Am I serious when I suggest to photographers that they forget about (SEO) search engine optimization? Well, yes and no. The point I want to make is that SEO is really about fine tuning your website. It can be important, but it really isn't the most important thing. If you want traffic to your site, and the ensuing benefits (for me that means selling imprinted holiday gifts through cafépress.com, licensing stock images, selling fine art prints and earning revenue through click through ads), then what you really need is content, quality content. Almost invariably the photographers who have substantial amounts of traffic get that traffic through a large number of search terms, not by being number one in any given search.
First Page Ranking And Increased Traffic (or not)
It may seem like being ranked on the first page for a desirable search term is the answer, but there are a couple of reasons that such a goal might not be the best approach. For one thing, getting ranked on the first page for anything other than your own name can be rather a daunting task (and even there I am up against a famous actor named John Lund as well as several other photographers who for some odd reason have my name). If you are just getting started you have a huge disadvantage going up against those who have already secured their positions. You will have to get past those who probably know what they are doing and have a huge leg up in terms of what search engines value: content, links and time. Secondly, ranking highly for a given term doesn't always bring the traffic you think it might. That was driven home to me when, over a two week period of time, I constantly ranked, with Google, between four and six for the term "stock photos". During that period of time I found no detectable increase in my traffic from when I was ranked in the low hundreds, which is where I have fallen back to today for that particular search term.
Traffic Comes From Content
Today, for example, I had over five hundred people get to my site from search engine queries (other traffic comes from those "links" and referring sites). The number one search term that brought visitors to my site was the term "John Lund" with 5 visitors. No surprise there, the surprise is that I only had eight search terms that brought in more than 1 person. 99% of my traffic comes from search terms that are only searched for once in any give period of time. To get truly significant amounts of traffic you need a lot of search terms and you get a lot of search terms by having a lot of content.
Content, Links and SEO
The two things that search engines value most are content and links. You get links by having content that people value enough to link to. So it all comes back to content. In a sense, photographers are fortunate to have content to put up…and yet pictures hardly count. Search engines can’t “see” pictures…so pictures become a kind of excuse for the words, which hopefully entice humans to come see the photos. SEO, or search engine optimization is simply the process of organizing that content to make it most accessible to search engines, and to people. Remember, the "robots" that search engines use to index the Internet (and hopefully your site) are themselves optimized to "think" like humans…because the search engines want to deliver good results to humans. Search engine optimization is something the search engines want you to do well, and Google, with the lion's share of Internet searches, is happy to tell you what to do for SEO. But the most important thing you can do to generate traffic for you web site is to provide quality content. That is why I say to forget about SEO (OK...not entirely), because without the content the SEO isn't going to do you much good.
Quality Content, Links and Time
Quality content will bring links and links will raise you in the rankings increasing both your traffic and, bringing in more links. It all takes time though. Lots of time. I estimate that three to five years are needed to produce the kind of traffic…thousands of visitors a day…that will lead to a significant difference in your photography (or other) business. It can be done. Photographers like Quang-Tuan Luong, Rolf Hicker, and Dan Heller have proven that. Content, links and time comprise the path to traffic. SEO is great, but your priority should be quality content, and lots of it.