE tag, heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.), and meta DESCRIPTION, your keyword phrase is placed. You should always put your most important keyword phrase at the very beginning of your TITLE, DESCRIPTION, and H1 and H2 tags. Also try to begin your first and last sentences of body copy with the important keyword phrases.

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Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

anchor

Anchor text is the actual human readable text of any link on a web page. We’ve all seen the worst example of effective anchor text, the clickable Click Here. A link that simply reads “Click Here” tells the reader (and more importantly, a search engine) nothing about what that link is about.

Instead, you should attempt to have any link to your website “read” what that specific page is about. This is referred to as “relevant anchor text”. In other words, if you are a wedding photographer in Houston, perhaps you should strive to have any incoming links to your site read, Houston Wedding Photographer. This tells the search engine that the destination of that link will contain information about a Houston Wedding Photographer.

When you undertake a link exchange campaign, your incoming link’s anchor text ideally should be the keyword phrase for which you are optimizing your home page or another page on your site.

      Your keyword phrase is the phrase that you suspect buyers would enter into a search engine to find a photographer that offers the type of photography you provide. According to my research, the most common syntax used by a searcher seeking a photographer is in the form:

[location] [specialty] ["photographer" or "photographers"]

    (With the plural generally having more occurrences.)

If I’ve negotiated a credit line for any of my images appearing on my client’s website, I always specify the credit read Detroit Photographer Blake Discher with that text being the link back to my site. In fact, I just made that example a link to my homepage.

Detroit headshot photographer Mary DuPrie (I did it again, the words Detroit headshot photographer are a link to Mary’s site) helps out her makeup artist Tammy Pore from time to time with a link in her blog to Tammy’s webpage. Because Tammy’s site is entirely made with Flash, incoming links play a critical role in Tammy’s SEO efforts. A screen grab of Mary’s blog post is below.

Exaple of anchor text in a blog post

(Tammy optimizes her site for the phrase “Michigan Makeup Artist” and Mary’s link will help Tammy in her SEO rankings.)

Photo by Svadilfari licensed under a Creative Commons license.

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One of the basics in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the content of a website’s TITLE tag which end up being displayed in the top-most bar of a browser window when someone is looking at your site. The tag is given significant weight by search engines in their effort to figure out exactly what a site is about.

Sounds super simple and you might think everyone already knows this, but as I speak to photographers around the country about SEO, I notice quite a lot of studio names (such as “XYZ Studio”) or the photographer’s own name (such as “John Smith”) in the tag.

Unless your name is nationally recognized by photo buyers, you’d be better off thinking about what keyword phrase potential clients would use to find a photographer that produces work such as you create. So for example, your TITLE tag might better consist of “Seattle Editorial Photographer John Smith.” Place the most important keywords toward the left of the sentence. About eight to ten words is good.

It is important to make certain your TITLE matches your page content, the “Description” META tag actually describes what on the page, and is unique for that specific page.

Good luck!

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While most everyone knows by now that Google is (in 99-percent of cases) no longer penalizing duplicate content on web pages, on April 9th Google announced it would begin measuring page load speed and use it as one factor in its search algorithm. Google’s studies have shown that when a site responds (or loads) slowly, visitors spend less time there.

I recall creative consultant Leslie Burns telling an audience at ASMP’s Strictly Business 2, “That loading bar or circular graphic on a website’s home page is the art buyer’s blood pressure gauge.” In other words, the longer the site takes to show the first bit of information, the more likely the art buyer is to skip your site altogether.

If you are a site owner, webmaster or a web author, here are some free tools that you can use to evaluate the speed of your site:

  • Page Speed, an open source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
  • YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve website speed.
  • WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance plus an optimization checklist.

I did a test on my own site’s home page (Firefly Studios) using the Firefox/Firebug plug-in “Page Speed” and this is the result:

Page Speed plug-in for Forefox/Firebug

As you can see, the overall score for the page is 86/100, not bad. The plug-in placed a green check mark next to items (and there are many, many more items it checked beyond what’s shown in the screen grab) that are OK. But what’s best about the plug-in is that it shows you with either a yellow caution icon or a red exclamation point icon what needs to be improved. And, if you click on the arrow to the left of the icons, it gives you detailed information on what specifically needs to be improved.

If I expand the first item: “Leverage Browser Caching”, I see the following information.

According to Google: “… site speed is a new signal, [but] it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point.”

So what does all of this mean to a photographer?  It means that it probably pays to (at least on your home page) keep image size (in kilobytes) in mind as you’re selecting what JPG quality to save them at, and to be mindful the overall size (again, in kilobytes) of any Flash elements on the page.  I didn’t want to single out anyone’s Flash-based template or non-template site, but if that loading bar is visible for any amount of time, you’ll likely have page load speed issues in the eyes of Google.  And if Google is using this metric, Yahoo! Search and Bing will likely follow suit.

By the way, the page you are reading had a Page Speed score of 71/100 and when I clicked on the red exclamation point icon at the top of the report it read: “Significant improvements can be made to this page.”  Ugh!

Good luck!

Photo by: Robbert van der Steeg, licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Free whitepaper: “Five Easy Steps to Take Now to Optimize Your Website” available here. If you liked this post, please click the “Share” button below to share it on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t miss a post, subscribe to Groozi in the upper right corner of the page!

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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.”

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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:

http://yoursite.com/2010/02/19/sample-post-title/

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:

http://yoursite.com/negotiating/learning-to-say-no/

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:

/%category%/%postname%/

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!

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Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to optimize a website for multiple search engines. This is because each engine utilizes its own, top-secret, proprietary search algorithm. Almost everyone knows that Google is the number one search engine followed by Yahoo! Search, and then Bing. (72 percent, 15 percent and 9 percent respectively for the four weeks ended January 2, 2010. Source: Hitwise) So naturally most decide they should be optimizing their sites for Google, but this may not always be the correct decision. Just as in life, there is no one single “silver bullet” solution to web marketing. You really need to consider what search engine your potential customers are likely using.

Think about it. Google has a clean user interface, this morning it’s just a text entry field, and two buttons: “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky”, the latter takes you immediately to the website of the first organic (non-paid) listing. Yahoo! Search on the other hand, is a “portal” in that their home page is loaded with information.

If you’ve heard me speak about web marketing at a convention, you know I like to use my dad as good example of why you might want to optimize for Yahoo! When his high-speed DSL was installed, the company had some sort of deal with Yahoo! which made my dad’s browser’s start-up page the Yahoo! homepage. It will remain that way forever. Why? Because he has no idea how to change it! And because he likes it that way. It’s his “ticket” to internet and from the Yahoo! homepage he can do a lot… check on his stocks, get the latest news, weather, and so on.

But what does this mean for you? Most web usability experts say that corporate America utilizes Google for search because of its “strictly business” interface and individuals use Yahoo! because of the multitude of options at its homepage. Because I do a lot of SEO work for photographers, I’ll use that industry as an example.

If you are a photographer who specializes in corporate or editorial photography, it’s very likely your potential clients will use Google to find you and you should be optimizing for that search engine. If on the other hand you photograph weddings, it’s possible the mother of the bride will use Yahoo! Search on her home computer to help her daughter find a photographer and you should optimize for it. (My dad uses Yahoo! Search for virtually everything!)

Every time a potential client calls you, be sure to ask them how they found you. If they say “on the internet” follow up by asking which search engine they used. Next, I blame my “web guy” for wanting to know what search phrase they used. Something like, “You know, I’m in the midst of a website design and my web guy was asking what search phrase people use to find me. If you don’t mind, would you tell me what phrase you used?” So far, no one has refused. Over time you’ll have gathered valuable information: which search engine most of your customers use most and what search phrase they’re using. (BTW, I ask everyone that calls how they found me and even if it wasn’t via search, I still ask what search engine they use most.)

Armed with that info, you can tweak your SEO strategy so that you are hitting the largest pool of potential customers. Good luck!

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