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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2009-03-10
Why Your Blog Sucks
AKA: How photographers can use SEO to make more money
By Allen Murabayashi
"There are two reasons for a blog: 1) You have something so incredibly interesting and viral that people can't stay away, and 2) SEO."
Photo by Allen Murabayashi
One Dave Black seminar doesn't make every image you shoot blog-worthy.
-How to Fail as a Photographer (http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/2082)
Oh, Mr. Photographer. You are so brave and opinionated online. And in the imaginary world inside your head, there's a big audience that has been shift+reloading your blog daily while awaiting your next update. Please post again quickly because we were so moved by the light painting portrait of your dog that you shot after seeing a Dave Black seminar. I felt your pain when you told us about how they forgot the sausage on your Waffle Breakfast Sandwich again! Oh, and totally enjoyed the movie you made while driving down the street from your new 5D Mark II - the camera shake really reminded me of the Bourne Ultimatum.
But when we cut to reality, it turns out that your blog averages about 12 visitors a day, one of whom is your mom. For most of us, maintaining a blog is sort of like self-publishing a book. No one really cares, and supply outstrips demand. Does the world really need another "coffee table book" of nudes shot by a sports photographer (let's just keep the answer to yourself)?
But unlike a self-published book that languishes in a virtual inventory or in a box next to your bed, a blog can have benefits even if no one reads it. That's right, a blog with benefits.
As I've mentioned in the past, a blog is not an online journal. You're not Vincent Laforet, David Hobby or Chase Jarvis. Nikon didn't send you the D400 in advance to review. Nobody cares if you upgraded the firmware on your D3. Nobody cares that you finally rented a 4x5 and shot on Polaroid Fuji Instant Film. Yes, I watched Lost too. No, I never thought Jin was dead. Instead you should be thinking about how the web can help you extending your marketing reach with a crazy little thing called SEO. So let's change your mindset.
First, a review of some marketing concepts.
Tenet #1. The Internet is the most efficient information dissemination mechanism in the world.
Craig Mitchelldyer leveraged the tight-knit Portland photographer network to create a collaborative blog to market their wedding services. http://www.myportlandphotographer.com
Our understanding of the web has really evolved over the past few years. The rise of social networks, social graph theory, and node frequency/importance has all underscored the value of the web as a highly efficient (and free) tool. Say what? Translation: Your presence on the web needs to be more strategic than it is to leverage its marketing potential for you.
Tenet #2. Don't resist distribution.
Pros have a love/hate relationship with image distribution, which stems from the historical belief that display should yield payment. But if you haven't figured it out by now, people aren't operating on the web under your rules. People are going to steal your images, so rather than resist, use it to your advantage. Since the web is so great at rapid information exchange, let your fans/thieves market for you by spreading your images around the web.
Tenet #3. You need to understand SEO to win.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the current buzzword du jour, but many people only have a cursory understanding of what it is and how it can help them (http://blog.photoshelter.com/corp/seo-search-engine-optimization). SEO is not about finding your own website when you search on your name. I can't underscore this enough. You have much bigger problems if someone else's website comes up when you search for your name (common names aside). God forbid, some Nigerian scam artist has a more highly ranked website than my own when I search for "Allen Murabayashi."
The goal of SEO is to increase your UNSOLICITED traffic. The more traffic you generate to your website, the more likely you are to convert one of these visitors into a sale. And last time I checked, we were all in the business of making money, so don't tell me that your website is just a digital portfolio. If you still think that, 1997 called and left you a message on Friendster.
How free tools can help you
Google AdWords is a free tool that was designed for advertisers to figure out what people were searching on so that they could place those annoying text ads on the side of search results. Turns out that the same tool can be used to enhance your SEO.
For example, let's say that I have some great sports photos of the oft-maligned Stephon Marbury. I might think that keywording the image with "Stephon Marbury Photos" make sense, but AdWords tell me that the average search volume on this term is 58 searches per month. That's right, 58 on the whole friggin' Internet.
By contrast, "starbury" gets 40,500 searches per month on average. If you're not keywording "starbury," then you're losing out on a significant search volume, which could bring people to your website.
Free tools like Google AdWords Keyword Tool can help you determine what keywords are actually being searched upon. You don't need to buy text ads to leverage this information in your SEO strategy.
Google Analytics (http://analytics.google.com) might reveal that the majority of your website traffic actually comes from search engines. You might think that all your visitors are typing in your URL, but the reality might be that they executed a keyword search for "starbury" and happened to find your website. This is the reality for most websites, and yours is probably no different. Therefore, if the majority of visitors are being generated by search engines, you better make sure that you a strategy for controlling your SEO.
Blogs and SEO
There are four main factors that influence SEO and where your website appears in search results.
1. Trust and authority of the domain (e.g. sportsshooter.com is more definitive and "trust worthy" than "sportshooter.com"
2. Page level text and meta data (e.g. IPTC captions, page titles, gallery URLs)
4. Usage data (how long did you stay on sportsshooter.cm before you realized you mistyped it?)
Of these, the inbound links are probably the most influential. In that regard, blogs are an ideal vehicle because they structurally lend themselves to cross-linking and provide a platform for writing with SEO in mind. Compare and contrast the following sample blog snippets.
Example 1: The SEO-minded way to blog
…. After eating my waffle sandwich, I drove down to the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ to photograph the NJ Nets beat the Philadelphia 76ers. I almost left early, but instead wound up photographing this killer image of Devin Harris shooting a 3-point buzzer beater (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0afz7lz7KGM) while Andre Iguodala covered him like a Snuggie….
Example 2: You might as well open a Live Journal account
…So I got in a rut, and I rented a 4x5 and shot this (http://failblog.org/2009/03/09/overcoming-compulsive-behavior-fail), but I didn't like it, so I tried shooting this (http://failblog.org/2009/03/07/fail-owned-payment-fail) one instead. What do you think?
In example 1, I've used descriptive language and employed words like "photographed" instead of "shot." "Shot" is grammatically correct, but no one searches for "sports shot." We could quantify this fact with AdWords.
Secondly, the link text that I used (i.e. "killer image of Devin Harris….") is descriptive of the image, and therefore, will have a better SEO than the link text in example 2 (i.e. "this" or "this one.")
Linking to yourself is nice, but getting links from other people is much more important in increasing your SEO. And think about this from a trust/relevance point of view. If a lot of people link to you, then you are most likely a credible source of information.
So what you should really think about is finding like-minded photographers who you can blog about, or provides a list of your favorite links to. Of these two links, blogging about another photographer and providing a link to a specific set of images is much more powerful.
The rocket scientists at Google who create the search algorithm want to provide relevant results, and they are constantly refining the search mechanism. This is why it doesn't pay to try to "game" the system by buying links or creating fake pages, etc. SEO rewards people that build links and keywords organically - providing a great searching experience.
Not the final word
SEO is an incredibly broad topic and there are a ton of resources on the web that can help you. And while there is no single magic bullet to getting your website to position #1, good SEO also doesn't require a PhD. A methodical approach and a long-term strategy will do wonders for you. (you can start by making sure to keyword and caption your image, making sure your website displays this information, and renaming your filenames to be descriptive (e.g. grand-canyon.jpg) instead of the default name (e.g. DSC_0123.jpg)).
Finally, if you think that there are no opportunities to optimize your website and photos and SEO is an esoteric and academic exercise, try doing a Google Image Search. I guarantee you that all the images that come up on the first page look like crap and aren't licensable. There is a huge opportunity for hungry photographers to use SEO to increase their marketing reach and revenue. So get optimized.
P.S. What position is your website when you search for "sports photographer (http://tinyurl.com/dd4sj5)?"
In his own little world, Allen Murabayashi believes you read this article from start to finish. While he's not imagining things, he is the CEO of www.PhotoShelter.com, a service that provides photography websites and e-commerce services to people like you.
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