How to Search-Engine Optimize (SEO) a Blog Post with Justen Hong
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I review a ton of photography websites and see a lot of failed attempts to search-engine optimize blog posts. I see SEO techniques from 10 years ago. In this article, I uncover bad SEO trends and provide guidelines for optimizing a blog post. My wedding example can be applied to any genre.
Post Title Tags
One of the most important onsite SEO factors is still the post title tag. Make it an attention grabber. Stop writing titles like “Smith Wedding | Chicago Wedding Photographer.” Not only is this boring and not attention grabbing, it tells search engines that the page is optimized for “Chicago Wedding Photographer,” and if all your blog posts are similarly named, Google doesn’t know which of your pages to rank for “Chicago Wedding Photographer.” This is called keyword cannibalization. It means too many pages are optimized for the exact same search term. It makes a site look like spam, which has a negative effect on your rankings.
What should you be naming your blog post? Something more specific and eye-catching/clickable. If you saw two blog posts come up in search results and one was named “Smith Chicago Wedding Photography” and the other was “Smith’s Stunning Wedding at Beautifully Decorated Chicago Ritz-Carlton” or “One of the Most Beautiful Outdoor Weddings We’ve Every Photographed,” which one would you click? In years past, I would have made sure the word photography or photographers was in the title, but Google already knows what your site is about. It’s not necessary on every post. What’s most important nowadays is that the post title is attention grabbing.
Note: Keep your title under 60 characters. A plugin like Yoast SEO tells you when your title gets too long.
Your meta description should be even more descriptive. Something like this would be appropriate: “Check out the stunning, beautifully decorated Smith wedding we had the honor of photographing at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Chicago.” Or: “Jane & Jack Smith’s outdoor wedding in downtown Chicago was one of the most beautiful weddings we’ve ever photographed. View photos from this event.” See how I used some keywords without making the description read as spammy?
Note: Keep your description under 160 characters.
Don’t just add photos. Write about the day, the event locations, the other vendors, something funny that happened that day. Something. Blog posts with no copy come off as spammy. Here is where finding your brand voice is important. You should have a consistent tone and be able to write articulately about the day. Even if you’re not the greatest writer, as a business owner, it is a skill you must develop. Improve it with practice. If you have trouble, find help. Ask a friend or family member to proofread what you write. Keep in mind that typos and poorly written, thin content can negatively affect your site’s rankings.
I also see photographers add the bride and groom’s name, wedding date, locations, vendors, etc. in a list form. This is good, but you should also write actual body copy. Also, if you do this list, add links to the list. Link to the churches, hotels, the florist, DJ and other vendors. Google likes to see outbound links. It is a sign of a quality site. Don’t be afraid to ask the other vendors to link to you also. This is one of the easiest link-building strategies. Inbound links and content are the highest, most important ranking factor. Build relationships with the other vendors. Let them use you photos and ask them to link to you.
Keep in mind that Google is also looking for related words and terms in your body copy, words like bride, groom, ceremony, reception and bridal party.
A 2016 study showed that pages with at least one image rank better than those without. Pages with more than one had no effect.
Naming Your Images
What you name your photos can help a little with rankings. I would name my photos something like “smith-ritz-2017-wedding1.jpg,” “smith-ritz-2017-wedding2.jpg” or “smith-ritz-2017-wedding3.jpg.” If you have time, be more specific: “smith-wedding-first-kiss.jpg,” “smith-wedding-outside-church.jpg” or “smith-bridal-party.jpg.”
Image Alt Tags
It’s important to add alt tags to every single image. You can use your keywords, but it’s more important that the alt tag describes the actual photo. Make every alt tag unique to the image.
Image File Size
Make sure your images are crystal clear and, for search engines, the smallest size possible. File size is extremely important, especially on photography sites, because they affect load time. The load time of a site has become more important with every Google algorithm update. To check the load time of your website, there are free services like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, Pingdom Website Speed Test and Varvy SEO Tool. Ideally, you want a load time of under three seconds.
Services and plugins that can help with compression include tinyjpg.com and WordPress’s WP Smush Pro plugin. Photoshop’s Save for Web & Devices gives me the best control. So if you are using Lightroom to output your blog images, I would still use Photoshop to get the files sizes down since it’s better with compression than Lightroom.
People often ask me why their images look crystal clear on one monitor and blurry on another. The most common cause for this is a Retina screen. Retinas have a higher resolution, so a standard-size image will look a little blurry on them. Optimizing images for Retina screens is an entire article in itself, but I found the easiest solution is to make the images a little larger. For instance, if my blog is 1,000 pixels wide, I make my images 1,500 pixels wide. This makes them look sharper on a Retina, but it does increase the load time. It’s all about finding the right balance of quality and speed.
Load times are decreased by properly optimized images, a fast-loading site, a quality hosting company, a content delivery network (CDN) and lazy load.
Blog Post Categories
Properly organizing your blog provides a better user experience, which can help with rankings. WordPress allows you to set up blog post categories. These can help users find what they are looking for. If you shoot weddings, families and seniors, a bride may want to just go through and look at your wedding blog post. Allow her to click “View Wedding Post” to improve the usability and experience. Just don’t have too many categories, which can be overwhelming.
Blogs allow you to type in tags to identity posts. Don’t go crazy with keywords. Limit them to specific phrases that directly relate to the post.
Call to Action
At the end of each blog post, I like to add a call to action, or a lure, to get users to dig deeper into my site. I’ll end a wedding post with something like “See more photos in our wedding gallery, and click here to learn more about our wedding photography pricing.” This adds internal links (another ranking factor), and also gets users to visit more pages on your website. When a user visits more pages, it improves your click-through rate and can improve your rankings.
Here’s a great example. A while back I did a blog post about photography logos and shared it with a large group of photographers. I then used Google Analytics Real Time Reports and watched the traffic come in. I was getting a ton of traffic to that post, but visitors were leaving directly from that page. Halfway through monitoring, I went in and added a link at the bottom of my post that read, “View more photography logos here.” This directed users to other photography logo blog posts. Instantly, my site was getting multiple click-throughs.
I have found that adding a “Related Posts” section at the end of posts increases click-through rates. This feeds similar blog posts into the footer of the page. This is yet another way to entice users to visit more pages on your site. For photography websites, I always use a featured image, which increases the likelihood of it getting clicked.