Sunday, March 28, 2010

Google SEO Antics - Revenge of The Algorithms

Well, Google's at it again! Back in September of 2008 (here), I wrote all about how the good people in the bowels of the Googleplex, in an effort to improve peoples' search results, had tweaked the algorithm just enough that a number of photographers websites fell off the radar. This was happening to a number of photographers across providers, platforms, and hosting companies. This is akin to a "rolling blackout" where whole areas of a geographic region get hit with a loss of power, in a coordinated manner to reduce the load on the power grid. However, in this case, entire sections of the web are getting lost in Google purgatory while the algorithm experts decide if you should return to your "little spot of heaven" or be banished to the hell that is beyond page 3 in the search results.

If you're in that purgatory right now, you're feeling the heat in the form of a fear that you will lose clients, and perhaps never return to your previous search-engine-return-position (SERP). Know this - you are not alone, it's just your time to feel the pain of the "rolling blackout" of Google's dominance.

(Continued after the Jump)

Make no mistake, friends, about you marketing efforts - SEO is definitively not a "set it and forget it" effort. Get out there and build quality links from relevant places to your website. Switch out your images with new ones - all of these things (and others) are what makes Google happy - fresh content that has inbound links from trusted sources.

If you did a half-hearted SEO effort with your provider, regardless of who they are, and have just let it go - you have little to blame but yourself. If you did a decent SEO effort, realized the results, and rested on your laurels - you have little to blame but yourself. SEO is an ongoing effort that you must stay on top of if you are to experience good results over the long term. Blaming Google or your provider isn't a solution. Am I aware of users of certain providers (NeonSky, liveBooks, etc) experiencing this? Yup. Are they to blame? Nope. Just like some crappy self-built-by-your-college-age-nephew website can rank #1 and then fall off the map, so too, can a $3,000 premium-brand website that was ranked #1 vanish. Your success is up to you.

Since both Rob Haggart's sites, along with those of liveBooks (disclaimer - liveBooks advertises here on PBN) have "shadow" sites showing an HTML edition to be more easily spiderable than a Flash site, let's discuss the concern about what some are worried about called Google's "duplicative content" penalty. On the face of this, it's a flawed argument, because if Google could spider the Flash edition of the site, then there would be no need for the HTML version, right? Thus, Google is blind to the Flash version of a tricked-out site and only sees the HTML version, so how can Google see, for example, celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith's flash site (here) when it can only read his html version of his site (here)? The answer is, they only see the HTML version.

If you're looking for someone to handle your SEO for you, I encourage you to contact two people I trust on SEO matters, William Foster (a Sacramento-based photographer who does SEO consulting), or Blake Discher (a Detroit-based photographer that also does SEO consulting).

Lastly, unless your name is Richard Avedon, Annie Liebovitz, or some other celebrity photographer, no one is searching for you by name - they are searching for you by geographic region/area, or by your specialty - maryland portrait photographer, or maryland wedding photographer, for example. So, don't go gauging your visibility by a vanity search, unless you're vain.

Search Engines And Your Website (9/26/08)

It's Google's World, You're Just A Small Part Of It (11/28/07)

SEO - Wild Wild West or Reason and Logic? (3/4/08)

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Mike Brice said...

This and the 2008 post fail to point out that Livebooks uses SEO as a marketing tool.

There number 2 line on their site is - Exceptional Search enginer results.

I think what this and the 2008 incident shows is that Livebooks taking credit for SEO rankings is like taking credit for snow in the winter.

I am surpried you have not called out these providers as being less than honest in their marketing. Two times in two years isn't a lot, but in 2008 it was 6 weeks before it was restored. Who knows how long it will be this time.

John Harrington said...

Mike -

Of course they use that as a marketing angle - because they're focused on it and good at it. There are other providers who don't care, and waste opportunities. Further, back in 2008, as now, a small percentage of liveBooks users are experiencing this problem - not everyone! So, that in and of itself should illustrate that the issue isn't in the liveBooks coding/SEO-handling, but in other factors.

LiveBooks (so too Haggart) can take credit for not only realizing the importance of SEO for photographers, but in giving photographers access to the metadata coding (i.e. being able to assign title tags to images, and so on) without having to know code, and having the information updated on the fly as you change images/etc. I know that not only are there other providers who don't give you that access or care about SEO, but don't even understand it.

-- John

Andrew Ptak said...


After reading this I checked myself, a Livebooks client. I've gone from number three on page one, to I can't even find myself and got bored after going through endless pages.

Brian Smith said...


Thanks for the nice linkage, Big Guy!


Nievo Jan said...

I've seen a website in flash form but when I viewed the source it's all in html form. I think there is a method for this.

Eric Schmiedl said...

"It's a flawed argument, because if Google could spider the Flash edition of the site, then there would be no need for the HTML version"

This is itself flawed... Google has long been able to spider Flash websites:

sm said...

Hi John,
Just wanted to point out the Neon Sky also makes a mirror HTML site for search engines to crawl. They also allow you to edit gallery-, page- and image-specific metadata with their SEO tools.
Full disclosure - I work with them and use their sites.

David Pullum said...

I am a Livebooks client and have so have no axe to grind, my site has also disappeared from google. Would you care to comment on my theory that Livebooks maybe cross indexing their sites on a server? which google detests, and thats why you can't host your own Livebooks site, but thats why SEO is so good.

Andrew Ptak said...

Anyone have a word on this from Livebooks? Last time this happened, I contacted customer service and got a "sh*t happens", kind of response. I don't know what happened then, because a couple of weeks later everything was back to normal.

Jim Blecha said...

Hi John,

My business has benefitted greatly ever since I attended presentations by Blake Discher and yourself at the ASMP Strictly Business Seminar in Los Angeles a couple years ago. Shortly after that seminar, I gave serious focus to a single specialty and established a liveBooks site to support that specialty. I regularly add and change content on my site.

I also incorporated many of the tips I learned at the seminar into the new liveBooks site which until recently has been a stellar performer. Only to have all of my hard work trashed by a "rolling blackout"?

It's extremely insulting to me that Google would totally drop my #1 site ranking off a cliff and replace it with other photographers' "set it and forget it" sites. I know this to be fact because I check my competitors' sites and some are truly awful.

Even more insulting is the fact that a new client who found me on Google (yes, I asked him), placed a really nice fine art print order for his office walls. Some of the prints were as large as 48x60" and partial payment was made through Google checkout. Both Google and I made money on the deal. Maybe I should just apply a "rolling blackout" to my future use of Google checkout....

SEO said...

Very nice article.. worth reading it. Thank you for posting such a nice post about seo :D

London Magician said...

I am just getting into SEO and read your article with interest. it appears to me that it is such a fine balance that you rankings can go up and down with the smallest of changes. i was advised to not make to many changes but reading this it appears external factors can affect you as well. My advice is to not rely on google / search engines as your sole source of business. i see a lot of comments from people saying their site has dropped and this is really damaging their business!

The internet should be one arm of your marketing not your sole arm.


Wedding Photographer Hampshire said...

Very interesting reading, I have seen my site drop from page 1 to page 5 overnight - it is recovering slowly but it just shows me fragility of my main advert. I need to understand this stuff more!


Suffolk Wedding Photographer said...

This is really interesting, but I do have a question... As I am reading this a year or so after it was published, will the algorithms have changed again?

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