Part 1 – WordPress Website Setup
Updated: May 4th, 2020.
SEO has been a key part of my marketing plan for the past eight years, with well over half of my clients finding me on Google. It’s a subject that can be super overwhelming at first, but I hope these posts will walk you through the process and explain my current approach.
This post will help you get your website properly setup in order to start your SEO quest with a solid technical base. In a few days I’ll be posting the follow up to this article, how to create the content you need to get real SEO results.
What is SEO and how can it benefit us as photographers?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines.
There are a lot of SEO guides, tutorials, blogs, podcasts, and videos out there.. but very few are targeted towards the photography market, and even fewer on the niche of wedding photography.
The tips I’d read for years were all about how to optimize a single wedding blog post, but I don’t think that’s where the results will be found and I’ll show you why.
This post will give you a solid roadmap to grow your organic search results and build your business by using the power of the internet.
Having a proper SEO game plan can help you bring in more wedding + portrait clients and all it takes is a bit of your time. I’ll try to keep these tips short and sweet, but feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments or find me on social media.
Making Google Happy
These are things you need to do when you setup your website to fit Google’s best practices. Having your site setup well will help raise you above the competition that hasn’t gone to the trouble, but isn’t a magic bullet. This guide is going to concentrate on WordPress based websites, but will have useful information for Squarespace and other web platforms.
Here is a quick to do list:
- Download the Yoast WordPress Plugin. Let it be your guide. It is as simple as activating, filling out your descriptions and social media information, and then making the light turn green for individual posts and pages.
- Sign up for Google Search Console, formerly called Webmaster Tools. It is where you can see your search traffic, inbound links, any search crawl errors, and much more information related to SEO.
- Submit a Sitemap. Yoast will create a sitemap index automatically, copy that link into Search Console
- Change your Permalink structure. Many sites come setup with the plain link structure shown below, this is bad for both SEO and users viewing your site.
- Create a Tag & Category plan. Don’t let them overlap. I use Categories to designate between wedding and portrait shoots, while Tags can describe the location or style. This makes sure that there isn’t any duplicate content(example: tagging a post “wedding” that is already categorized as “wedding”).
Also – You’ll probably want to use Yoast’s search appearance tab to hide tag pages from the google index. (under taxonomies)
- Install Google Analytics tracking code into your theme. I use Flothemes for my wordpress theme and they have a box to insert this code into my entire site. If your theme doesn’t have this feature, there are wordpress plugins available to accomplish the same.
- Enable Breadcrumbs. This is optional, but I believe that it helps for both SEO & the user experience. Breadcrumbs show the path from your homepage to the current page, allowing the viewer to quickly navigate your site or explore related content. They also change how google shows your pages in search results. The Yoast plugin creates breadcrumbs, you just need to insert a small line of code into your theme.
As photographers, one of our largest battles will be with managing multiple images on a website while keeping website load speed to a minimum. Here are a few tips.
- Export at the correct pixel size, resolution doesn’t matter here.
- Use Short Pixel. This program compresses the image to the smallest possible file size, without harming the visible photo quality. It is also an easy way to quickly resize images for different uses. I use this for every image on my website. My recommended settings are “Glossy”. Be sure to test images to make sure you’re okay with the quality. The file size results are incredible, typically a third of the size of competitors like JPEGmini.
You can run this on your entire media library with their wordpress plugin. If you’re on Squarespace, you can use their web tool to do bulk folders of images.
- Fill in the Alt Text for your featured image and a couple other photos from the post.I get a lot of traffic specifically from google image search that is directly from this text. Use a sentence to describe the image and try to make it different for every photo. I do want to clarify, don’t spend too much time here. Just take a few minutes per post.
- Or use this plugin, if you’re lazy. It is called SEO Optimized Images and it grabs your filename to fill in any missing alt text on your website.
Google likes fast websites. Viewers like fast websites. Here are some more tricks:
Run your site through Pingdom Speed Test. This will tell you how long it takes for your webpage to load, as well as showing you which files are slowing down the process. Take a look at the waterfall view to see problem files, the performance grade to see tips on improving your performance, and the history to see if your site is getting faster or slower over time.
Check your site with Google Page Speed Insights. As a photographer, it will probably be impossible to get 100/100 score due to the amount of images on our pages, but scores in the 70’s should be attainable. The tools below should help raise your score. If you struggle with this, Flothemes just started offering a speed enhancement service.
Spend a few more bucks on hosting. I use Cloudways for my hosting, it is blazing fast, dependable, and optimized for wordpress websites. Site Ground is another worthwhile option. Just stay away from the cheap shared server hosting that will give you a slow loading site and lots of outages.
Server Setup. I installed an SSL certificate on my entire website (https) after reading that google slightly favors secure sites. It can also help with speed if you’re able to use SPDY/http2 push.
A cache plugin. I recommend a paid plugin called WP Rocket for WPengine and all other hosts. If you need a free plugin, W3 total cache does a good job. These will greatly improve the performance of your site, but can easily break your code leaving you with an unusable mess. Be careful, back up often, and test thoroughly.
Overall, you’ll want to cover these objectives: minify your js and css, enable GZIP compression, remove query strings, set cache times for files (can be done manually with .htaccess file or using plugin above), and utilize newer features like prefetch and preload. WP Rocket handles all of these very well.
404 to 301. If you’ve ever deleted old posts (which you should do!) and are too lazy to manually add 301 redirects, this plugin is for you. It detects a 404 response on a broken page and sends the user to your homepage instead. This isn’t the most perfect way to do things, you should be sending people to relevant content, but it’s better than nothing.
I no longer recommend the 404 to 301 plugin.Google is thought to see too many 301’s to your homepage as a bad indicator. If you want to delete a post, leave one image and then link back to your homepage. This will keep you from getting soft 404 response from google, and re-route visitors and link juice to your homepage.
These basics are a great base to now start the real work of SEO. Stay tuned for Part II on Creating Content, which I’ll be releasing in the next few days.
If you’re interested in more in-depth tutorials on SEO for photographers, check out my course!