I’m sharing with you 30 helpful, practical tips to help you with your local SEO journey as a photographer or other small business owner. And yes, this is all about doing your own SEO, believe me, it’s not impossible! Trying to find this kind of info online however can be overwhelming and rather daunting. Yeah, I remember that.

Introducing: Actionable ways to rank in local search (for non-techies)

As a non-technical person with a background running my local service business, I would quickly get turned off by articles promising SEO tips. Why? Too technical, irrelevant for a simple, small business website – and usually trying to sell some software.

So, I’ve compiled this actionable guide to DIY SEO tweaks you can make to your website for small business owners everywhere. Perfect if you’re just dipping your toes into local SEO. Whether you have a brick and mortar, or a service area business (SAB), these tips will not only help but give you an idea of rationale and terminology behind the jargon.

My resources are intended for photographers & other service-area business owners who are interested in do-it-yourself SEO. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, check out my local SEO glossary here

READ MORE  A seriously helpful local SEO glossary of terms

As a small business owner, your website is not your business. It’s simply one way (of many) for new customers to find out that you exist. You want your customers to hire you or visit your brick and mortar location. So don’t sweat the small stuff.  Here are my 30 tips for DIY SEO – the stuff that’ll actually help you to rank better in local search. .

Psst, want to know what I wish I’d known about local SEO when I first started out on my small business owner journey? Check out the post linked below!

READ MORE  11 things I wish I’d known about local SEO when I started my small business
tips for how to rank on Google when you do SEO yourself as a small business owner

Table of Contents

1. Do your keyword research 

Keyword research is important for local businesses. It helps you gain an insight into how people search. You’ll optimize for the keywords you find, by creating content that targets them closely. I have a detailed article about my favorite free keyword research tools here

READ MORE  16 free keyword research tools for your small business in 2020

When you’re as invested as you are in your business, it can be tough to see how your customers really find you. Keyword research reveals something incredibly valuable that it can be almost impossible for us to see. 

For example, as a wedding photographer in my day job, I see a lot of photography websites. These wedding photographers have as their site’s keywords, ‘photojournalistic, documentary-style’, or ‘fine art editorial imagery’. But of course, no-one is searching for those terms – not potential clients, anyway. They’d be better off targeting phrases like ‘affordable wedding photographer Los Angeles’ or ‘Dallas wedding photographer’. Once they have customers on their site, they can talk specifics.

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2. But it’s OK to take a more intuitive approach to creating content

That said, keyword research tools are missing the uniqueness that you bring. And the knowledge about your target market and area that you have. One approach I often advocate for is using hyper-local keywords, which won’t have show any search volume, by definition. This doesn’t mean such content will never be found – it’ll actually resonate more by the small segment of people who are searching. You’ll stand out as the only one providing it, too!

If a search has zero monthly search volume, don’t sweat it. Over 90% of the key phrases in the ahrefs database have less than 20 searches per month!

There’s something to be said for making the content that matters to you. Getting personal and being yourself matter hugely in the local SEO / content marketing world. Read my tips for creating shareable blog content here!

3. Answer your customers’ most commonly asked questions

Keep a list the questions clients ask you over and over. Chances are, potential customers are also Googling these topics! Over the years of being in business, store up all my frequently asked questions and sticky issues that come up. The kind of complex matters that are tough to answer in a simple email.

I write a thorough article that gives them more info than they were even seeking, then I simply direct them to the blog post. This also cuts down on overly long emails. If they choose, they can read a thorough, visually appealing post article, linked to many other resources they might find interesting. 

4. Link out to other blog posts 

This brings me onto my next point! Every blog post you write should have links to related content. This keeps people on your site, all the while growing ever-more interested in what you have to say. Most importantly, it builds trust. Users can see you’re dedicated to providing useful information that answers their questions.

Personally, I use WP Related Posts. I do use it manually, which is a touch trickier when you use Gutenberg. However, you can also use AI that will automatically tailor related posts to the content the user is viewing. 

5. Add a CTA (call-to-action) to every post

On your blog post, you will be focused on providing helpful information without a hard sell. After all, a blog post or article is not a sales page. However, you can and should add a call-to-action at the bottom! For example, drawing from my own experience, let’s say I share images and info from a wedding at a particular venue. I might end the post with, ‘Enjoy my photos? Find out more about my wedding photography services here! Can’t wait to shoot at [venue] again!’ Keep it short and to-the-point. 

You could also direct users to a lead magnet, product page or mailing list sign-up. Example below, from an informative article ‘how to fix a leaky faucet‘:

Example of a well-written call-to-action (CTA) at the bottom of an informative blog post, promoting a lead magnet in a natural and non-salesy way.

6. Write your content and descriptions in a natural way 

Some popular SEO tools will give you guidance on how many times the keyword should appear in the content. While it’s good to know you’re targeting a keyword effectively, the idea of ‘keyword density’ is an outdated one.

These days, Google and other search engines use latent semantic indexing (LSI), to understand accurately what the searcher is looking for. You don’t need to stuff the exact keyphrase in repeatedly. In fact, this spammy technique can be considered a negative. Just stay on-topic. Mentions of your keyword and related and synonymous terms will come naturally. 

7. Consider the title carefully before posting

If you have the most wonderful people of content, but a boring title, you’ve lost the battle. The title should be click-worthy (not clickbaity!) and also address the searcher’s query carefully. If you’re not used to step up your game compared with your local competitors:

  • 25 tricks to help you…
  • How to… when you’re….
  • Top 5 lessons for….
  • Worst mistakes all….. make
  • A handy illustrated guide to…
  • Ultimate guide to…

8. Place the most important words first

When writing your content, you’ll want to make sure the most important words come first in the headline or title. Search engines will generally prioritize and give more weight to the words that come first. The title is the first thing Google sees, and from that it tries to make sense of the content and rank it accordingly.

screenshot - SERP results showing example of titles showing up first, as Google makes sense of the content and rank it accordingly.

This also makes it easier for folks to see at a glance what exactly they’ll get from your page in case the important words are cut off by search engine truncation.

9. Use one descriptive H1 per page 

Your H1 – or main heading – is generally the same as, or very similar to, the title of the page or post. You may specify it to be different if you use a plug-in that allows you to customize titles that appear in SERPs. Google has stated that it doesn’t matter a great deal if you have multiple H1s, but for the sake of clarity and correct formatting, I still suggest keeping one clear H1 so you know exactly what each page is about. Another reason is theme may style your H1s differently to give them greater prominence.

10. Use H2 tags in your blog posts

Headings are a way of breaking up your content into bite-size chunks. These days, many readers are used to skimming a post. Most SEO tools like Yoast will remind you to keep each section of text to a maximum of 250-300 words, which is a good rule of thumb.

But think of less as a hard and fast SEO rule, and more like a readability rule. When you use headings, these are helpful signposts for readers to navigate through the post. H2s are basically sub-headings in your post. WordPress for example will allow you to easily change a block of text to a heading, then you can select which level heading (H1, H2, H3…)

screenshot showing how to use H2 tags for headings in your blog posts as small business owner, on the WordPress CMS (Gutenberg)

11. Make sure your target keyword appears on your homepage (e.g. product/service + area)

I made such a big mistake with this one in my service business! I was wasted a lot of time designing a beautiful homepage that never actually said on it “[my service] + [my location]”. D’oh! You’ll want to have this as an H1 heading on your homepage, clear as day for users to read so they know they’re in the right place. It’ll also help Googlebot immensely to figure out what your site is about!

READ MORE  Homepage
screenshot showing how to optimize local business websites for SEO using “[my service] + [my location]" titles or H1 tags - dog grooming business
screenshot showing how to optimize local business websites for SEO using “[my service] + [my location]" titles or H1 tags - italian restaurant
screenshot showing how to optimize local business websites for SEO using “[my service] + [my location]" titles or H1 tags - plumbing business

12. Avoid keyword cannibalization. Have one page per desired search term. 

For example, I want to rank for ‘my service + my city’, I create one page, whether the homepage or a sales page, that I optimize for the term. You have no control over which one ranks. Sometimes Google will pull a seemingly random category page as your sole entry to the SERP – that isn’t how you want your customers to find you! Since the diversity update in 2019, for most non-branded searches, Google will only show a maximum of two results per domain! To check if you’re cannibalizing, type the below into Google: 

site:yoursite.com intitle:”key phrase to rank for”

For example:

site:zoelarkin.com intitle:“bay area wedding photographer”

Here’s what we get (below). As you can see, I have 3 pages coming up for that term, so I’d probably want to kill the overuse of that keyphrase for my ‘Contact’ and ‘Blog’ page, which aren’t target pages for my SEO strategy.

screenshot from Google SERP showing how to  use intitle search to identify cannibalized keywords on your website

13. Resize the images correctly before uploading

Resize images correctly if at all possible before uploading. Yes, there are plug-ins that do this once uploaded, but you want to keep everything as light as possible on the back-end.

For photographers, this is of course a huge part of our content strategy. But other business types too, should have some image-assets at the ready, sized correctly. Even free web programs will do this adequately, just have a Google around.

14. Add alt text to describe the image

You use alt text to describe an image by adding this to the back end when you upload the image or add it to your post. Alt text helps visually impaired users understand what the images are showing, and provide appropriate descriptions to search engine crawlers so they can be indexed correctly.

And a bonus tip – avoid using cheesy-looking stock photography like guys in suits shaking hands! Instead of evoking trust it looks spammy and inauthentic to today’s savvy web users. Here’s an example, judge for yourself:

Example of using cheesy-looking stock photography

15. Implement schema markup 

I have to admit, I don’t yet use this one myself so I’m researching this one. Schema.org is a way of marking up your webpages on the backend so that bots, webmasters and developers alike understand what’s going on on a particular webpage. It’s like a shared vocabulary to make sure everyone’s on the same page, so to speak.

My inability to use it was no doubt due to my own lack of knowledge. And it hasn’t hampered my SEO efforts not using schema markup. However you’ll certainly receive more SERP features and achieve greater visibility if you learn and implement schema markup.

16. Test the speed of your site

A fast-loading side is essential. That’s a given. Did you know an additional two seconds of loading time can increase your site’s bounce rate by 103 percent. Slow site = BAD!

Use Google’s Page Speed Insights. It’ll give you, well, insights into how to increase page speed. Don’t get too hung up though, the changes are difficult to implement unless you are extremely technical. Ultimately the host you use is going to have the biggest impact on your page speed. Do what you can to get that page speed as low as possible.

Screenshot from Google Page Speed Insights showing a very fast-performing page speed of 99/100

For photographers like myself, it’s often a trade-off between images being too few or too fuzzy; and having a fast-loading site. Of course, we want to showcase some imagery. But hundreds of full-width, 3500-px images in a hero gallery is certainly going to slow things down.

17. Set up Google Analytics and Google Search console

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are extremely useful tools that give you detailed information about your audience. How many users visit, where they live, what they are searching to find you, even if there are any issues with your site. They’re a treasure trove of data if you know how to use them. The first step is getting set up and having a play around with the tools. Find out more about the basics here.

18. Test the mobile-friendliness of your site

You will need a mobile-friendly site – no ifs or buts! Google has announced that in September 2020 they will switch to mobile-first indexing for every site they crawl. That means their bots will simulate a smartphone user and go visit the mobile version of your site. Make sure you’re set up! This may mean switching to a responsive design, of which there are thousands of good and pretty inexpensive ones out there. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly test

example of a non mobile responsive web page

19. Have a secure site (https:// not http://) 

If your website hasn’t been worked on for a while, there’s a chance you may still be using the old http:// format rather than https:// protocol. The ‘s’ at the end denotes ‘secure’, so it shows your customers you take security on the internet seriously.

In a small way, it builds trust and adds professionalism – in short, a better user experience. Though it isn’t technically a ranking factor as yet, it very likely will be. Meaning http:// sites will be demoted in the rankings until they make the switch. So, get yourself an SSL certificate – there are really no downsides to this. Most hosts/ domains include this as standard now, but even if there is a small cost, it’s most certainly worth it. 

Example of a non secure website using the http:// protocol that will soon become a Google ranking factor, not good for SEO
Example of a secure website using the https:// protocol that will soon become a Google ranking factor, and is very good for SEO and security

20. Create an xml sitemap

Sitemaps aren’t essential these days – but it’s still good practice to have one, especially for a newer site. A sitemap is basically a list of all the posts or pages (or other items like news and images), for search engines to consume. A sitemap helps bots crawl every nook and cranny to understand your site’s architecture.

Even if you haven’t linked all your articles internally, the sitemap shows Google what’s on your site and when each article was last updated. There’s no guarantee the search engines will rank everything, but what’s on the sitemap will be indexed.

21. Make sure you sitemap includes an image sitemap

Most sitemap plug-ins such as Jetpack do this automatically, but it’s worth checking you’re set up correctly. If you use a sitemap that includes an image sitemap, you’ll show up on Google Image Search.

sitemap example screenshot illustrating how to optimize your website for local SEO

Now of course, for photography businesses this is a must! A huge proportion of searchers will be looking at the images first and foremost. But whatever your biz, it’s well worth optimizing for image search. It’s also a way your content can be found and pinned on the largest visual search engine by far – Pinterest!

22. Build backlinks by adding yourself to local directories 

Once you have all this lovely content, you’ll want to make sure it’s backlinked. That just means that other sites create links to your site.

It’s important because every backlink is counted by Google as a sort of ‘vote’ for your site. Someone else is vouching for you, so your content must be pretty good, right?

One easy way to do this is add your site to relevant local and trade directories. The days of spamming your site all over the web are gone, so focus on quality links from trusted organizations and websites. Also consider leveraging relationships with other relevant business owners in your local area.

23. Create your own backlink alert 

You can use one of Google’s free tools (Google Alerts) to alert you when someone has mentioned your business. It’ll email you whenever the term you type in appears on the web. You should put “” around your business name, otherwise you may get lots of irrelevant alerts. But that is a neat and free way to see if sites and talking about you. Hopefully they’re saying something nice.

Here is one of my most recent Google Alerts for my brand. As you can see, a popular bridal magazine featured my content:

Google Alert email screenshot - set up to notify a brand of mentions on the web

Though this was a submission I made myself, sometimes that isn’t the case, and someone else has added an image I made to their site. You can then reach out and ask them if they wouldn’t mind kindly adding a link.

I’ve done this myself just by Googling my business name, and everyone I reached out to was happy to add a link. As it’s largely going to be your local community, people tend to be more receptive.

24. Link out to other reputable online resources

We’ve talked about internal linking – or linking to other pages and posts on your site. But you don’t want to forget linking out to authority sources within your posts. This is called external linking. It’s a karma thing – you link out to sites and eventually you’ll find yourself accumulating backlinks that you didn’t have to pay for.

It also looks good in the eyes of search engines, your content appears richer, better-researched, full of helpful resources to users. As well as that, it providing signals to Google about exactly what your topic is. 

Just be careful not to include too many outbound links. Some say that leaks too much of ‘juice’ to other domains.

25. Make sure your name, address and phone number appear consistently 

Also known as your NAP citation, you will want to monitor this. Basically, Google doesn’t like when there are different phone numbers associated with one business or variations on the name. Anything that could confuse customers is cause for concern.

Even with something as basic as the street name, make sure it appears exactly the same from place to place – if it’s ‘St’ on your website, make sure it’s not ‘Street’ elsewhere. 

screenshot showing local nap citations - and to keep consistent across the web for seo best practices

I’m still on the fence about what photographers are supposed to do about NAP citations. 99% of wedding photographers (at least in my market of San Francisco) will not have their own studio outside of their home. It’s a bit of a security risk to list your home address, given the value of our equipment!

You’ll have to find what works for you, as NAP citations are very valuable and effective for local ranking.

26. Ask for customer reviews and reply to all of them

Reviews are so important to small businesses – my own business only started to take off once I had an established presence on Yelp. People seemed to trust me when they read about the experiences of others just like them. It may be against the terms of service to ask for Yelp reviews, but the truth is many clients just will not think of it unless you follow up. Tell them how hugely important it is. Otherwise, why would they bother taking the time out of their day?

Getting a glowing customer review is a wonderful thing, so make sure you express your gratitude every time by replying. Even a negative review is a chance to shine in your reply. A well-crafted reply can demonstrate your professionalism, courtesy and commitment to customer satisfaction. 

To keep this focused on SEO – remember you can always add in some keywords into your reply.

Google reviews screenshot showing how to respond to negative reviews as a small business owner. A well-crafted reply can demonstrate your professionalism, courtesy and commitment to customer satisfaction.

27. Encourage check-ins if you have a location

Another worthwhile ‘ask’ is getting check-ins on platforms like Yelp, Foursquare or Facebook. An incentive to get a freebie or coupon is a good one for Yelp! It builds yet more trust.

While it may not directly impact your SEO, it’ll win the trust of the specific check-in platform. Yelp is a good example. Type a local search term into Google and you bet a Yelp page with ‘10 of the best…’ will pop up.

All things being equal, wouldn’t Yelp have your business as a top result – as someone who’s invested into the Yelp ecosystem, and has reviews, check-ins, messaging and is utilizing all the features? 

28. Build out your Google My Business profile as much as you can

I have a full post about how to claim, set up and optimize your GMB profile as there are many steps and little tricks. But this mini tip is simply to say – make sure you have a GMB profile and are familiar with what it can do.

It only takes a little time to set up and crucially give Google the correct information about what your business offers. Your GMB listing is how you tell Google your business exists! Only with this set up and optimized with relevant information, can Google start showing you in the Map pack or local search.  

READ MORE  How to set up your Google My Business for photographers

29. Start a YouTube channel 

A YouTube channel (that’s mine linked there!) is an easy way to stand out from the competition. The additional amount of effort involved means your competitors won’t bother. It takes courage to appear on camera, time to think up content ideas plus edit the videos, but it’s so worth it! SERPs are getting more and more feature-rich, and videos are one of those features we’ll continue to see.

Some of your potential customers love video – and it’s a no-brainer that if they’re looking for video and yours is the only company that comes up, they’ll click! Your videos don’t have to be perfect, the important thing is to start and you’ll improve as you go along. Tips for YouTube SEO here!

SEO tips for local business owners to DIY their SEO - use YouTube to stand out on the Google SERPs, as videos become more and more prominent as a search result on Google, increasingly even for local searches!

30. Do your SEO in-house and see real changes you can be proud of

Some business owners (myself included at one point) think that all you need to do is ‘have an SEO audit’ and everything will be great. You hand over your money and bingo, you’ll be flying high on Google.

The reality is that an audit is expensive and will only give you highly technical results. You’ll get little out of it unless you have the resources to implement every little change. And even if you do, the impact may be negligible.

You can find out what you need to do your SEO on this website and others like it, mostly for free or with inexpensive courses. Usually the biggest changes will be made not by the technical tweaks, but by taking a long, hard look at your content and gauging how useful, valuable and relevant it really is to your target audience.

Zoe from Beastlocal - Author bio of 30 DIY SEO tips for small business owners

There you have it – my 30 DIY SEO tips that actually helped me dominate my local market’s SERPs as a wedding photographer.

Whatever your field, I hope it was helpful!

SEO is a crazy topic that seems very technical and daunting to the uninitiated or non-technical. That was me not so long ago. Fortunately, by a process of learning by doing, I figured out what really worked so I could share that with others who are overwhelmed by the jargon!

Doing it yourself is within your grasp – a little persistence and patience are definitely required.

Distilling all that I’ve learned on my journey as a small business owner running a photography business is a real passion of mine. I hope you’ll stick around – check out my other posts and til next time!

Pin your choice of graphic to your Pinterest board and be sure to follow @zoelarkinphoto on Pinterest!

30 actionable tips for those starting out with local SEO! Understanding what can be a technical field is tough when you're learning the basics of DIY local SEO + how to reach local customers. The advice can feel overwhelming, you don't know where to begin! I'll give you only practical help here with my 30 local SEO tips so you can do your own SEO yourself. Gaining this understanding will save you thousands + also make you money as you reach more local customers! #seo #localseo | zoelarkin.com
30 tips for your small business SEO – Are you missing any from your SEO strategy? | zoelarkin.com
How to do your own SEO as a small business owner. I’ve compiled this actionable guide to DIY SEO tweaks you can make to your website for small business owners everywhere. My 30 tips take you through some best SEO practices and tweaks of all kinds that should help your site rank better. Learning SEO as a local business doesn't have to be daunting, and doing your SEO yourself is a smart move. With a small investment of time, you'll see great results for yourself! #seo #localseo | zoelarkin.com
How to do your own SEO as a small business owner – 30 tips to get you started! | zoelarkin.com
Zoe Larkin
Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! I also help fellow wedding photographers attract their dream clients with actionable SEO & digital marketing strategies. When I’m not shooting weddings, creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog, Insta and my new YouTube channel for photographers! 

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30 do-it-yourself SEO tips for service professionals

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