In the previous chapter, I talked about how to attract more of the right people to your website using various tools and strategies.
Here, I’ll go a little deeper into the second part of this strategy—making the right connection with your prospects and clients.
What Does Connection Mean?
Let’s start by defining what we mean by connection.
In the context of marketing your photography to the right people, connection means establishing a valued and meaningful rapport with your prospects to better communicate who you are as a photographer and the reasons why someone should hire you, instead of the photographer down the street who might be cheaper.
This stems from the fact that, when it comes to doing business, people are more likely to buy from people they know, like, and trust, and also from people who are like them.
The most common strategy for this seems to be to cross our fingers and hope they love the photos on the website so much that they’ll do what we want them to, which isn’t exactly the best way to run a business is it?
Although we sometimes wish we could sit on our visitors’ shoulders, whispering instructions in their ears, that’s obviously not an option.
So how do you make sure your website has the best chance of doing its job of turning visitors into leads?
How To Connect With Your Website Visitors
Are you making a connection with your visitors with your marketing copy, stories, testimonials, and photographs? Only then will they convert into leads...
The answer lies in a simple marketing truth:
People are more likely to do business with people they like, and who are like them…
In other words, you must establish rapport, find common ground, and highlight the places where your own values and beliefs around the value of photography intersect with those of your potential client.
I’m sure you’ve seen this in action during real-life sales meetings where the salesperson attempts to draw you into small-talk conversations on topics unrelated to what they’re selling, but which have some kind of emotional significance for you. For example, where did you go to school? What sports do you like? Favorite food? Your kids’ activities? That kind of thing.
It might sound a bit cliché, but it works.
All you have to do is replicate this process with the content on your website.
I expect you already know about this process from the buzzword “engagement”, which we’ve already talked about in some detail.
Why Does Engagement Matter?
I’ve been asked many times why engagement matters so much, and why photographers should have to go to such great effort to connect and engage with their website visitors.
After all, they feel their photographs ought to be more than enough to get people excited about their work.
This is a valid question, and I totally understand why it’s tempting to think this way.
The Internet is a crowded place, and everywhere you look there’s another photographer setting up shop.
Seriously, throw a rock in any direction, and you’ll break someone’s camera.
Then there’s Google.
The search engines are over-populated by photographers who’ve already entrenched themselves in the top spots, and who are only a quick search and a click away.
With so many possible options for potential clients to choose from, it’s more important than ever for you to stand out from the crowd, and the bad news is your photographs are not able to do that by themselves.
Yes, the photography is important, and your prospects do need to see what you can do.
But if you want to avoid the horrible fate of being measured only by what you charge, your prospects also need to be drawn deeper into your world.
They need to be captivated by your imagination and creativity, and transported into the stories, told not just by your photographs, but through the words you use to enhance and tell those stories.
The end result?
When people are truly engaged and immersed in your website content, even to the point where outside distractions lose their power, they’re going to be far more likely to focus on the real benefits of working with you, not just the price you charge or how many photos they get for their money.
As they become more involved in the combined narrative of your photographs and writing, they become less able to compare you directly with other photographers because the decision is now based on qualitative factors, not quantitative ones.
Increased engagement also builds trust, an essential ingredient in the formula needed for them to hire you, so this is well worth getting right.
Show Your Prospects What They Share In Common With You
The connection phase of your marketing strategy is aimed squarely at showing your ideal prospects how much you share in common.
It also gives them reasons to like you and trust you, while allowing them to get to know you at the same time.
In a sense, everything you do in this phase of your marketing should help to answer one very important question in the mind of your prospect, even if they’re not consciously aware of the question themselves.
The question is:
If I am your ideal client, why should I hire you as my photographer instead of your competitors?
If there’s no appreciable difference in your approach to photography, or in your personal philosophy about the value of photography, the answer to this all-important question is based purely on price or on the number of photographs delivered.
This can turn your photography into nothing more than a simple commodity.
At that point, the prospect only cares about what they physically get in exchange for the price.
Competing with others based on price only leads to a race to the bottom, and the ultimate failure of the business.
However, you can avoid all that nastiness by adopting a customer-first approach to educate them about the important things separating you from the rest of the pack, and by making a genuine human connection with them to make it much harder to base their buying decision on price alone.
But what does all this look like on your website?
What tools and strategies can you use to make a better connection with your ideal clients?
The Connection Toolkit
What tools can you use on your website (and other online marketing) to craft the details of your “performance” and connect with your audience?
Here’s a quick list of the main ones for you to think about:
- Website design and the user experience (UX): Is your website clear, uncluttered, and consistent with your branding? Is the user able to find what they need without having to think too much or click too many links to get where they need to be? Does your “about” page make them feel like they belong?
- Font choice: Are your fonts clear and large enough for people to read? The role of typography in our marketing has become much more important in recent years, so it’s worth making a study of it.
- Device experience: Is your website mobile (device) responsive? Are there elements on your website that can be removed on mobiles? What happens if someone tries to print out your content? Does it look presentable or is it cluttered?
- Photographs: These are an obvious part of your marketing, but are you overdoing it by showing too many photos at once? Do you have a slideshow that only delivers “eye-candy” without actually telling a story?
- Text: Do you have enough text (marketing copy) on your website? Despite how we feel about the photographs, words are essential in order to communicate the subtle nuances of your images. We also need words to indicate what we want people to do next.
- Video: Although video and photographs are closely related, video is something we rarely see on photographers’ websites. Have you thought about creating a heartfelt intro video for your business that speaks about your core values and reasons for being in business? You can also record powerful video testimonials.
- Audio: Perhaps not quite as strong as video, audio is another medium where you can quickly communicate the power of testimonials. However, I would not recommend using music on your website. Contrary to what we might first believe, music on a website has been shown to be a negative connection factor, and can actually do the opposite of what we intended!
The most effective marketing combines several of these factors and media to create a rich and interesting experience for the user, especially since different people respond in various ways to different forms of media.
Of these, the medium most photographers seem to have difficulty with is text and the act of writing for the web, so I’ve got some tips on how to improve your writing skills.
How To Structure Your Writing For The Web
Far too many photographers get worked up and stressed out over writing, mainly because they (mistakenly) don’t think they can do it well, or they assume people won’t read what they write.
Others panic at the thought of having to be a “good” writer, or they imagine they’ll suffer from some kind of writer’s block.
Neither of those things are actually real—they’re nothing more than excuses we create to avoid doing this!
I promise you, writing for your website or blog is something you can do, and I know you can do it well enough to make an impact on your audience.
How do I know?
All you have to do is write down the same words you would use if you were talking to someone in person, with perhaps minimal editing to improve clarity.
It really is that simple!
The problems start when we allow our innermost worst critic to start yammering away about things that don’t matter as much as we think.
So give yourself a break, and also a little credit for being smart enough to do this.
If you can hold a real conversation, you can write for your website.
No doubt about it!
Some tips to get you started:
- Start with strong attention-getting headlines. The purpose of the headline (or post title) is to get the reader’s attention, and create enough interest for them to want to read the first sentence, and so on.
- Write in mostly short paragraphs. Long paragraphs are for school essays, novels, and legal documents. Writing for the web is totally different, so keep your paragraphs to at most 3 lines (4 in a pinch).
- Be economical with your words. After writing your initial draft of a page or blog post, let it sit for a while (at least 24 hours if you can), and then return to it with a fresh eye. Eliminate all the words that don’t add clarity and meaning.
- Vary the rhythm of your writing. As well as keeping paragraphs short, try adding some really short paragraphs into the mix, such as one-liners. These break up the overall structure of the content and create a rhythm for your reader.
- Don’t break the reading line. The reading line is the left edge of the screen, and you should try not to break it with left-aligned images. Instead, align the images to the center or (preferably) the right side of the page. This can also create a block of narrower copy, which is easier and faster to read, making the copy seem to flow more easily.
- Maintain a conversational style. Simply write as you would speak to create a friendly and conversational atmosphere.
- Check spelling! Enough said 🙂
- Break up the page with sub-headings. These create natural break-points for the readers who like to scan the page, potentially catching them at points of most interest.
- Use bullets to quickly communicate important points. These make your copy concise and to the point.
- Use photographs with intention and purpose. Your photos are your main marketing assets, so use them wisely, and at the right time.
- Pair your photographs with powerful captions. Most people will stop to read the captions beneath your photos, so make them count by including testimonials and other emotionally-laden copy.
- Focus on the story. Don’t assume that your readers will know the full story of your images! You were there at the time, and it’s easy to forget you have information others don’t about what’s happening outside the frame as much as what’s going on inside.
- Minimize unwanted distractions. Keep unwanted clutter to a minimum by removing unnecessary sidebar widgets, footer content, or page elements that could inadvertently send people away from your website.
- Finish with an appropriate and powerful call to action. Finally, don’t leave your reader hanging! Give them something to do once they finish reading your content, even if it’s only to read another post or share the content on social media. Most times, though, this will be to get them to contact you, or join your email list.
Content Marketing (Part 2)
By far the most effective tool you can use to connect with your target clients is content marketing.
I’ve already mentioned this several times in the previous chapter, but connecting with your prospects is where content marketing shines!
To recap what we mean by content marketing, it’s the practice of creating valuable and in-depth material on your website in the form of articles, blog posts, videos and other media to appeal directly to your target market. The content itself is interesting and valuable to your audience, but it also educates them about your business and who you are as a photographer in such a way that it also fulfills a definite marketing function at the same time.
Content marketing has often been described as marketing that people think is so valuable they would be happy to pay for it, or as marketing that does its job without actually feeling like marketing to the recipient.
We already talked about how content marketing can help with search engine optimization, but now we’ll talk about the content itself and how it can build a stronger rapport with your audience.
What Is Content?
So what do I mean by the term “content”?
After all, we see the word being thrown around all over the Internet, but what is it really? Strictly speaking, content could be taken to mean simply the words, videos, audio or images we find on any given web page regardless of how much of it there actually is, or indeed the quality of it.
Of course, there’s good content and not-so-good content, and one thing you should absolutely avoid doing is publishing content purely for the sake of it, or because you feel you must for one reason or another.
An important point to note is the quality of your website content outranks the quantity.
There’s also no ideal length for a blog post, article, or video that you need to aim for. Each piece of content you produce should be the exact size or length it needs to be in order get the point across as clearly as possible—no more and no less.
What Type Of Content Should You Use?
So what type of content works best for making a connection with your audience?
The temptation, as photographers, is to imagine your photographs will do this job for you. As a result, I see a lot of photography websites that are image-heavy and extremely light on text and other types of media.
This is a huge mistake for a variety of reasons.
First, the idea that “a photograph is worth a thousand words” is only true up to a point.
Yes, a great photograph can evoke a strong emotional response in the viewer. But, there’s a lot more detail and emotion to the story in a photograph, which the person looking at it won’t actually be aware of.
You, the photographer, were there at the time, since you captured the image. You also spent a great deal of time with the subject, regardless of whether it was a wedding, a portrait, or a commercial assignment. After all, it’s not as if you were present only for the 1/100th of a second it took to create the image.
What I’m getting at here is that there was a lot going on around the image, which we can think of as happening outside the frame.
Then you have the events both before and after you clicked the shutter. Imagine, for example, seeing only one still image from the middle of a great movie. Even if it were taken from the most emotionally-charged moment in the film, it would still be hard to figure out the rest of the story.
And so it is with your photography.
In order to make a stronger and longer-lasting connection with your website audience, it’s necessary to supplement your images with text or other media, such as video or audio, to tell the complete stories.
This is why simple slideshows that flip from one image to the next, with no supporting content, do little more than provide eye-candy for the website visitor. There might be a minor mental connection created at some level, but it’s not enough to induce the type of rapport needed to truly engage people.
At the very least, I encourage you to use compelling text, overlaid onto your slideshow images, to add a new layer of emotion to the image itself.
Better still, use a slideshow system that allows you to display a block of text alongside the image, which tells more of the story. You might also want to slow down the pace of the slideshow to allow time for people to read it, or provide manual slideshow controls for them to move from one image in the slideshow to the next.
Another type of content that does a great job of connecting with your prospects are resource pages.
These consist of one or more pages, specifically created to be helpful and interesting to your specific target audience.
This series you’re reading right now on how to make money with photography is an example of a set of resource pages.
How-to articles are great for this, and there’s no shortage of articles you can come up with to answer common questions, address certain challenges, or provide suggestions your ideal clients will find both interesting and engaging.
If you’re a wedding photographer, for instance, you might provide a series of articles to help prospective brides plan certain aspects of their wedding. Commercial photographers can create resource pages about the challenges involved in successfully executing the perfect commercial photography project. Portrait photographers can help their target audience with resources on clothing, make-up, choice of locations and other ways to make the portrait experience as enjoyable as possible.
All it takes to create these resources for your target clients is some imagination and a small investment in time to discover the kinds of information that would be of most interest or help for the people who matter to your business.
Frequently-asked questions (otherwise known as FAQ’s) can be expanded into more detailed resource-style pages, where you answer one question per page, and then present a list of all the answered questions on a separate index page with the title of each question linking to the appropriate answer page.
As for the type of content to use on these pages, you can use text, video, photographs, infographics, audio, and charts, for example.
It can help to use at least 2 or 3 different media types on any given page, in order to create variety and cater for people who respond better to one type of media than another. For instance, some people prefer to read, while others find video more useful, and so on.
If you want to take the idea of resource pages even further, it’s quite possible to take all of the specialty sections of your website—the pages that tell people what you do—and turn those into highly-detailed and in-depth resource pages of their own.
A key thing to remember about resource pages, and all the content you create on your website for that matter, is to make sure it clearly communicates to your audience some of the important differentiating factors separating you from the competition, and that you make it as easy to consume as possible for your visitors.
Blogging (Part 2)
Blogging is another form of content marketing, and is the perfect way to give your audience a glimpse into the heart and soul of your photography business, as seen through the lens of your actual photography projects and other activities you engage in as part of your business.
For the truly dedicated and passionate photographer—those who are enthusiastic and fully committed to the success of their business—there is no shortage of blog topics, and the process of blogging becomes less of a chore and more of an outlet for the photographer’s personality and voice.
By the way, while you can publish posts daily, it’s not necessary or even recommended, especially if you’re new to blogging.
One post per week is more than enough to create an effective channel of communication with your target audience and connect with them in a way that creates an emotional response.
The biggest tip I can offer for producing an effective blog is to avoid using too many images.
That might sound counterintuitive at first. After all, you’re trying to show off the product of your work, right?
Well, almost, but not quite!
Remember, you’re trying to create an emotional rapport with the visitor, but blasting them with a seemingly endless series of images soon gets tiring on the eyes. They will look at the first one or two and then scan the rest very quickly, thus defeating the purpose of posting them in the first place.
Instead, I recommend having 3 — 5 images in a post. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, one image for every 200 words or so of text.
If that sounds like a lot to you, it’s really not, and you should easily be able to write enough words about a photography session or a wedding if you’re really as passionate and excited by it as you should be. Also, every photograph you display should have a caption associated with it, and preferably a testimonial.
Creating Content With Structure
Before we finish up, it’s worth talking about how the actual structure of your website content—your writing style—has a profound impact on how quickly you can forge a connection, and how strong a bond you can create.
The thing most photographers fail to grasp when they start building a website, or producing a blog, is that this is a unique type of interaction with our clients, and it requires its own style of writing.
In fact, many photographers try to use the excuse of not being a writer as a way to escape having a blog or other in-depth content on their website.
I’m a photographer! I’m a visual person and my photography should speak for itself…
That may be true, but most of the people you’re communicating with are not as visual as you are, and they need the benefit of words or video to tell the parts of the story the photographs can’t tell.
But the great thing is, you don’t need to be a writer in the traditional sense of the word, and you can forget most of those restrictive rules you were forced to stick to in school.
A blog and a website are not essays, company reports, or anything of a truly formal nature.
They’re communication channels between your business and potential clients, and they work best when used as if you were speaking to your clients and prospects directly.
That’s how the most engaging marketers connect with their target audience—by communicating in ways that remove unnecessary barriers to understanding, and make the reader or listener feel as if the other person is sitting right there with them.
How To Improve Content Engagement
I’ve got ten ways you can remove those barriers to understanding and improve the level of engagement with your content.
#1: Headlines And Subheadings
The first one is to use compelling and attention-getting headlines and subheadings in your content.
Every page on your website needs a good heading to capture someone’s attention fast, and convert that attention into real interest to keep them reading. The temptation here is to try to get clever with headlines, but the best ones tend to be those that say exactly what the content is about and include some kind of benefit for the reader.
7 ways to avoid stress when planning the perfect wedding day to ensure you spend as much time as possible with your family and friends.
Or, this one for a children’s portrait photographer:
5 tips to guarantee that your kids love their portrait session.
These are simple and to the point, avoiding hype or phrases that might be considered too salesy.
The headline gets their attention and piques their interest, and then you can use subheadings in the copy itself to divide the content into more manageable sections, making it easier for someone to scan and identify the most interesting points for them.
#2: Use Language Your Prospects Understand
Next, write using the language of your potential clients and sprinkle emotive words and phrases into the content.
These should talk about benefits and the results they’ll get from the experience of working with you.
By “their language”, I mean use a similar tone and vocabulary your clients might use when describing the problems or challenges you’re trying to solve for them, but you also have to be careful to avoid words that might cheapen what you do.
#3: Use Video
Include videos in your content to enhance and support what you’re saying with your words and photographs.
Videos can communicate a variety of ideas very quickly and are a very popular format these days, and easily shared.
They can also help from an SEO perspective if you use the description to share a link to a page on your website.
#4: Add Rhythm To Your Writing
This one can be difficult to explain, but I’ll do my best with it.
Essentially, it relies on the fact that engaging writing has a certain cadence to it, rather than being just a bunch of long paragraphs all strung together, one after another or, worse still, one great big block of text.
By the way, one thing to avoid at all costs is justified text. Creating a solid line down the right-side of the content makes the whole thing very difficult to read on a screen, especially for anyone who might be dyslexic.
For example, you might start your content with a paragraph with 2 or (at most) 3 sentences in it, followed by a shorter paragraph of just one sentence. You might even have lines of text that have only 2 or 3 words in them.
This varying pattern of long, medium and short paragraphs creates a unique rhythm to the content, and helps to draw the reader in so they’ll read more.
The next time you read a blog post or an article on the web (for example, the one you’re reading right now), take a look at how it’s structured and compare it with how easy or hard it is for you to stay focused reading it.
You’ll soon see a pattern and then you can work on developing your own unique writing style.
#5: Photography + Words = Magic
My fifth tip for you is to use photographs and words together to create synergy.
In other words, they’re much more effective in communicating your message together than they would be if used separately.
Stories add an extra dimension of emotion to your photographs, while a well-placed image can significantly enhance a paragraph of text.
Also, don’t forget to add captions to all of your photographs. These should be as descriptive as possible, and may be a testimonial of some kind.
#6: Use The Power Of Testimonials
Speaking of testimonials, your clients can say so many amazing things about you and the experience of working with you.
Much of what your clients say, you couldn’t say yourself with credibility.
Testimonials are worth their weight in gold, and you should use them at every possible opportunity.
Another by-product of testimonials is they can help with your local search engine optimization as long as you use the client’s location alongside their name.
#7: Bold And Emphasis
Make use of bold and emphasis formatting in your marketing copy to highlight certain words to help drive their importance home.
Bold, italicized, or underlined text helps to catch the eye and may also serve to slow down people who are simply scanning the page looking for the main points of interest, but use these sparingly, otherwise you risk losing the effect.
#8: Bullet Lists
One way to prevent wasting your reader’s time is by condensing a list of important elements into a bulleted list.
Bullet points are great at helping with the rhythm of your writing, but they also catch people’s attention and drive important points home quickly and easily.
One of the funny facts about bulleted lists is that odd numbers of bullets in a list seem to be more effective than an even number for some reason, and it also helps to make sure that each item in the list is approximately the same width when displayed on the screen.
#9: Block Quotes And Breakout Boxes
Block quotes and breakout boxes highlight a paragraph of text or a point of particular importance.
Depending on the styling in your content, you can use colored boxes to make certain information stand out, while also breaking up the content into smaller sections.
#10: Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions
Finally, tip number ten is to avoid any unnecessary distractions on the page.
This could be anything that might distract the reader from the content, such as ads or other non-essential content in the sidebar, header, or footer of the page.
On WordPress, for example, it’s not uncommon to see sidebars cluttered with all kinds of widgets, none of which add anything of value or help the website fulfill its primary purpose of generating leads.