Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a broad topic, and I am no expert. There are some who make careers out of SEO, who obsess over it and keep up to date on the latest in search engine trends and technologies. I am not one of these people. In creating the TTG web engines, however, I have done some research and have attempted to apply basic SEO principles to my designs.

Of course, there is nothing automatic about SEO. The Turning Gate puts the tools into your hands to optimize your galleries, but will not do it for you. As with photography itself, it’s not enough simply to have the tools; you must know how to use them.

In applying SEO to photographic websites, it is important to first understand that search engines rummage through text, not images. Google’s image search does not search images, but searches the text associated with images. Therefore, in the world of search engines, your images are only as good as the words you attach to them, and the words you surround them with.

The components most likely to be recognized by search engines in TTG pages and galleries are the page title, image filenames and image alt tags. Other elements on the page are of lesser importance, but can also play a role in SEO. In this article, I will address everything you can do to help your pages help you.


Being mostly web photo gallery engines, it is the images above all else that are important. Search engines first look at an image’s filename, much as we, as people, first look at a person’s face when meeting them. In most cases, the camera’s default filenames will be insufficient for our purposes; DO NOT post images to your gallery named _MG_0001.jpg. You may as well shoot yourself in the foot.

In Lightroom’s Library, give your files meaningful, descriptive names. This will help search engines to identify your images, and they will enjoy better placement. Also, for your own good, be sure to adhere to good file name convention.

Ignore my words at your own peril. Photo hell is chock full of poorly named image files. As a photographic professional, do you really want your images to go there?

As an example, let us say you have taken a photo at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. A descriptive filename might be Piazza_San_Marco_Venezia_Italia_001.jpg. An alternative might be the English language rendition, Saint_Marks_Square_Venice_Italy_001.jpg, or a combination of the two, Piazza_San_Marco_Venice_Italy_001.jpg.

With your files named in an intelligent fashion, take them to Lightroom’s Web module.

Choose an HTML Image Gallery

Flash may be flashy, but HTML pages and image galleries enjoy distinct advantages over their Flash counterparts. Not only can they be viewed on a larger array of mobile devices, but they also offer far better search engine optimization. One of the major disadvantages of Flash-based websites and image galleries is that Flash content is not exposed to search engines, meaning that your content is useless insofar as SEO is concerned.

If you do choose to use Flash galleries to present your images, you can increase your SEO opportunities by embedding your Flash content into TTG Stage CE2, which creates an HTML container for Flash content with many of the benefits described below.

Page Title

Page title is oft overlooked, but immensely important to SEO. Do not neglect to provide titles for your pages/galleries; you might not see it, but Google does. In TTG web engines, we accomplish this is the Site Info control pane:

Page Title

The text you enter here is arguably the most important single piece of text on your entire page, and will be filled in as the content of the page's HTML <title> element. Your title should serve to identify your business and/or content, and should be descriptive and informative.

The Turning Gate appearing in Google search engine results.

Pictured above is The Turning Gate's listing in Google search results. The title shown in purple is read directly from the content of my <title> element:

<title>The Turning Gate - Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Web Engines, Tutorials & Resources</title>

This title does a number of things right. First, it contains the name of my site, my brand, so that anyone attempting to find me specifically by name should easily be able to do so. Second, I use keywords to describe my site content: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Web Engines, Tutorials, Resources. This not only describes what is offered by my site, but also makes my site more likely to appear in generic searches for thinks like “Lightroom Tutorials”. Come to think of it, I would probably be well served to work the words “Galleries” or “Templates” into my title as well.

As a photographer, you should keep the same in mind. Your title should include pertinent information such as your name, your business name, your location and your specialties. For example, as a generic, site-wide title, I might title my pages:

Matthew Campagna Photography – Los Angeles, CA – Headshots, Landscapes, Portraiture and Product Photography

If I were posting a gallery of images from Venice, Italy, I might title the page something like:

Matthew Campagna Photography – Los Angeles, CA – Photos from Venice, Italy

Meta Tags

Meta Tags

In olden times, meta tags were of the utmost importance to search engine listing. Nowadays, that is not so much the case. I have included meta tags primarily as a “feel good” feature to indulge those grown adults who still can’t sleep at night without their teddy bears. Speaking true, I must tell you that meta tags are almost entirely useless. Search engines mostly don’t look at them, and don’t factor them into search results at all.

Note that I said search engines mostly don’t look at them. The one meta tag search engines do see is the description. This is sometimes used as excerpted text in search results. In the above image, the description would take the place of the black text, directly beneath the hyperlinked page title. Of course, if your page lacked the description, that block of text would instead be snipped from page content, and probably all the more relevant for it.

Feel free to fill in your name as author, as it never hurts to put your name on your gallery, although it will be redundant here if you’re done as I’ve told you and put it in the page title.

And you can pretty well ignore the keywords; meta keywords are dead, and have been dead for a very long time. Google’s official blog states: “…we generally ignore the contents of the 'keywords' meta tag.” Meta keywords persist on the Internet only as a type of undead, and should be staked clean through the heart. Seriously people, put them to rest and let them be dead. Zombies suck.

In the end, you will suffer not a bit by leaving your meta tags empty. On the other hand, every little edge you can get is to your advantage, so why not take advantage?

The Identity Plate

The identity plate itself has absolutely nothing to do with search engine optimization. But just as one might use an ice pick not as an ice pick, but as a weapon — and just as Alex J. Murphy was reborn as Robocop — I have leveraged the identity plate for SEO.

The Identity Plate

HTML headings are used to designate snippets of text in a hierarchy of importance within the page. The most important text is tagged <h1>, this tag usually being reserved for the title of the page content. In TTG Highslide Gallery, the <h1> tag is hidden behind the identity plate using CSS and is filled in from the Alt Test for Identity Plate field; some layouts allow the identity plate to be hyperlinked as well. These measures establish your identity plate not only as your visual identity, but as a marker of page identity within your source code, seen by search engines. In SEO, if the <title> element is a hard left hook, <h1> is the follow-up right uppercut.

Although you are able to disable the identity plate entirely, it is in the best interest of SEO — and of knocking your opponents flat out, and of defeating ED-209 — to keep it enabled, and to reinforce it with powerful, relevant text.

Hyperlinks / Site Navigation

Search engines see hyperlinks. Navigation menus are the most important hyperlinks on your site. Therefore, search engines see navigation menus.

Like everything else, it is important that your menu items be descriptive and informative. A bad menu looks like this:

Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3 | About | Contact

While a better, more descriptive, more informative menu might be:

Portraiture | Still Life | Aerial Photography | About Matthew Campagna | Contact

Search engines aside, it’s just good practice to give your visitors a good idea of where they might end up when they start clicking on your page. Descriptive menus are better for everyone, search engines included.

The Footer

Attribution and copyright notice.

The footer provides you yet another opportunity to place keywords into your page. I wouldn’t go overboard in the footer, but would probably try to keep it consistent from page-to-page, and relevant to the larger site, rather than the individual gallery. For example, a good footer might include your name and location, and reference the fact that your website contains photographs. For example:

Photographs by Matthew Campagna – Los Angeles, CA. Copyright 2011.

The Block

The Block is the text-focused area of your page and provides you an excellent opportunity to riddle your gallery with keywords. Let us review what we know.

1) Meta keywords are dead. 2) Image content is irrelevant to search engines. 3) Search engines look at a page’s textual content.

Just because meta keywords are dead, does not mean that keywords are not important. Instead of looking for keywords in meta tags, Google and other search engines intelligently identify keywords within your page content. Writing intelligent, grammatically correct and strategically formed paragraphs can help your pages and your images earn better search engine placement. Let’s break it down.

I’ve already told you that HTML heading tags help to identify text as important. In the block, use Markdown syntax to style headings, providing your gallery with a title. Every time you use a heading, that's one more opportunity to tell the search engine, “Hey, this here is important stuff!” Again, use titles that are descriptive and informative. Keeping with our Venice, Italy example, you might title your gallery:

Photographs from Venice, Italy (Venezia, Italia)

In this title, the words “photographs”, “Venice”, “Venezia”, “Italy” and “Italia” all become important keywords. You might then designate additional keywords by subtitling your gallery with some of the landmarks you have photographed:

Piazza San Marco, Basilica di San Marco, Ponte di Rialto, Campanile

As Uncle Ben once told Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Know when to reign yourself in, and please don’t use keywords that are not represented by images in your gallery. If you didn’t photograph the Campanile, for example, don’t list it in your content.

In writing descriptive paragraphs, keep your keywords in mind. Write grammatically, but reiterate your keywords where possible, as this will help to reinforce their importance for the search engines. You might also refer to yourself in the third-person, as search engines will not recognize “I” as you. Use your name. An effective descriptive paragraph for SEO might read:

Photos from Matthew Campagna’s trip to Venice, Italy. Matthew visited many famous landmarks, including the Basilica San Marco and the Campanile. The Piazza San Marco was full of pigeons, making for some fantastic photographs of tourists feeding the birds. Venezia’s picturesque architecture and beautiful canals made for great photography.

Take note of my use of keywords in this paragraph: photos, photographs, photography, Matthew Campagna, Matthew, Venice, Italy, Venezia, landmarks, Basilica di San Marco, Campanile, Piazza San Marco, pigeons, birds, tourists, architecture, canals.

That’s one loaded paragraph! But it’s a paragraph, not a list, and that’s important. Like Santa Claus, Google knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake! If Google thinks you are flagrantly stringing keywords together in an attempt to flaunt the system and cheat your rankings, it will actually punish you, giving your site lesser placement or blacklisting it from search results altogether.

The Grid

The Grid is the area in your gallery which is primarily dedicated to your images. Nonetheless, SEO opportunities abound. Your options here will largely depend upon which web engine in particular you are using, but here are some core elements you are likely to find in TTG engines.

Wrangling Metadata via Image Info

the Image Info control pane.

The Image Info control pane allows you to source image metadata into various locations within your source code, providing you with many wonderful opportunities for search engine optimization. Common in all CE2 engines, the <img alt= and <img title= options allow you to bind textual content to all of the images appearing on the page. The IPTC metadata fields for Title and Caption make excellent source material for these elements, but only if you've assigned titles and captions to each image in your Library. If not, change the default settings to populate these elements with other types of existant information, for example the image file name (especially if you have diligently given your files descriptive names).

Depending on the web engine you are using, the Image Info pane may contain additional options for assigning Headings, Captions and other information to your images. Make use of these tools to provide powerful, textual content for your images.

Image Headings and Captions

Image Captions

Info Plates

Info plates on thumbnail images.