Have you ever wondered why a certain website is on the first page of Google search results but NOT yours? In this case study, we look at https://www.gemma-clarke.com for clues as to why Google is favoring this wedding photography website over all others.
For years, I struggled to understand why certain wedding photography sites were performing better than others. For years, I blogged content regularly and ensured that I had targeted a particular keyword. And for years, I never really saw any traction from my efforts.
In an earlier blog post, I audited 10 wedding photographers from around the world. I discovered that most of the sites had a high number of backlinks from wedding publications but their on-page SEO and keyword rankings were poor.
Therefore, I decided to do the opposite. Instead of finding SEO issues, I wanted to show you a wedding photography site that was performing well and what you can copy to replicate its success.
Before we deep-dive into reverse engineering SEO success, a few basic concepts explained ..
Search Engine Optimization 101
I don’t know how much or how little you know about search engine optimization so to be safe, I am going to answer a few introductory questions so that you can get the most out of this case study.
How does Google rank websites?
The goal of any search engine is to serve searchers with the most relevant answer to their question (it keeps users coming back next time they have a problem needing solving). But how does Google factor in new content that is being created and published every single minute?
If you think of the Internet as an ever-expanding library, Google uses crawlbots to visit web pages every single day to add new content to its index. This process is called crawling and indexing and it is needed for Google to understand what your website and web pages is about. And it is through crawling and indexing that Google can decide where to ‘rank’ you against other similar content.
Search engine optimisation is the process of helping Google better understand your content so that it will prefer your content over another.
How do I optimise my site for Google?
There are 3 primary areas of optimisation: (1) technical elements, (2) on-page elements, and (3) off-page elements. You can find out more here and here. All websites need to ensure that crawl bots can access their important pages, however, different industries and niches will have varying on-page and off-page elements. For example, less competitive niches can rank in the top 20 positions without any backlinks.
Since there are so many variables (and quite often, the goal posts will change), the best way to find out how you can optimise your site is to look at the actual SERPs.
Are keywords important for SEO?
As long as people continue to search for information and solutions using words, keywords will remain an integral part of SEO.
Read this blog post to learn more about the role keywords play in SEO and how you can choose the best ones for your business.
How many keywords can a page have?
I have seen some web pages rank for thousands of keywords.
An optimised page should rank for multiple relevant keywords, for example – ‘wedding photographers in Sydney’, ‘Sydney wedding photographer’ and ‘wedding photographer Sydney’.
So how can I get a page to rank for my target keywords?
You may have noticed that a page does not need to mention the specific keyword to be the top result in Google. This typically indicates that the website has higher Authority than other competing websites (including yours). The only way to increase Authority is through a long-term strategy of acquisition.
Outside of building high-quality links to your webpages, on-page SEO and an appropriate content strategy will help you rank for your target keywords.
How long does it take Google to rank?
Depending on the overall competitiveness of the keyword,, assuming that you have carried out the necessary keyword research, have built a number of high quality links to your domain, and have optimised on-page elements, you can expect to see your page ranking in the first 100 positions within 30-45 days.
For new websites, there may be a longer waiting period.
Most pages will get indexed within 2 weeks. Getting maximum visibility and clicks by getting it to page 1 of Google, however, involves a bit of analysis and work.
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Does Ranking #1 Matter?
Many SEO agencies promise to rank your site on the first page within 90-days or promise to rank your site as the #1 result. These agencies tend to be really dodgy.
But there is merit in wanting to rank #1. Based on various studies:
- 75 percent of clicks go to the first page of search results.
- The first position takes almost a third of all traffic share.
- The second position gets 15 percent of traffic share.
- With less than 10 percent of clicks/traffic/attention going to the third position.
As you can see, three-quarter of all searches remain on the first page results. And the further down your site shows on the first page, the less traffic you will receive.
To be clear, I can rank your website for a random irrelevant term in less than 30-days. All it takes is a new page of content with a chosen long tail and obscure keyword. Ranking for this keyword serves you absolutely no purpose and this is why I say most agencies who promise to rank your site within 90-days is full of sh*t.
Zero multiplied by zero is still, yep, zero.
Therefore, the goal is not to rank #1 but to do so for relevant terms specific to (i) your business goals, and (ii) for your prospective customers.
Why Does One Site Rank Over Another For The Same Keyword?
Google is in the habit of serving the most appropriate and relevant answers to its users. It wants you to come back to the search engine the next time you have a question solved. Therefore, it is in its best interest to display the best answer to a particular search query on the first page.
Search engine optimization is a zero sum game. There can be only one first position.
But Google doesn’t always get it right.
Google will rank one web page over another due to a number of variables. The exact variables remain largely unknown – mostly to prevent people gaming the system.
I’m a believer that Google reveals what it wants on each SERP. However, what it wants changes between different keywords. That is, there is no universal list of SEO tasks to guarantee a first-page result. It changes with machine learning, with changes in user behavior, and in the quality of SEO carried out by competing web pages.
The main reason why one site outranks another boils down to this: content relevance and how (well) it satisfies search intent.
What does this mean for you as a wedding photographer?
- Google crawls and indexes web pages, not websites. Therefore, your efforts should be per-page rather than trying to rank your homepage.
- Since SEO is page-based, you cannot avoid strategic content creation. That is, blogging. Blogging can definitely help with your SEO but only if done with purpose. Take a moment to read this resource guide on how to make blogging profitable for our business.
- To help Google promote your web page, make it easy for its crawl bots to understand what each page is about. That is, look at on-page elements such as how page titles, h1-h3 headings, and word count relate to a particular keyword and the search intent for said keyword.
- Look at wedding photography websites that are on the first page of Google and reverse engineer what they’re doing right. You will need a number of tools to do so (click here to view the recommended list of SEO tools).
- SEO is an ongoing process as the goals keep moving. Sometimes, this is not a fault of Google, but rather, a reflection on how people use search engines to solve a problem.
With the basics covered, let’s get started.
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Case Study: A Study Into Why Gemma Clarke Ranks Top 5 For ‘Sydney Wedding Photographer’
Gemma Clarke is a Sydney-based wedding photographer and her website – https://www.gemma-clarke.com, ranks in 4th position for this popular search query.
The keyword ‘Sydney wedding photographer’ receives an estimated 800 monthly searches in Australia. The average cost-per-click for the keyword is $8.00 which indicates that the keyword is in high demand.
Looking at the first 5 results on Google (refer to above screenshot), you can see that the Easy Weddings domain holds the first two positions with fashion magazine Harpers Bazaar ranking third. These two domains are highly respected and have significant marketing budgets behind them. So it is no small feat for https://www.gemma-clarke.com/ to show up in 4th position.
In fact, it is the first actual wedding photographer to grace the SERPs.
It must be doing something right.
These were the things that I came across:
- HTTPS enabled.
- HTTP redirects to HTTPS, as does non-www to www.
- Clean URLs implemented.
- All page titles are custom set with evidence of keyword research and inclusion into the page title (refer to below screenshot).
- Content and keywords are reflected in the site’s silo structure (e.g., country weddings, south coast weddings, winter weddings) – this has greatly reduced keyword cannibalization seen in typical wedding photography sites.
- Hub-content pages (e.g., /south-coast-weddings/) provide internal links to individual relevant blog posts.
- Most blog posts have at least 150+ written words.
- Most meta descriptions have been filled out with less than 6% being duplicates.
- No instances of meta keywords.
- All pages (except homepage) have keyword optimized h1 tag.
- No multiple h1 tags found on any pages.
- URL length is kept as short as possible (whilst incorporating keyword in the permalink).
- 30 percent of all organic visitors land on the homepage.
- 20 percent of all organic visitors land on web pages where the best performing keyword is wedding venue related (e.g., Mali Brae farm, Jaspers Berry, Merribee wedings).
- Robots.txt not blocking crawl bots (Google, Bing, Baidu, Yahoo!).
- Substantial quantity of authoritative and relevant referring domains (greenweddingshoes.com, easyweddings.com.au, rocknrollbride.com, aipp.com.au, apracticalwedding.com, hellomay.com.au).
- In addition to ranking in #4 position for ‘Sydney wedding photographer’, the site also ranks #3 for ‘wedding photography Sydney’, and #4 position for ‘wedding photographer Sydney’.
- Maximum crawl depth of 4 – that is, all content can be accessed within 4 clicks from the homepage.
- All images less than 900kb in file size.
- 87.3% of web pages returned 200 (OK) status.
- 301 redirects implemented on removed pages so that there are no 404 errors.
- Over 75% of URLs had images alt tag attributes implemented.
Based on the above analysis, it becomes a bit more apparent why Google favors Gemma Clark over other wedding photography sites.
Make it easy for Google to crawl and index your site:
- Include as many internal linking opportunities as you can.
- Implement HTTPS.
- Incorporate target keyword into permalinks.
- Keep permalinks concise.
- Remove any broken links (internal and external) and apply 301 redirects for deleted or poor performing web pages.
Do better keyword research than your competition:
The foundation of SEO lies in keyword research. Do it well and your web pages and content creation efforts will yield results in the long term.
Going after big ticket keywords such as ‘Sydney wedding photographer’ and ‘wedding photography Sydney’ is probably a waste of time. Commercial head terms such as these require Authority and the only way to gain Authority in the eyes of Google is to acquire highly relevant links. Again, replicate what Gemma has done.
Instead of trying to directly optimise your homepage or landing page for ‘Sydney wedding photographer’, I recommend that you look for long tail keyword opportunities that you can quickly rank for within a matter of weeks.
Follow on-page SEO (don’t be lazy):
- Write! Provide as much information as you can for each web page. Pages with little text provide Google with limited crawlable data. With greater word count, web pages can rank for long tail keywords.
- Web pages must have its own unique keyword optimised page title.
- Web pages must have one keyword optimised <h1> tag, use <h2> for sub-headings.
- Lazy load images.
Keep building links to various web pages (don’t give up):
Link acquisition is the most time-consuming part of search engine optimization and perhaps the least enjoyable. This is because, link building involves a lot of rejection.
Often, the most rewarding tasks are the most difficult ones. So keep trying!
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Bonus: How You Can Outrank This Site (Or Any Other Site)
SEO may be a zero sum game but there’s always something you can do better, day by day, in order to outrank your competitors.
In addition to copying all the good SEO practices that gemma-clarke.com has demonstrated, follow these steps to outperform sites that are currently ranking on the first page:
- Since most marrying couples first look for a wedding venue, you should continue with this content and site structure approach.
- Similar to what gemma-clarke.com has done, make a list of all wedding venues in your service area.
- Each wedding venue will have its own landing page where the target keyword for the page will be [venue name]. I recommend using a tool called Clearscope to ensure that your writing produces SEO results. The tool will tell you the average word count the top 10 pages have and advise what keywords you need to use.
- On each landing page, you will include as much valuable information about the venue. You can either scour the venue’s website and collect the data or contact the venue directly and ask them for the information. By doing this, you will automatically deliver more value to your visitors than 95% of the competition. And the best thing about this strategy is that you don’t need to have photographed a wedding at said venue but still appear in the SERPs.
- On the landing page, provide insights as a professional photographer. You can discuss best locations for photos, best time of day for an outdoor ceremony as per the season for the particular venue, and/or provide any relevant information that gives you authority on the subject.
- Since you are a wedding photographer, you should display as much of your portfolio as possible. You can do this in two ways: (i) you can create a separate blog post for each wedding and link to it from the venue landing page, or (ii) have a gallery of images on the venue landing page. The latter strategy is good if you don’t take on too many weddings per year while the former approach runs a risk of keyword cannibalisation if not done correctly.
- To go another step further, you can recommend other wedding vendors that service a particular wedding venue.
- Build links to these hub-content URLs.
Like most wedding photography customers, the Google algorithm cannot distinguish between good, excellent and mind-blowing wedding photography. All it can do, however, is crawl your web pages and try to index you for relevant search queries. Therefore, it is on you to provide the information that it seeks.
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