2019 is right around the corner and SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. We’ve seen massive algorithm updates and turbulence in the rankings across all corners of the internet. I wanted to expand on how these recent updates affect photographers. Let’s look at the recent changes, diagnose what they’re really affecting, and make better strategies to improve our rankings for the new year. To join the discussion, check out my Facebook Group.
Table of Contents
- Mobile First
- Machine Learning + Natural Language Processing
- User Intent
- User Engagement Metrics
- Links are Less Valuable
- Technical Is Becoming Even More Important
One of the biggest changes Google has made going into 2019 is Mobile First Indexing. By now, almost all websites have transitioned to Mobile First. Meaning that google is crawling your site using a smartphone instead of desktop computer.
What does Mobile First Indexing mean for photographers?
First, you need to make sure that the mobile version of your site isn’t hiding important text. Some mobile themes or responsive designs hide copy or have different menu structures in an attempt to simplify the experience. Since Google is crawling mobile now, they’re only indexing and ranking pages based on your mobile website.
Second, your site needs to be mobile friendly. This isn’t directly related to mobile first, but is massively important as mobile traffic takes over. If your pages don’t pass this test, you’ll likely see massive decreases in mobile rankings. There are early signs that mobile friendliness can also affect desktop search results.
Machine Learning + Natural Language Processing
Since the early days of SEO, people have concentrated on ranking a specific keyword. It was an easy process. You created a page based around that keyword: using it in the title and URL, hitting a certain amount of repetitions throughout the body text, sometimes even stuffing it into the alt-text of the images.
Enter Natural Language Processing and Semantic Search. Google is using machine learning to analyze the meaning of the individual words. Then taking it further, to the overall meaning of the sentences, pages, and website.
What does that mean for wedding photographers?
Say goodbye to keyword stuffing and creating content to satisfy a google bot. We can now look at the massive amounts of information Google is telling us in the search results pages and use that info to create content that answers searchers queries in the most complete way. Doing this will create content that has the viewer’s experience in mind rather than hitting a keyword density percentage from the year 2000.
You can read a more in depth article about the recent algorithm changes and how they were likely a change made to how Google uses Natural Language Processing here: Algorithm Analysis in the Age of Embeddings.
As mentioned above, Google’s top objective is to make sure they’re serving results that will best answer the query made by the searcher. One key aspect of their quest is using Natural Language Processing to extract user intent from the search term.
Once they have user intent, they can decide which results will best solve that intent.
The four main types of search intent:
Informational – The searcher simply wants to know the answer to a question or learn more about a topic.
Navigational – The searcher is looking for a specific website or brand.
Transactional – The searcher is ready to make a purchase and just needs to find the store or product.
Commercial – Similar to Transactional, but this searcher needs more information to make their decision. This is typically the largest percentage of intent behind traffic that converts well for photographers. The searcher knows they want photography services, but isn’t entirely sure which photographer they want to book.
Google wants to see that the pages they’re serving are solving the user’s search intent. Pages that do this well will filter up in the rankings as poor performing pages fall. We’ll talk more about this in the next section on User Engagement Metrics.
User Engagement Metrics
The goal here is to improve the Click-through-rates to your pages by creating titles and meta descriptions that are enticing in the search results. This is a mix between creating content that will solve the searchers’ intent as mentioned above and using copywriting skills to grab the searchers’ attention.
Once the searcher is on your site, you want to increase their dwell time. This is by making sure they’re interested in your content, they want to continue reading, and there is enough content to keep them on the page for more than a few seconds.
Google has many patents related to user engagement. They likely keep track of CTR, dwell time, and how long users watch video that is embedded in your page. Likewise, they can demote your pages’ rankings if they see people “pogo” back to the search results page quickly after clicking onto your site.
What does this mean for 2019?
Create useful content that is accurate and covers the subject deeply. Don’t forget to quickly answer the query near the top of the page before diving deeper to give more background information.
Links are Less Valuable
A huge change going into 2019 is the decreasing value of backlinks. The current theory is not that Google is becoming better at ignoring spam links, but that they look at it from the opposite perspective. Google only gives value to a small percentage of links on the internet. These are links that are topical, drive traffic, and come from authoritative sites. An example of an authoritative site would be New York Times or Wikipedia. This authority is then passed to sites linked to from NYT, since they don’t link to a source that isn’t credible. Those sites are then seen as authoritative, though less than the primary source. The tactic for 2019 should be to find opportunities to build a small number of these authoritative links. Look for sites that have received recognition from major national media or are primary sources for information cited on Wikipedia.
Technical Is Becoming Even More Important
SEO is quickly becoming more technical, but there are easy wins for photographers.
Make sure that your images are well optimized by using a compression tool to minimize file size without negatively affecting image quality. Consider prioritizing fewer large images over a slider of many images.
Watch out for 404 errors in Search console. If these pages had traffic or backlinks, it might be best to redirect to a similar page. Keep in mind when we talked about User Intent above. If you redirect a page about sports photography to a page about wedding photography, it isn’t likely going to be relevant information to the user. Google can tell when the links are to a different topical cluster and will likely disregard them. The same goes for redirecting to the home page.
Most of the technical issues seen on photography websites have to do with page loading times, internal site architecture, or improper redirects. There are also the extremely simple things, like title tags and meta descriptions or simply fixing broken links (both internal and outbound).
If you’ve ran your site through a Lighthouse Audit recently, you’ll see that Accessibility is one of the main factors Google wanted webmasters to be testing and improving. With roughly 20% of web users having a disability, it’s important to make your website experience as accessible as possible.
The typical issues I see on photographers’ sites are:
- Lack of contrast between background and text
- Too small of text
- Alt-tags that are stuffed with SEO keywords
- Not having unique page titles
- Not labeling form fields.
Fixing these issues on your site is going to help your SEO and make a better web experience for people with disabilities.
There is a great chance that the recent algorithm updates were also quality based, specifically the August 1st update.
The simplest analogy of overall site quality is that every page on your site is either seen as high quality or low quality. If you have 75 low quality pages and 25 high quality pages, to even out that ratio you have two options. Either create 50 high quality pages or delete 50 low quality pages.
If you think of this overall quality when performing your regular content audits, you’ll realize the importance of either deleting poor performing content or hiding it from search engines with a noindex tag. This is one of the most beneficial tactics I’ve used in the past year and it seems to be growing in importance going into 2019.
If you’re interested in my guide to performing a full SEO audit, click here.
I’ve created a tool that imports data from many sources (like google analytics, a site crawl, and SEO tools) and quickly organizes it so you can easily make these decisions.
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