Photographers need two websites. They need a portfolio site that shows off their images, offers tear sheets, introduces their portfolio and reveals their taste through their personal projects. Those sites win jobs — and they need to do it fast. Buyers consistently report that when it comes to looking at photographers’ online portfolios, they prefer sites that are simple, fast and Flash-free. But photographers also need blogs. The content might not appear as important as the portfolio itself but a photographer’s blog is still a vital part of a marketing effort. It has a different purpose to the main part of the site, needs to work in a different way, contain a different type of content — and despite its apparent simplicity, often fails to achieve its goals.
The first problem is usually the goal itself. When you’re creating a website to win work, it’s pretty clear who the site is aimed at. Wedding photographers will wonder how a bride will feel when she reaches the site. Editorial photographers will be familiar enough with art editors to predict how they’ll react as they browse their portfolios. Pet photographers will know what impresses their clients as they look at the pictures of dogs, cats and prized birds. But a blog may be read by a fellow photographer, a bride looking for ideas, friends interested in what you’re up to now, as well as casual visitors who stumbled upon your pages through a search engine.
Blogs, Like Portfolios, are for Leads
None of those people matter. Like the main site, the blog’s only goal should be to sell work. It should be aimed at clients and produced with the aim of showing your potential to people who might be willing to hire you. Other visitors are welcome (and may bring referrals) but the main target of any commercial blog should always be leads who will move from the blog to the portfolio to the contact page.
That suggests that the best strategy is to follow the same principle used on the site: add big pictures and just enough text to describe the images. It’s an approach taken by many photographers whose blogs seem to consist of little more than a Photo of the Day. But that kind of content is already available on the portfolio, and it ignores one of the biggest reasons for adding a blog to a photography website: the preference of search engines for sites with dynamic content.
Google is pretty weak at indexing images and relies instead on the surrounding text to interpret meaning and serve the page in search results. That means the images you post on your blog to show off your talent should be accompanied by a reasonable amount of text — usually about 350 words — to make the most of Google’s indexing. If your blog is failing to show up in search results, one reason may be that it has too many pictures and not enough writing.
Producing those words might look like a chore for photographers. After all, if a picture does speak a thousand words, then a blog page with a couple of images on it should already have said enough. But the right words can add a great deal to a photography blog, and they’re less welcome on the portfolio site itself. Writing in LPV Magazine, a new contemporary documentary and fine art photography publication, Bryan Formhals argues that photographers should write (and not just blog) more:
“Words can provide clarity and context. Whether it’s a simple caption, a funny anecdote or backstory,” he says. “When we see a photograph on the web, we generally look quick and then move on. When words are included, we stay with the photograph just a bit longer. It may be subtle, but I think it makes a difference. The words keep us with the photograph.”
Formhals says that he’d like see photographers creating more ideas and stories. Photographers are interesting people, he points out. They travel to odd places, hang out with other interesting types, move around on a whim, and indulge influences and interests from science to sociology. If the stories picked up on a wedding shoot can make for interesting blog posts just think how much more interesting the blog of an editorial or travel photographer might be.
But not all photographers produce those kinds of stories. While a blog should say something about the photographer behind it, one common mistake is to say too much about the person behind it. Leads and even most random visitors are likely to care little about the photographer’s personal life when it says little about them as a photographer. Reading about a spouse is interesting when he or she is part of a photography road trip across the United States and features in the images. It’s less interesting when a photographer just wants to express his or her love publicly. It’s sweet but not particularly effective as a marketing device and more likely to drive away leads than pull them in.
Support Your Blog
A professional blog that gets too personal may be one cause of failure but a more common one is the failure to support the blog by building a community. Just as a portfolio site needs the support of a dynamic blog to bring in viewers to its static images, so the blog needs the support of even more dynamic social media activity to target leads and inform them that the blog contains posts worth reading.
For photographers then, what should be an essential but simple way of showing off work becomes much more complex and far more demanding. But it should also be much more enjoyable than creating the basic platform of a portfolio site and a collection of images. When you’re enjoying your photography, you’ll also feel more inclined to write about the shoot and what happened on it. When you like the people that the blog attracts, you’ll enjoy chatting with them on Twitter and Facebook. And when all three of those elements are working together, you should find that you enjoy the extra work they generate.