Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a broad topic, and I am no expert. There are some who make careers out of SEO, who obsess over it and keep up to date on the latest in search engine trends and technologies. I am not one of these people. In creating the TTG web engines, however, I have done my research and have attempted to apply basic SEO principles to my designs.
Of course, there is nothing automatic about SEO. The Turning Gate puts the tools into your hands to optimize your galleries, but will not do it for you. As with photography itself, it’s not enough simply to have the tools; you must know how to use them.
In applying SEO to photographic websites, it is important to first understand that search engines rummage through text, not images. Google’s image search does not search images, but searches the text associated with images. Therefore, in the world of search engines, your images are only as good as the words you attach to them, and the words you surround them with.
In this article, I will address everything you can do to help your pages help you.
Photography websites are all about the images, and when search engines look at images, they're really looking at file names. Therefore, your SEO begins offline with your file naming! In most cases, the camera’s default filenames will be insufficient for our purposes; DO NOT post images to your gallery named _MG_0001.jpg. You may as well shoot yourself in the foot.
In Lightroom’s Library, give your files meaningful, descriptive names. This will help search engines to identify your images, and they will enjoy better placement. Also, for your own good, be sure to adhere to good file name convention – check out our article on File Name Convention.
Ignore my words at your own peril. Photo hell is chock full of poorly named image files. As a photographic professional, do you really want your images to go there?
With your files named in an intelligent fashion, take them to Lightroom’s Web module.
These days, there are loads of reasons not to choose a Flash gallery. iPhones, iPads and Android devices running Android OS 4.1 or newer simply do not support Flash. Flash isn't even on its way out anymore; it's already left the building. It's gone. Done. Finished. But what's that got to do with SEO?
Search engines cannot see information that's embedded in Flash components. So whatever images or text you've running through Flash, aren't doing you a lick of good for SEO. They may as well not exist.
So Flash may be flashy, but HTML pages and image galleries enjoy distinct advantages over their Flash counterparts. Not only can they be viewed on a larger array of mobile devices, but they also offer far better search engine optimization.
If you do choose to use Flash galleries to present your images, you can increase your SEO opportunities by embedding your Flash content into TTG CE3 Stage, which creates an HTML container for Flash content with many of the benefits described below.
Page title is oft overlooked, but immensely important to SEO. Do not neglect to provide titles for your pages/galleries; you might not see it, but Google does. In TTG web engines, we accomplish this in the Site Info control pane:
The text you enter here is arguably the most important single piece of text on your entire page, and will be filled in as the content of the page's HTML
For more information on how CE3 handles your page title, see this.
In olden times, meta tags were of the utmost importance to search engine listing. Nowadays, that is not so much the case. I have included meta tags primarily as a “feel good” feature to indulge those grown adults who still can’t sleep at night without their teddy bears. Speaking true, I must tell you that meta tags are almost entirely useless. Search engines mostly don’t look at them, and don’t factor them into search results at all.
Note that I said search engines mostly don’t look at them. The one meta tag search engines do see is the description. This is sometimes used as excerpted text in search results. Of course, if your page lacks a meta description, search engines will typically display an excerpt of your page content, which may end up being more relevant to the page at hand.
Feel free to fill in your name or name of business as author, as it never hurts to put your name on your gallery.
And you can pretty well ignore the keywords; meta keywords are dead, and have been dead for a very long time. Google’s official blog states: “…we generally ignore the contents of the 'keywords' meta tag.” Meta keywords persist on the Internet only as a type of undead, and should be shot in the head. Seriously people, put them to rest and let them be dead. Zombies suck.
In the end, you will suffer not a bit by leaving your meta tags empty. On the other hand, every little edge you can get is to your advantage, so why not take advantage?
The identity plate itself has absolutely nothing to do with search engine optimization. But just as one might use an ice pick not as an ice pick, but as a weapon — and just as Alex J. Murphy was reborn as Robocop — I have leveraged the identity plate for SEO.
HTML headings are used to designate snippets of text in a hierarchy of importance within the page. The most important text is tagged <h1>, this tag usually being reserved for the title of the page content. In CE3 pages and galleries, the <h1> tag is hidden behind the identity plate using CSS and is filled in from the Alt Text for Identity Plate field; the identity plate is also hyperlinked to your Home page. These measures establish your identity plate not only as your visual identity, but as a marker of page identity within your source code, seen by search engines. In SEO, if the <title> element is a hard left hook, <h1> is the follow-up right uppercut.
So be sure to fill in the Alt Text for Identity Plate field!
If you should opt not to use the identity plate, but use the text-based masthead instead, you shall reap similar benefits. So keep the masthead enabled either way, because it is in the best interest of SEO — and of knocking your opponents flat out, and of defeating ED-209 — to keep it enabled, and to reinforce it with powerful, relevant text.
Search engines see hyperlinks. Navigation menus are the most important hyperlinks on your site. Therefore, search engines see navigation menus.
Like everything else, it is important that your menu items be descriptive and informative. A bad menu looks like this:
Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3 | About | Contact
While a better, more descriptive, more informative menu might be:
Portraiture | Still Life | Aerial Photography | About Matthew Campagna | Contact
Search engines aside, it’s just good practice to give your visitors a good idea of where they might end up when they start clicking on your links. Descriptive menus are better for everyone, search engines included.
The footer provides you yet another opportunity to place keywords into your page. I wouldn’t go overboard in the footer, and would probably try to keep it consistent from page-to-page, and relevant to the larger site, rather than the individual gallery. For example, a good footer might include your name and location, and reference the fact that your website contains photographs.
The content area of the page provides you an excellent opportunity to riddle your gallery with keywords in context. First, let us review what we know:
Just because meta keywords are dead, does not mean that keywords are not important. Instead of looking for keywords in meta tags, Google and other search engines intelligently identify keywords within your page content. Writing intelligent, grammatically correct and strategically formed paragraphs can help your pages and your images earn better search engine placement. Let’s break it down.
I’ve already told you that HTML heading tags help to identify text as important. In the block, use Markdown syntax to style headings, providing your gallery with a title. Every time you use a heading, that's one more opportunity to tell the search engine, “Hey, this here is important stuff!” Again, use titles that are descriptive and informative.
Let's say I'm posting a gallery of images from Venice, Italy. An appropriate title for the gallery might be:
Photographs from Venice, Italy (Venezia, Italia)
In this title, the words “photographs”, “Venice”, “Venezia”, “Italy” and “Italia” all become important keywords. You might then designate additional keywords by subtitling your gallery with some of the landmarks you have photographed:
Piazza San Marco, Basilica di San Marco, Ponte di Rialto, Campanile …
As Uncle Ben once told Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Know when to reign yourself in, and please don’t use keywords that are not represented by images in your gallery. If you didn’t photograph the Campanile, for example, don’t list it in your content.
In writing descriptive paragraphs, keep your keywords in mind. Write grammatically, but reiterate your keywords where possible, as this will help to reinforce their importance for the search engines. You might also refer to yourself in the third-person, as search engines will not recognize “I” as you. Use your name. An effective descriptive paragraph for SEO might read:
Photos from Matthew Campagna’s trip to Venice, Italy. Matthew visited many famous landmarks, including the Basilica San Marco and the Campanile. The Piazza San Marco was full of pigeons, making for some fantastic photographs of tourists feeding the birds. Venezia’s picturesque architecture and beautiful canals made for great photography.
Take note of my use of keywords in this paragraph: photos, photographs, photography, Matthew Campagna, Matthew, Venice, Italy, Venezia, landmarks, Basilica di San Marco, Campanile, Piazza San Marco, pigeons, birds, tourists, architecture, canals.
That’s one loaded paragraph! But it’s a paragraph, not a list, and that’s important. Like Santa Claus, Google knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake! If Google thinks you are flagrantly stringing keywords together in an attempt to flaunt the system and cheat your rankings, it will actually punish you, giving your site lesser placement or blacklisting it from search results altogether.
The Grid is the area in your gallery which is primarily dedicated to your images. Nonetheless, SEO opportunities abound. Your options here will largely depend upon which web engine in particular you are using, but here are some core elements you are likely to find in CE3 engines.
In our thumbnail grid, we can put our images' metadata to good use by displaying titles on our thumbnails:
Putting titles on thumbnails images helps to litter our gallery with relevant keywords, and also keeps those keywords in close proximity to their respective images, which helps us to take advantage of physical/structural context.
We can enable metadata display in the Image Info control pane, but that's not all we can do there. Let's take a look:
Large Image Caption / <img alt= may be the single most important SEO component available to us in the grid, as this fills in the alt attribute for our images. And when it comes to images, it's the file name and alt attribute which count the most toward SEO. The Title and/or IPTC fields make excellent choices here.
The Large Image Heading / <img title= is of lesser importance, but can still be helpful. And the two Metadata outlets let you put two lines of info onto your thumbnail grid, as in the screen capture above.
Enabling CE3's PHP-based features comes with a handful of helpful side-effects. You can enable the features pretty easily, by turning on either or both of the following items, both located in the Site Info pane:
The big reason to do this is that this allows the gallery to discern and include a canonical URL in its pages. This allows pages with duplicate content – such as your mobile gallery – to point back on the main page for that content, so that Google will not penalize your site for having that duplicate content. Canonical URLs also serve to tie your site together just a little more tightly by setting up a system of cross-referencing.
Enabling the Social Networking features in particular will also add Open Graph information to your pages, which helps social networks to identify your pages, but which may also have some wider bearing on SEO now or in the future. It certainly doesn't hurt, and it's one more instance of your titles and descriptions being used to identify your page content.
Google isn't the only search engine, but it's still the most popular. And there's no better way to tell Google you're out there than to get all up in its face and tell it you're out there.
“How do we do that?!” you ask. And I'm glad you asked.
For starters, sign up for Google Analytics and then tie the service into your CE3 site:
Or take things further and set your domain up with Google Apps. There's a free version, so it's … you know … free. A part of the setup process will be to verify your domain with Google, which helps to ensure that Google knows you exist.
And for extra credit, you can generate a Sitemap! (about site maps)
You can often find online utilities to automate this process for you, like this one.