Ultimate Guide to SEO For Photographers

“SEP, it’s this thing my son does online for clients.” A quote from my Mom after I’d already been doing SEO for over 8 years… haha! The truth is that most photographers hear “SEO” and think it has to be hard and technical.  But just like most things in life, once you learn a little bit you can go very far and see amazing results. Just think about the famous bands out there who only knew a few power chords!

Man looking stressed while working on SEO with laptop

The term itself sounds difficult and I think that’s where a lot of this barrier lies – add to that all of the industry “experts” who work hard to over-complicate things, sound technical, and confuse people into paying outrageous rates and you can see why photographers run from SEO.

Why did I build this guide covering photography SEO? Because I’ve seen THE power of ranking in search firsthand. My career in SEO began back in about 2014 when I was running my own clothing and longboard skate line, Concrete Coast. I carefully built one single article covering how to pick through all the different types of longboards, and took my site from just 2-3 visits per day, to over 200. Of those 200 I would actually generate a couple sales a week because my article was targeting an audience that was looking for what I was selling.

For photographers, SEO can be incredibly powerful. The search intent of local searchers (people in your area) for your photography services, whether you’re a wedding photographer, boudoir photographer, senior portrait photographer, newborn photographer – you get the point – is very direct. This means they are looking for exactly what you do, and in your area. I believe it’s one of the best ways to take your business from “where is my next client coming from…” to “got another one today!”

SEO strategy map

So, what is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the way a photographer like you can set up your website in a way that clearly communicates to Google and other search engines as to exactly what keywords/search terms your site should rank for on google. This way, Google can give your site top ranks for those things that fit it best and send the most relevant searchers there. A search engines job is to give people the best results possible on the internet.

I’ve seen SEO make entire businesses run and I’ve done this with multiple clients. But just like anything in life, the hardest part is figuring out where to even get started! That’s where this guide comes in.

One thing I recommend for anyone just starting out is to take it one step at a time and go at a sustainable pace. If you try to do it all at once it’s overwhelming, if you go too slow, you won’t see results for a long time. Every action you take is going to get you closer to ranking. It’s like watering a seed, each bit helps and one day you have a flower that blooms. And that flower will provide the clients your business needs to thrive.

photographers looking at proof sheet and editing

SEO for photographers – how to start ranking your photography website

Having a quick foundation in SEO is the best place to start. Just like with my kids, if I don’t give a reason as to why something works or they should do something, the motivation is short-lived. So here’s a little motivation to get started.

SEO for photographers can be game-changing and career making. It can literally shape your entire business and give you time back that you’d otherwise be spending on things like:

  • Social media
  • Ad campaigns
  • Networking events
  • Chamber of commerce
  • On and on… 

But you won’t get there if you don’t get started. And that’s the real secret. To get started you have to understand 2 main things.

#1. Google is a giant popularity contest. If you site is seen as the popular site it’s going to be given much better ranks. Popularity is determined largely through backlinks (when someone who has a relevant and popular site links to your site).

#2. Google needs to CLEARLY understand your content and what it should rank your photo website for specifically. If you’re a photographer in Tampa, FL and your site doesn’t make that clear, you have almost no chance of ranking well on Google for what you do.

Now, this is definitely an over-simplified version of SEO but I think it’s the best place to start.

So let’s go ahead and dive into the guide!

(quick note: SEO can work on ANY platform. Whether you run WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, ShowIt, Webflow, or really any other option out there. There are limitations in many platforms, which makes WordPress one of the very best options, but the core of SEO can be completed and your site can rank with ANY platform out there.)

Screenshot from SE Ranking showing results for the keyword Denver Portrait Photographer

Step #1: Keyword research and planning for local SEO

In the last little bit I briefly touched on this and you may not have noticed. Keywords are the terms that people search on Google. So when I’m looking for a newborn photographer, I might type in something like, “newborn photographer near me” and see who pops up. From there it will be up to the results that I see to determine who I’d like to hire. I will almost always pick one of the top 3 search results that pop up. And that’s true of just about anyone… this demonstrates how ranking online is a competition.

There are a couple types of keywords that we need to cover. The first is called short tail. It’s usually 1-2 words total and what most people think of right away. An example of this is “photographer.” Ranking for this term is going to be very difficult and with good reason too! Do you realize how many websites mention the word photographer online?

The keywords you’ll want to go after are long tail keywords and are much more specific. Terms like “pet portrait photographer near me.” Now this one is a little tricky because we don’t actually put the words “near me” on our site. Just the terms “pet portrait photographer.” Google does the magic part where it ranks you for the areas you serve based on where the person is searching.

A lot of courses will tell you that you need to do in-depth keyword research to see what’s possible, and it really does help to do your research. There are both paid and free SEO tools out there, but for your main local seo keyword, simply use your own judgement and include what your niche is (it’s hard to rank for multiple niches on one page or even one site until you’ve established your initial niche) and your location served.

You can start simply with a keyword like “Denver outdoor wedding photographer”. It’s location specific, niche specific, and has the word “photographer” on the end to make it all crystal clear. Excellent!

So what do you do with your main keyword? We’ll get into that in the sections below.

Google my business profile screenshot of Frances Photography

Step #2: Google My Business

This is a necessity for a photography site to be able to rank locally, which is where most photographers are looking to rank. This is different than a national ranking approach where you’d rank for your term across the whole country. The national approach is largely irrelevant when your photography business is locally based and you aren’t traveling all around the country to shoot.

The reason local rankings are so much easier is that you are competing in a smaller pool, just the similar photographers in your area. With GMB (Google My Business) we are literally placing our photography services on a map (Google Maps to be more accurate).

One of the keys to setting up GMB is to determine the areas you serve. Often times this will be a suburb or specific neighborhoods in a city as opposed to the entire city. As you improve your rankings you can grow to include more areas or even your city as a whole.

An additional important area of focus when you set this up should be obtaining reviews. This gives your business credibility for new clients and with Google.

Check out this guide to do the initial setup for Google My Business for photographers.

Amy Tedrow Photographer of Believe Create Inspire screenshot

Step #3: Content and On-Page SEO

In the intro I’d mentioned that content is vital so that Google understands what our site is really about. Content could be anything from videos, to images, text, and even audio files. The way we communicate what this is to Google is largely through text. And the way Google now ranks sites depends on whether it feels you have quality content, or not. This is becoming more and more important as AI is making it easier than ever for people to push out content that seems good, but simply isn’t the real deal.

To set up your text correctly, you’ll need to take the specific keywords you’ve identified and work them into your site. Rule of thumb is to target ONE main keyword per page. So if you’re specialty is wedding photography in Pittsburgh, PA, then you need to make sure your homepage specifies all of this information in the right places throughout your content.

Important detail: Whatever you do, don’t go crazy with your keyword and splatter it all over the page. This WILL NOT help you rank higher and could actually impact how well you rank overall in general.

Google search listing result breakdown

Here’s where you’ll want to place your keyword:

Title tag – This is the part of your page that displays in search engine results as the title. It’s also what you see in the top of your browser tab. This is a good place to put “Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer,” or whatever your chosen search term is.

URL – This is the complete address of your page in the address bar. The homepage will just be the part before the slash, but other pages can feature their keyword in the URLs slug – the part after the slash.

Meta description – This is the writing under the blue part in a Google search result. Google will sometimes not take your suggestion here and instead place their own information. This “indirectly” influences search results, meaning that if it’s enticing enough and has the keyword, it’s going to help you rank higher as more people will click the result.

Heading tags – Many people confuse these and think they are simply font sizes. For google this is more like a formatted document, and more value is placed on headings then general page text. Your keyword should be in the H1 tag, which is the most important of all tags. There should only be 1 H1 tag on a page to make it crystal clear what the focus of the page is all about.

Content – Keywords should be worked into your content as well but only naturally. A general guideline is that you shouldn’t go out of your way to force in extra keywords. It should all flow naturally and be written the way humans actually write. (Back in 2000 you could simply place a keyword multiple times in the text to outrank the competitors… ahhh, the good old days!) Google is smart enough to understand variations of your keyword and synonyms, so write naturally and you’ll do better here.

Alt Text – When someone hovers over an image on your site they will see the “alt tags.” These are there for the visually impaired and can be read out loud by the computer so people can know what the image shows. Do not abuse these for SEO! However, do use a tag if it fits to include a keyword. If you have a picture of “engagement photo showing couple on ridge in Eagle, CO” that’s a great way to give Google more location details. Pictures rank for SEO as well, but that’s an entirely different focus. Your file naming should be similar as well but I’d also recommend not over-stuffing text into the filenames.

Videos – Most people host videos on YouTube (owned by Google!). This is another SEO opportunity. Place your keyword in your video description and run a link to your site from your video. Then embed the videos on your site as testimonials, or whatever their purpose is, with a title that matches the content on your page.

There’s a lot more to content but understanding these basics can help get you on your way. In addition, add your locations served and map to the footer of your site to help Google see where you are based. That little detail can go a long way!

Map displaying how backlinks work in simple form

In the introduction to this I mentioned that ranking on search engines is a popularity contest. It’s easy to misconstrue the meaning of this and assume that you need to have a business that’s already booming in the real world. What this really means is that your site is popular in Google’s view.

To make your site popular you need to gain backlinks. Backlinks are when another website links to yours. This is one of the areas that most people get hung up on and my clients would ask about endlessly. They’d say, “Why would anyone want to link to my site?” And that’s a very valid question. The answer? We have to give other sites a reason to link to our sites.

But before we dive into that, let’s talk about citations. This goes along with Google My Business. Citations come from directory websites that link to your business and show all the information about it just like Google Maps. There are a LOT of free sites on the internet that do this. You might think this is crazy, but even the Yellow Pages still has a website that lists all the businesses!

One of the easiest ways to do this is through a tool like MOZ local. They make sure your data is on all the reputable sites for a low yearly payment. Plus, any changes you make are pushed to every single site so you don’t have to update more than one at a time. If your information is not the same across these sites, Google won’t trust your business. They have to have accurate information to list your photo site!

Now that you have citations setup, you’ll want to work on building backlinks. If you work with vendors or have friends in the business, you could write an article for them to post on their site about your business, or write a helpful article for their customers that has a link back to your site. That part is the key to making it work!

As you do this, remember that you don’t want backlinks from bad or untrustworthy sites. In addition, it’s best practice to not pay for backlinks as that can get you a manual action from Google – a penalty that hurts your SEO and hinders all your hard work so far.

Screengrab of results from Google Search Console showing improved rankings

Step #5: Tracking Your Ranking Progress

How do you know how you’re doing if you have no way to see it? Just like an iceberg that is 80% under water, more than 80% of your work will happen before you start getting new leads or clicks to your site.

Luckily, Google has an amazing free tool called Google Search Console that will let you track how many impressions and clicks you’re getting to your photography website. It will give you the most accurate picture of your search ranking journey. This tool gives insights into all of the photography keywords that people are searching, and where your site is showing in results for the first 100 positions (10 pages) of Google, and over a timespan of 16 months.

Using GSC you’ll be able to see what pages rank for different terms and track their progress as they climb ranking positions. This way you can see that the work you’re doing is actually making a difference and you aren’t just spinning your wheels.

How long will it take to rank with SEO? This varies. If your site is already strong with great links, it can be quick for easier keywords/search terms. If your site is brand new, it may take 3-6 months before you see much activity happening at all. Google wants to make sure you are legitimate before it gives you any weight in its results.

For this reason, I recommend always focusing on your “NOW” leads along with SEO for your “FUTURE” leads, when starting out. Word of mouth and referrals are still the strongest and simplest way to land new clients, fast.

Google pagespeed insights report for connorwalberg.com

Step #6: Technical SEO

This is the part that most people think of as SEO. It represents things that you can optimize on your site, these can include Page Speed, Schema, the code on your pages, and even your internal linking structure. If you want to go down this rabbit hole, know that although these efforts seem super important to your site, getting your page speed up another 10 points is likely to make almost no difference at all in your SEO.

I think most people are drawn to this aspect of SEO because you can immediately measure the results. However, if your site is loading incredibly slowly then it’s a good place to start as user experience will effect your SEO ranks – and potential clients won’t get to see your work if it takes way too long to load.

For the most part, this is stuff that you do AFTER everything is already going well and you need just an edge over the competition. SEO for photographers generally doesn’t have to be too technical, especially when the competition in your local region is slim.

One thing you can check now is your page speed. This gives visitors a better experience in general and is something you’ll want to look at. You can check this with the Google Pagespeed Insights tool here for free.

Screenshot of Michelle Crandall's Pets in Focus Photography website

Step #7: Blogging for photographers and on-going SEO efforts

PHEW!!! You’ve come a long way if you’ve read this far! The truth about photography SEO? It’s on-going. There are always more links to obtain, more content to create, more adjustments to make, and improvements to realize. BUT, when it’s going well, it should stay that way as long as you stay a little ahead of the competition.

One way to continue this process and expand your google rankings, is blogging. Blogging for photographers is the same as just about any business, but one thing that’s easy to do is write about recent shoots and reference the specific locations and cover what was fun about the shoot, and any other details that paint a picture of what it’s like working with you. This will help you land more clients, and take rankings. Plus, the people in your shoots can share these on their social accounts (also an SEO signal!) and on their websites if they have them.

Summary

It’s easy to see all these words and assume it’s too much to take on. Just remember the plant metaphor I mentioned earlier. Each task you complete is like adding water to a seed, it may take a while, but you’re getting closer to a blooming flower. Try not to stress about going all in, doing it all at once, or not doing enough. Instead, try allotting a minimum amount of time each week that you can dedicate to your efforts and you’ll get there over time.

Consistency is vital. Not everything you do will result in better search engine rankings, and that can be discouraging. But keep after it and strive to improve your site constantly, and you’ll get there.

If you have any questions as you go through this, feel free to reach out to me here and let’s discuss!

Grab the Free Simple SEO Guide and get things moving: