SEO for photographers has its own set of challenges. Hear from SEO professional Brendan Hufford how you can best optimize your site for traffic and leads.
Brendan is a man of great talent, humble disposition, and great wisdom. In this episode, we set out to talk about SEO for photographers, if photographers should do work for free or would photographers die from exposure and many other topics related to the business of photography.
Brendan spends an enormous time helping photographers through his website, Photo MBA. When it comes to SEO for photographers, Brendan uses a simple approach and sets out to demystify the practice altogether.
How did you find yourself here as a specialist in SEO for photographers? Give the people a snapshot of who are you, what do you do for work and what do you like to do for fun? [00:01:20]
- After college, I became a teacher and was a little frustrated with the politics. Teaching was fun but the first few years were hard.
- I built a couple of websites and one of them was for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. One day some guys sent me a product and said, “if you write about this on your website, you can keep these products.” That was how I began reviewing website. People were sending me tons of stuff, and then I realized how creative I was so I started my own Jiu Jitsu company.
- Then, a year ago, it wasn’t fun anymore to me and I felt it’s not going to make a lot of money to quit teaching. So I sold my Jiu Jitsu company and my website. I began to help friends and to figure out what was going on. I had some friends who were photographers who I had assisted in marketing. One thing I noticed is that if you are a full-time photographer, you don’t have time for marketing.
- I advise them to serve clients well, do an outstanding job for free, build that portfolio and market it for free. I did that and marketed my case studies and now I do client SEO for photographers.
- About a month ago, I decided not to return next year. I took a decision to be an SEO specialist at a very good design agency in Chicago. I serve big clients and I have my own clients as well.
How do you draw a line between selective and finding a strategic job that you can do for free without being taken advantage of? [00:05:16]
- I believe in being who you want to be and step into that role. Right from day one, I treated myself as a successful SEO agency. Some company wanted to hire my services but wanted 20% off but I showed the company the reduction in services I offer. But they wanted my service but wanted it less than I offer and I refused to work for them.
- I have never worked for free for a person who has asked me to work for free. If you’re a photographer, being intentional about who you do free work for really matters. Let’s say you do round of cooperate head shots for a huge consulting firm like KPMG. When the friend of the CEO sees the headshot and is interested, you would be recommended for a $10,000 cooperate head shot gig because of a free job you did.
- Sometimes doing free jobs for big companies of thriving companies could build a long lasting relationship and provide numerous referrals for your business.
- The key take way is to make sure it’s the exposure you want. Taking a hard-line either way is so ignorant and being open to relationship via doing free work that would provide value back is a good thing.
How would you define SEO to someone who’s brand new to the concept of SEO? [00:13:54]
- One of the things I hate is how mystical SEO seems to be and there are more confusing things than SEO. Everyone thinks they understand Facebook because they use it a lot but when it comes to SEO, they feel it’s mystical. It is very basic and simple.
- I would define SEO as authority. It is telling Google the number one search engine (it has a stat of 80% to 90% from other search engines) I’m an authority on this topic and there are three ways we do that.
- I use the analogy of building a house to sell it.
- In order to build a house to sell it, I need a great foundation, a great frame for the home, and then I need everything else that goes on it like the paints and the interiors. The way that works in SEO in terms of authority is my foundation is my website performance, how fast it is, how well people can use it. There is on-page SEO. That’s like the frame of my house. It’s a little confusing to a lot of people, but if you know what all three of those words mean in isolation, then you know what on-page SEO means. It’s literally the information on your website that tells Google what my website is about and how I am an authority in this field.
- What sells a home is not the great foundation. What sells the house is the windows, the roof and that’s the off-page SEO. This is what gets you ranking in traffic from Google. In off-page SEO, it’s just everything from the rest of the internet that tells Google that you are an authority. That primarily comes in form of links.
- In summary, my website performance, the information on my website that tells Google what it’s about and how authoritative I am and the information around the internet that tell Google that this is a really good website for this.
Are there unique challenges for a photographers in regards to SEO? [00:18:00]
- Yes, definitely. Photography is about images. Right now, Google doesn’t read images, it doesn’t automatically just tell what an image is. Within four or five years, I believe that Google is going to read a website and know that it is a website about wedding photography because it has machine learning and it can read the images. But right now, it isn’t so, so I have to use words to tell Google what that’s about.
- Photographers love to put a billion pictures on their website which is a terrible idea. It’s not the 31st picture that gets somebody hired because clients can tell in five pictures that you’re in the person. You don’t need 30. When clients try to load your website, it becomes difficult because some clients are in areas of low network coverage which makes your website difficult to open on their phone. They just skip your website to another and that becomes a huge mistake. Most photographers don’t use enough words to describe what they do.
SEO for photographers: Where do photographers start? Let’s say there’s a brand-new photographer listening and they just got their first WordPress site set up, and they’ve not really given thought to SEO for photographers, what would be their first step? [00:19:42]
- I would argue they have given thought to SEO because they are using WordPress. I think a lot of people use Squarespace and Wix and Zenfolio and all of these things as their website. Building your website on someone’s platform is the same as trying to use Facebook for your website. It’s their playground and they make the rules. When they change things, you don’t get a say in it.
- However, with WordPress, you do. Additionally, there is a reason why a large amount of leading websites on Google is WordPress website and the reason is it’s very good not just for content, but also good for search. It sends the smartest signals to Google. I’m working on a good blog post about Zenfolio versus Smugmug versus WordPress.
- People use all these platforms because they think it’s pretty and easy. If you have seven people come to your website every month, I don’t care if it’s the prettiest thing in the world, it’s not doing anything. I would rather have an ugly website where 2000 people come every month, where they can see some photos but the navigation doesn’t look great and doesn’t have that parallax that Squarespace always has. Those things don’t matter. What matters is getting eyeballs on your photos so you can book more clients.
- Photographers notoriously give each other terrible advice about the use of website platforms because it’s easy. It’s easy because it’s got built in short cuts and when Google gets to look at that page and sees those short cuts and missing or wrong information, it decides that this isn’t a great website for this topic. When you go to Google’s top search for wedding photography, all of those websites are WordPress.
- Starting with WordPress is a huge hurdle but it’s an absolute must for your business. You’re going to switch to WordPress later in your business so why don’t you start now?
- I’ve always felt like using Squarespace or Wix but the hesitation with that is that at any moment, they could pull the rug from underneath, they could have a massive failure and they could go out of business and that ruins your business. At any moment, they could change the rules of SEO and the whole format that could make your website unusable. For sure they are nice to use but they are a lot of trade-offs in the process.
- If you don’t know better, it could be hard but if you know better, it’s not hard. If you go to Bluehost or Host Gator, set up your hosting. Most of them have a one-click WordPress installation. My friend set up his website in two minutes and it’s got a video on YouTube on how to set it up. Time is not the problem. You just feel it’s hard to do and it isn’t.
- Brendan shares the misfortune he had creating a website for his mom on Squarespace. [00:25:37]
- From my experience, a lot of photographers are caught up making websites for other photographers not for their clients. So, it’s or they are making it for the approval of their peers, not for the people paying them. So, the big concern is who is this website actually for?
- This also translates to the social media. Lots of photographers have many followers on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and these followers are photographers too instead of potential clients. But photographers shouldn’t care about peers but decide what they want to do irrespective of what other photographers are doing in other to lead in the industry.
- We usually go to our peers instead of authorities in subject matters when we run into problems. If you want to learn to use social media better, ask social media experts instead of my photographer friends. Join groups where social media experts hang out otherwise you would get caught up in this echo chambers where you think you could increase your reach by likes of your photographer friends whereas from experience of photographers doing it this way, it takes time and effort and headspace to do it and they haven’t got clients from this method. Photographers should make sure that they participate in profit making activities. [00:29:41]
Why should a photographer hire an SEO specialist and not tackle it themselves? [00:31:31]
- Based on experience with my client, they don’t have time to work on SEO. A lot of photographers are thinking if they create a content that teaches people how to take their pictures better, they won’t hire them. If that’s the case, then they weren’t really your clients.
- The issue is time and SEO and every marketing takes time. I have built out a system to make me do it at scale and it takes me less time to serve you than it would take you to learn it. And even if you have same expertise level as me, it would take me less time to do it than you because you are also trying to run a photography business.
- Most photographers don’t see the need to hire an SEO specialist because they don’t understand its value and how it works.
- Hire an expert and monitor the ROI to see if it’s worth. We hire professionals in every area without a second thought. But in our business, we are nervous, we bootstrap by doing everything ourselves but allow experts to handle stuff for you.
How much patience should people have when it comes to their SEO if they hire someone like you to make some changes? How swiftly are they going to see the result and what issues could arise if somebody is doing it by themselves? [00:38:39]
- SEO takes time. I don’t sell SEO, I sell leads, clients, and traffic.
- My goal is to build up the organic Google traffic and that takes time. It depends on your competition. If every photographer in your locality does terrible websites and no backlinks then you don’t have to do much work. However, if you are a hired wedding photographer in New York or Atlanta, then it’s going to be a lot harder and a lot of work. It starts there.
- In terms of time, one way I mitigate that is that I run ads using paper click on Instagram, Facebook, and Google. It might take 6 months to see SEO work really well and pay dividends. In SEO, we track everything. if someone is determined to do it on their own, there is a lot of information out there to do it on your own. Information can be gathered from SEO website. The best person I have found for SEO is Ryan Stewart. He runs an SEO agency in Miami Florida. In my opinion, he’s the best. He’s funny and passionate. He’s got some great YouTube videos.
- If you’re determined to learn it, learn it from somebody smart who’s willing to let you see behind the curtain and not tell you vague things. The other thing is changing direction doesn’t really matter as far as you’re doing the right things.
- Please see Brendan’s incredibly thorough blog post on SEO for photographers: 7 Need to Know Photography “SEO” Tips
Does trying too many different keywords produce negative outcome on your business? [00:43:54]
- Changing the focus of your business doesn’t matter much.
- Here is an issue called bloat. Maybe I have 700 blog posts that are short, thin, they are garbage and don’t really address anything in particular but just me talking. If you get vanity traffics that don’t improve your leads and then your sales, then you are just playing SEO, you aren’t really doing anything.
- Every time you take photos, you should blog about it. The blog shows the kind of photography you do, the location where you shot, etc. The article should address the relationship with your clients, the work done and all the things that went wrong in the shoot. Tell them what’s wrong because they would be confident that when you’re hired, you would handle every shortcoming or issues that arise.
- But if you write for your peers or about your gears, it adds no values to your blog because it is for photographers and wouldn’t benefit your clients. Everything on your site should address your work and topics that would help your clients. If you are doing newborn photography, you should have high-quality content of 80-90% perfect range. Everything you do should help people who book you, for example, in this case, moms.
What do you think about long form content for photographers and do you subscribe to this method? [00:48:58]
- If I want to write about a wedding at Navy Pier, I want it to be the best possible piece of content on the internet about having a wedding on Navy Pier. If you don’t have the time to write it, then hire someone to do it for you. I think long form content matters a lot. It’s telling stories with words.
- Long form is the way to go right now until we get to a point where Google can tell a story based on images.
- One example is Emily who wrote a blog post on “how to get married at San Francisco City Hall.” This online content created an enough clientele that she now focuses solely on city hall weddings.
Let’s say Emily has a new information about getting married at city hall and wanted to update that blog post, is it better for her update that one blog post or is it better for her to create another blog post and link also to the previous one? What would be the best strategy? [00:54:38]
- I would say update your content always. If you write two books on the same topic, people would wonder which one they should take and Google would also be confused on which one of these would you want me to put out because they both are on the same topic.
- I would say update that content and build that authority even more.
Why do photographers burn out so quickly? What can they do to prevent that from happening? [00:56:23]
- I don’t think it happens to only photographers. It happens in every sphere. You’ve got to understand what the work entails.
- Always protect your passion. It’s a terrible idea to make your passion your business all the time.
- If you’re not passionate about business, you shouldn’t run a business in any facet. One of the ways to get around that is hiring people, learning it yourself, or finding ways to become passionate about the business side of things, it’s okay to quit and pave it into something else. Find your balance.