Each week, I get a lot of questions on SEO for photographers, as well as marketing and other related topics.
Most of the time I can send a quick answer back but sometimes the questions require much more than a simple email response, and the answer can actually help a lot of other professional photographers who are struggling with similar issues.
Here’s a great question that I got from one of my “SEO Essentials” students just yesterday:
Suppose I don’t want text to show on my home page. Those of us who feel aesthetics and design are important on the landing page often just want images. It has a stronger visual impact, and allows people to get your images and read later, rather than have text right away. What are my options? Can I hide the text on the landing page?
As you’ll see, this is really several questions rolled into one…
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First, let’s set the scene.
Visual Impact vs. SEO
The question arose from a challenge the photographer was facing with SEO – how to get found by potential clients in the search engines.
This particular photographer’s home page is designed from a visual perspective to showcase his work to potential clients with an elegant slideshow of photographs, with little or no text on the page to give Google any real sense of what the page is actually about.
Since the home page is the most important page on your website (as far as SEO is concerned), Google is left scratching its head, with few clues as to what keywords it should associate with that page.
The end result?
A home page that ranks very poorly, with barely a trickle of visitors from the search engines.
So, we’re back to relying on other channels to attract visitors, few of which are quite as effective as the highly-targeted leads we could see from natural search traffic.
So what’s to be done here? What’s the right choice for the professional photographer who’s wrestling between aesthetics and functionality?
First, we need to understand that the original question has several components to it:
- Can I create a photography website with a home page as a simple splash page?
- Can I satisfy Google’s need for text by fooling it in some way AND showcase just the photography for potential clients?
- Is it correct to assume that aesthetics, design, and photography are critical for converting leads into clients?
Let’s take these in turn.
#1: Using Splash Pages For A Home Page
In the original question, the photographer used the term “landing page” to mean the home page, but a landing page is actually a totally different animal in marketing speak (see more on marketing and landing page optimization).
In the context of the question, what we actually have here is a “splash page“. This is designed to act as a gateway to the website, usually with a set of photographs (most often in a slideshow), and some links to other parts of the website, but with very little marketing copy.
Splash pages can be thought of as analogous to a store-front window, designed for the sole purpose of attracting people inside.
But a website is not a traditional store, and it doesn’t need a splash page.
In fact, splash pages can be harmful to your bottom line…
We live in a crazy age (and it looks like it will only get crazier). People are insanely busy, and when they’re browsing the web they want to find what they’re looking for quickly.
The average Internet browser makes a goldfish seem like the most attentive creature on the planet!
Page loads too slow? Gone… Not what they thought they would see? Gone… Too many clicks to get where they need to be? Gone…
Don’t believe me? Head over to your Google Analytics reports and take a look at the average time spent on the website or your “bounce rate“. Better yet, use the horribly-addictive “spy” function in GetClicky and watch in real time as people come and go – if your website isn’t designed for doing business, it’s not a pretty sight!
Business online just isn’t the same as business in the real world, and splash pages just get in the way of doing business for several reasons.
For example, splash pages…
- Force the user to click yet again to find any meaningful information…
- Don’t answer any of the visitor’s buying-related questions…
- Can be really bad for SEO…
If your photography is a hobby, then none of this probably matters very much.
But if you’re in the photography business to make a living then it matters a great deal.
In short, anything that gets in the way of your potential clients, or fails to answer their questions (and they’re probably NOT the questions you thought they were!), is bad for business.
So stop thinking that a home page needs to be some kind of fancy or elegant store front window that will entice people inside, because that model is not appropriate for the online world.
It might work in the mall, but it’s a sure way to fail online.
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
Five years and more than 100,000 copies after it was first published, it's hard to imagine anyone working in Web design who hasn't read Steve Krug's "instant classic" on Web usability, but people are still discovering it every day.
In this second edition, Steve adds three new chapters in the same style as the original: wry and entertaining, yet loaded with insights and practical advice for novice and veteran alike. Don't be surprised if it completely changes the way you think about Web design.
"I thought usability was the enemy of design until I read the first edition of this book. Don't Make Me Think! showed me how to put myself in the position of the person who uses my site. After reading it over a couple of hours and putting its ideas to work for the past five years, I can say it has done more to improve my abilities as a Web designer than any other book."
Even if you're NOT a web designer, this book will help you understand the principles behind good design and usability, giving you an appreciation for how your users (your clients) use your website.
#2: Google Can Be Fooled By Hiding Text From The Visitor
If you’ve been around SEO for any length of time, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the term “black hat” as applied to certain SEO techniques.
In accordance with the old idea that SEO folk belong to some obscure order of mysterious wizards, trained in the dark arts of Internet tomfoolery, terms have evolved such as “white hat“, “black hat“, and “gray hat“…
White hat techniques are the tried and tested, proven strategies and tactics that are known to work, and are just common-sense. Nothing more to say on these – just practice them.
Gray hat SEO lies at the fringes. Here, we’re not so sure whether they’re particularly good or bad, or they might be attractive to the more adventurous SEO people and risk-takers. Treat them like hot chili powder: Use with caution and sparingly.
Black hat tactics belong in the realm of the Internet scammer and unscrupulous SEO consultants, the kind who promise people they can be number one on Google by the end of the business day with no effort on their part. Taking our wizard analogy a little further, this is the Mordor of SEO, and you’ve been warned to keep out!
Hiding text from visitors in the name of keeping the site attractive-looking, by using the same color as the background or placing it in hidden fields, for example, definitely falls under the “black hat” heading, so don’t do it!
Besides, there’s a far more compelling reason to have the text proudly displayed on your website’s home page (and every page for that matter).
Which brings us to the final part…
#3: Aesthetics And Design Are The Most Important… Almost, But Not Entirely!
This is the most difficult part of the question to answer but something we must remember, if we’re to make a living in this business, is that we’re not photographers!
That’s right, you read that correctly.
We are NOT photographers. Instead, we’re marketers and sellers of photography.
Failing to treat what we do as a serious business only means we have an expensive hobby (read more on the idea of being a professional photographer or a hobbyist).
By that, I’m not suggesting that you’re not serious about being a professional photographer, just that we need to be serious about it being a real business. Yes, I know business, marketing, and SEO might not be as sexy as lenses, cameras, PhotoShop and the like, but it’s critical nonetheless if we’re to keep doing this in the long term.
Therefore, we must approach everything we do in our photography business from the perspective of serving our clients to the very best of our ability, and making money in the process, otherwise we have no business.
So when it comes to the website, and the idea that aesthetics and design are more important than SEO or marketing considerations, we have to ask ourselves: “Is that an accurate assumption?”
As photographers, we often assume that our visitors only need to see our beautiful imagery to “get” what we do, and to understand that we’re the right photographer to help them.
That might be true, sometimes, but the assumption that it’s the only way to present what we do is actually wrong.
For one thing, our prospects and clients don’t have the benefit of knowing what’s in our head regarding the story of our imagery – they weren’t there when it was created, and have no experience to draw upon to comprehend the story outside the frame, as it were.
As much as we hate to admit it, photography doesn’t sell itself, and photography alone is insufficient to tell the full story.
Not only that – our photographs taken in isolation don’t answer the critical questions in the mind of our prospects.
Questions and issues such as:
- Why should I hire this photographer rather than any of the others I just looked at?
- Does the photographer understand why photography is important to me at this time?
- How well does the photographer relate to their subject?
- I’m nervous about this whole thing and need someone I like and trust.
- How personal is the service I’m going to get?
To make matters worse, in the vast majority of cases the prospect is totally unaware that they have these questions in their mind. They’re just not conscious of them in any way that they can articulate them. If they were, it would make our job a heck of a lot easier!
If we were to ask our prospects how they’d know they’d found the right photographer for them, they wouldn’t be able to give us a definitive answer.
Try it for yourself. Ask someone that question and see what kind of answers you hear – it’s very illuminating.
So, the reasons people have for hiring a professional photographer more often than not have an emotional basis, rather than a logical one. There might be some exceptions, of course, perhaps with commercial photography but, even then, there is often a factor that can be attributed more to a “gut feeling” than a logical reason.
(Read more on how professional photographers can click with their prospects).
This is why we need to have text on the page as well as the photographs. Then, while we’re writing good copy to satisfy our business needs and the needs of our prospects through an emotional connection, we can also ensure it’s properly optimized for the right keywords to help us achieve better search engine rankings.
By the way, here’s a good starter article on why emotion-based writing is crucial to your business goals over at CopyBlogger .
Before I close this off, though, I do want to make a very important point:
Too many photographers are under the mistaken belief that SEO, good design, and aesthetics are somehow mutually exclusive…
Nothing could be further from the truth.
On the contrary, it’s perfectly possible to have a website that satisfies ALL of these requirements, without having to make sacrifices, and it often comes down to a question of creating balance between these different aspects and being creative in the way the information is presented. WordPress, for example, is especially adept at handling this, which is why I love it and the Genesis framework from StudioPress so much.
For example, we can accompany photographs with client testimonials to say things with much more authority than if we were to say them ourselves.
Being more open about our own feelings and motivations for doing what we do also goes a long way to helping us connect with the prospect in ways that answer some of those nebulous (but important) questions I mentioned above.
Using video is another way to connect with people to show who you are as a person and a photographer. Including a transcript of the video also helps those who prefer to read as well as the search engines.
By approaching the issues of aesthetics, design, and SEO together, in a holistic manner that’s in alignment with your business goals, you’ll find that people can still fall in love with your beautiful and compelling photography the moment they see it, others can read the story behind you and your work, and Google goes away happy – knowing exactly how to index your website to send more people your way.
What Do YOU Think?
I know this has been a long answer to what seemed like a short question, and I also know there’s a whole lot more to it than this.
But, what do YOU think? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.