I’ll be honest—for the first 18 months I was in business, I couldn’t have given any less thought to my Google ranking.
I was getting work, so I figured, “Does my ranking really matter?”
I don’t think it was until I started really looking at the analytics on the back end of my Squarespace site that I realized how much opportunity was being lost because my ranking so far down that no one could find me on Google.
Oddly, I knew a lot of the rules for setting up my SEO (search engine optimization), but I wasn’t abiding by them. I wasn’t confident that they would work, given how many other photographers and designers there are out there; I think I was afraid they’d be a fruitless use of my time, and I was trying to make every moment count.
Then I hired my first intern, and I had him get a HubSpot certification in SEO, just so he could give me a checklist of items I needed to change on my website. Once he did, I discovered there were a handful of things I hadn’t known to do, and a lot I had no excuse for not doing.
This was just the kick I needed to set aside time to start building good habits, and the result over time has been astounding! While I used to rank 19th or lower for some of the searches I wanted to come up on the first page for, now I consistently rank #2.
Here are seven of the factors I believe were most impactful to this success!
1 - I picked the search terms I wanted to rank for.
As a photographer, it would be easy for me to succumb to the hope that I could rank highly for virtually any photographer search: Family photographer, engagement photographer, wedding photographer, commercial photographer…
Realistically, though, from the very beginning, the only projects that truly lit me up were engagements and commercial projects, like personal branding photos and food photography.
In order to attract more of what I wanted for work, I decided that I didn’t necessarily want to come up in search results for senior portraits, weddings, and all the personal types of photography—I wanted to come up for brand photography and exclusively digital work.
I wrote down a handful of terms I believed people would use as search keywords when looking for this type of help, and then I focused my efforts going forward on those terms.
2 - I updated my page descriptions.
When I say I “focused my efforts,” I mean that the vert first thing I did was update my page descriptions.
As previously noted, my website is hosted on Squarespace, and Squarespace makes it super easy for users to add and update page descriptions. (If you have a Squarespace site, you can do this by hovering over the page name on your dashboard and clicking on the gear icon that appears.) I actually update my page descriptions a couple times a year now.
Page descriptions provide that little excerpt of information that displays on Google when Google returns a particular page of your site in a set of search results. So for instance, my “About” page description is different from the page that contains my photography packages and pricing. If someone is looking for a Portsmouth brand photographer, my “Photography” page might show up and my “About” page might not.
Since the description sometimes displays in search results, I made my descriptions clean and easy to read, while also integrating the search terms I wanted to show up for. For example (I’m making this up on the spot):
“Social media photography and brand photography for creatives in the Portsmouth area, Alexis The Greek offers affordable options. Subscription photography available.”
I count 7 terms in there that could help me show up in the kinds of searches I want to rank for! And that’s just 2-3 lines of text. Doing this for every page on a website can make a big difference!
3 - I added alt information to all my images.
This is where my brain used to shut down every time I looked up SEO best practices online.
Alt information in layman’s term's is basically a description of what an image is being used for. It’s not the file name—it’s alternative information that can be used to describe the photo’s context.
This means that if your file name is something personal and unhelpful, like “Camping Trip 2001,” once you add alt information, Google can still determine whether the content will be relevant in a search result. “5 Safety Tips for First-Time Campers at Yellowstone” is much more descriptive alt information than “Camping Trip 2001.”
On Squarespace, you can add alt information by putting it into an image’s caption, and then selecting “Do not display caption” under the editing window that comes with every image, thus hiding the information from the public eye but not from Google.
On my website, I created a system for alt information on every page. My blog post images use one system, but the images on my “About” page use another. How long the image descriptions are, how “easy to read” they are, and what keywords they include change based on the location of the image.
You don’t have to get that detailed, but even going through every page of your site and adding alt information to just the top-most image on the page can be helpful!
4 - I watched the search terms new people were using to find me.
I didn’t even need any special third-party tools for this, although they are available if you’re not a Squarespace user.
In the “Analytics” tab of my Squarespace site, there’s a page called “Search Keywords.” In here, I can view all the search terms people used that actually helped them find my site—and they are sometimes surprising. Consistently, when people search for reviews on one of my mentor’s biggest online programs, my site shows up on the first page of results. I have never written a review of her program, but I do reference her occasionally on my site.
However, for the most part, these already-searched-terms give me insight into what kinds of blog posts I should write, tweaks I can make to my page descriptions, and variations on the phrasing people are using to search.
For instance, for the longest time, I wrote “subscription photography” into many of my page descriptions and alt tags. However, I learned that more people are searching for “photography subscription” than “subscription photography,” and now I use both.
5 - I wrote relevant, searchable content for my ideal client.
Blogging was always part of my marketing strategy game plan. From day one, I knew one of the easiest, fastest ways I could provide value to my ideal clients (as a natural educator and as an English major) was to blog.
But it took me a while to get the hang of it. There are a lot of little pieces to maintaining a blog that consistently markets your business, most of which seem obvious once they’re pointed out to you but at first might not seem so clear.
For example, as a photographer, it would be easy for me to want to blog after every shoot—to share the best images, and to highlight the client so they’d share the post on their social platforms.
However, this is not actually the way people think or the way blogs are most effective. Instead, I needed to write content that served my existing clients and attracted new ones at the same time.
This included writing posts that answered questions my clients asked me directly, as well as what non-clients were typing into search engines. “What to Wear for Your Brand Shoot” and “How to Look Candid and Relaxed on Camera” are two examples of these.
It also included writing posts that answered questions people didn’t realize they needed answers to—this made the content shareable. “5 Ways to Keep Your Social Channels Full When Work Is Slow” and “9 Photos Every Influencer Has in Her Photo Bank” are examples of these.
6 - I leveraged the power of Pinterest.
Pinterest is a super powerful tool, especially for anyone who is visual and doesn’t “get” Google.
There are many ways to leverage this platform, probably more than I even know to use. But just a handful of ways I used it were enough to help my ranking climb from 19 to 2 without any professional help, so they’re worth sharing!
Keyword research. Pinterest openly shares what the most popular searches are for any given category, and so many users don’t even realize it. When you run a search for, say, “photo shoot ideas,” along with the results, at the very top of the screen, are a series of other recommended search terms. These are in order from left to right of how common they are in search. This can provide blog post ideas, search term information for page descriptions, and more.
Generating backlinks. Google factors in something called “backlinks” when determining where your site will place in search results. Backlinks are links on other websites that link back to your website. They can range in quality—meaning, if a link to your graphic design website appears on some random clothing website, in the reviews under a particular product, that doesn’t count for much; but if a backlink to your site appears on a similar site that the same general audience regularly visits, it counts for more. Pinterest is a great space for generating backlinks! I pin every blog post I write, the moment it is published, to Pinterest.
Analytics. With a business profile, you can analyze which pins are generating the most interest each month. Since this is organic interest, you can make an educated guess as to which articles you’ve written are worth paying to promote—on Pinterest, Facebook, anywhere—in order to increase your reach at the best bang for your buck. It can also lend insight into what you should write more of, or how the seasons affect what people are searching for.
If you’re not already using Pinterest, do a little research and come up with a clear-cut strategy—it’s worth it!
7 - I stayed active in my community.
When you’re active in your community, people talk about you—and these days, that always leaves a digital footprint.
When you’re tagged in someone else’s Instagram or Facebook post, Google notices. When your website is linked because you’re a sponsor or speaker for an event, Google notices. When you live stream for 30 minutes and a dozen people stay tuned to the end—Google notices.
These things, just like updating your site regularly, tell Google that your business is alive and well, and worth sharing with others who are looking for the kind of help you can provide. And you guessed it—this impacts your search ranking!
It’s my belief that each of these steps supported the efforts I was making in the others—that no one part of this process was “the” key to my ranking changing so quickly from bottom of the second or third page to top of the first.
Once I gave this area of my business my focused attention, things started to change. After a while, the practices just became habit and I stopped checking my ranking—until one day, six or eight months later, I looked and, oh my goodness, all that work had clearly paid off!
Now I get work from Google as often as I get it from Instagram or referrals. I get work from out of state as much as I get local work. I think that despite my initial mindset, having a high Google ranking does impact my business for the better!
Was this helpful? If so, share the post on Facebook and spread the good word! There’s so much “bad” information out there, and so few SEO articles that are easy to read and understand. If this post made a difference for you, it could make a difference to someone else—spread a little light in the world!
Images in this post by Rebecca Lee Photography.
Hello! My name is Alexis.
Coffee lover, day dreamer, foodie, and creative. Currently working and living in New Hampshire, I’m an eclectic mix of forward-looking and completely old-fashioned.