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Search Engine Optimization Primer

Most web designers are visual creatives, not necessarily content optimization or Search Engine Optimization experts. Designers can make great looking web sites, but clients and employers expect their web sites to deliver financial return on their investment (ROI), meaning that they want the web site to deliver new clients or sales (depending on what type of site it is: blog, ecommerce, portal, etc) soon so that the cash investment will pay for itself.

Imagine, if you invest $10 000 in a web site and you make an extra $100 000 in sales, it is really worth it, right? Well, the point is that you want to get new customers, people who didn’t know you before but who found you online. How do they find you? Usually, they Google you.

Yes, Google has become a verb.

So, what is a visual designer to do? Easy! Write nice clean HTML, make sure the web site is nice and fast, and use the following tips to make sure Googlebot get an accurate idea of what your fancy new web site is all about!

Critical to understanding the basics of good SEO is making sure you understand the role and the various definitions of keywords.

What is a Keyword?

  • A keyword is a significant or descriptive word. It accurately describes the content of the page.
  • A keyword is a word used as a reference point for finding other words or information. For example, the keyword “photography” can be used to find topics on “exposure” and “depth of field”.
  • Keywords are words or phrases that describe the content of the web page, just like image metadata is used to describe exposure and location information about JPEG or TIFF files.

Focus your web pages on a single idea each

Every page on your site should have a single purpose and correspond to a single keyword. If your page has more than one subject, break it into several different pages.

  • photo-gallery.html = photograph
  • contact.html = contact
  • bio.html = biography

How to name a file: filename.html

  • Use keywords separated by hyphens: search-engine-optimization-primer.html
  • Do not use underscores instead of hyphens.
  • Avoid using “stop” words like: and, or, to, the, etc…

Title Tag <title>

  • 70 characters max (are visible on Google)
  • Place keywords at the beginning of the field.

Description meta tag <meta content=”description”>

  • 156 characters max (are visible on Google).
  • Written in sentence format.
  • Place keywords at the beginning of the field.

Keywords meta tag <meta content=”keywords”>

  • Don’t bother. No one (Google, Bing, etc) uses these anymore.

Main Title <h1>

  • Have only one per page.
  • Make sure it uses your page’s keyword.
  • Ex: Dogs

Subtitle <h2>

  • Break down the subject of the page into subsections with proper subtitles that use keywords. Ex: German Shepherd, Beagle, Labrador retriever…

Anchor tag <a>

<a href="search-engine-optimization-primer.html">
Search Engine Optimation Primer <-- the clickable text is considered as keywords
</a>

Image tags <img> need descriptive Alt Text

<img src="image.jpg" alt="Use keywords to describe your image">

  • Most pages should have at least one image.

Paragraph Tag <p>

Your first paragraph of body copy should contain your primary keyword. Write at least 300 words per page.

If you follow these (very) basic guidelines, you will have a site that will perform will in search engine results without too much extra effort. If you want more info, read Google’s Search Engine Optimization Start Guide.

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When you hear of people travelling to Jordan, one of the first words you hear is “Petra“. Listed as one of the world’s greatest archaeological treasures, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an often-used setting for Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Indiana Jones and and the Last Crusade – Petra is indeed amazing. But, although “Big” Petra gets all the attention it is not the only site of it’s kind to be explored in the region.

Nine kilometers north of Wadi Musa (the town built around the main site of Petra) lies Siq al-Barid, also known as “Little Petra”. Much smaller in scale, yet offering the same type of archeological treasures, Little Petra should be on any traveller’s to-do list when they go to Jordan.

The main attraction of Siq al-Barid is how authentic feeling it is. When we arrived there in very early June 2013, the site was deserted except for Salman and his family, who happened to be having tea in the shade of the cliff when we arrived from Wadi Musa. Once we had walked through the Siq we had the entire site to ourselves, apart from this elderly gentleman who acted as our personal guide. The experience was a world apart from walking through the tourist-filled valley of Petra.

As we walked through the narrow canyon, entering the mausoleums, temples and cave dwellings the quiet of the desert setting was beautiful to hear. Silence. The busy modern world was seemingly a few millennia away.

It only takes about an hour or so to visit Siq al-Barid. It really is the remnants of a small suburb of Petra. But if you want to have a glimpse of what it may have been like to live there a few thousand years ago, without a crowd of tourists jostling about, without hearing five different languages complain about the heat (don’t go in mid-summer!) then you will cherish the time you spent there forever.

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Ice forming around a rock in the Riviere du nord

Ice forming around a rock in the Rivière du Nord. Parc régional du Nord, Saint-Jerome Quebec  Canada

Ice forming around a rock in the Rivière du Nord. Parc régional du Nord, Saint-Jerome Quebec Canada

Sometimes, all you need to get a great photograph is simply to “be there”. With a camera in hand of course.

This happened to me many years ago, in 1999 if I remember correctly, when I took this shot. Although it was already December, winter had only started kicking in recently. There was almost no snow, and the rivers and lakes had only just started freezing over.

I went to the Parc Régional De La Rivière Du Nord (where the Chutes Wilson waterfall is) in Saint-Jérôme Québec for a bit of easy hiking just north of Montreal. It was later in the afternoon, as the sun was starting to set, when I came upon this scene.

In a part of the river where the current was fairly swift, a rock was jutting out of the water. Ice had started forming around it. The shape of the ice formation was clearly dictated by the force and direction of the water. You could clearly see the current forking above and below the rock, and a larger amount of ice was forming in the “current shadow” behind it.

I shot a tripod-mounted exposure of about four or eight seconds, long enough for the blue of the sky to reflect on the river.

This picture is pretty much “SOOC” (“straight out of the camera”) since it was taken in the golden age of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film, with a Nikon F90. Although I scanned the chrome on a Nikon SuperCoolScan 5000 and brought it into LightRoom for processing and keywording – the only digital manipulation is a bit of noise reduction.

Ah, if it was only always this easy!

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Play of light and shadow on the snowy forest floor on Rigaud mountain Quebec in late winter. (Eric Girouard)

Play of light and shadow on the snowy forest floor on Rigaud mountain Quebec in late winter.

There is something definitely very special about the light in late winter / early spring here in Eastern Canada. After all the gray and dark of winter, the light seems to come back to life in February. The light becomes more intense, the skies are often a deep cloudless blue and yet the landscape is still covered in a thick white blanket of snow.

I went hiking in the forests of Rigaud mountain, near my home, and discovered the complex play of light and shadows on the forest floor when the sun hits the trees at about a forty-five degree angle in late afternoon. I initially shot a few snaps with my iPhone, but went back a few times later in the week with my camera and tripod.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the subject, it is actually rather tough to get a good composition because of the overwhelming amount of shadows and textures. You need to find a spot in the forest that’s not too dense and then choose an angle to simplify the scene in order to make a good photograph.

Then, the post-processing is a challenge too because of the bright highlights and deep shadows everywhere and also the white balance which can very easily go from excessively blue to excessively yellow. I took a few dozen shots and this is the first of my favourites.

Hope you like it!

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2013 in Review: My Best Photographs of the Year

It is that time of the year again where I take a well deserved break, celebrate the holidays and take some time to look back at the past year and also look ahead to what is coming up.

2013 was a good year photographically. I took some of my best images ever and travelled to a few places I never thought I would get a chance to see. The highlight of the year was most definitely visiting Israel and Jordan, and particularly Petra. But I also took some great shots much closer to home, which proves that it’s not the location that counts but the emotion you put into taking the shot.

So, without further ado, here are my thirteen personal favourite images from 2013 (in no particular order). Hope you like them. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and share the link.

Tourists in front of the Treasury in Petra Jordan

Tourists in front of Al-Khazneh (the Treasury) during Petra at Night in Petra Jordan (Eric Girouard)

Tourists in front of Al-Khazneh (the Treasury) during Petra at Night in Petra Jordan

“Petra at Night” is an amazing spectacle. Ever since I learned of it’s existence I knew I wanted to go to Petra at a time when I could see this show. We arrived in Wadi Musa (the modern town next to the archeological site of Petra) on the day of the show and first visited Little Petra. After a few hours break, we headed off to Petra for the show.

To my (and several other good photographers who we there too) photographic dismay, the place was filled with tourists taking snapshots with their smartphones, flashes going off uninterruptedly, and a videographer with a spotlight permanently on.

I wanted to capture not only the majestic architecture of Al-Khazneh (aka “the Treasury”), but also the almost tangible element of excitement that the spectators bring to the site. What could have been a very quiet serene experience was actually very electric.

Sunset over the St-Lawrence in Coteau du Lac

St-Lawrence river cascading over rocks  at sunset. Coteau du Lac National Historic Site, Quebec, Canada. (Eric Girouard)

St-Lawrence river cascading over rocks at sunset. Coteau du Lac National Historic Site, Quebec, Canada.

This shot was taken about thirty minutes away from my home. Since I was using my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at the 14mm setting, I was very very close to the foreground rocks.

So much so, that my main problem was getting water droplets on my Fotodiox neutral density filter. I spent as much time wiping the water off the filter than I did composing and taking pictures. In the end, I still had to Photoshop two drops out of the final image. Can you tell?

Wellington street overpass in Ottawa

Architectural details of the overpass that spans the Rideau canal in downtown Ottawa Ontario, near the Parliament of Canada. (Eric Girouard)

Architectural details of the overpass that spans the Rideau canal in downtown Ottawa Ontario, near the Parliament of Canada.

Every time I go to Ottawa, I always feel drawn to this overpass. The architecture is so visually interesting, the swirls and hard edge diagonals are pure fun to compose with – especially with an ultrawide angle lens. I shot this same scene a few years ago with my Nikon D70 and went back in 2013 with my D800, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and a tripod. It was awesome fun.

Autoroute 30 bridge spanning the Beauharnois canal

Autoroute 30 (A-30), also known as the "Autoroute de l'acier" (in English: Steel Motorway) is a highway in southern Quebec, Canada.  A-30 was designed as the main artery linking the communities along the South Shore of the Saint-Lawrence River, but due to growing road congestion in and around Montreal the A-30 was completed as a southwestern bypass ring road permitting motorists travelling the Quebec City – Windsor corridor to bypass Montreal entirely. (Eric Girouard)

Autoroute 30 (A-30), also known as the "Autoroute de l'acier" (in English: Steel Motorway) is a highway in southern Quebec, Canada. A-30 was designed as the main artery linking the communities along the South Shore of the Saint-Lawrence River, but due to growing road congestion in and around Montreal the A-30 was completed as a southwestern bypass ring road permitting motorists travelling the Quebec City – Windsor corridor to bypass Montreal entirely.

This bridge was opened only last year and I searched hard for an interesting view of the span. Although this composition is not what I had in mind when I went out to shoot that morning, it remains one of my favourite architecture shots of the year. In photography, it pays to keep an open mind.

Glen Ellis Falls (Pitcher Falls) in Jackson, New Hampshire

Glen Ellis Falls (Pitcher Falls) in Jackson, New Hampshire. White Mountain National Forest. (Eric Girouard)

Glen Ellis Falls (Pitcher Falls) in Jackson, New Hampshire. White Mountain National Forest.

I shot this image on a cool cloudy day during the Labor Day long weekend just before the rain started coming down.

The hardest part of taking this photograph was waiting for people to get out of the way as many tourists were walking back and forth into and out of my composition. The perils of using an ultrawide angle lens is that people assume they are far enough to the side that they can’t be in the picture. And they stay there – for what seems like an eternity.

As a photographer you just wait for an eight second window of opportunity that never seems to come…

Saint-Joseph's Oratory at twilight in Montreal Canada

View of Saint-Joseph's Oratory under a deep blue sky. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Eric Girouard)

View of Saint-Joseph's Oratory under a deep blue sky. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Shooting the Oratory was an exercise in reality checks for me. I had such a strong previsualization of what I wanted as far as a composition that any angle I shot seemed a disappointment. In the end, I realized that the image I had in my mind’s eye was physically impossible to achieve, not matter which focal length lens or location I tried. I had to return a second night and shoot without this visual prejudice and work with what the scene actually offered.

Ammonoosuc river cascade, New Hampshire

Lower Ammonoosuc waterfall in Carroll, New Hampshire. (Eric Girouard)

Lower Ammonoosuc waterfall in Carroll, New Hampshire.

The cool overcast light was perfect that day. No shadows and relatively little light let me shoot this scene without any need for light reducing filtration, such as neutral density filters. I actually came back the next day – which turned out bright, warm and sunny – and was actually disappointed with the photographs I took in the harsher light. What was better for humans (people were sunbathing and swimming on the second day) was worse for photography.

Sunrise over Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls

Sunrise over Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. (Eric Girouard)

Sunrise over Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

This is another prime example of previsualization in action. I imagined this image a few weeks before heading off to Niagara Falls, after seeing some other images online.

I used an app called the Photographer’s Ephemeris on my iPhone to pinpoint the location of the rising sun in early August and knew that it would rise behind the permanent mist. I knew I would need a graduated neutral density filter for my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens and bought it in consequence. I set out for the falls well before sunrise to be able to get the exact spot I had found the afternoon before and setup my tripod and attach my filters and other accessories. All I had to do was wait for the sunrise. I shot about seventy exposures to get this one that had all the details just right.

Abstract detail of the Niagara river, New York

Abstract detail of rapids in the Niagara river in Niagara Falls New York (Eric Girouard)

Abstract detail of rapids in the Niagara river in Niagara Falls, New York, USA.

I shot this image the morning before I shot the previous image. To my disappointment the sunrise was flat and colourless, mostly overcast, with only the slightest bit of colour at the horizon but none anywhere else.

I switched from my panoramic wide angle lens to my telephoto zoom and started extracting interesting details about the Niagara river. Only a few meters from the lip of the Falls, the water rushes at high speed with an impressive amount of force. I wanted to capture that feeling of rushing power and relentlessness.

Pedestrian bridge at night in Tel Aviv Israel

Tel Aviv's Azrieli shopping and business towers complex and pedestrian bridge by Menachem Begin road at night.

Tel Aviv's Azrieli shopping and business towers complex and pedestrian bridge by Menachem Begin road at night.

The Azrieli Center’s geometrically shaped towers (circle, triangle and square) are an architectural landmark in Tel Aviv. Only a few blocks from where I was staying, I wanted to capture the dominance the towers have over the neighbourhood early on during my trip to the Middle East.

To my surprise however, we were yelled at by an Israeli soldier for setting up on the sidewalk across the street from the buildings. Turns out that the building behind me was a military headquarters and the area is permanently under tight security.

As a westerner who had only been in the Middle East for a day or so, it was a rude awakening to how different this part of the world can be compared to home. Security is a way of life in Israel. Lesson learned.

Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, Jordan

Sunrise at the Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, Jordan. (Eric Girouard)

Sunrise at the Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, Jordan.

The first morning we were in Jordan, we woke very early to discover Aqaba before the heat became unbearable. (The previous afternoon when we crossed the border, it was a toasty 45° Celcius.)

So, at 6am, we walked across town to the most splendid mosque I have ever seen (OK, granted… I haven’t seen that many yet…). The Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque was recently renovated and was absolutely gorgeous in the sunrise light. I walked around it with my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and snapped away handheld. The textures and colours were sublime.

Al-Khazneh (the Treasury) in Petra Jordan

Al-Khazneh, the Nabataean tomb/temple at the end of the Siq in Petra Jordan (Eric Girouard)

Al-Khazneh, the Nabataean tomb/temple at the end of the Siq in Petra, Jordan.

The Treasury is certainly one of the most photographed places in the world. It has been featured in many Hollywood movies and even in video games. So how does one photograph it and do it justice?

To me, the answer was to go up close and portray it as the imposing world heritage icon it actually is. Using my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 at 14mm, I was able to walk up and confront the sculpted building, but also force its columns to converge and make it look that much more larger than life.

With the mid-afternoon sun starting to dip behind the towering stone walls behind me, the top of Al-Khazneh was still sunlit making the top of the building look like shimmering crown jewels.

Stairs in the Old City of Jaffa, Tel Aviv Israel

Stairs in the Old City of Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Stairs in the Old City of Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Upon my arrival in the Middle East, the first “ancient” place I visited was Tel Aviv’s Old Jaffa neighbourhood. Tel Yafo (Jaffa Hill) rises to a height of 40 meters and offers a commanding view of the coastline which gave it strategic and military importance throughout history. Archaeological evidence shows that Jaffa was inhabited some 7,500 years BCE while it’s natural harbour has been in use since the Bronze Age.

As a westerner, anything older than 500 years seems surrealistically old and a mind boggling mix of societies, cultures and historical narratives. Walking through the narrow streets of Old Jaffa, I was constantly reminded of the intertwined Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths but also of the influence of Greek and Roman cultures as I roamed the streets where an outcropping of rocks near the harbor is reputed to have been the place where Andromeda was rescued by Perseus.

In this photo, I wanted to capture the weathered feel of the old walls, the palette of earth tones that range from dark brown to light tan all under a cloudless deep blue Mediterranean sky.

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