This post is about setting objectives, the first step in any SEO process (I can hear the groans!).
“Setting objectives” is hardly sexy, but absolutely critical for photographers who are serious about attracting customers online.
This post addresses three photography website scenarios and how different objectives for each set realistic, attainable goals. Before diving in, though, lets quickly run through the typical steps of the SEO process.
Once objectives are set, the process flows as follows:
- An SEO audit, which identifies issues on a website that make it difficult for search engines to index it accurately, or that may be the cause for search penalties
- Keyword research, which identifies the terminology people use to find our wares, competition for search terms, and ultimately your best keyword opportunities
- Optimization, when a website’s organization, content and code is optimized. This also addresses social profiles
- Content creation and link-building. SEO involves both on-site and off-site activities. Content creates the potential for visibility; what people do with content drives it
- Measurement – optimization efforts are only as good as our ability to measure results
I’ll cover each of these in the next few days in separate blog posts. Lets move on now to step one of SEO as process, setting objectives.
The Art of Setting Objectives
Depending upon business size, SEO objectives typically target the three general stages of the customer journey: early stage, or “Discover” (brand visibility), mid stage, or “Consider” (customer engagement), and late stage, or “Decide” (high conversion web traffic).
Photographers should use the customer journey to contextualize SEO objectives. Doing so allows us to realistically assess keyword potential against our current SEO strengths and weaknesses. SEO holds huge potential for photographers, but chasing unattainable keywords wastes time and leads to frustration when we miss the mark.
“Photographers should use the customer journey to contextualize SEO objectives.” (tweet this)
So what are realistic goals for you? To help you with this part of the process, lets consider three distinct SEO scenarios.
Scenario 1: Mature Domain, Purchase Intent Optimization
The long-tail of search drives nearly 70% of all search traffic. Contrast this to the 30% of traffic delivered by head terms.
Individual terms in the smaller group receive significant amounts of traffic, but are more general by nature (meaning they do not reflect specific search intent) and are highly competitive. Long-tail terms, on the other hand, collectively capture the majority of demand for information via the web.
They’re three or more words in length, indicate search intent, and for photographers, offer greater value thanks to lower competition and better-qualified traffic (for a more extensive definition, read this, or view this HitTail infographic).
Now, imagine a landscape photographer who conducts advanced workshops in the Columbia River Gorge (I described this scenario previously here). She’s wants to promote her workshops organically, is new to SEO but also eager, and settles in for a little keyword research.
She quickly identifies her number one target term as “landscape photography”. She conducts a few web searches, in addition to using Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool, and finds relevant results. Boom, done!
But hang on, this is a head term. It’s high in search frequency, and highly competitive. In SERPs, it delivers huge, authoritative websites. In addition, it’s general and does not reflect clear search intent. It’s an early-stage term, but not relevant enough to be useful.
While the person searching for an advanced workshop might begin with a general term (e.g. “landscape workshops”), he’ll evolve to more detailed search terms (enter the long-tail) while zeroing in on his true needs (this is the customer journey in action!). Eventually, he might try “advanced photo workshop oregon”.
For the photographer offering the Gorge workshops, this long-tail, mid to late stage search term is highly relevant, shows purchase intent, and is entirely possible to rank for.
Scenario 2: Non-Optimized, Mature Domain and Website
Next, imagine a photographer who returns home to the Pacific Northwest with keepers of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. He publishes these to a new collection called Desert Southwest on his e-commerce-enabled site website, where the majority of his work and content displays locales of the Pacific Northwest.
This photographer is excited about these new images, knows he needs to branch out from the PNW to increase print sales, and that the Desert Southwest images will sell. He wants to optimize for relevant search terms and begins to plan for content to pull in relevant traffic.
There’s a problem here, though: the vast majority of the site’s content relates to the PNW.
The photographer’s tagline, artist statement, social profiles, and majority of images use PNW-related terms and place names. Despite no previous effort to optimize the site, web analytics shows that traffic trickles in for PNW-related terms. Search engines already thinks the site is relevant to these terms.
With relatively little content that uses ‘desert southwest’ terms, the obvious opportunity is optimization for PNW-related terms. Secondarily, targeting high-value tactics to drive traffic for his desert images — guest posts on highly relevant blogs or articles in online photography publications — would help jump start goals for the new images.
However, by focusing on PNW terms first, he establishes an SEO process with a clear path to an important business objective (maximizing income from PNW images). By establishing a process around this high-value opportunity, he creates a better position for traffic from other terms in the future.
Scenario 3 — New Photographer, New Domain and Website
Google favors mature sites in a number of ways. Site age is as a minor rank factor, but older site also tend to have more content, inbound links, and other characteristics that help them rank better than newer sites.
Still, by setting smart objectives, adhering to the SEO process outlined above, and pursuing results diligently, achieving search visibility with a new site is entirely possible.
To do so, use relevant but low volume, low to mid-competition terms. Accept that traffic will build slowly (but surely).
In addition, capitalize on the fact that this is a new site by ensuring the site’s architecture supports SEO objectives (the post on Site Optimization will cover this in greater detail).
Since this photographer’s entire online presence is nascent, keyword research will be particularly important. Becoming familiar (read: fluent) with social media best practices will be important, as well (this is true for any photographer), since our social networks are a critical component to developing search rank.
The photographer who commits to the process of SEO can gain visibility in search. It is a process, though, which means the following:
- SEO is not a one-and-done endeavor, it’s an iterative cycle of research, implement, measure and refine.
- There is a sequence to the steps you follow to create an optimized web presence.
- SEO impacts more than your website; true optimization focuses on your online presence.
- Optimizing your website, blog, content, social profiles, and online communications creates search visibility. Consider all of this when you optimize, not just your website.
“The photographer who commits to the process of SEO can gain visibility in search.” (tweet this)
What about your web presence? Have you tried to optimize in the past and run into walls? Did you set appropriate objectives? Is there an scenario you’ve addressed that does not fit within those described by this post?
- What Photography SEO and Termites Share In Common (Hint: Intentional Structure)
- Don Draper, Photography SEO, And Making People Believe
- SEO for Selling Photography Products
- A Serious Photographer’s Secret Formula for Awesome SEO: Introduction
- SEO = Solving Problems