Have you perfected the art of Googling? If you think you have, then you know that the skillful use of keywords, phrases, titles, quotation marks, and other text cues can guide your Web research through a search engine. By the same token, if you’re a wedding photographer who wants to drive traffic to your Website, you’ll want to use the same cues in reverse — and send your Website to the top of couples’ searches.
This process is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which itself has become something of a cottage industry in the world of Website design. (Ironically, according to industry analyst and blogger Danny Sullivan, the very first use of the phrase “Search Engine Optimization” occurred in 1997 in a spam message posted on Usenet.) And if you think it doesn’t make a difference if your Website pops up on page one or page ten, check out these statistics: According to Jupiter Research, 62 percent of search engine users click on results on the first page of search listings and 90 percent of users never go beyond the first three pages.
Improving your site’s SEO is by no means simple, but here are a few guidelines to keep in mind, plus links to more complete articles on the subject.
Name It Early and Often
You want your keywords — identifiers like “wedding photographer,” location information, and qualifiers like “journalistic” or “traditional” — to be prominently placed on your site. “Search engines will also check to see if the search keywords appear near the top of a Web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text,” states a guide to SEO at SearchEngineWatch.com. “They assume that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words right from the beginning.”
Frequency keyword use will also draw search-engine traffic, but be careful not to overuse words so heavily that you trigger “spam” filters within the search engines. “Search engines may also penalize pages or exclude them from the index, if they detect search engine ‘spamming,’ ” warns the SearchEngineWatch.com article. “An example is when a word is repeated hundreds of times on a page, to increase the frequency and propel the page higher in the listings.”
Join the Club
One way to rise through the search-engine ranks is to list your business on a portal Website; for wedding photographers, these include WedPlan.net, WeddingPhotoUSA.com , and OneWed.com . (There are also several location-based portals; you can find these with your own search-engine efforts using geographic keywords.)
Many Website design services are attempting to incorporate SEO methods into the templates they provide to their customers. For example, the Website-service provider LiveBooks utilizes tools called “Enhanced Auto-Generated HTML,” “HTML Search Landing Page,” and “Embedded Metadata Upload” to make their customers’ sites search-engine friendly.
Hire a Specialist
If you’re willing to seriously invest in your site’s SEO, you can work with a Search Engine Optimizer (also referred to as an SEO) to write your copy, design your site’s architecture, or otherwise advise you on the process — but be wary of charlatan businesses in this realm. The pros and cons are discussed in an insightful article from Google itself. “A few unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to unfairly manipulate search engine results,” the article states, adding that potential customers should use common-sense skepticism when dealing with the claims and promises of SEO consultants.
If you would rather go it alone, and you want a clearer understanding of what search engines are and how they can best be optimized, check out this series of articles on SearchEngineWatch.com, appropriately called “Search Engine Marketing 101.”