Originally this was intended to be 1 blog post. However, Daniel did such a great job there was more than enough content to create two great posts.
ENTER, ONCE AGAIN, DANIEL…
Turning to your questions:
Good quality content is an ambiguous term. Search engines and human beings have different versions of quality at the moment and it’s important to find where they join up.
Google certainly value ‘fresh’ content like a blog. It’s important to Google that your site is still seen to be active and updated and therefore relevant. But that’s not hugely realistic for a business website; if you’re selling sheet metals it’s unlikely that even your customers would be interested in a blog about that! Most of what I photograph is not interesting enough to blog about. Google also value video as they believe it keeps your audience more engaged but, in my case, a web user might find a video slideshow of images too tedious and prefer to cherry pick what they want to see from a gallery of thumbnails, so I have to find other excuses to use video (I plan on including one on my about me page eventually).
Of course, words are still paramount in a text based search system and this is something most photographers struggle with; we want people to ooh and ahh over our pretty pictures not bore them to tears with our bio and a sales pitch.
So my approach was to write a lot of fixed pages full of text – even my portfolio pages have text copy interspersed among the galleries. You’ll see my about me page is quite short but it links to three sub pages which are very wordy. When writing copy the trick is to make it keyword rich while still making it seem natural and engaging – not an easy trick to pull off!
For example, I recently made the mistake of paying an SEO marketing company to add ten pages to my website, which are aimed at making me more visible on searches for areas surrounding Newcastle. If you scroll to the bottom of any page and click on one of the ‘My Location’s links, say Whickham, you’ll see a frankly awful example of how to write copy. The text is aimed purely at search engines, so I am seen in Google for ‘Freelance Photographer Whickham’, but anyone reading that is likely to be left unsure as to what I’m trying to sell. By contrast, my Biography page is written to amuse a human being but still has the relevant information and keywords to get me to rank in searches for a freelance photographer in Newcastle.
So I determine ‘quality content’ as that which pleases both humans and search engines and I did most of that work early on with fixed pages and stand out blog posts, which continue to draw traffic. I then do other things to please the search engines (like occasionally adding a new blog post, video, or page to the website) to make sure the algorithm doesn’t get bored of indexing my site. Clients don’t actually need anything other than my contact page and galleries- – and even less than that once you’ve hooked them – but I need to have this massive, text heavy, multimedia rich, engaging website to make sure I keep the bots happy!
I suspect this also answers your question about strategy but allow me to outline my thought process when it comes to writing quality copy.
First and foremost, it’s safe to assume that most people are either stupid or lazy when it comes to searching. They will search ‘Photographer Newcastle’ and look no further than page one of Google. They will also mistakenly believe that if you’re at the top of the first page of Google it must be because you’re good at photography (as opposed to good at web building) and, once on your site, they will skim read your content looking for the answer to whatever the question was that prompted them to search in the first place.
Therefore, if the page on your site ranks high for ‘Photographer Newcastle’ it either has to magically answer every possible question that could have prompted the search query (preferably above the fold too), or otherwise grab the searchers attention.
However, searching for ‘Photographer Newcastle’ will leave you drowning in a never ending sea of wedding photographers. If that’s not what you wanted, you’re already forced to modify your search. And this is where, as a business owner, you have to pick your strategy carefully. Most on-line resources will tell you to do keyword research to find out what keywords people are searching for and then design your content to match that. So, if they modify their search to say ‘cheap photographers, Newcastle’ or ‘best photographer Newcastle’ more, then that’s what you should aim for.
An alternative train of thought – and in my opinion better – is to think about what kind of client you would like to work for and then write your copy to catch those people. So, I’m not looking to work with someone who is stupid, lazy or cheap. I’m looking for clients who are affluent enough to have a high quality monitor screen and high speed broadband to appreciate large images. And I’m looking for someone intelligent enough modify their search by searching for the type of work they want the photographer to do and then discriminate based on personality and quality of work rather than price. I also prefer working with women than men in most cases, so I design my site and the content to lean slightly in that direction.
Next, I’m not psychic and I can’t answer whatever the question is in the searcher’s mind with a general purpose page, but I can attempt to break them out of their screen-induced-hypnosis by disrupting their expectations (either with humour, site design or just by speaking to them as a fellow human being rather than a search query).
So, in terms of writing the copy, obviously relevant keywords are important for the search engines – in order to get searchers to your site in the first place – but I feel it’s more important to engage with the reader once they’re there. I say this for two reasons, firstly because I’m providing a personal service, my USP is me not my work, and secondly because all of the search engines are working toward semantic searching and voice recognition (I learn cool stuff like this while shooting conferences), so they’re all looking to prioritise sites that engage humans rather than simply keyword-stuffing to trick the system. So even if I wasn’t already ranking high, it’s a good long-term strategy to be writing for humans anyway, as the tech will catch up with what humans want.
Since having those ten pages added to my website, my visibility on Google for different search terms has gone up and visits to my website have increased but enquiries have actually dropped dramatically. I think this is because these new pages are bad landing pages. They confuse people and scare them off, so I’m in the process of re-writing the copy myself. I’ve already rewritten the Alnwick and Birmingham pages but I’m struggling to write engaging copy because the guide text I started with is so uninspiring!
Before those pages were added, I was getting contact from predominantly female clients, who had already formed a favourable opinion of me and were smart enough to have fun interactions with, so I think my approach works. The downside of being so selective, is that I don’t get a lot of work and am still having to supplement with part time work. So, there is something to be said for a more general, catch-all approach!