How to Best Advertise a Photography Business Online

The Best Advertising Saves Money for PhotographersThe best way to advertise a photography business online is the way that returns more profits than the money or time invested. Yet still, dozens of my coaching clients dump hundreds of dollars per month into ads without knowing if they work. Others pay to advertise their businesses when free options are available. While the majority of photographers skip advertising all together due to common myths. This blog series teaches photographers how to effectively advertise your business through the Internet with guaranteed profit.
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Not Advertising Already? Here’s Why

Before I set off on this epic adventure to teach grand lessons on advertising, I sought to find out why you’re not already. My email subscribers (see previous paragraph) offered the following 5 reasons:

  • Too complex – don’t understand how it works
  • Heard about poor results from others
  • Nobody clicks on the paid links/I never click on ads
  • No money to advertise
  • No need to advertise/already enough business

These “myths” led me to think about Google, which serves over 6 billion ad impressions per day[1] from thousands and thousands of advertisers. That doesn’t sound like a complex program advertisers can’t figure out, or one with poor results. Despite Google’s $8 billion in profits (2010) I saw a television ad for them yesterday. Google is only one company and one advertising option, but the bottom line is that online advertising can be very successful for many businesses. You can’t afford not to, especially when it’s free! Read on…

Best Advertising Locations

There are a number of free and paid online advertising options for photographers. While not comprehensive, this list offers plenty to get started.

Google places advertising photoFree: Google Places and Bing Maps
1 in 5 Google searches are related to location[2] – great for photographers who are primarily local businesses. The number continues to increase with mobile usage where 1 in 3 mobile searches have local intent. Maps results dominate the first page of search results and both Google and Bing offer free business listings.

Visit google.com/places and bing.com/businessportal to get started with a free map listing.

Craigslist advertising photoFree Advertising: Craigslist.org
As the 10th most visited website in the United States (36th worldwide), Craigslist can’t be ignored. Create a free local listing under Activities or Services to reach a huge local audience actively looking for people to hire.

Yelp offers photographers free advertising with reviewsFree Advertising: Yelp.com
Yelp, as well as Google Places above, is a business listing site offering information about each business from contact information to hours of operation. Among the many free business listing sites available, these two are the most commonly used and trusted. A critical component of Yelp is its reviews. Positive reviews can affect the position of your photography business within Yelp and Google Places (which aggregates reviews). Quantity and quality of reviews can quickly establish trust and have an impact on search results. Claim your listing, then increase the amount of feedback left for your business by asking each client to rate you. Solicit ratings slow and steady over time (like after you complete each project) instead of an all-at-once approach that can get your listing removed.

Positive reviews can affect the position of your photography business within Yelp and Google Places

Google paid advertising with adwordsPaid Advertising: Google AdWords
Google’s AdWords system offers sponsored search results at the top of search results pages, along the right of search results, as well as in hundreds of thousands of websites within the Google Content Network. You might say you never click on the sponsored links, but 12% of people do.[3] That’s an enormous opportunity to reach people. Even if you are already well positioned in natural/organic/free search results, companies like REI have proven an increased lift in natural search clicks during the times they ran paid programs.[4]

What I like best about Google Advertising:

  • Pay for performance – only pay when your ad is clicked
  • Set your own pricing
  • Control who sees the ad (location and keywords)
  • Easy to measure results via Google Analytics

Tips for Google AdWords:

  • Target your audience – choose the right interests, keywords, geographies
  • Don’t overspend – don’t run ads at night, select hundreds of specialty keywords
  • Provide a call to action – “Click for specials” or “View Stunning Galleries”
  • Build a custom landing page
  • Have an offer
  • Measure return on investment (cost per click, cost per contact)

Facebook Page advertising tipsPaid Advertising: Facebook

My wife can attest that people spend an inordinate amount of time in Facebook. It will continue to be one of the top two websites along side of Google for years to come.

What I like best about Facebook Advertising:

  • Pay for performance – only pay when your ad is clicked
  • Set your own pricing
  • Control who sees the ad (location, interests, demographics)
  • Creates a connection with future purchasers
  • Easy to measure results via Facebook Insights

Tips for Facebook Ads:

  • Target your audience – choose the right interests
  • Don’t overspend – don’t run ads at night, select hundreds of specialty keywords
  • Provide a call to action – “Get a free download” or “Connect with me for ideas”
  • Link to a Facebook Page (not your website)
  • Tell them to “click Like” and why (offer or incentive)
  • Measure return on investment (cost per Like or contact request)

YouTube Ad LogoPaid Advertising: YouTube

YouTube averages 2 billion views per day and is the second largest search engine. You already know the power of YouTube, but may not realize its advertising potential. Promoted Video Ads highlight your videos at the top of YouTube search results pages and in suggested videos.

A wedding photographer might create a behind the scenes video from a shoot at Venue X, then promote that video to people searching for videos about Venue X. By getting very specific in the promoted message and the keywords, you can insure you only pay for targeted exposure with a high payoff. Videos aren’t for everyone, but can’t be excluded as an opportunity. Learn more at https://ads.youtube.com.

Don’t Pay for Directories
I have yet to meet a photographer who turned a profit from listing her business in a website directory like theknot.com or weddingwire.com. Directories list hundreds of competing sites, so the chance of getting clicked is minimal. I see the horrible results in Google Analytics where poor photographers paid $100 or even $500 for a listing to produce one or two referring website visits. Quality of response is even worse. The people searching directories for a vendor are often clueless about what they want and tend to evaluate multiple vendors, wasting much of your time without getting hired.

Tips for Getting Started with Advertising

Make a plan as the first step! A plan usually starts with a goal in mind – what should the advertising campaign accomplish? Direct response campaigns (recommended) want the user to perform an action after clicking through to your website: make a purchase, subscribe to newsletter/Facebook, request a quote. Completion of the response is called a conversion.

Branding campaigns attempt to create awareness or visibility of your service. General brand advertising is not suitable for most photography businesses because it attempts to get your brand in front of as many people as possible, then hope to get hired far down the road.

I recommend creating an offer in order to increase direct response conversions. The offer should be small with low commitment needed from your potential client. That’s why the cologne guy always sprays me at the department store, why grocery stores give free samples, and why car dealerships promote a test drive rather than buy a car. You don’t feel pressured to have a “taste” and once you do you’re much more likely to buy.

I recommend creating an offer in order to increase direct response conversions. The offer should be small with low commitment needed from your potential client.

A wedding photographer will have a hard time getting someone to book a wedding in a single click. Thus the conversion should be more simple than booking a wedding. Create an offer for a behind the scenes venue tour, a no-stress planning session, a vendor introduction party, or an album review session over coffee. A family photographer might offer a low cost mini-session at the park. A pet photographer could do a do-it-yourself pet-portrait day at the river. Regardless of the photography niche, use an offer that is simple for potential clients to reach a conversion. Most photographers agree, if they can just get a potential client on the phone or meet them in person, a sale can be made more easily.

I have virtual offers for my business: a free PDF download for those who Like me on Facebook or a free email class for blog readers. Once my audience subscribes, I am much more likely to sell an ebook or coaching session. Next, consider who will take advantage of this offer and how many people do you need to enroll? A wedding photographer might seek 5 informal meetings (in the hopes to book one bride) whereas a family photographer needs 10 registrations for a mini session to be profitable.

Who Should I Target with Paid Ads?

Targeting is the easiest way to save money on ads. A wedding photographer doesn’t want to pay for a website visitor that is 15 years old, lives in another country, searched for low budget weddings, or is already married! Yet I have seen examples of broad-based campaigns where studios pay hundreds of dollars without making these important filters. No wonder they haven’t gotten any solid leads!

Most ad options revolve around 5 key demographics:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Interests
  • Keywords they might search
  • Status (either relationship status or income)

Only subsets of people in these categories are likely to hire you, thus don’t throw away money targeting the outliers. A family photographer might use Facebook to target women, aged 25-45, with relationship status as married, within 10 miles of Los Angeles, CA. She might use Google AdWords to target searchers close to Los Angeles with words like best, premium, expensive, or preferred.

How Much Should You Spend Advertising Your Photography Business?

Personally, I exhausted all avenues of free resources first. Every photographer’s first stop should be Google Places, organic SEO, partner promotion, etc. Here’s a little more about partner promotion…

A banner ad or a link buried among ten of my competitors does not help as much as a personal referral, an article written about me, or an article I have contributed. So when I see a site where I want advertising, I get to know the owner (through Twitter or leaving comments on their blog or forum for a while), then try and work out a trade.

Personally, I exhausted all avenues of free resources first. So when I see a site where I want advertising, I contribute.

Sometimes we promote each others’ pages or offers on Facebook, sometimes I’ll get an interview, and most of the time I’ll write a blog post or forum thread for their site. By sharing good ideas I’ve been able to be featured on dozens of high powered photography sites without ever paying a single dollar. This can work for print and events too – instead of paying for advertising, get to know the reporter or promoter and give them something they can use. It positions you as a partner instead of an advertiser and the desired audience will trust you more.When free options have been exhausted, then it’s time to augment with paid campaigns. Start with either Facebook or Google Ad Words (just one). Choose Facebook if a client’s demographic interests are more important than keywords they might search to find you.

You’ll want $100-$200 of seed money to experiment. Be prepared to throw this money away. You’re using it as a test to see what type of ad works best. Experiment with various advertising channels and advertisements to optimize the ad and achieve the highest conversion. For example, I might test Facebook Ads with 3 different offers, or 3 different texts to promote the same offer, or different demographic targets. Figure out which performed best and what was the cost per conversion (how much did you spend divided by the number of people who completed the offer).Let’s say your $100 test yielded 100 new Likes on Facebook, 10 new contact requests, and/or 1 booked client. That kind of tracking makes it easy to measure if it was worthwhile to invest $1 per new Like, $10 per contact request and $100 per new client. With the knowledge in hand, forecast a future monthly investment based on your goals. A goal of 1,000 new Likes will cost $100 per month for the next 10 months. If you earn $1,000 in profit for every new client it may be worth a $500 monthly investment to earn 5 new clients a month. For Google AdWords, pause the keyword campaigns that don’t lead to new clients, and increase bids for those that do. By knowing goals for growth, conversion rate, and cost per conversion you can easily calculate how much to invest and a profitable level.

These concepts will either save or earn you hundreds of dollars per month. Keep the karma going by signing up to receive blog posts.

[1]http://www.google.com/adwords/displaynetwork/GDN_Whitepaper.pdf
[2]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug4C2qEi3Pw&feature=player_embedded#t=1243s
[3]http://www.quora.com/Of-all-the-clicks-on-Google-search-result-pages-what-percentage-is-on-the-paid-links
[4]http://www.slideshare.net/jcolman/total-search-marketing-optimization-smx-advanced-2010seattle