“How can I get started as a professional photographer?” That, by far, is the most popular question I get asked over and over again, and I almost always answer it with another question in turn, “what kind of photographer do you want to be?” Answering this question is tough, but it’s extremely important, because the answer helps optimize marketing for photographers. This week’s post will deep dive into a methodical and data-driven way to go about determining what kind of photography you should focus on when you decide to go pro, and how to market your skills online.
Throughout this blog post, I’ll be using the example of an aspiring car photographer. I’ve had several readers ask me about how to break into car photography, and since this is a subject I know nothing about, this will be a good research exercise.
Step 1: Determine your keywords.
The very first step is to ask yourself, “if my ideal client were to search for me online, what keywords would they use?” For car photography, we might think of “car photographer,” “automobile photos,” “race car photography,” etc. Once you have a list of relevant keywords that you can think of off the top of your head, it’s time to validate your theories by testing these keywords. There are many keyword research tools out there, most of them paid such as my personal favorite Long Tail Pro, but there is also a free version in the form of Google Keyword Planner. Let’s start by checking the keyword, “car photography.” For now, the main results to focus on are the numbers in the “Avg monthly searches” column. The other data is mostly irrelevant unless you plan on doing paid advertising on Google.
Right away, we can see that “car photography” is a pretty popular keyword with about 1,600 monthly searches on Google. However, if we scroll down to see other relevant keywords, we see an even more popular keyword, “car pictures,” with 8,100 monthly searches! There’s also the keyword “car images” that gets 3,600 searches per month. Thus, we’ll definitely want to throw these keywords onto our list.
Let’s now research the keyword “car photographer.” The results for this term aren’t as impressive with only 110 average monthly searches, but this example brings up an important distinction between keywords.
As we brainstorm keywords, keep in mind this important distinction: when someone searches for “____ photography,” they’re likely looking for general photos of that subject, as opposed to someone searching for “_____ photographer, who is probably seeking someone who takes photos of that subject. Thus, it makes sense that “car photographer” has significantly less monthly searches than “car photography.” So which keywords should you use? It again depends on your end goal. If you have galleries of photos you want to sell or license, then “car photography,” is your best bet. However, if you want to be hired by clients who are seeking car photographers, then that is your keyword of choice.
Let’s return to analyzing the results of “car photographer.” Scrolling down, there are tons of other relevant keyword suggestions, but the ones that jump out at me are “automotive photographer” at 140 monthly searches, which is more than our initial keyword, and “auto photographer” at 10 monthly searches. When doing keyword research, it’s important to not dismiss results with low monthly searches, especially if there is low competition. Even if there are only 10 monthly searches for “auto photographer,” you can create a killer portfolio and online presence so that those 10 searches get directed at you.
If Google Keyword Planner is free, why pay for a keyword research program?
That is an excellent question that I’ve long asked and only recently found the true value of using a paid program. The main incentive is a LOT more detail into keywords, such as which keywords are so competitive they’re not worth optimizing for, as well as other keywords that aren’t competitive and would be easy to rank for. Below is a screenshot example of some results that Long Tail Pro generates for the keyword “car photography.” Again, this won’t be of high value to everyone, but if you’re serious about SEO and building an effective content marketing strategy, Long Tail Pro is worth every penny of investment.
Step 2: Research your selected keywords and size up your competition.
Based on the above research, the most relevant keywords for our aspiring car photographer are:
- car photographer
- automotive photographer
- auto photographer
Now, let’s validate those keywords by punching them into Google and analyzing the search results. When evaluating search results, it’s important to check the first page of results and see if the sites on those pages are relevant to the type of photography you’re looking to do.In this case, the search results of all three keywords are just about the same, and the websites in the top results illustrate car photography in the sense of commercial or even product photos. If so, then it’s a great keyword to hang onto. If not, it’s back to step 1 to keep refining your keywords until you come up with a few that are more accurate. As an example, our aspiring car photographer might have it in mind that rather than commercial product images of cars, he’s looking to shoot car races. This case, the keywords, “motorsport photography” might be more up his or her alley.
As you analyze the search results of your chosen keyword(s), pay close attention to the top 5-10 results, especially if they are portfolios of other photographers. Note any patterns in the designs and layout of their websites, keywords that they use in their own descriptions, and the types of photos they include in their portfolios. These are ideas, and maybe even industry standards, that you’ll want to incorporate into your own web presence. Finally, note the photographers’ contact information and perhaps reach out to them for advice on how to jumpstart your own career in that particular photography industry. But do keep your message short and to the point, respecting the photographers’ time.
Step 3: Incorporate your chosen keywords into your website’s SEO.
The final step in the keyword research phase is to start implementing your chosen keywords into your website’s SEO strategy. SEO might seem daunting at first, but it’s fairly easy to implement basic and effective best practices on your own, especially if you are using WordPress as a platform. This is an extremely brief summary of SEO marketing for photographers, but there is plenty more reading and research that can be done online if you’re curious about learning more. Above all, remember that SEO best practices take time to see results, so treat it like a marathon, not a sprint.
Off the bat, here are a few places where you should immediately incorporate your keywords:
a) Website metadata
Metadata is an extremely important aspect of SEO as it essentially is what describes individual pages of your website so that search engines can easily process the content of your site. If you’re using WordPress, SEO by Yoast is an excellent (and free) plugin that helps you easily input metadata including your page title (or title tag) and website description. When inputting metadata, be sure to incorporate one or some of the keywords you’re trying to rank for in search. Be sure to keep the metadata looking as natural as possible to avoid being punished by Google for cheating.
b) Image alt tags and title tags
Another easy place to insert and optimize your chosen keywords are within image alt tags and title tags. Just as all pages and posts of your website should have keyword-rich titles, each image can also have its own titles and tags to help your site rank better in search. Within WordPress, this is typically done when you upload each image.
c) Copywriting and Blog Posts
As you’re putting together content for your website, such as your biography or blog posts, be sure to incorporate your chosen keywords wherever appropriate. Again, strive to keep all written content sounding as natural as possible and don’t overuse the keywords. Otherwise, your content will appear awkward to your website visitors and Google can ultimately pick up on this and punish your website over time.
Step 4: Get Relevant Experience
After selecting your chosen keywords and efficiently incorporating them into your website, I would advise the aspiring car photographer to then start getting relevant experience to build a portfolio and network of connections. Getting images of cars can be a challenge, but here are a few ideas to get started.
a) That uncle with his vintage car he’s so proud of
Rack your brain for anyone in your family or close circle of friends who might have a brand new vehicle or vintage automobile they’re extremely proud of. In both cases, the owners of these cars would likely love to have photos of their prized vehicle and would probably be open to you shooting photos for your portfolio and practice.
b) Car shows and exhibits
Speaking of vintage cars, check out your local events calendar and see if there are vintage or modern car shows or exhibits that take place in your city or a nearby town. Swing by and take photos at the event and talk to owners of these cars and the event organizers and pitch your photography services.
c) Zip car or car rental services
If you’re in need of getting access to a wide variety of cars for the sake of building a portfolio or practicing car photography, consider using Zip Car or renting a car for a day. Despite the upfront expense, you’ll have access to a new, photogenic car for a few hours or even a few days and can take that vehicle to a variety of outdoor settings to capture photos.
d) New or used car dealerships
Along the lines of a car rental business, you could also approach your local new or used car dealership and see if they’re in need of vehicle photography. This might be a bit of a stretch as they’re likely to want an accredited employee, but it could be a great way to build connections and a portfolio.
Marketing for photographers is becoming increasingly focused on digital efforts, which means SEO should increasingly be a big part of your business. This is both a long and short version of how I ultimately began using SEO keyword research to push myself from hobby photographer to a professional. I definitely have loads more to add to each bullet point here. If you have other questions or want more insights, feel free to comment below or message me!