Saturday, November 13, 2010

Forget about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

A businessman organizes online content in a futuristic office environment.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is secondary to content for building significant traffic for your photography (or other) business.

SEO, Quality Content, and Search Terms
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 caf├ę, 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.

Achieving Internet Success In Your Photography Business
Because building significant traffic does take a long time, and loading content is a grueling process (I am thinking here of the process of uploading, keywording and captioning photos),
I think it is best looked at as part of an everyday routine. I try and do a little bit each day. It is that old slow and steady wins the race kind of thing...where one day, maybe three years from now, you stop and think to yourself "Man, I am so glad I did this!". I guess I'll let you know about that in another year or two!


Arek said...

Great post, at first I thought you were mad but now I know what you mean and I fully agree with you.
My strategy is to have a website and a blog. The blog is updated almost daily with photos and few sentences about them- that's for humans and indexing robots + keywords, tags, captions and links to my other site. Traffic I get to the blog comes mainly from FB, twitter and google-and yes the keywords people use are always different.
My other website is with photoshelter, and I SEOed it for melbourne child photographer, and google traffic I get there is mostly for that our related terms.
Arek and

John Lund said...


Thanks for you comment. Do you have any sense of whether being on Photoshelter is a real plus for you in terms of Internet visibility?



ZooMMER Travel Photos said...

You're so right, John.
And it all looks like a fair thing - if you work hard and have something to show or to say, then you win (in Google search too).
I'm also using Photoshelter like Arek and pretty satisfied with Internet visibility of my website, even though I don't yet have a vast photo archive in there.

Christian Beier said...

Yes, in the article is much truth. Good content attracts good links. That will turn to Google. For traffic you don't need consider SEO. This comes by the content naturally. Everything else is mostly dirty and the traffic not of long duration.

I also use a weblog and an additional photo archive to generate traffic. I also noticed that it is very difficult to generate much Google traffic with a pure Photo Archive (e.g. Photoshelter). A weblog works mostly better. In my case the user will come through a weblog post to the my photo archive.

stock photo said...

I love the topics you choose to write about, John. You post great "content." I agree with you to some extent but building one way back links is one part of SEO, so its tough to really seperate it and say don't focus on SEO when SEO at its core is based on links which you are building with great content. Building links with quality content is definitely the right way to go and over time like you said will raise you in the rankings. What i find sometimes happening at Cutcaster is that certain image details page will rank well for long tail keywords that I have a hard time understanding why the crawlers designated and defined that page with that long tail keyword and how i can go about reorganizing that page or the text on the page to make google see it the best way? I need to keep doing more tests but I am getting there.

I am wondering if you will see a completely new form of SEO based on the social graphic, likes and recommendations. So social media optimizers. Id love to hear your thoughts on how to optimize your images for social media sites esp facebook and the impending search battle that is brewing between facebook and google. Great post. John

John Lund said...

Stock Photo,

I have absolutely no idea about how to optimize my photos for social medai...though I think it is something really worth think about! I would guess that the first step is to utilize social media in a useful way (providing information and entertainment as opposed to frivolity and pointless commentary). My problem is time...and figuring out what my priorities should be! Arrgh!


Rohn Engh said...

stock photo said, "Id love to hear your thoughts on how to optimize your images for social media sites esp facebook and the impending search battle that is brewing between facebook and google...."

A good start is: