Today’s topic should be a welcome one for any photographer trying to build their business, especially if you’re reasonably new to the industry, because we’re going to look at how you can lay the foundation for your photography marketing strategies in just 5 steps.
Specifically, we’ll look at the questions you need to ask yourself about your individual business and how to use those answers to shape the future of your online marketing plans.
As I’m sure you’ve come to realize if you’ve been listening to my podcasts, or reading the articles here on the Prime Focus Lab, I’m something of a self-confessed nerd when it comes to topics like search engine optimization, website analytics, coding and all that techno-stuff that most normal folk don’t want anything to do with.
While I love everything about the photography business, and I especially enjoy working with professional photographers, I guess it’s hard for me to totally escape from my inner geek.
As I’ve said many times in the past — I love to play at the things you hate doing!
These nerdy interests keep me pretty busy, as you can imagine, and I spend a lot of time learning about things that most people consider unexciting or try not to think about at all during the course of a normal day.
Among other things, this means I’m naturally a big fan of the SEO folks over at Moz.com, and I particularly love their series of whiteboard Friday videos. I usually enjoy watching those over a nice cup of coffee at the end of each week to catch up with the latest thinking on search engine optimization and online marketing.
Translating Technical Advice Into Practical Photography Marketing Strategies
While their videos are immensely helpful to me and other online marketers, I do realize it can be a bit of a challenge for a lot of photographers to fully understand exactly how to put these ideas into practice in their own marketing.
After all, the folks at Moz are not professional photographers and the information they share is designed to help a wide variety of businesses, so some translation is needed before we can apply their very sound principles to specific cases.
That’s why I love being the guy in the middle, as it were, to act as a kind of interpreter to translate the technical stuff into practical strategies and tactics that apply to the running of a professional photography business.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, last Friday, I was actually busy working on a completely different topic – that one’s all about the pros and cons of participating in Facebook groups for business advice – but I took a few minutes off for my usual coffee break to sit down and watch the Moz Whiteboard Friday video.
Which quickly pushed this in a completely new direction!
That video was all the motivation I needed to quickly decide that a small detour was in order for this week because the topic Rand Fishkin talked about in the video has very important implications for the ways photographers ought to be thinking about their own marketing efforts.
You can watch the video for yourself below and then I’ll expand on what Rand was saying, and explain how it affects you as a professional photographer…
The main topic was “building an SEO strategy and a universal set of five questions you can ask yourself to help put that strategy into practice”.
An Effective SEO Strategy Starts With 5 Questions
Sounds utterly riveting, right? And you might be thinking it sounds all well and good, but is there really a practical application for you and your business?
By the way, Rand, if you’re listening to this (and I would be utterly honored and amazed if you are because I know just how insanely busy you are), I’m talking very much tongue-in-cheek there.
In all seriousness, the ideas Rand presented do have a profound impact for any business owner, yet they’re likely to be missed by so many photographers because this knowledge is way out there on the fringes, as it were.
Although I’m going to be talking less about SEO and more about marketing in this piece, the basic idea of the video is that an effective SEO strategy can be boiled down to five questions which, when answered in depth, can serve as a very powerful guide to future success.
To summarize the questions Rand mentioned, they are as follow:
- What does our organization create that helps solve searchers’ questions or problems?
- What is the unique value we provide that no one else does?
- Who’s going to help amplify our message, and why will they do it?
- What is our process for turning visitors from search into customers?
- How do we expose what we do that provides value here in a way that engines can easily crawl, index, understand, and show off?
Despite their apparent simplicity, I believe these questions can not only inform a sound strategy for search engine optimization, but they can also be modified slightly to form the basis of a solid general online marketing system for you, the professional photographer, which is why I felt this topic deserved to jump the queue.
Yes, it’s really that important and, dare I say it, ground-breaking too, because once again it shows the power and tremendous value of making the effort to learn from outside the echo chamber that is the rest of the photography industry, where the same tired old marketing ideas keep going around and around without producing any actual results.
Before I get into the revised questions for a marketing framework, let’s quickly take a look at what Rand’s original set of questions are getting at.
#1: How Can You Help Answer People’s Questions?
The first one on the list is:
What does our organization create that helps solve searchers’ questions or problems?
From an SEO perspective, since Rand is building the foundation for an SEO strategy here, this question is not only about the thing you physically do for your clients, which in your case is to create amazing and valuable photography for them – in fact, it goes a lot deeper than that.
If you are thinking along SEO lines, which we obviously need to do at some point, only going this far would be like stopping once you’ve identified those very broad, top level keywords, such as “Memphis wedding photographer”.
Sadly, most people do, in fact, stop right there and they don’t do any detailed keyword research beyond that, so there’s actually a very real marketing advantage for you in taking it a stage further to figure out the kinds of problems your potential clients encounter on their journey to finding and working with the right photographer for their project, whether that’s for a portrait, wedding, or commercial project.
So what Rand is getting at here is for you to figure out how to become a trusted resource for your leads and prospects, and how to be seen as that resource at various strategic points in the buying cycle – from the initial point of “thinking about needing a professional photographer” to the actual time of selecting the right photographer for the job.
The process of creating the specific resources to address those issues comes under what we call content marketing.
#2: What Do You Offer That’s Unique?
Question two is:
What is the unique value we provide that no one else does?
I’m sure you hear this one all the time. Marketing experts, including me, will tell you that you absolutely need to show your prospects why it is that you do what you do. It’s not enough to proclaim that you have a passion for photography, or a good eye for it – those things should be expected as standard from any photographer. Instead, there must be a compelling reason why you chose to pursue photography, and that reason is unique to you.
So that’s one part of the answer to the question of the unique value you bring to the table.
The other side of the same coin has to do with all those factors that make the experience of working with you different to working with any other photographer. It really doesn’t have all that much to do with how expensive or cheap you are, or even the physical prints or albums your clients get from you.
This does have to do, as I said, with the experience, much of which is intangible, visceral and emotionally-based.
In other words, how does working with you make your clients feel?
Again, if we look at this from a pure SEO perspective, the answer to the question feeds into such tactics as crafting compelling page titles and meta descriptions for your pages that increase the chances that people will click on your listing in the search results, as opposed to one for another photographer, even if your listing happens to appear lower down the page.
#3: Who Will Help Amplify Your Message?
The third question was:
Who’s going to help amplify our message, and why will they do it?
The idea of amplification is very important in both SEO and general marketing, and the most common way for that to happen (for photographers at least) is the old favorite of word of mouth marketing and referrals.
Word of mouth amplification is great, of course, but it tends to lose most of its impact when we go beyond one degree of separation, and isn’t something we tend to think of as viral, or anything like that. By that, I mean your clients might tell their friends and family, but it’s unlikely to spread beyond that unless those people actually have experience of working with you in some way.
Of course, for word of mouth marketing to happen at all, we need existing clients who’ve already had the pleasure of experiencing what we do and the way we do it – that’s all part of the unique value I talked about for the previous question.
But, to get those initial clients to begin with requires starting from scratch, as it were, and that can make your marketing feel like a snowflake getting lost in a blizzard (a somewhat topical metaphor at the moment, since all you great people in the frozen North right now only have to peer out the window to see what that looks like, right?)
So the answer to the question of who will help amplify your message has a lot to do with who you’re going to find that will be willing and happy to help share your marketing content with their audience, which will, in turn, help both your visibility and your SEO through the possibility of earned website links and social sharing signals etc.
Of all the SEO-related activities you can do, this one has to be one of the most challenging for many businesses because there’s a lot of friction and resistance involved in the process, especially if your relationships with the people you want to get help from are new or stale.
We’ll come back to this in a bit when I talk about the new set of questions I have for you.
#4: How Do Visitors Become Customers?
Fourth on the list is:
What is our process for turning visitors from search into customers?
This one is starting to move us away from SEO and toward the more practical side of online marketing, and we’ll be using a slightly-revised version of this question in our new model, which I’ll get to shortly.
Essentially, this aims to address the issue of what to do with your website visitors once you have them, and how you plan to get them to turn themselves into leads and prospects.
After all, it’s of no use at all to you if your SEO works really well and you get hordes of people on your blog or website every day, but then none of them ever take the step of getting in touch with you to talk about hiring you. In that situation, all you have is a busy website, but no clients.
Sadly, for a great many photographers, this is exactly the situation they face every day, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all.
#5: How Will You Get Google To Rank Your Website?
The final question in Rand’s original five is:
How do we expose what we do that provides value here in a way that engines can easily crawl, index, understand, and show off?
As Rand points out, this question is now very close to the actual tactics of SEO, and is where people start to think in more detail about things like keyword research, the placement of those keywords, and external link-building strategies. These are the nuts and bolts, if you like, of creating a solid SEO campaign.
For an SEO strategy, this is clearly a necessary way to think, and you absolutely shouldn’t ignore the basics of SEO for your website and blog, but the important thing here is the word “basic”.
SEO has managed to acquire a bad reputation of being difficult, highly technical, and a bit like the Wild West where the rules change almost by the day, but it’s not really as bad as all that. SEO is actually easy to do when you know a few simple things, and I talked a lot about that in a recent interview with Zach Prez, so do check that out if you haven’t already done so.
Summary Of The Moz Whiteboard Friday Questions
To summarize what we’ve talked about so far, Rand’s great whiteboard Friday video outlined a universal way to build a solid SEO strategy based on five questions every marketer should ask about their business.
Here’s a quick recap of the areas these questions focus on:
- How you can help people answer the important questions that surround working with a professional photographer…
- How you can communicate the unique value people will enjoy from working with you…
- Who you can enlist the help of to amplify your marketing…
- The process of converting visitors into leads and prospects…
- The tactical elements of SEO to enhance your website listing by Google…
This is a great way to approach your SEO, so you’re really getting two strategies for the price of one here because we can now also look at a modified list of 5 questions you should ask that will help you build a more generalized framework for an effective online marketing strategy.
Let’s dive in!
Your Photography Marketing Strategies Foundation
First off, who is all this really meant for?
The great news is that I believe it’s relevant to just about any professional photographer, regardless of the type of photography you offer, and it’s going to be especially helpful to anyone new to the business.
But, even if you’ve been at this for a while, you can still apply these ideas to enhance your existing photography marketing strategies or even start over if you feel you need to do that.
5 Essential Questions Every Professional Photographer Should Ask
The questions you’re going to be asking yourself are somewhat similar to those we’ve talked about already, but with some differences too, and I’ve made them very specific to marketing a photography business so you can get the very best out of all this.
#1: What Content Will Your Audience Find Invaluable?
The first one is:
What content can I create that answers my prospects’ questions at every stage of their buying process?
While this question might seem very similar to the first one in the previous list, it has a much different intent than the SEO objectives we considered before.
This time, rather than being focused just on the keywords we want to rank for in the search engines, you should be thinking about the actual problem-solving and helpful qualities of the content you’re going to create for your target market.
For example, think about all the frequently asked questions, objections, worries, apprehensions, and doubts people may have when just thinking about hiring a professional photographer… There’s a wealth of ideas in that alone.
This stage is all about creating engagement with your visitors and making the right mental and emotional connections with those people who make up the pool of your ideal clients.
Another objective to aim for is to make this content inherently shareable by virtue of the unique value you provide.
Now, I understand it’s very easy to get a bit despondent about this in the early stages. Yes, it’s hard to do, but it’s also a skill well worth developing, as it will serve you admirably for as long as you’re in business. You just have to realize that it’s something that comes with practice – the more you do, the better you’ll become at it, so don’t allow yourself to get discouraged at the beginning. Just keep trying and don’t quit.
It also helps to know that no one hits it out of the park with their online content every single time, and even the most experienced copywriters and marketers have bad days (I can tell you that from personal experience – the key is to get up when you fall down and stay in the race).
Think about this, too.
Since (and I really hate to say this) the vast majority of professional photographers won’t even make the effort to do any of this stuff, even when they know they should, then the simple fact that you made any effort at all will set you far apart from the competition.
#2: How Can You Create A Stellar Client Experience?
Number two is:
How can I create a positive and memorable experience for my clients, so that they can’t wait to share it with their friends and family?
Remember, a few minutes ago, I mentioned the importance of word of mouth marketing and how your “why” feeds into that as a key ingredient?
Well, here it is again because it’s that important.
Whatever you think you already do to make your client’s experience wonderful and memorable, think about how you can enhance it even further to really blow them away and get them literally raving about you.
This is where you roll out the red carpet and treat your clients like Royalty if you have to, and where you go above and beyond to create an experience that demands to be shared.
And this extends beyond the physical interaction of the actual photography session.
Whenever you have a “touch point” with a client (or even a potential client, and especially past clients), you should aim for personal excellence in every one of those interactions. Social media, and your email marketing systems, are both wonderful places to build and nurture these relationships even further, turning potentially indifferent connections into loyal fans.
#3: Who Are My Business Allies?
Question three is:
Who are my strategic business allies, and how can I build productive and mutually-beneficial relationships with them?
Just like the question of who you will enlist to help amplify your marketing message that we talked about earlier, this one is concerned with getting others to help spread the word about you and your photography business, but in a slightly more personal and direct way.
This is where you’ll identify the other vendors in your local community who share your values and happen to serve the same people, and then you can build relationships with those vendors to your mutual benefit. You can also include organizations, such as charities, local societies, and even your town’s chamber of commerce, not to mention formalized networking groups.
The important thing to remember with this is to be of service to your network first and then ask for whatever favors you might need later. Obviously, these relationships don’t happen overnight, so there’s no better time to start building your network of business allies than right now.
#4: Generating Valuable Leads
The fourth one is:
What does my lead-generation and prospect-conversion process look like?
This one is very similar to question four in the previous set, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just remember that lead-generation should really be the number one priority of your website.
In fact, you can think of your website as sitting at the very center of your online marketing efforts, and the place to which all roads lead. Everything, from your blog, email marketing, social media, SEO, video marketing, and every other channel you make use of, should all lead to your website and into your lead-generation process.
Without a lead-generation system, your business is as good as dead – no leads means no prospects, no prospects means no sales conversations or bookings, which means no clients and zero sales.
Unless you’re running a sophisticated photography hobby, your business needs money to survive, so this part of the process is critical.
#5: Where Will I Promote My Photography Business?
Which channels am I going to use to promote my photography business, and how can I tailor my approach according to the personality of each of those channels?
I mentioned marketing channels in that last section, and this final question is there to help you identify which specific channels you plan on using to promote your business.
Your website is a channel, and so is your blog. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media networks are all channels, as are YouTube or Vimeo.
The emails you send out to your list each week are part of yet another channel.
But so what?
Isn’t this a bit like stating the obvious, and why does it matter anyway?
Can’t you just use whatever marketing channel you want to at any given time without having to make a formal plan about it?
Sure you can.
Of course you can treat the promotion of your marketing messages as something that happens randomly, if you like, and some of what you share on social media, for example, will indeed by spontaneous and random – there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
But promotion does tend to work a lot better when there’s at least some strategy behind it.
When you think about it, this is all about the art of communication, and there are several qualities of that communication that affect how well your message is received and whether it’s actually acted upon.
- The timing of your communication…
- Your personality and the “voice” you use in your message…
- What you actually say…
- How you say it…
- And the inspirational or motivational strength of the message to actually spur people into action…
The nuances and subtleties of each of those are incredibly complex, and we could spend hours talking about just this topic, but the biggest thing to be aware of is the need to tune and adapt your message according to the channel you’re using, and to consider the “operating mode” of the recipients.
For example, a long and formal Facebook status update posted at 3:30 in the morning isn’t likely to get anyone’s lasting attention, is it?
A lengthy blog post about make-up tips for brides is great, but you might need to adjust the tone of voice if you want to re-purpose that content into a video format.
Because each channel has its own distinct personality, this is why I believe it’s a bad idea to use automated cross-posting software to send identical status updates to different social media accounts at the same time. A better solution is to use a tool like Buffer where you can at least tailor the personality of each message to suit the destination audience.
A Summary Of Your New Photography Marketing Strategies Framework
I know this has all been a little broken up so here’s a quick summary of the five things you should be thinking about to form the framework of your new photography marketing strategies.
- Start out by getting to know your ideal clients in as much detail as possible, and make yourself familiar with the questions they ask, and the challenges they might have about working with a photographer. You might need someone to help with this because your closeness to what you do can sometimes cause you to miss certain things that seem obvious to you, but are not at all obvious to your potential clients.
- Next, look at every aspect of the process people go through when they work with you – not just the photography experience itself, but the before and after parts too.
- Thirdly, identify your best strategic allies in the business area you’re in and work on creating relationships with mutual benefit. Remember that this takes time and you’ll need to give a lot before asking for anything in return.
- The next thing to examine is your lead-generation system. How are you collecting leads and what is the conversion rate of that process? How can it be improved upon and made more attractive to your potential clients?
- Finally, look at all the channels you have available to you and select the ones most appropriate for your business. This is where a lot of photographers get stuck because they assume they need to be everywhere and use the same ones everyone else does because, well, that’s what everyone else is doing. You need to do what works for you and your business. And, remember to tailor your marketing messages to fit the atmosphere and vibe of the channel and audience you intend to reach.
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