Three websites?

the three websites of Neil Turner Editorial and Corporate Photographer

My project to get my websites secure has finally come to an end. None of them now show the “not secure” warning as they all have the correct certificates and https addresses. You’ll notice that I used the plural websites. That’s because I have ended up with quite a few domains and three sites in particular that represent me and my business. It’s a long and complicated story but I have found myself in this position and I had to make a decision about consolidating them into one and have the two “redundant” domains point to the active one or I could just tweak them all, give them enough design similarities to make them work as seamlessly as possible and end up with sites that are good at the job assigned to them.

  • https://dg28.com is my main site built with WordPress that has some important information about me, my contact details and is an incredibly simple quick-loading site with (I hope) clear navigation
  • https://neilturnerphotographer.com is an Adobe Portfolio site that shows off my work in a series of (currently) six portfolio sections with no other content
  • https://neilturnerphotographer.co.uk is this WordPress site – essentially a blog and where I put everything that is about opinion, interacting with others and which doesn’t fit on the other two

In amongst all of the decision making I started to read up about the exceedingly obscure and mystic art of SEO (search engine optimisation). I have become enough of an expert in it to know that I don’t really understand enough about it to give authoritative explanations of my attempts to put what I have learned into action. One thing that I can say with authority is that the various materials that I have read have regularly contradicted one another and that 99.9% of those who claim to be SEO experts don’t seem to have the magical knack of getting their own websites to the the front page of even quite specific searches. Why we would pay them to do ours is a question I haven’t had the courage to ask any of them.

Anyway, from everything I have found there are a few things that I have tried to put into practice:

  • URLs reflecting what the content is
  • Website titles having a clear, concise and consistent message about the content
  • Having internal and external links from as many pages of the site as possible (still a work in progress)
  • Having keyphrases, cornerstone content, meta descriptions and image alternative texts that will help web crawlers and bots to index the pages that I want people to find
  • Making my pages readable without dumbing down the content
  • Keeping the site structure relatively simple and providing site maps to Google using their web kit

Sometimes making your site easier to find and search can make you change the content in ways that don’t work once the visitor has found you. I decided that the best person to do my SEO was, well, me. Apparently writing in shorter sentences, having lots of sub-headings and using ‘transition words’ all contribute to your search-engine-friendliness and keeping pages and posts to the ideal lengths for those types of pages is a must. The agony that finding out that the homepage of my dg28 site has too few words, in sentences that are too long and using too many complex words threw me for a while. It made me re-write it, extend it and generally turn it into a sad sales pitch. It was obviously wrong and it got changed back the next day. The thing that I take from this is that there must be loads of sites out there with great SEO and readability ratings that are, at the same time, dull and mystifyingly schmaltzy.

This brings me back to the whole ‘three websites’ thing. My idea was that if I had to have links to other sites as well as links within a site, why not make those external sites my own? Instead of sending a visitor somewhere else just to give me a better searchability score why not send them to a URL controlled by me? I am sure that someone reading this will know why I shouldn’t have gone down that route but in everything I’ve read, nobody has discouraged it.

Once you open this can of worms there is no way to jam its content back in. Once you install your first SEO plug-in on a site and start to follow the warnings and advice that gets offered you are off on what could easily become a lifetime’s work. Google’s advice is wonderfully compelling yet non-specific with the words ‘if’, ‘or’, ‘but’ and ‘potentially’ cropping up way too many times for me to have taken all that much away from the many hours spent studying it.

You get to a stage when you hope that all of the work you have put in makes some difference but of course, to quote Google, “it can take, days, weeks or even months for our crawlers to index your site”. Two hours after finishing what I have now called ‘phase one’ of the SEO Project I searched for my exact keyphrase and location only to find that half a dozen wedding photographers who are clearly paying for Google ads popped-up on page one and I was nowhere to be seen. That raises the question; how many people looking for editorial and corporate photographers actually do a basic web search anyway? I have long hoped that the answer was “none worth working with” because I put her effort into targeting my web presence(s) and when I have analysed where my work came from direct contact from anyone finding me that way has usually proved to be a negligible number in terms of income. I have always had better ‘luck’ with LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter or Instagram than I have with my own website. Three or four days later and it’s getting better but I’m still stuck behind the paying-for-ads brigade.

Had we not been in lockdown and had I been out there doing what I love to do then I doubt if much, or even any, of this work would have been done. I also doubt that I’d have been poking through other photographers’ sites picking up on where they’ve done better than me and where they’ve fallen behind. I now know 1,000% more about SEO than I did and that’s probably a good thing. I feel like I have been home-schooling myself and that I only got a B- for my work on transition words and that my report for cornerstone content would say “could do better”. Phase two of the SEO Project is already underway and, should I get bored enough, I’ll come back and report on it when it is complete.

A quick footnote about secure sites:

After posting about my quest to make mine secure I was contacted by someone working in the City of London whose company have now blocked access to a lot of websites and that includes any and all sites that come up as not secure. They can go to their IT department and ask to have a specific URL unblocked or use their own smartphones to view them but in general their desktop machines and laptops owned by the company have this restriction in place. If one business is doing it, there’s a very good chance that others are already following suit or will do soon. Given that getting the certificates isn’t expensive or even that difficult then surely we should all be doing it.

2 comments

  1. Hi Neil, really interesting to see your views on websites, SEO and SSL certificates.

    I agree about SEO, it’s certainly a constantly moving target! Your points are all pretty solid and I’d add a few thoughts of my own, if I may (well I will anyway haha!)

    Your comments about “writing for SEO” ring so true. I’m taking a wild guess that you’ve been writing with one eye on the Yoast plugin smiley face. Honestly? Unless I write my copy for a 5-year-old, all I get is the angry face. More often than not, I write my copy in something like Pages, then copy and paste it into the post to avoid the constant distraction. Write for your audience, not some blind algorithm. Yoast hates ALL my main pages due to lack of text, but how much text does my Contact page need? My Home page has all the text it needs, but again Yoast hates it. I think Yoast has its uses, but it’s often wrong.

    And yet, search for something like “Bristol business photographer”, “Bath/Bristol corporate photographer” or whatever and I consistently hit P1 of Google (often within the top 6 listings too). I don’t worry about the sponsored results, because in my experience most sensible clients skim past those to the organic results.

    Other important factors for SEO include loading speed. I need to work on this because I have a habit of uploading images which are a little too large (not compressed enough), but I’ve also improved loading speed by moving my site to a faster, more stable host server. Load speed not only makes Google happy, it’s less frustrating for clients when the site loads quickly.

    On SSL certificates, again Google will favour a site with SSL over one without, regardless of the purpose of the site. Some people will believe that if they’re not garnering client info or selling anything, SSL is irrelevant. I’m happy to leave other photographers thinking this because it helps me! My host deals with SSL and it’s included in the annual package, so even easier to deal with.

    If you’re updating your pages regularly, including blog pages, then you’ve got the basics in place. I suspect that after such large changes it will take a while for Google to settle down, but you’ll start to see your rankings rise. And I’m in the opposite position to you; social media has given me little return, where SEO has given me many new clients, several of which have lead to long-term relationships and on-going work.

    Apologies for the long comment, but I found your post really useful and interesting and I wanted to give back what I’d taken. I hope you find some of what I’ve said useful.

    Tim

    PS Apologies if this comes through twice, WP is being weird…

    Like

    1. Definitely still learning and, as you say, coming to many of the same conclusions as you. Yoast is a great plug-in but their measurements of readability are now getting almost entirely ignored. My new rule is that if one of their “smiley faces” is red I will take a look but I ignore green and amber ones until I am happy with a page and am ready to publish. Again, just like you, I think that most of the faults and advisories are things I’m not prepared to damage the content by doing.

      Like

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