This is the second of our three ‘building block’ modules, that we’ll be calling on for many of the marketing projects we’ll be tackling in the future. This will be the most time-consuming, but if you take your time and get it right, you will be well rewarded for the effort… with both amazing results and serious time-savings later on.
Keyword Research For Photographers
This section is all about providing the search engines the right information, so they can give you the best possible visitor traffic… and a whole lot more of it.
Most photographers simply don’t bother with written content. The only ever do the bare-minimum so they get very little traffic… and what they do get is random and low value… so they get very few sales as a result. Others might write a little more, but without a tight focus on their content, the traffic they get will still be quite random… visitors who aren’t really interested in what they’re offering. Those visitors tend to leave as quickly as they arrive, and that can be even worse.
So our goal here is to create a list of super-relevant phrases for you that accurately reflect what you do, the services you offer and the subjects you shoot… plus we’re going to refine it even further, to ensure these phrases all generate traffic, generate buyer traffic, and don’t face overwhelming competition.
We then show you a dozen different ways you can work those into your written content, so raise your profile right across the internet and start attracting targeted buyers to view your photography, hands-free, 24/7.
Let’s get to it…
Step 1. Stop Thinking Like A Photographer!
Quickly… If a buyer needed someone for a specific job that you were the absolute best person for…
If they urgently needed to find a photographer with your skills, your subjects, your style, in your location…
What would they type into Google?
Don’t over think it… just come up with a 3-5 word phrase that you think could work and try it in Google… look at the results and ask yourself if a listing for your website would fit in there on the first page of results?
If it’s not a good fit, have another look at the words you used and the words in the titles of the pages listed, and see where you might have strayed off-topic.
There’s no one right answer here, but I want you to start thinking like a buyer.
As photographers we get very used to describing our work from a photographer’s perspective. We use jargon that other photographers would understand, and we tend to place most importance on the photographic elements and techniques rather than the content. And we love to ramble on about all the great gear we use.
To be blunt, when most photographer write content for their web presence, it reads like they’re trying to impress other photographers.
Now not only is that boring to read, most of it is going to be totally irrelevant when it comes time to market your work and promote your business.
For marketing you really need to learn to switch that off and make sure you are always talking to photo buyers. That you’re always coming at it from their perspective, placing priority on the things they consider important, and using the words and phrases they are most likely to use.
When you do this consistently, you will start turning up in all the right photographer searches… ie. searches by people who need someone just like you to do some paid work for them.
Plus your webpages and images come up in the right subject searches… ie. people looking for images of all the different subjects you like to shoot.
And that translates directly in to better listings in the search engines, more visitor traffic, better quality traffic, more leads… and more sales.
So first of all, we want to find a phrase that sums up you and your photography.
Step 2. Describe Your Photography Business
Start by making a short list for each of the following topics… 3-4 words is plenty…
Location, Subject & Style
Location can be a city, state, region, or country. If you offer local photographic services, or if you mostly shoot images that are only possible in a specific geographic location, list a couple of different location words. ie.
If 90% of your images are shot in a particular state, that could be a relevant word to use. If they’re all shot in a specific region , name that. If you mostly offer photographic services to a certain city or town, that will be your bestoption
(Conversely, if your images span the globe and you don’t shoot for local clients, you can skip location altogether).
Subject here is basically your main field of work. It will probably tally with the #1 item on your Key Subject List. It will be fairly broad for most people… ie a 1-2 wordhrase… but if you do specialise, run with it and get as specific as necessary to make it an accurate reflection of what you do.
If you’re not using a Location keyword, then you should try to be a bit more specific on your Subject and/or Style phrases… possibly using 2-3 word phrase for those instead of 1-2 word phrases.
Style is where you separate yourself from the masses. This is where you want to get very specific, and work out exactly what it is you do that makes your work special? If you’re a landscape photographer, how are you different to the 10 million other landscape photographers listed in Google?
More importantly, what can you offer a buyer that most of the others won’t?
Don’t fall into the trap of using ‘photographer’ words here… panorama, macro, HDR, BW, large format etc, are words that only really interest other photographers. Describe the content you produce, not the gear you use to produce it.
If you’re just starting out, this can be a bit daunting but don’t sweat it too much…
over time your uniqueness will come down to a combination of specialist skills and experience, intimate knowledge of your subjects, a distinct personal style, and possibly, access to a unique location.
All of these are things you can and should work on constantly as you develop your photography and your business.
So realistically, your Photographer Phrase will be a living thing… constantly changing as you explore new fields and learn new skills & develop your personal style.
Step 3. Turn Your Keywords Into Keyword Phrases
You can use the following free tool to turn these words into a list of phrases…
Copy your location words into the first box, your style words into the second, and your subject words into the third. Click ‘Merge’ and your list will be created.
Experiment with that a little until you have a good selection that you’re happy with, and then start over…
Copy your results list into the first box, and type a few ‘photography’ words into the next box… photography, photographer, photographics, images, photos, portraits, studio… or anything else that describes your business accurately.
Click Merge again, and you’ll now have an even longer list of possible phrases.
Copy all those to a plain text file. Some just won’t work for you at all… you can delete those immediately… then copy all your remaining phrases into the first column of a spreadsheet so we can get them into some sort of order.
Step 4. Analyse Your Photographer Phrases
Pick out 12 good phrases on your list. We want to get a sense of which are going to be the most useful, so mix it up and use 12 very different ones if possible.
One by one, search for each phrase in Google and make a note of the following criteria in your spreadsheet…
Relevance: are the search results relevant to what you offer your Clients? Would a listing to your website fit in, or would it look out of place? More importantly, would someone looking at these results expect to see your details in the mix? Give the phrase a rating of 1-5 for relevance.
Watch out for sites geared to photographers… if the results include tutorials, courses, tours, workshops, or websites for photographers wanting to publish their work, it’s not a ‘buyer phrase’ and you can delete it.
Competition: Make a note of the number of results Google finds. If it’s over 1,000,000 the phrase is still far too broad, so just delete it. If it happens too often, go back and start over, but get more specific with your subject or style. Your best phrases will be less than 50,000 results, but that’s negotiable.
Commercial Value. Check the results page for ads. These will be above or below the content, or down the right hand side of the page. In simple terms, the more ads you see the better! Give it a score… 1 for no ads, 2 for a few ads in one or more of the positions, and 3 if it feels like every possible space is being used!
By now you should be noticing some patterns…
Some variations of the phrases that tend to be more relevant, not too much competition and some obvious commercial interest?
And no doubt there’ll be others that don’t do so well… on one or more factors… so you might want to check a few of the variations on those, just in case there’s a hidden gem in there somewhere.
Now some people might be tempted to stop here…
You can simply select the most relevant phrases with the lowest competition and some commercial prospects, and leave it at that…
And you’d be miles ahead of most photographers.
But if you stick at it a little bit longer, you can make that ‘light years’ ahead instead…
Step 5. Advanced Keyword Analysis
We used to do these next steps with Google’s free Keyword Planner Tool, but they’ve recently restricted access to that to people with a current Adwords account. That’s a bit too complicated for most people, so we had to look around for some alternatives.
The problem is, all the good tools are quite expensive paid services.
The fact people happily pay $150-$300 A MONTH for these services is a good indication of just how valuable this information can be…
But even for a free trial, you need to register and provide payment details in advance… which most people prefer to avoid.
So I’m going to recommend you download a trial version of a software program I’ve been using for about 10 years… Market Samurai.
There are free tools you could try to use to get the same results, but when we preparing this training, we tried to do it ourselves and even with our knowledge and experience it was a total nightmare.
Most free tools are very limited versions of a paid program and you’d need to combine 2-3 of them to get anything like the data you’ll get from a 20-minute session with Market Samurai.
It’s a 10 day trial, no payment info required, it works for PCs and Macs… and I’ve never heard a complaint in the 10+ years I’ve been recommending it.
The link above is an affiliate link… ie. if you decide to purchase the software I will get a commission on the sale… thank you!… but realistically, in all this time only a handful of people have ever needed this software beyond the 10 day trial. So it really is a no risk trial that will serve you extremely well.
Step 6. Expand Your Keyword List
Once you install the software, you just start a new project, paste in your ‘best’ keyword phrase as the title and click ‘Get Suggestions‘.
When it’s done you can go through the list and remove everything that’s not totally relevant to what you do. Look for phrases that are only going to attract other photographers and any that are going to attract school kids doing homework.
As in every other aspect of photography, specialists rule when it comes to SEO (search engine optimisation), so this is all about recognising your strengths and focusing your efforts on those. There is no value in trying to be all things to all buyers, so get rid of the irrelevant phrases now, so the next step doesn’t tempt you to hold on to something for all the wrong reasons!
Step 8. Fine Tune Your Focus
Once you’ve trimmed you list, just click Analyse. This is where Market Samurai will you save you hours of manual work while it gathers all the information you need to pick out your best possible phrases. This can take a few minutes, so go make yourself a coffee while you wait!
Once it’s done, you’ll see you have a lot of options. Most of these are geared towards SEO professionals trying to rank websites for their own Clients, so you can explore those later on if you like, but for now we can keep it quite simple.
We just want to fine-tune your list, by weeding out the worst phrases and highlighting the best.
The following checks are quite subjective though, and specifics will vary depending on the kind of work you do, so I’d recommend you save the entire list before you start, just in case you get to the end and decide you’ve been a bit tough!
First of all, you should see some phrases that have very low competition, but if no one is searching for them, it doesn’t do you any good. So you can usually filter out anything that doesn’t register any searches at all.
Just don’t be too extreme.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of traffic to make it a phrase worth going after. RM sales and photography assignments can be quite lucrative, so one or two good leads each month off a single keyword phrase is a pretty good return!
The other thing to keep in mind is, the closer someone gets to a buying decision, the more specific they are with their search phrase. So a specific relevant phrase with minimal competition getting a dozen or so searches a month could be a big score for you.
Also try to get a feel for buyer traffic versus browser traffic.
Words like ‘hire’ or ‘find’ in photographer phrases suggest the searcher is serious about doing business, while the word ‘best’ tends to be used by people in browse mode. Don’t discount them entirely, but definitely look for the buyer words.
In subject searches, one big giveaway is the word ‘pictures’. Commercial-use searchers will almost always use ‘images’ and maybe ‘photos’, but almost never ‘pictures’.
This obviously isn’t an exact science, but see if you can trim your list some more and then move on to the next step…
Sort Your List By Commercial Value
Finally you want to look for the phrases with the highest Adwords bids. This is how much other business are prepared to pay for a visitor who was searching for this phrase.
This can be a real eye-opener sometimes, when you realise these businesses are prepared to pay $10-$15 or more to get the person to their website.
That’s just a visitor… not a guaranteed sale… just a visitor to their site.
So that tells you, they must ‘know’ that the average visitor searching for that phrase is going to spend enough… on average… to cover their Adwords cost.
ie. If 1 visitor in 20 buys and it costs the advertiser $10 a click, that means that visitor is spending more than $200.
These advertisers simply cannot keep spending money on Adwords unless the traffic generated pays the bills… so that’s exactly the kind of traffic you should be targeting as well!
To be safe though, it’s a good idea to try the search yourself and check out the ads to make sure they are relevant to the audience you’re targeting. If you see ads geared towards other photographers, that’s a miss, but if you see stock libraries advertising, that is perfect!
OK, if you’ve done all this, but now you should have culled your list and be ready to put into some sort of order…
Step 9. Sort Your List
Save the Market Samurai project and then export the list as a CSV that you can open in your spreadsheet software. (This will give you access to your list after the free trial expires!)
Open that up, and start sorting your list…
I find it easiest to delete all the extra columns that don’t interest me, then I just select and drag whole rows into position.
- I aim to find the 3 best phrases that I mark as my primary keyword phrases.
- Then the next 12 after that are my secondary keyword phrases.
- Then I cherry-pick any others that I think have potential to work on later.
- I copy and paste those to a list I can print out (in a huge font!) and
- I post beside my computer so I see it constantly, especially when I’m working on my content…
Step 10. Use Your Keywords… Everywhere!
I make a point of using these phrases any time I write about my business or for my business.
I use them in my photographer bios, on my social media profiles and my business directory listings.
I use them on my websites… for page names, headings and sub headings.
I use them for image titles, descriptions and alt tags…
I use them when I make links on my sites and I use them when I make links to my sites.
I use them in blog posts, page intros, social media posts, even comments on other people’s blogs… along with my website link …
Every time I use them I create relevance and authority.
So the search engines recognise these themes in my content and recognise that these themes are recurring throughout my web presence. All of which will translate into better listings, more targeted traffic and more sales.
The only proviso is, you do need to keep it natural.
If you over do it and start forcing in too many keywords… to the point where it’s awkward for an average human being to read (called keyword stacking) … then Google will penalise you in a flash.
So mix them up, make variations, and always write for real people.
And always keep that list visible.
The more you see these phrases, the more you’ll use them without even trying.
And the more you use them, the more traffic you’ll get from the search engines.
And in our business traffic generates leads which generates sales…