For SEO, Livebooks Has It all wrong (Others too!)

One of the problems template (or boiler-plate) website design companies face is keeping up with the constantly changing search engine optimization (SEO) algorithms. Google’s major updates, Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, have entirely changed the SEO specialist’s task. And, coming April 21st, Google is about to once again shake things up with ranking demotions to non-mobile-friendly websites. Add to all of this the fact that incoming link building must be done uber-intelligently in order to not see your site suffer, and you begin to see that SEO continues to be a moving target.

When Livebooks came on the scene more than fifteen years ago, they provided websites that were easy to update, somewhat easy to optimize for SEO, and you’ll recall, it was Livebooks that ushered in the style of large, fill-the-browser-window type images that provided a striking contrast to image websites of the day. In short they were one of the hottest resources out there for photographers. But the times they are a changin’.

What worked back then…

SEO back then consisted of intelligently inserting your search phrases into:

      1) the META keyword tag

 

      2) the META description tag

 

      3) the page TITLE tag

 

    4) the ALT-tags for your images

Sadly, this is still the extent of SEO that Livebooks provides today. Lest it seem like I’m picking on Livebooks, most, yes almost all, of the template-based website vendors are similar in their thinking of what SEO is all about today.

… and what doesn’t work now

Here’s a list of what has changed:

      1) The META keywords tag. Google pays no attention to the META keyword tag these days.

 

      2) The META description tag. It’s great for the page listing all the sites after a person searches because you can let the searcher know what your site is all about. But Google pays it no mind in determining where you rank.

 

      3) the page TITLE tag. Most SEO experts, myself included, say this is the second most important ranking factor after body copy. So yes, this is important even today.

 

    4) Image ALT tags. Important for Google image search, but less important these days for webpage searches.

Notice items one and two? They’re both entirely useless for SEO, but some vendors’ control panels continue to suggest they’re important. They’re not. Item four? Reduced impact on SEO for page search, but again, the template site vendors often overstate its overall importance.

So what does Google want now?

Google needs to know what your page is all about. In short, useful information written for the user. Simply put, you need body copy on the page you want to rank highly. You need human-readable text that conveys information about the service you provide, whether it’s photography or widgets.

Which brings us to the dilemma all visual creatives face: artists want to put forth images (or illustrations) for potential buyers to peruse in their search for a creative that fits their project. Visual creatives hate to “muck up” their sites with text and Livebooks (and the others) know this. These website vendors don’t provide the ability to add copy to the home pages of virtually every template they offer. Perhaps they don’t realize how vitally important body copy is for SEO these days.

And Flash? Ugh. Don’t even go there. Some still have Flash-based websites in their offerings!

Look, the sites are gorgeous. Some (very few) are responsive. Some utilize HTML5 instead of Flash; thank goodness! But in the end, if getting found on Google is an important component of your marketing plan, be sure the vendor (and template) you select allows for adding text to the home page.

An alternative to consider is a WordPress site. There are thousands of templates available and they are highly customizable. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, yes(!) you can add body copy to your homepage.

But [Insert Vendor] Tells Me They Have Clients That Rank #1

Of course they do. Remember earlier I said there are believed to be more than 200 ranking signals employed by Google? It’s possible the reasons these sites rank well are the other signals including off-page optimization (a blog for example), relevant incoming links from other sites that Google doesn’t deem artificial, and general site authority.

My main point in writing this post is not to out-of-hand dismiss the template-website vendors, but rather to one, make you a more informed buyer, and two, to bring the need for body copy to the attention of these vendors. Their sites are beautiful, they just need to provide their end-user’s with current SEO methodologies.

Know of a vendor doing it right? Please add their info to the comments below!

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  • Scott Wyden Kivowitz
    Reply

    For those looking for a WordPress solution for their websites, the Photocrati theme is fully responsive (important for SEO as of April 2015), SEO friendly for text and photographs.

    If you’re looking to get away from flash slideshows, check out our NextGEN Gallery plugin as well. Java based galleries and our NextGEN Pro plugin offers responsive and SEO friendly ecommerce, proofing and digital downloads.

    We welcome questions through our pre-sales and support team.

    • Blake Discher
      Reply

      Thanks for the note Scott. I’ve checked out the Photocrati templates and they handle SEO and responsiveness very, very well. Plus they’re very attractive and do it all without Flash!

  • JC Ruiz
    Reply

    SEO is such an evolving dynamic that one has to be constantly up to date with all the algorithm changes etc. or be left behind. For instance Google is going to start penalizing websites that aren’t mobile compatible in April. It’s too much work for templates or boiler plates to constantly update or change their designs to comply and that is why they tout as SEO ready this year will be obsolete next year etc.

    • Blake Discher
      Reply

      Thanks for the comment. Your half-right about the Google penalty coming April 21st for sites that are not mobile ready. They will, but only for searches done on mobile devices. Non-mobile friendly sites will not find their ranking effected when a user is searching on non-mobile platforms. This according to Google’s John Mueller shortly after the announcement.

  • Rene M
    Reply

    Great article, pointing out the ever changing whims of google and how important the
    roll of a responsive website is. Thanks

    • Blake Discher
      Reply

      Exactly Rene. It’s a constantly moving target but an understandable one from Google’s point of view. I’ve been to sites on my iPhone that because they are NOT responsive are pretty much non-navigable.

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