Internet marketing, online marketing, SEO, and of course social media marketing are indispensable weapons for the modern professional photographer. This is especially true for those who want to run a healthy photography business without spending their valuable time worrying about competing with the local mom with a camera [Note: This term is a generic reference to those photographers who want to be professional, but show little or no desire in learning the real business of photography - not just real photographers who happen to be moms :-)].
In short, if you want to avoid inevitable business failure, photography marketing in the online technological battlefield of the internet is essential.
But this is often easier said than done, right?
If you’re like a lot of professional photographers, you built a photography website (or used an off the shelf template from a reputable company like Photoshelter or Zenfolio), did some basic SEO (search engine optimization), put yourself out there on Facebook, started tweeting on Twitter, joined LinkedIn, began a blog, and then waited in excited anticipation for that social media marketing magic to start working…
But nothing much happened… and you’re left scratching your head, wondering why no one likes you (which isn’t true of course).
To stop the scratching, here are 9 internet marketing tips for the professional photographer that are sure to help you get the best out of your online marketing efforts…
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Internet Marketing Is The New Telephone Book
When was the last time you used a physical telephone book as your first stop to find a business or local service? I’m betting it was probably a while ago. In this new online age in which we live, Google has replaced the telephone directory as the first place to go to search for information on where to do business.
The problem, now that we have to learn all the subtleties of internet marketing is that concepts such as “SEO (search engine optimization)“, “online marketing“, “internet marketing“, and “social media marketing” can quickly overwhelm the unsuspecting professional photographer whose time and resources are already stretched by trying to build a photography business.
However, with the right approach, appropriate technology, and ethical SEO practices, any professional photographer can overcome the challenges associated with photography marketing, and they can achieve the results they’re looking for.
It just takes a little work, and an organized plan of attack.
9 Tips For Better Internet Marketing
- Golden Rule #1 – Avoid Flash-Based Websites
- Less Photography And More Marketing Copy
- Focus On The “Long Tail” Of Search Engine Optimization
- Local Search SEO: Tell Us Where You Are!
- SEO 102: Get A Blog
- Social Media Marketing For The Photographer
- Website SEO Fundamental – Quality Inbound Links
- SEO Boost From Relevant Groups And Forums
- Website Links From Blog Comments
There’s also a bonus online marketing tip, which I’ll share with you at the end of the article.
#1: Internet Marketing Golden Rule: Avoid Flash Websites
We’ll kick this off by looking at the very object of our internet marketing and SEO plans: your photography website, and why it’s a really good idea to avoid Flash-based websites wherever possible.
Websites built from Flash might look, well, “flashy“, but Google despises them so much that it doesn’t even bother to index them directly, relying mainly on external links to reveal their presence. In other words, Google can’t read a Flash website, but can infer something about its importance from the contextual analysis of other websites that link to it.
The truth is that search engines can’t read the Flash format, so if you have a Flash-only website it might as well be on the moon for all the good it will do for your online marketing strategy.
While there are a few ways to “optimize” a Flash website, they involve a lot more work, can be unpredictable, and take longer to have any effect on your search rankings. Given that many professional photographers are already making mistakes with their websites, I believe it makes sense to at least start with the best foundation.
Having said that, many Flash website templates do come with an HTML equivalent, which Google can read, but I really don’t see the point of having both anyway. I mean, if you’re forced to have an HTML website for SEO purposes, just to make up for the inadequacies of the Flash website, then why have the Flash one in the first place?
Very soon, it’s likely that we can expect to see the majority of websites being coded in the new HTML5 standard, so Flash will probably fade away over time as a website platform.
Originally designed for blogs, WordPress has evolved into a great technology for creating websites as well as a blog. With a stable, SEO-friendly architecture, and thousands of well designed themes, WordPress is the ideal candidate for building a new photography website design.
#2: Marketing Basics: Less Photography and More Copy
There’s a common battle-cry in search engine optimization circles that you may have already heard: “Content Is King!”
This is not some idle posturing by SEO experts, or some attempt to force everyone to suddenly become authors, it’s a simple requirement of successful online marketing!
Website content is the main ingredient necessary for the existence of the internet – without it, there would be nothing for us to look at, watch, listen to, or read.
The word “content” of course includes all kinds of media: Text, photos, videos, graphics, animations, audio etc. but one of the most powerful is good old text – otherwise referred to as website marketing copy.
And you need as much of it as you can get!
The concept of copywriting seems to frighten the average professional photographer for some reason, but it’s actually not as difficult as some might imagine.
Despite the common sense of communicating with our target market through the written word, I still see many websites (and especially blogs) with little more than a photographic slideshow, as though the photographs are expected to do all the selling (which they won’t by the way).
People search the web using words, so it’s no surprise that the search engines love text above everything else! Even the images and videos stored in the search index are there because of the text descriptions and keywords associated with them.
Because of this we need to make more use of appropriate and persuasive marketing copy on our websites, but there can be a trap here for the unwary…
It’s tempting to think that if you want to rank highly for a specific keyword, you should use that word or phrase as often as possible in the text. This is actually a mistake, as Google has become much more sophisticated in the way they interpret the relevance and importance of text on a page.
In fact, there are changes coming down the Google pipeline right now that are set to penalize a lot of websites out there for being what they call “over-optimized.” This is in addition to the SEO chaos that ensued as a result of last year’s so-called “Panda Update“. Here’s a 10-minute explanation by Rand Fishkin, from SEOMoz, on how we can avoid incurring an over-optimization penalty.
So, you should be careful about how often, and where in your text, you use your keywords. Not often enough, or in the wrong places, and they won’t count for much; too often, and you risk getting slapped by Google for “keyword stuffing“.
This is not meant to scare you into SEO paralysis, so that you end up doing nothing – as long as you write with the intention of communicating your unique factors to your target market in mind first and foremost, instead of writing just to appease the search engines, you’ll be fine.
In any case, whatever you do – add some copy to that photo-only website! Don’t forget to think about ways in which you can use SEO and website design in tandem to produce a really wonderful experience for your clients.
#3: SEO 101: Focus On The Long Tail
The term “long tail” refers to the millions of searches submitted every day that are searched for infrequently, but which might actually signal that the searcher is in a buying frame of mind, as opposed to just looking for general information.
For example, the popular, or “head“, terms (the ones most commonly searched for) could include keywords such as:
- Portrait photography
- Wedding photography
- Professional photographer
- Nature photographer
These keyword phrases are so commonly used on websites, and searched for so often, that there’s very little chance you can rank highly for them.
However, if you can identify phrases that your prospective clients might be looking for when they’re actually preparing to invest, then you’re in with a much better chance. For example:
- Chicago family portrait photographer
- Chicago black and white children portraits
- Chicago botanic gardens bridal portrait
- Chicago wedding photographer
- Yellowstone national park nature photography
I think you get the idea – these phrases are less commonly searched for, but the people searching for them probably have a specific intention in mind, and are much more likely to be in a buying mode. Because they are less commonly found on websites, these phrases are also much easier to rank for, if you know what you’re doing.
How To Find Long Tail SEO Phrases
There are several ways to discover long tail phrases that can be useful for your specific business, and you might be surprised at some of the phrases you could otherwise miss. Here’s a short list of methods that work well:
- Brainstorm ideas with yourself and your clients
- Use the free Google keyword tool
- Check out competitors’ websites
- Look through your own Google Analytics or GetClicky data
What To Do With Long Tail Phrases?
Once you’ve identified keyword phrases that you want to optimize for, you can add new specially-tailored content to your website aimed at targeting just those specific SEO phrases. You can add new pages to the website, write blog articles, post a YouTube video, or any one of a number of new ways to add content.
As long as the content can be indexed by the search engines, and you have links to that content elsewhere on your website, you should start to see it appear in the search engine index.
The length of time it takes for the search engines to index your content can vary wildly, from a few minutes, to hours, days, or several weeks, depending on how often the search engine robots crawl your website and update their index.
The SEO Job Is Never Done!
Search engine optimization, just like housework, is never actually finished. Just when you think you might be done, it’s time to start all over again! So, if you thought that SEO is a one-time job you might need to rethink that one!
The world of internet marketing and SEO is a constantly moving target, and you have to be on the ball to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of search engine techniques. This can be a lot of work, so knowing the things that are most important is vital in keeping your workload to a minimum.
#4: Local Search SEO: Tell Us Where You Are!
Local search is more important now than it’s ever been, especially for small businesses such as the professional photographer. After all, most photographers expect their clients to live within their community, or within a reasonable radius of their studio, especially if you live in a small town.
There are some notable exceptions, the destination wedding photographer being a good example, but for the most part the average portrait or wedding photographer is focused on acquiring business by having a solid presence within their local search results.
So far, so good, but I see a huge problem all too often when I visit photographer websites. In many cases the photographer mistakenly assumes that the people who reach their website will already know that they’re in the same town or city, which may well be true.
Unfortunately, in order for the search engines to index the website properly and connect the photographer to the correct geographical location, it’s essential to have your address (or at the very least, your city and state) clearly visible on the website, preferably on every page.
The best place to display your address information is either in the page header or the footer, both of which are usually easily replicated across every page, and don’t interfere with the rest of the content.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by a photographer to coach them, or review their website, only to be forced to hunt down their location. In many cases, the only clue is a phone number, and it then takes a Google search for the area code to reveal their location!
So, a great way to optimize your website for your location is to include your city and niche markets together in the website copy. Because the search engines are quite sophisticated in how they analyze page data it’s not essential to have those keywords together all the time for the strategy to be effective. Words used in general proximity to each other work just as well.
For example, “Memphis wedding photographer” might be a good keyword phrase to aim for, but it doesn’t have to appear the same way throughout the text, and would seem rather unnatural to read if it did.
Alternatives might include:
- Looking for a photographer in Memphis for your wedding?
- The right wedding photographer can be hard to find in Memphis
- Having your wedding in Memphis? Looking for a photographer?
- And so on…
Another way to naturally include your service area in your website is through the use of client testimonials. You should be using testimonials as part of your photography marketing in any case, and every photograph you show should have a glowing report from the client, with their full name, city and state included.
Finally, adding your location to your image file names can also help. For example, “wedding-photography-botanic-gardens-memphis-tn.jpg” is much more informative to Google than something like, “wedding-photo-2137.jpg“. Don’t forget to include your niche and location keywords in the “alt” and “title” text for any images you use on the website too.
Hopefully, you get the idea that there are lots of creative ways to make sure your location and niche market are mentioned together throughout the marketing copy on your website.
#5: SEO 102: Get A Blog
I don’t how to express this any simpler than that. Get a blog. Period. Blogging is not just for geeks like me, it’s an essential part of your online marketing plan, and is central to your search engine optimization strategy. SEO for a website without a blog is a lot more difficult, that’s for sure.
Don’t make the usual excuses (“I don’t have time for a blog“, “I don’t know how to install a blog“, “I can’t write“, “I don’t know what to write“) – just do it.
Trust me, I had no idea what I was going to write about when I started this blog, but I worked at it, and I can definitely say that it grew easier as time went by. I now love it, and look forward to writing.
Google and the other search engines really love blogs, because they not only provide a lot of unique and useful content, they’re also usually well optimized for the search engine crawlers. Most blogging software is search engine friendly, and there are also many plugins for WordPress that make SEO for bloggers even more powerful.
As already mentioned in other articles on blogging, it’s a good idea to avoid free blog hosting websites as your main blog, since you will want to reap the full SEO credit of your blogging activities.
While Blogger, Blogspot, Tyepad etc. are all okay as blogging platforms, nothing really beats a self-hosted WordPress installation on your own domain for your blog, and it’s a lot easier to do than you might think.
That’s not to say that the other blogging systems can’t play a role in your SEO strategy, but that’s a topic for whole other post.
#6: Social Media Marketing For The Photographer
If you aren’t a part of the social media world then I don’t know where you’ve been hiding all this time! There’s simply no escaping social media any more, so you need to get out there and make sure your social profiles are polished off and up to date.
At the very least you should have a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. Google+ is catching up very quickly, and then of course there’s Twitter. Beyond that, there are other social networks, but the best advice is to really concentrate your efforts on where your clients mostly go.
Even if you’ve been active in social media circles for a while, it’s a good idea to check your profiles now and again to make sure they’re accurate, and that they portray the impression you want them to.
I hear from a lot of photographers that they find themselves spending way too much of their time on social media websites, to the point where they can’t get any real work done! Of course, this is no accident – the social networks are designed to get you hooked, and to spend as much time as you can on the site.
However, done correctly, social media marketing should not take over your life like some alien monster. Instead it can become an integral part of your overall internet marketing strategy. As already indicated, there’s a need to be careful here because social media can quickly become addictive, sucking up time unnecessarily.
It’s wise to learn to manage your time effectively, and spend only the minimum you need to on social media in order to make your presence effective.
It’s also a good idea to connect your social networks together, wherever possible, but not to the extent that everything is repeated verbatim across every profile simultaneously. Sharing links and information between your social profiles serves to cross-pollinate users, attracting them to different parts of your online life.
Most likely, your website and blog will form the central hub of your social media marketing activities, the primary purpose being to drive traffic back to the website or blog, where users can enter your sales funnel and begin the journey toward becoming a paying client.
#7: Website SEO Fundamental – Quality Inbound Links
The fundamental unit in the world of SEO is the lowly link, and the more quality links (“back links“) you can get to your website the better off you’ll be.
But what do we mean by the definition of “quality” when applied to website links?
Quality, in this sense, has two main components:
- The authority of the website linking to you
- The keywords in, and surrounding, the anchor text of the link
In short, the higher the authority of the linking website, the more SEO value your website will receive from it. For example, one link from CNN might be worth 100 links from websites with low ranking. It’s therefore important to try to get as many links as possible from high-influence websites. That’s not always the easiest thing in the world to do, but it’s of immense value when it happens!
Another important component to good-quality links is the keywords that appear in the anchor text (that’s the text the user would click on to visit the link). For example, “click here” is not as useful to you as something like, “Chicago professional photographer“.
In fact, if you look at the Google search traffic for the phrase “click here“, you’ll see how much importance Google places on the anchor text. The top ranking website for that phrase is Adobe, specifically for the Adobe Acrobat Reader download. There are many thousands of websites out there with the phrase “click here” pointing to a download for the Adobe Acrobat Reader, so Google naturally associates that phrase with Adobe.
The anchor text of the link should be as relevant to your desired keywords as possible, but it’s also a good idea to vary these a little across all the websites that link to you. If Google identifies that all the websites pointing to you all use the exact same anchor text, it might raise a red flag that could suggest link manipulation in some way, and that wouldn’t be a good thing.
It’s generally a good idea to give a link back to the referring website (known as a reciprocal link). Although this means you also return some of the SEO credit you received, the confidence and authority conferred by the link to you still remains.
Avoid Bad Links At All Costs
It’s not a good idea to exchange links with websites that are unrelated to you or your photography business. For example, there would be little relevance in a link from a website specializing in engine parts to your portrait photography page, and the value of the link could be downgraded by Google in that type of scenario, and you could even be penalized for it.
A word of caution: Avoid so-called “link farms” at all costs, and NEVER pay for links to your website for the sake of SEO. If (when) Google discovers that you have paid or spammy links pointing to your website, you’ll be evicted from the index faster than you can say “S E-Oh”.
#8: SEO Boost From Groups And Forums
A great place to get good quality links is through online forums and groups. Many of these forums are open, at least in the sense that the posts are public and/or indexed by the search engines.
When you create your personal profile on the forum, there’s usually a place for you to include a signature, which can more often than not include links to your photography website. Don’t forget to use keywords in the anchor text of the links (see #7 above).
While these types of links might not carry significant weight and authority, they’re still good to have, especially if you’re a frequent participant on the forum, since your website link will appear at the end of every post you make.
Don’t discount closed groups, or forums that are not indexed by the search engines, since these could be a significant source of website traffic if your target market forms the majority of the group members. You never know, people might find you as a result of your group participation and then go on to link to your photography website from elsewhere.
#9: Website Links From Blog Comments
This one is always open for debate, as the vast majority of the links in comments on blogs are posted as “nofollow” links. This means that the search engine crawlers won’t follow the link, and will behave as though the link wasn’t there in the first place.
Having said that, I’ve found that leaving relevant and useful comments on other blogs can help to drive traffic back to my website, possibly leading to new client sign-ups etc.
It’s also unclear at the moment just how much these “nofollow” links are actually being ignored. If you use Google’s webmaster tools to monitor your SEO progress, you’ll notice that Google does, in fact, register these links. Whether or not they are actually giving you any SEO credit is anyone’s guess right now.
There is one other reason for commenting on blogs – it makes the blog author happy to see interaction from their readers, and they may even notice you if you have something useful and relevant to add to the discussion, or comment regularly. In some cases, you might even find that the blog author approaches you for a more formal exchange of links, which would obviously be useful to have.
Bonus Internet Marketing Tip: Guest Blogging
Well, I couldn’t just stop at 9 online marketing tips… As a special bonus, here’s one that is probably the best online marketing “secret” out there. Of course, it’s not really a secret, but it is one of the methods that many of the most successful bloggers out there have used to propel their blogs into the higher ranks, and there is no reason on Earth why you can’t do the same for your photography website.
In essence, guest blogging is the simplest SEO tool for the photographer that exists, yet so few are actually taking advantage of it!
The key here is that any guest post you write for another blog is posted to that blog just like one of their regular posts, with full SEO credit for the blog it’s posted to. But, the blog owner will also include appropriate links back to the guest writer’s website, which in this case are full “follow” links, carrying their proper SEO weight.
Guest posts are invaluable for both SEO purposes and for generating traffic from a previously untapped section of your market.
The key here is not to be intimidated or feel that “you can’t write” or that you “don’t know what to write about“. I can help you with those things. I want you to succeed, and I’m happy to help promote your business through a guest post with a different perspective, as long as it’s relevant and is of value to my readers.
Photography Website SEO Action Challenge
I’m a firm believer in taking action on everything I learn, and I urge you to do the same. Learning and accumulating information is great, of course, but it does us little good if we fail to put what we learn into practice.
So, here’s my SEO action challenge for you today…
Take a good look at your photography website from the perspective of someone who has never seen it before, and make sure that it’s obvious where you are and what target niche you serve. Be especially careful to make sure it conveys the reasons why you do what you do and that it will literally make your clients fall in love with you.
Next, if you don’t currently have a blog, take half a day to research as much as you can about creating and running a blog. You’ll learn a great deal in a very short time, and be in the perfect position to start one.
Finally, take an inventory of your social media presence. Are your profiles accurate and, more importantly, consistent with each other? Are you making the best possible use of your social media assets in driving traffic to your website and blog?
What Next For Your Internet Marketing?
So, where do you go from here? Online marketing and social media marketing for the photographer can be a tricky business, and website SEO is a never-ending process. In the UK we have a saying that “it’s like painting the Forth Bridge” – there’s never a time when you can say “it’s finished” because it’s then time to start over again, unless you intend to take your website down and retire!
So, I advise you to keep learning as much as you possibly can about SEO and how it can affect your internet marketing strategy for your business. In the coming weeks, I will be offering some very limited SEO personal coaching sessions, so be on the lookout for those!
Thoughts and Comments
I know that we’ve only scratched the surface with internet marketing, online marketing and social media marketing here and that there’s a LOT more to it than I could possibly squeeze into this article!
But, with tip #9 firmly in your mind, leave me a comment to let me know your own thoughts on the subject. If you have any personal anecdotes or your own tips on website SEO that you would like to share then by all means do so – any and all comments are always welcome.