Recently, the PFRE community came together for a fundraiser event to raise money to support all those front-line workers who are working so tirelessly to help those who’ve been afflicted with the Covid-19 virus. The event brought together 13 prominent real estate and interiors photographers in a live Q&A panel. It was a great evening of camaraderie and learning--all for a great cause.
One item of discussion revolved around managing one’s website. One of the panelists, Dee Zunker, shared some wonderful information related to the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) as part of an overall website management and marketing approach. I was really impressed with both the content of her answer and the clear confidence with which she presented it. We haven’t had too many articles written on SEO over the years on PFRE, so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to interview Dee on the topic.
This post is the first of two on the subject of improving one’s SEO toward better marketing your photography business.
TC: Hi Dee! Welcome, and thanks for taking the time to talk about SEO. If memory serves, you’re from the Houston area, yes? Tell me a little bit about you and your background.
DZ: Yes, I'm in Houston and specifically, I live in the town of Bellaire. I've been doing photography seriously for about 13-14 years. I was originally focused on event and fine arts photography as a part-time thing. Then my business started to grow and I started working on the commercial side in 2014, when Google asked me to be a photographer for them to do their 360 work. It became very clear to me that businesses needed imagery and not just the 360s. They needed top-notch interiors and exterior shots for their business. That's when I really started focusing on that type of photography. This worked out because I'd always been drawn to structures and buildings and architecture anyway. I then started to get larger and larger projects. I thought I’d be doing a lot more real estate photography once I went full time, but I ended up going more toward working for businesses and the commercial side of things, such as property management, architecture, and construction.
TC: How did you become so proficient in SEO?
DZ: I'm an avid do-it-yourselfer anyway. I applied that mindset to SEO and I have gone through all aspects of website development. I actually started with a Smugmug site many years ago. As I started learning about SEO, though, I realized that I wasn't getting found by customers. So I started using a WordPress site. From there, I started learning more and more about SEO. I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and implement it and now I'm on the first page of Google in my area for 15 keywords. Because of that, I get 3-5 inquiries weekly from people who are very interested in what I do, and want to find out more about my services.
TC: I’m guessing that there are a few folks in our community who are new to the field and may have recently pulled together a website for the first time. As such, they may be unfamiliar with SEO. So, in a nutshell, what is SEO and why is it important?
DZ: Well, SEO is basically optimizing your online content so potential customers can find your business more easily through search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It really serves two important purposes. First, SEO brings qualified customers to your website. Second, it actually provides a level of legitimacy. There are a lot of people who say, “I don't need to worry about my website because I work on referrals.” Well, just in the past two weeks, I've actually had two people tell me that they were referred to me, did a web search and found me right there on the top page in Google, which gave them confidence in me and what I do. I believe that such a high ranking adds an extra level of legitimacy for people and helps with confidence for them to actually look at you.
TC: Where should a photographer start if they were intent on improving their SEO?
DZ: Assuming that they already have a website, the first thing you really need is to have your own domain name. I know a lot of beginners in photography use a third-party web service like Smugmug. Even if you’re using Smugmug though, you can use your own domain. I think they call it a “vanity URL”. That way, you have your domain name and you can move it to other platforms and not lose out on that. Older domains rank better than new domains, so getting a domain as soon as you can starts the process of building trust with the search engines.
TC: What do you see as the top three or four things that a photographer can do to improve SEO?
DZ: Well, I think the very first thing that you can do is to optimize your images. As photographers, we want to upload these wonderful huge photos because you want people look at them on a large screen. In reality though, that is hurting you. Yes, size is important, but the most important thing for it is how fast your photos load. It your photos take a long time to load, customers are going to leave.
TC: Yes, I read an article recently that said if a website takes more than 3 seconds to load, 40% of visitors will leave the site and 80% won’t return to the site.
DZ: Yes, download speed is very important. So you need to optimize your images both by only uploading as large a file as you need and compression. This doesn’t affect the quality of the photos but it compresses the info so that the photo doesn’t take as long to load in the browser. There are a few websites that you can go to optimize your images. I optimize my images with JPEG Mini before I put them up on my website. I also don't upload anything to my site that’s greater than 1500 to 2000 pixels on the longest edge of the photo, and I make sure my theme uses the correct size of the photos for my blog posts. Google does look at speed, especially on phones. They check mobile before they do anything at this point. (Personal addendum: TinyJPG.com is also an excellent site for JPEG and PNG compression.)
TC: Okay, so we’ve got good download speed to support SEO. What’s the next thing we can do to improve SEO?
DZ: The other thing that's really important is to have a good descriptive title for our images. Cameras will automatically name each photo, of course, and if you don’t change it, that image title will show up in the XML sitemap that gets created for your website. That's one of the next places where Google's going to look. It’s going to look for that title. If you change that title and make it more descriptive--let's say, “Bellaire luxury home” or something like that--that’s going to give Google clues as to what that photo is about. It’s important to remember that there are two aspects for SEO; two pieces to it. There’s the trust piece and the content piece. The content piece is about trying to give as much information to Google as you can about your website. And one of the keys that Google is looking for are words. It doesn’t know how to decipher images. It can’t tell if a photo is good quality or not; but it can decipher the words around it. The words you write around your images play into SEO and give your images more context as well. So a gallery with a whole bunch of images with no words is not helping your SEO.
TC: Okay, so now we’ve got optimizing our images and adding descriptive titles as a way to improve SEO. What else?
DZ: I think it’s adding something called “alt text.” I’m on WordPress and it has an ”alt text” field. Basically, that allows you to give much more description about the photo, beyond what’s in the title. You want to include a few “keywords” but the purpose of this field is simply to describe the photo. Google reads the description and uses it for SEO purposes. It is important not to just list all your keywords in your description but actually write your description in complete sentences. “Keyword stuffing” can get flagged by Google and negatively impact your SEO.
Part 2 of this post will give insights into: