Improve the Google ranking of your portfolio site

I was recently asked by a photographer how she could improve the ranking of her site in google's results. I asked the obvious question, what google searches did she want her site to appear in? She told me "San Francisco based photographer" and the like.

So I took a look at her site. It was really nicely designed, showed off her work professionally and her work looked great but it was certainly not optimised for Google ramkings. Her site was built by a graphic designer who made the typical mistake of assuming that if you put keywords into the metatags (metatags hold information about your page/site that are not visible to your viewers but are used by other programs) that would be enough to court search engine spiders and bots. Unfortunately, google no longer really uses the keywords metatag very heavily, if at all. It was too easy to trick search engines into ranking a page highly based upon its keywords when its content may have had little to do with those words. Indeed, some speculate that if your page has keywords which are not then found on that page that your page may be penalized for "keyword spamming" and suffer in the search engine's ranking as a result. One thing we to do, therefore, is make sure that your keywords are also found elsewhere on your pages.

Please keep in mind that I'm not a specialist in this area and that improving a site's ranking is something akin to alchemy and is not an exact science but is subject to change whenever google changes its bots.

First off, a tiny bit of technical background to put my suggestions into context. Photo portfolio sites are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to search engine rankings. Why? Because search engines, and google in particular, do everything they can to rank what they consider the most useful and relevant results first (I won't complicate things be talking about those who chose to pay to improve their tankings). How does google do this? Mainly through the text found in various places on your pages (both hidden and visible) and through how many other pages link to your site. Being so image heavy in their content, as opposed to text based, puts photo portfolio sites at a distinct disadvantage in this regard.

Two tags that are used more heavily by search engines are your page's title and its description. The page's title is the text you see in the very top of the window of your browser when you visit a site. It is, therefore, really important that we get the page title right. For the site I was looking at I suggested something like " - a San Francisco / Bay Area based photographer specializing in lifestyle, interior, portrait, editorial and travel photography". Changing this could be the single most important factor in improving a sites ranking.

The description metatag is what a search engine uses to describe your site when it returns results. If a page does not have a description tag the search engine simply uses the first few words of text it can find on your site. This was what was happening with the site I was looking at so I suggested putting a description on to each page, something like: " is a San Francisco based photographer working in the Bay Area and specializing in lifestyle, interior, portrait, editorial and travel photography." This may seem very repetitious when viewed in relation to the title I suggested but there is a search engine concept called "keyword density" that I won't bore you with but basically means that the more often you page contains a word that the search engine indexes, the better its position in the result rankings.

Another thing I suugested we could do that may have a small effect on rankings is to optimize the "alt text" associated with the images on the site. The alt text is a piece of information associated with an image that tells the browser what the image is in a textual format. You rarely see this text but as a portfolio site has so little textual content we should take every opportunity we get to add some. I suggested that each image should contain a description like " - by - a San Francisco based photographer working in the Bay Area and specializing in lifestyle, interior, portrait, editorial and travel photography." Again, it may seem repetitive but keyword density means that it may pay off when a search engine hits your site to index it.

As the site was so image heavy I also suggested that adding a biography, mission statement or content page of some kind. This page could be then used to inject more text into the site which google would see as making your site more useful and, therefore, might affect the result rankings possitively.

Finally, the most important factor that will affect your site's rank I couldn't really help the site's owner with. That is the more often other "useful" sites link to a site the more useful google thinks the site is and the higher it will rank it. Do whatever you can to get links to your site put on other sites; get clients to link to your site from their acknowledgments, get your site listed in directories of similar sites. Do you ever write anything that is published on the web? If so, make sure you have a link back to your site from the article. Do you post to any bulletin boards or newsgroups? Put a link to your site in your signature so it's included in every post you make especially if that community is, itself, indexed by google. Persuade friends to link to your site - whatever you can do to get links to your site, do and the higher the ranking the site linking to yours has with a search engine itself the better. Google rates a link from an "important" site higher than a more provincial one.

How to Use Meta Tags In Search Engine Promotion
How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking on Google
Score Higher in Google Search Engine (and why Google is saving the web.)
The Search Engine Tutorial for Web Designers