Creating a photography website isn’t just about being flashy, and posting great content doesn’t mean anything if no one sees it. With the right optimization, however, you can get the exposure (pun intended) your product deserves, and a leg up on your competition. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of easy steps to ensure your body of work gets as much reach as possible.

Image Optimization

1. Fix your file names

This is one of the easiest, but most commonly forgotten steps in optimizing images on the web. Search Engines look for keywords within the filenames of your images. Make sure that the file name actually describes the image (sleepy-cat-falls-off-couch.jpg instead of 00000×12.jpg). Determine what keywords you want the image to rank for, then create a plain English filename out of those keywords.

2. Optimize your alt tags, in plain English

Not all images can be rendered on all platforms. When a browser or search engine needs a text alternative to an image, they look for the alt tag. Creating alt tags using keywords formatted in plain English to describe the image (like the filename) is probably the best way to increase the rankings of your images.

3. Don’t keyword-stuff. Ever.

Although inserting keywords into file names and alt tags is important, it can be overdone. We stressed the plain English in #1 and #2 because search engines will penalize you for keyword stuffing. Having an alt tag read “Bellingham Sunset Boulevard Park” will get you farther than “Sunset Photographer Wedding Buy Photograph Park Beautiful”.

4. Write captions that capture

The funny thing about captions is that they don’t necessarily increase your rankings directly like an alt tag or filename. What they offer instead is an improved user experience, which will keep people on your website. Keeping users from immediately returning to search results lowers bounce rate, which is a ranking factor, so it can be helpful to have useful captions on your work.

5. Try another angle. And then another.

Offering multiple perspectives of a scene or object not only shows off your skill, it increases the amount of content you have for that subject. More content (with appropriate SEO for each image) increases your chance of ranking for image searches about that subject. For example, if you want to rank for “Red Honda Civic”, offer shots of the interior and top in addition to standard exterior shot.

6. Be unique

This should be a no-brainer for photographers, but it bears repeating nonetheless. Use your own images, not stock photography, wherever possible. You will not only have better control over the size and quality of the image, you remove the possibility of duplicate content (which decreases rankings) and have licensing rights over the image.

7. Watch your dimensions

As a professional, you probably take photographs in a much larger resolution than is practical for display on the web. Before uploading them it’s important to resize them to bring down page load times (another ranking factor). Shoot for 1920 x 1080 or lower, with 72dpi. Browsers are unable to render at higher than 72dpi, so anything more than that will unnecessarily increase load time.

8. Trim your file size

A function of resolution and file type, file size is the primary determinant of loading time in-browser. Take whatever steps you can to decrease file size without compromising image quality. That means optimizing for size (as mentioned above) and choosing the right file type for the job (see below).

9. Choose the right file type

Images on the web are typically displayed in one of three file types: GIF, JPEG, or PNG. GIF and PNG do not offer full color display, and tend to be associated with smaller file size and lower quality images. They can be great tools for lowering load times, but as a photographer you want your work to be at its highest quality. Your best bet will usually be to display your work in JPEG format, optimized for the smallest file size.

10. Make Use Of Thumbnails

Thumbnails can be useful to display a lot of content at once, and are mostly used for product catalogs or indexes of images. If you decide to use thumbnails for any reason, ensure that they don’t massively increase your load time. This means making thumbnails as small as possible with the most efficient file type. It might even be worth sacrificing a little image quality, so long as the content is still clear. Play around with different sizes and types to find the best combo. Also be careful about including alt text for thumbnails, because it may cause them to outrank the original image. You might be better off leaving them without alt text.

11. Create And Submit Sitemaps

Sitemaps are a great tool to provide search engines with more information about your images than is available in the title and alt text. They also help search engines locate images that aren’t in the source code of the website, for instance if they appear in a JavaScript gallery. Check out Google’s resources and information on image sitemaps here.

12. Supply Some Context

Outside of titles, alt tags, and sitemaps, search engines have an additional way of gathering information on an image. By searching the text on the website that appears next to the image, crawlers will find context clues to determine image content. If you are blogging, or embedding your images in text for any reason, insert the keywords you want the image to rank for in that text. If you’re a wedding photographer, for example, make sure that you fit “wedding” and your location in the text near your images.

13. Optimize For Social

If you want your content to appear on Facebook and Twitter, it’s important to choose the right images for the job. Your images will never appear in full size on either platform, so select images that draw the eye in smaller formats. Additionally, viral context thrives on those platforms, so if you have any images that fit the bill, use them to link back to your site. Some platforms also modify images – for example, on Facebook, landscape images fit better in link boxes than portraits. Make sure you know how your images will appear when you link them.

14. Add Schema Markup

Schema Markup is code that is inserted into your pages which help search engines return more accurate results to users. You can insert schema markup for images as well. If you feel comfortable with coding, check out schema-creator.org’s introduction to schema here.

Beyond the Images

man holding digital camera facing direct sunlight

Once all the technical work to optimize your images is completed, it’s important to make the best use of the finished product. Below are a few tips to help you get the most out of your optimized images, and protect them once they’re on the web.

15. Use analytics

The best way to learn about how to effectively use your images is to have analytics setup for your website. Analytics programs can help you figure out which images are getting the most traction among visitors, and what actions they take with those images. Tools like Google Analytics or SEOquake are some excellent examples.

16. Test Images

Once your analytics are setup you can start actively testing your images, both for page performance and against each other. Analytics will allow you to test how quickly a page loads with any given combination of images. It will also allow you to track which images receive the most attention (in the form of clicks) from your visitors.

17. Get your photos licensed

As a photographer your images are your most important asset, and that means you need to protect them as soon as they hit the web. Take active steps to copyright your images, and don’t hesitate to pursue legal action if your images are used unlawfully. If your images are stolen and reused, not only are you a victim of theft, the reused images can compete with your originals for rankings. Check out this site for a few tips on how to protect your images.

18. Earn Links

Earning links means getting other sites to link back to your own website, which increases domain authority. The more links you have back to your site, the better your site looks to crawlers and the higher your search rankings will be. Below are a few ideas on how to earn some quality links.

19. Use Bookmark Sites And Photo directories

Using bookmarking sites and photo directories is a great way to increase your content’s exposure, and create backlinks to your website. Bookmarking sites such as Flickr and Deviantart are popular sites that have a huge user base, so creating an account and publishing some of your best work on those site can increase your following. Photo directories like CoolPhotoBlogs.com accomplish the same task, but highlight your whole page instead of your individual images.

20. Build relationships

Forming relationships with other photographers can be another great way to increase exposure and create backlinks (as long as they aren’t direct competitors). Linking to each others website and highlighting each others images occasionally can be mutually beneficial.

21. Try your hand at guest posting

Guest posts work similarly to creating a relationship with other photographers, but they can be done on any photography related site. If you find a blog that covers the photography industry, but doesn’t actually post its own photos, writing a guest piece for that blog could earn you a link and some new followers.

22. Go Local

If there’s one thing that will take you a long way in SEO these days, it’s optimizing for local. In a photographer’s case, that means inserting local keywords wherever possible. If you take a picture of a Bellingham sunset, make sure the words “Bellingham Sunset” appear in the filename and alt tag. Go deeper if you can with specific place names such as “Boulevard Park” or “Whatcom Falls Bridge”.

23. Host contests

Contests grab a lot of attention, especially on social media. Running a contest through your own website or one of your social media outlets can be a great way to intentionally expand your following. Consider something along the lines of “the most likes on a share of this image wins” or “write the best caption for this image”. Just make sure there’s a meaningful reward to hook people in.

24. Learn About The Display Network

The entire list thus far has been about SEO, but SEO isn’t the end of getting your work seen on the internet. Paid advertising is another area that can yield excellent return on investment. For photography the best way to take advantage of PPC advertising is the Google Display Network. Check out this website to learn more about this resource, and see if it’s right for you.