Allow myself to introduce… myself. I’m Zach Prez, Google rank sherpa for ya’ll photographers and author of the Photographer’s SEO Blog and Book. This post covers the Everest of SEO which is link building. It’s the most difficult and time consuming of SEO tasks, but has the biggest payoff for getting you ranked at the top of the search world that is Google.
The Top Ranked Sites Have the Most Links
The links pointing to your site are the most important aspect of your ability to rank in search. About 3 times as important as the keywords on your page. For Flash and image-heavy websites that have little text links are even more critical to see SEO results. Linking, linking, linking is to search engine optimization success as location is to real estate. It makes sense when you think about it.
Google obviously likes it when the keywords on your page match what a user typed into search. Someone searching for photographers in San Diego will not be happy with Google’s services if all the results come back with photographers from China, or websites that aren’t even about photography. Google finds a couple hundred pages that all talk about San Diego photography specifically, but how does it know which one to rank first? All of them have similar designs and content (keywords), so it turns to a second and more important criteria. Link references from other websites.
Not all links are created equal.
Links carry critical information to Google about each site by:
- The text of the link – anchor text
- Quality of the link – is it a link from the New York Times or from an unheard of blog?
- Quantity of links – a site with 100 links to it is valued more by the “community” than a site with 5 links to it
- Destination of the link – when all the links point to your homepage, then the rest of your site must not be very important
- Time the link was created – no new links created in a long time may mean the site is no longer relevant to others
In an instant Google can figure out if link building is natural or spammy and assign a quality score for your site that helps it rank high or low. Every time new links are found for your site (or your competition) the rankings can change.
Link to Your Pages with Quality Keywords
Search engines look at the words in the hyperlink (called anchor text) to understand what the website will be about. It values these words more than the words that are on the site itself, because these words span many other websites and are less likely to be manipulated. It is very important to use highly searched keywords within the links that point to your website. For example my blog might have a link to my main website that says “San Diego Wedding Photographer” instead of “www.mydomain.com” because I want Google to know my site is about San Diego wedding photography. The normal process of linking would not produce the same anchor text in all of the links pointing to a site, so change your keywords slightly from link to link to “act natural.” This will also help you rank for similar keywords that users might be searching.
If you want to rank for a secondary phrase like holiday photos, then you need links from other websites that say ìview my holiday photosî that points to a page that talks about holiday photos (like gallery or a blog post).
If that seems confusing, let me explain in another way. Let’s pretend we’re at a party together and everyone starts calling me Lopsong (Sherpa). You haven’t met me, so you assume that since everyone else calls me Lopsong, that must be my name and you start using the same term. Google does something similar with your pages by reading all the link names other websites use to link to it. Google uses those names for your page (and images), and the more web pages that link to you the easier it is for Google to remember that page’s name and rank it well.
Build Links Over Time
Guess what will happen if you get 50 links in one day, and then no new links for the next month? You may rank high for one day, and then disappear into oblivion, or you may even get blacklisted (but we hope not).
The point is that search engines value sites more that have a consistent stream of activity, whether it is fresh content or links coming into the website.
Link to Deep Pages
Search engines do not like controlled activity. An example of this is you going out and trying to control your rank by establishing a bunch of links to your homepage.
In reality, the most popular sites will have real users linking to many different pages of the site, and not just the homepage. Impress Google by mimicking human nature and link to sub-pages of your site. Link to your photo galleries, link to your photography blog.
If you want an individual blog post or an individual image to rank, add a link to it from a forum or someone else’s blog. When building links, point to multiple pages of your site so that search engines do not interpret your new links as spam.
Elevate Your Search Rank
If you’re just getting started with search engine optimization, consider reading my previous MCP Actions posts 5 Keys to Searchability and SEO for Photographers or Blog SEO for Photographers: Capture Search by the Long Tail. For more advice and recommendations on linking and overall search engine optimization then visit my website for the free 8 lesson email course on SEO or the Photographers SEO Book.