There’s no magic to improving your SEO. It takes constant work, but at the same time, we advocate a systematic approach with analytics to tell whether your efforts are worthwhile. You might find that your website traffic does not materially change even with improved SEO. That might be an indication that your target customers simply aren’t using search to find you.
Nevertheless, we remain incredibly bullish about the prospect of SEO to increase your business. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of areas that encompass an SEO strategy. But rather than trying to solve all the issues simultaneously, we like a measured approach. Fix your page titles in week 1, your gallery descriptions in week 2, etc.
Before you start optimizing your website for SEO, you may want to put some benchmarks in place to measure your campaign’s effectiveness. Options here can be simple, like doing searches to see where you rank today versus after you apply SEO strategies and tactics. Or they can be more elaborate, like employing Google Analytics to gauge your progress more analytically. We strongly advocate Google Analytics for increased fidelity and detail - see more in our Google Analytics tutorial.
Your “benchmark” is simply your starting point - your website's current state. You should establish your benchmarks before making any SEO changes. You can easily use your target keyword list to track your initial benchmark and subsequent progress over the following weeks and months. Perform searches and note where you appear in the results (page number and listing number on page). Make sure you're hiding one of Google’s newest features, “Show personal results,” which alters search results based on your prior behavior. You can do this by clicking the globe icon on a Google search results page.
When to Expect Results
SEO experts generally say that changes take three months to be fully embraced by the search engines. This often refers to the effects of off-page factors, which take longer to build and longer to kick in. For the on-page factors, you might see incremental changes in your listings within a few days or a week.
We wish we could answer this more definitively, but results vary wildly based on the individual and his or her specific approach.
If you are making a lot of changes upfront, check your rankings weekly to see if any impact has been made. Once you get through your initial changes, switch to measuring your rankings monthly or quarterly. You might find that your website's ranking bounces up and down, which is not necessarily unusual behavior nor is it necessarily a bad sign. There are a few possible explanations, and it probably boils down to the fact that search engines have the primary goal of returning the most relevant results to its searchers. So they might see your website and spend a period of time testing its relevance to their user set and the keyword terms they have tagged you for. If the engines find that users are spending more time on the links around you - or looking at your site and quickly moving on to other search results - they might decide you don't deserve the higher ranking they initially gave you.
Also, bear in mind that while you are making changes, the rest of the world is changing, too, and you might be getting trumped by new content at other sites that is finding greater stickiness with users.
There is no generic formula to tell you what quantifiable impact you should see from your SEO efforts. Too many variables go into the process of determining your rankings and there is too much change going on with search engine algorithms to enable you to set clear expectations.
Here are six metrics to track:
Total site visitors: found in Google Analytics' Audience Overview Report
Visits from organic search traffic: found in Google Analytics' Organic Search Traffic Report
Number of keywords driving organic search traffic: found in Google Analytics' Search Engine Optimization Report
Number of indexed pages: found by Googling “site:[your domain name]”
Number of indexed images: found by going to images.google.com and entering “site:[your domain name]”
Number of backlinks: found at majesticseo.com by typing your domain name into the query box and taking note of the number of backlinks and domains
Still, we recommend that you just keep an eye on all of your key metrics, and if they are moving in the right direction, you should feel some sense of victory. As you continue to refine your approach, you'll see what works and what doesn't.
If you don't have a measurement plan in place, please download our SEO Guide for Photographers for more guidance on measuring success. And for more information on Google Analytics, check out our tutorial.
Google Image indexing overall garners less attention than a text search, as it is a niche, but the efforts you make to optimize for the text search will have positive overlap on your image indexing as well. The most important factor you control is making sure that your images are surrounded with descriptive text (i.e. the gallery name and description, and image caption). The ALT attribute of an image is also important, and is populated for you by PhotoShelter; we use the image's caption / IPTC Description to communicate with the search engines behind the scenes regarding your image's content.
We optimize every image publicly listed on the PhotoShelter site to be technically compliant with Google Images, and we submit all of our public images to Google through our site map.
It’s important to understand that while more and more people are using Google Images to find photos, it still represents a very small percentage of traffic to photography websites. You can use Google Analytics to see the percentage of traffic coming from Google Images.
Optimizing for Other Search Engines
Our SEO recommendations are primarily targeted at Google because Google currently represents about 93 percent of all search traffic. For the photographer sites that we've studied, this percentage is even higher.
In this sense, we recommend that you focus your efforts first on optimizing for Google and then circle back and hit Yahoo, Bing, and some of the other engines. Hopefully your efforts for Google will have brought you results universally.
If you live in a region where an engine other than Google has significant penetration, then obviously you will want to adjust your efforts accordingly.