Did you know that SmugMug has a separate Sorcery blog? From time to time our Engineers will take you behind-the-scenes of something we’ve just built, or share some of the valuable insights we’ve had while investigating a particularly tricky fix. If you’re interested in the technical nuts and bolts of what powers our site or if you just want to hear what’s making our hearts beat a little faster, check it out! Their latest post deep-dives into The Phantom Renderer, or “how to make sure SEO works in the new SmugMug.”
Originally posted on SmugMug Sorcery:
Possible solutions were thrown around: do we duplicate our code in PHP? Use an artificial DOM? What about PhantomJS? Duplicating code would be a monumental effort and a continued burden when writing new features. Initial tests of fake/artificial DOMs proved unreliable. A small prototype Node.js web server that hooked into PhantomJS proved promising. Node.js’ async model would be perfect for handling things that wait for I/O like rendering webpages. We came up with the project name ‘The Phantom Renderer’ soon after.
Looking to boost your Google juice? Today’s guest blogger is Bill Nixon, the founder and principle of Smart Cabbage SEO for Photographers, a search engine optimization firm specializing in helping small businesses get ranked in the organic search results of Google, Yahoo and Bing. He gives all aspiring photographers an in-depth look at how to get your site noticed so clients can find you.
How to make the biggest impact on your website’s search engine rankings
You wake up on a Tuesday morning and open your email. The typical stuff is there. One company is having a sale, your airline miles statement has arrived and there’s that newsletter that you never read.
Oh but what’s this? There are two other emails that are unread. Last night while you slept, two potential clients contacted you through your website contact form. Two people searched for a photographer in your city, found your site, liked what they saw and contacted you. Does this happen to you yet? If not, read on….
Did you know that in every mid-sized to large city in the US, there are thousands of monthly searches for photographers? Put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. If you were looking for a photographer in your area, you would probably search for something like “Atlanta Photographers,” for example.
Using the Google Keyword Tool, we can figure out that there are almost 10,000 people each month that search for the term “Atlanta Photographers.” How many of those 10,000 people saw your website in the number one, two or three position? If you aren’t ranked in the top three then the answer is none of them.
We know from our research that if 10,000 people search for something, 5,000 will click on the website in position number one, 3,000 will click on the site in position number two, and 2,000 will click on the site in position number three. We also know that we will average somewhere between .05% – 1% rate of response. Thus, if we are in position number one for that search term, then we will receive about 25-50 monthly contact forms because of our ranking.
Without getting into closing ratios, let’s just say that it helps a lot to have 25-50 people contacting you each and every month asking for your services.
Two factors of SEO – On-site SEO & Off-site SEO
Search Engine Optimization is broken into two categories: on-site SEO and off-site SEO. On-site SEO is what you do on your website to optimize the chances that you get indexed by the search engines. Here is a quick run-down of the things you can do on SmugMug to increase your on-site SEO.
- Homepage meta description and meta keywords – Find these in your Control Panel’s Settings tab on the Search Engine line. This will show up in various ways in your search engine listings.
- Name/Keyword your galleries – If you want to increase your rankings for “Atlanta Photographers” for example, you would need to put that exact keyword phrase in your title, description and keyword boxes on SmugMug.
- Caption your images – Each image has the ability to add a caption. This caption, combined with the keywords, title and description above will be picked up by Google in their search engines.
- Add Google Analytics – You can’t know how your SEO efforts are doing unless you are able to track your results. Google Analytics allows you to track your results. You can add your Analytics ID in the “Settings” section on your SmugMug control panel. You can find more information in the SmugMug help files here.
Off-site factors make more impact than on-site factors
Off-site factors of SEO make a way bigger impact on your rankings than any of your on-site work. Both are important, but a full 95% of your ranking increases will be because of off-site factors.
What are off-site factors?
Without getting too deep in the history of search engine rankings and how they have evolved over the past ten years, off-site factors gained their strength due to the high amounts of Search Engine SPAM that occurred to try and game the system.
Unscrupulous website owners would stuff keywords into their sites, make keywords the same color as the background of their site or make them in a 1pt. font size to try to hide them from humans and meet the search engines’ algorithm.
The search engines got wise to their tricks and figured out a way to get accurate and relevant results with off-site factors.
What are “off-site” factors?
Off-site factors are quite simply the links that point back to your website from other websites, the theme relevancy and the quality of those links. Now, don’t stop reading here and go out searching for a link building company. You may find one, but you will never be successful without the right linking campaign.
Links can be broken up into five different categories: voting, reciprocal, blog, content, authority. These may not be “official” categories but they are the categories we use when we are creating linking campaigns for our clients.
Each has its place in an SEO campaign, but some inbound links are much more effective than others in boosting your rankings.
Here is a breakdown of the different types of links that can point to your site.
- Voting Links: These are links from directories or other sites that carry a very low Google Page Rank. If a page contains more than 25-30 outbound links, that page will have very, very little effect on your search engine rankings. (if any) However, they are important in creating a theme-base for your site.
- Reciprocal Links: This is when you place a link from your site to another site in exchange for a link from their site to yours. These links also have very little effect on your search engine rankings, but are similar to “voting links” above in that they can create theme relevancy for your website.
- Blog Links: Blog links come from leaving relevant comments on others’ blogs. The link can be attached to your name as the blog commenter or in the footer of your comment as an html link. In either case, I am not advocating going out and spamming blogs in the hope that you will get links back to your site, but I am saying that if you have something relevant and important as a response, then you can certainly build links back to your site in this way.
- Content Links: Content links happen when other website owners write about you and link to your site. These are the most natural of the link building efforts and certainly have the largest potential to increase your search engine rankings. These also pose one of the biggest challenges to photographers as they don’t know how to get others to write about them. The best way to get content links is to get published on the myriad of blogs on the web that write specifically about photographers and events. Seeking to get published for your work is the single best way to obtain content links. If you are a wedding photographer, for example, a simple search for “wedding blogs” on Google will reveal hundreds of sites where you could submit your work for consideration. (It will also reveal one of our clients in the top five of Google for the search “wedding blogs”)
- Authority Links: In a way, these are “high-powered” content links. Authority links typically come from the highest ranking sites in your category, sites that end in “edu” and high-powered non-profit sites. Getting links from these sites will have the biggest impact on your rankings possible they are also the hardest to obtain.
A quick way to get a ranking boost
Here is a quick way to get a ranking boost on the search engines. Do a search for the keyword phrase(s) that most line up with the ranking campaign you are trying to win for. For example, if you are a photographer in Atlanta, then you might want to win for these three terms:
- Atlanta photographers
- Atlanta wedding photographer
- photographer in Atlanta
Perform a search for each of these terms and create a spreadsheet of the top 10 results from each search. This will bring up 30 different sites.
Visit each of those sites and see if it would be possible to get a link from each one. If they are directory sites, see what it takes to get listed. If they are individually owned photography sites, then see if you can make relevant blog comments on a post or two (no SPAM!)
If you can get links from these sites, then your rankings will increase. As always, I recommend knowing were you rank PRIOR to engaging in this type of campaign so that you can track your progress.
We hope that this great article pulls the veil off the mystery of SEO so you can put these tips to work. Don’t forget to check out our quick rundown of SEO basics and the services over at Smart Cabbage for a helping hand. Happy optimizing!
Introduction: Every now and then, we have the pleasure of featuring guest blog posts from members of our wide community of users. We’re always delighted to see and hear about the ways you’re using SmugMug to share your picture memories. We’re excited to feature Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere.com. Four years ago, he decided to leave his job to travel around the world. He’s been globetrotting, photographing and writing ever since. Here’s his incredible story.
By Gary Arndt
In March 2007 I sold my house, put my possessions in storage and set out to travel around the world.
I also thought it would be neat to someday cover a wall of my house with photos taken from my trip. So on my way out of the country I purchased a camera which was way over my head: a Nikon D200.
I didn’t know my aperture from my ISO. Like many people new to photography I shot everything in full auto mode, saved everything in jpeg (because it saved space on the memory card) and uploaded every image to Flickr without any post processing or selection. I had never taken a photography course or workshop and had never read a book on the subject. I knew absolutely nothing.
This is a five exposure HDR image taken in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Unlike most HDR images, I let the motion in the photo blur. I like the effect and the impression it gave of movement. Jerusalem is perhaps the most photogenic city I’ve visited in the world. It seemed that no matter where I turned my camera, I could capture a good image.
The first stop on my trip was Hawaii, where almost four years later I’m writing this article. You can still see the first photos I took in all their horrible glory. The composition for most of them is unspectacular and the exposure very sub-par. I’ve decided to leave them visible to the public as a reminder of how far I’ve come since the start of my travels.
Over time I started to read photography blogs and listen to photography podcasts. I began to look at my travel photos with a more critical eye and tried to understand why my good photos were good and my bad photos bad. I eventually picked up a copy of Photoshop and the readers of my website noticed small, but consistent improvements in my travel photography.
This photo was taken in a moving motor boat. I visited Rennell, one of the more remote islands in the Solomon Islands. The village I visited didn’t get too many western visitors, so the kids had a great time following me around. When I left the village, the kids got in a canoe and started to follow my boat. This is the resulting photo.
In November 2007 I made the decision to start posting a photo every day on my travel blog, something which I’ve been doing every day now for almost three years. This was huge step for me because I had to come up with something reasonably good every day. Not every photo was going to be a home run, but I certainly had to try to not strike out. Every. Single. Day.
As photography became a bigger and bigger part of my site, I began to look for alternative photo hosting and sharing solutions. I didn’t want to be limited with the size of photos I uploaded, I wanted to fully customize the look and feel of my galleries and I wanted an easier way to integrate photos into my blog. In addition, I wanted a site that was easily searchable, public in nature and could help drive traffic to my official website.
I eventually decided to move my photo hosting from Flickr to a Gallery2 installation, which I could host myself. This turned out to be a disaster. I didn’t save any money because of the additional storage costs from my web host. Trying to customize Gallery2 was a nightmare and extremely expensive. Worst of all, there was no real SEO benefit to hosting my own images. Self-hosting photos turned out to be a a bigger challenge than I was willing to deal with.
This photo was taken at the Indian Holi festival in Singapore. Much of the festival involves throwing colored dye on other participants. Keeping my camera clean and dye free was a challenge as most of the participants had no problems throwing dye on a man holding an SLR.
I had heard many photographers talk about SmugMug on some of the photography forums I read, and so decided to give them a try. It turned out to be incredibly easy to import all my photos from Flickr, even with a bad Internet connection overseas. I could use my own domain name, which was the main reason why I wanted to host my own images in the first place, and with SmugMug’s many sharing options, I could create images of any dimension just by modifying the URL of the photo (something I couldn’t do on Flickr).
Of all the decisions I’ve made in blogging and photography, moving to SmugMug has been one of the best. Every week or two there are new features being released; the SmugMug elves never seems to be resting on their laurels.
Since my move I’ve become a personal evangelist, telling everyone I know in the travel blogging community about SmugMug. I know I’ve been responsible for more new SmugMug customers than my referral code would suggest! I wear my SmugMug camera strap wherever I go and make sure to tell everyone about it when they ask me what it is.
I was in Bangkok in 2010 during the redshirt protests. I went out several times to photograph the protesters. I managed to position myself one day between several thousand redshirts and several hundred police officers. The photo of a young boy with the protesters really stuck with me.
There’s still a lot I want to do with my SmugMug account. My system of categories and subcategories needs some tweaking, I need to go through and properly tag my photos and at some point I’d like to hire someone to professionally customize my site. In 2011 I also hope to redesign my blog to allow readers to order prints of all my daily photos.
I can’t really envision having a serious photography website without having SmugMug as the back end.