Blogging to keep them coming back

By Deb Pang Davis

“It’s hugely important to blog because if used well, it becomes an avenue for your voice that is more personal then your website”, says Lianne Milton.

In other words, offer a more three-dimensional view of your brand with a blog. 

Blogging is a way for you to show another side of you that may not be obvious in an online portfolio. Chances are, your audience (and your potential clients) want to know you — the photographer behind the pictures.

Who are you? How do you approach assignments? What is important to you? Why do you do what you do? What are you passionate about? What’s your personality?

By answering some of those questions and more, you create familiarity, awareness, comfort — qualities that establish your brand in the hearts and minds of your audience. You build trust.

But remember, #itsnotallaboutyou.

Fresh, engaging, useful, meaningful content drives traffic to your website — directly and indirectly — and keeps your audience coming back for more.

People are looking for you. They want to say, “yes”. Blogging is an affordable way to attract your perfect people. The higher quality content you create and publish, the greater your “sphere of influence” and the greater the rewards in the form of traffic, awareness and attention. Pulling people in is a non-icky way to build your audience and juice up your presence with search engines. Build non-icky content and a brand people value, search engines will show you the love in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Content is King

You may have heard this before.

Photographers Chip Litherland, Melissa Golden, Jarod Soares, Stephen Voss, Melissa Lyttle, Mary Calvert, Sol Neelman, David Burnett, Cameron Davidson and Joe McNally are just some examples of photographers who have embraced and use blogs to show their expertise, promote their successes and build an audience by providing content that can be shared; content that “pulls” people in.

They publish educational, informational, useful articles and even provocative commentary that creates dialogue about pictures, tools, practices and the industry. You too can use your blog to add to the conversation, keep your name out in the wild and build a larger audience.

Yunghi Kim, for example, recently started a blog, One Image At A Time to get her audience reacquainted with her work:

“As I digitize my work, I come across images and remember the stories around them. So I thought I would share them with the photo community, particularly with younger photographers who may not know my work. A lot of the high profile work and accolades that I received was before the Internet so, they are not searchable on Google. I’m re-introducing my work to a different generation. Blogging is also a way to counter the bombardment of badly edited images that is prevalent in our industry now. My philosophy is one image constructed well is far better than 30 mediocre images.”

“The bombardment of badly edited images” is her point-of-view. It’s her position; a reflection of her values — her brand. Some readers may agree, some may not. But, in this era of Flickr and Instagram she is indirectly posing the question: “What is a good image?” and creating engaging dialogue.

But blogging can be intimidating and bring out the major groans especially for the writing challened. So, here are a few tips on getting started, blog design tips, blog post ideas, a few best practices and a few ways to increase your success.

Blog & Design Smarts

Remember your audience.
It begs repeating again and again: You need to know your audience before you can post content that will be loved and shared. Post content they care about, will talk about, will find useful, valuable, entertaining or thought-provoking. Share content they feel was created just for them. 

Voice matters. Length does not.
Blog posts don’t have to be super long but they should sound like you. Be yourself, be consistent and you will gain a following. Remember, you have a brand, you have an audience. If you get writer’s block, use your picture-making chops and write a short post that is more visually-driven.With practice, you’ll get more comfortable writing. It will become easier.

Use keywords in your headlines.
Headlines have greater value with search engines (due to code structure — h1 or h2 anyone?) so including keywords improves search relevence. For example, rather than “Shots from the Road,” or “Assignment: Uganda” try “Photographing Spiritual Rituals in Uganda.” Explicit is rewarded but don’t keyword-cram your headlines or your posts. Your audience will see right through you and bid you farewell. Search engines have become smarter, too. Be real or feel the pain because of dirty SEO tactics.

Get to The Point
Some say that the inverted pyramid is the way to go. Others say it isn’t so. Either way, get and keep on point. Capture their attention and promise a payoff. Attention spans are short and time is money. If you find your blog posts are too long, figure out a way to break it up into smaller, more digestible chunks. Long isn’t necesarrily bad but the return has to be worth the time. 

Be Generous with White Space
Give your readers some breathing room with short paragraphs and lots of white space. White space helps give shape and comfort to content. It helps with readability. Space is especially important on smaller screens and touch screens so your audience can scroll or swipe frustration-free. Remember, mobile use continues to grow.

Break up Copy
This is an example of a paragraph with a subhead. Help out your scanners by including subheads (html codes: h2, h3) so your readers can quickly see at-a-glance what’s included in your posts. Subheads offer an opportunity to use keywords, too. Pull quotes can add contrast in a different size and bold copy can add emphasis to draw your readers’ interest and when you make important points. All of these are ways to add texture and color to an otherwise “colorless” page.

Include a “Call to Action”
Encourage readers to contact you, comment, sign up for your newsletter (a.k.a. “Permission marketing”) and share your blog or individual posts with others. Link to pages within your site and encourage readers to view a related post or a related gallery. Help them dig deeper. Make it easy to explore and make it easy to share.

Show Some Link Love
Link to other web pages to show your love for valuable content around the interwebs. The more you share content from around the web that is compelling, meaningful and all-around useful for your readers, the more your readers will keep coming back. Don’t be afraid to “link out” and spread the love. Give big love, get big love.

Deliver Useful, Educational Content
Instruction, information, or inspiration – make the time they spend with you pay off – for them. Sure, tell them “why” but also tell them “how”. For example, you could write a series where you explain why copyright registration is a no-brainer and follow up with how to register your images with the U.S. Copyright Office. Think about all the things you do automagically — balance light, capture sound, edit stills and video, compose images, send out an invoice, negotiate with clients, design a zine, etc. Your experience and knowledge is craved by others. There are hundreds of people out there eager to learn how to do it better, faster, cheaper. Help them learn from you.

21 Blog Post Ideas for Photographers

  1. Why strong visuals are important for [fill-in-the-blank]
  2. How to work with a photographer
  3. Talk about images from your archives
  4. Explain the term “outtake” and show examples in context
  5. Pose a question that generates dialogue (and learning) in the comments
  6. Celebrate your awards and successes 
  7. Why I went to grad school for photojournalism
  8. 12 tips for beginners (in the specific area of your expertise)
  9. Educate by giving a “behind-the-scenes” look at your operations (video opportunity)
  10. Give your readers a lesson in photo history
  11. A case study of an assignment (challenges and your solution[s])
  12. How to use lights with minimal resources
  13. Product reviews / tips / tricks 
  14. Interview a person you respect and highlight their work
  15. Your favorite images from [fill-in-a-year]
  16. Share reviews your favorite books (photo or non-photo)  or films
  17. Post a quote and ask people to share theirs about [fill-in-the-word]
  18. Share your process of starting a blog or signing up for Twitter
  19. How I got the job with X
  20. Why this [professor, colleague, family member] was important for my career
  21. What [fill-in-the-subject] and photography have in common

Blog Maintenance

Create a System and Plan Ahead
Blogging is a lot of work and sometimes it can feel like a burden. Minimize the weight by creating a system to collect ideas and schedule a time to write. Use tools such as Evernote, Note, Springpad or a notepad and pen to keep a running list of ideas.  Pick a day of the week (“Writing Wednesdays”) where you’ll spend an hour or two writing a a few short posts or even making a crack at some longer posts.

Create an Editorial Calendar
Break out your calendar (digital or paper) and map out your publishing dates. What day of the week will you publish and how often? Identify key dates — personal, historical or even holidays. Got a humorous story about meeting Santa Claus from your wanderings on the streets? What’s the best time of year to see the Northern Lights? When does school start in your area? Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered August 28, 1963. How can you tie in events, holidays, milestones and more with your current work or work from your archives? How can you bring it together or offer a different perspective?

Partner with an Editor or Writer
If you find that you truly can’t write well or don’t have good editing skills, have someone review and edit your post before pushing it live. Poor grammar, bad spelling, rambling incomplete thoughts stand in the way of your message. You could annoy your readers. An editor/writer partner can take what you write and help massage it to be embarrasment-free and keep your post very much you. You’re smart. You know the quality of your communication (visual and written) reflects on your brand.

Stick to It or Don’t Do It
Deliver something good every cycle rather than something great every once in an unpredictable while. Publish shorter pieces rather than the dreaded “radio silence”. Too busy? Tell your readers why. If you won’t be writing but you’ll be active elsewhere such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, let them know. Be commited to your audience and they will commit and engage with you. If you really can’t blog, find another way to connect with your audience. You made a promise to deliver; that promise is your brand. Fail on your promise and your brand will most likely suffer.

Increase Your Chances of Blog Success

Engage and Comment
Take the time to reply to comments on your posts. Ignore them and you’ll feel the burn in the form of deafening silence. And whatever you do, don’t automatically delete negative comments. Conversation is important — agreeable or not — for visibility. The more you engage, the chances of dialogue are greater. Make the effort to check emotions and communicate with class. One great tool for managing comments is Disquis.

Measure Your Efforts and Adjust as Needed
Just as you measure and monitor traffic traffic to your website, monitor the traffic to your blog especially if your blog is hosted on a different domain. Study which posts are popular and what keywords are used to find you organically. You can use this data to write new articles and even remix older ones. Below are some paid (or free) tools to help you look more closely at the activity on your blog:

Another important tool to help monitor, “see” and improve your website’s visibility and health is Google’s Webmaster Tools

Promote with an Email Newsletter or Social Media
You’ve spent the time to write and create compelling content. It’s important to share it. Help your people know you’ve started a blog and/or have new content. Social media or an email newsletter can help drive traffic beyond organic search. You could even bring posts back from the archives. Always use the opportunity to link back to your website and don’t be afraid to ask your community to help spread the word. Reciprocity is key to magical relationships.

Blog For the Long Haul

Blogging is a time consuming effort and is not about short term results. It’s a marketing investment that requires care and feeding.

Be consistent. Get in touch with your inner turtle. Create great content slow and steady and you’ll see rewards in the form of comments, organic traffic, shares and ideally, work that pays off. 

You won’t see results right away but remember, it’s about connecting with your audience; the people who are a good match. Show them you are the expert in X.

Tell and share stories that matter; create and share content that is meaningful.

Pull people in.

Resources

Tools

Photographer Marketing Consultants

Notable Photographer Blogs

Online Articles

Next: Using Social Media 

About Deb Pang Davis

Deb Pang Davis by Mike DavisDeborah Pang Davis is an Assistant Professor in the Multimedia Photography & Design Department at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. She teaches typography; web, tablet, print and motion design in addition to marketing and branding for undergraduate and graduate students. She continues to design print and interactive solutions for photographers and other right-brained entrepreneurs.