Creating an Effective Photography Website, Part 3: Link Building for SEO
Over the past few weeks we have discussed several key concepts related to having an effective web presence. First, we talked about the elements of an effective (not just attractive) graphic design for professional photographers. Last week we had a primer on writing content that is optimized for search engines. If you have an optimized design and content that is targeting the right keywords, you’re off to a good start. If you really want to improve your search engine rankings, however, you’re still missing one piece of the puzzle: link building.
What Is Link Building?
Link building, as the name suggests, is a proactive and ongoing effort to get other (related) websites to link to yours. Google built its empire on the concept of “PageRank,” the perceived authority a site has based on the quality and quantity of sites linking to it.
Which site would you expect to be more authoritative and reliable: “Timmy’s Photography Blog,” which has links from four other hobby photography blogs, or the “Photo Marketing Association International,” which has over 26,000 links from sites such as Kodak, Adobe, HP, Sony, and hundreds of industry associations? Intuitively, you would assume PMA is the more authoritative source, but search engines determine this based on the web of links surrounding a site:
Judging by the simulation above, PMAI is far more authoritative to search engines, and will therefore outrank Timmy’s Photo Blog for almost any search where the two sites are in competition.
How Do I Build Links?
So, the objective of link building is to build a web around your site like the one above on the left, instead of the one on the right. Now, you may be thinking “But how do I get links on other people’s websites? Isn’t that outside of my control?” Not entirely. There are a number of ways you can encourage others to link to your site, and I’ll share a few of them with you here:
Create Unique, Interesting Content
If you want people to link to you, you need content. Not just information about your business, or sales copy – these things don’t inspire people to link to you. No, your site needs content that people will find interesting enough to share. An on-site blog is the perfect vehicle for this. **NOTE: If your blog and website are on different domains, you’re not getting any SEO value from your content!** For instance, if your website is ABCPhotography.com and your blog is abcphoto.blogspot.com or wordpress.com/abcphoto, you need to move your blog onto your website before it’ll help your rankings.
What do I write about?
- First, find out what other people are writing about. Use tools like Technorati and Google Blog Search to find out who’s talking about topics you’re interested in.
- Create a dashboard of the blogs you follow (see an example on the right). Scan it for inspiration if you’re out of ideas. Write a follow-up to a post that caught your eye, or offer to interview one of these bloggers. We use iGoogle for this.
- Use your blog as a portfolio: add some photos from each event you shoot, and categorize them: “Wedding Photography,” “Baby Photo Shoots.” Remember to include some keywords in each post: Chicago Wedding Photographer, San Diego Baby Photographer, etc.
- Take pictures of local events or landmarks and post them on your site, then send links to local newspapers, chambers of commerce, schools and other local organizations. Tell them they can use your photos if they link to your website.
- Create an infographic. Infographics are visual representations of data, statistics and information. Your infographic could be a collage of photos in a timeline, for instance. We recently worked with a media buying agency to create an infographic about TV advertising at the Academy Awards. It was shared through blog commenting and social media, and attracted roughly 100 links in the span of a week, including a few links from major news sites. The key is to create a graphic that tells a story to a specific group of people, and then to share it with bloggers in that niche.
If you want people to link to your site, first they need to know that you exist. Look for your customers, suppliers, colleagues, your photo lab and other industry professionals and start interacting with them online:
- Find them on Facebook and Twitter and see if they link to blogs, then subscribe to their RSS feeds and keep track of what they write about.
- Look on LinkedIn for Groups that are either geographically or topically relevant. The people in these groups are actively engaging with each other online – join the conversation, connect with these people, and see if they’re blogging.
- Combine some low-tech networking with your online tactics: collect business cards at the next trade show or conference you attend, then find these people online. Leave a comment on their blog, and remind them where you met.
- Comment on related blogs. A lot. Don’t just say “Nice post!”; leave a comment that actively engages the author. Pose a question. Link to other stories or resources that add value to the post. Offer an alternative opinion. Bloggers love to know people are actually reading what they write!
Because link building is such an important part of SEO, an entire industry has sprung up around the concept, allowing people to accumulate links quickly, artificially inflating their reputation and rankings. Search engines are cracking down hard on these tactics, a few of which I’ll describe below:
- Link Buying – This is just what it sounds like: paying people to link to your site. Most of the time, these links come from low quality sites that sell dozens (or hundreds) of links on every page. Sites that do this are starting to be penalized by Google for this tactic.
- Link Directories – A similar concept: paying to be included in a directory solely for the purpose of SEO. Google knows these directories are garbage, and devalues them accordingly.
- Spamming blogs and forums – If you manage a blog, you’ve probably received emails or comments linking to websites. SEO companies often use this tactic, but the payoff is minimal at best, and webmasters hate receiving these junk comments.
- Link Exchanges – “I’ll link to you if you link to me!” This was a popular tactic for a while: two sites link to each other (often from a long “Links” or “Resources” page filled with links) for the sole purpose of improving rankings. Search engines spot these and are beginning to penalize sites for it.
Roughly half the SEO companies you’ll find online still use these tactics as their primary means of improving rankings. They’re behind the times, and we’d advise against using these tactics on your professional photography site. There’s a very simple acid test for link building: ask yourself “Is this adding value for my visitors?” If the answer is “No,” Google probably frowns upon it and may blacklist you for it. Instead, invest your time in creating good, unique content, and forge relationships with others doing the same thing. Links (and improved rankings) will follow!
This is a complex and confusing topic. If you have any questions, drop me a comment below!
Come back next week for the final SEO post in this series, in which we’ll discuss Local SEO and reputation management!
This series was submitted by Kyle Claypool. He will be representing the United States as the US Technical Expert at the upcoming Website Design WorldSkills competition in London. Kyle helps with the photo lab’s website.