re-thinking SEO

screen grab of google results for portland photographer


“My name is Pete, and I’m an SEO-aholic.”


“Hi, Pete!”


Seriously, for a while I’ve been obsessed with SEO. Always sneaking keywords into everything I can – image alt tags, link descriptions, posting on social media at times most likely to get noticed, reviewing my google analytics with a fine-tooth comb, etc, etc.


And you know what? I’m not so convinced anymore that SEO matters as much as I thought. What changed?


Well I get at least one phone call a week from someone trying to sell me SEO services. They almost always start with something like, “You’re on page 2 of a google search for ‘portland photographers’”. And for a fee, the caller will get me on page one. The irony is that depending on your monitor size, I’m sometimes listed on page one (see image above) for “portland photographer”. Size does matter when it comes to SEO.


But you know what? I’m slowly coming around to the realization that SEO doesn’t really matter for commercial photographers. Clients rarely find a commercial photographer based on google results. Instead, they usually ask for recommendations from co-workers or work with someone they’ve already worked with.


We’ve all heard this a million times, but relationships are much more important than anything else. More important than where you rank on google, more important than having insane photography skills, more important than having shitloads of friends on FB. People usually hire people they know or people recommended by people they know.


Leslie Burns (a commercial photography consultant and attorney) has long recommended you spend your efforts on direct marketing and creating relationships rather than SEO. In fact, she goes so far as to say “Fuck SEO” in her December 29th blog post (#4 on the list). I have to say, after a lot of reflection, I think she has a valid point.


So if you’re obsessed with SEO, I’d suggest you re-think it. Your best clients aren’t going to come from google searches (some clients will, but generally, the best – ie ones hiring you for shoots you really want to do – probably aren’t using google to find you).


And finally, Michael Katz points out in his awesome business blog and webinars, that it’s a lot easier to get re-hired by existing clients than to try to find new clients. The key here is to take a genuine interest in your clients.


Think about it. You’re at the grocery store and the clerk asks, “How ya’ doing?” You might give them a single word answer and forget all about it. But what if they ask, “You going anywhere for the holidays?”


That happened to me last month and I had a conversation with the grocery store clerk (he was going to Texas, I was going to California) and every time since, when I go to that store, I now say “hi” to the clerk. Even when he’s not helping me. That’s something no amount of SEO can create.


portland photographer pete springer

3 Responses to “re-thinking SEO”

  1. Tyler says:

    Hi Pete,

    Great write up! You are becoming a blogging pro. I am an SEO junkie as well, but let me tell you what is really important about SEO. It is so that you can come up first when people already know about you.

    “Wow… that was a great photographer! I didn’t get his card. Crap! He was a Portland Photographer… that much I know. Let’s check out google.”

    That is when it is most important to be up there for ‘Portland Photographer’ or ‘Pete Photographer’ or ‘Fashion Photographer Portland’. If someone has to go to page eight they are going to give up. If they find you on the first page that #1 allows them to contact you #2 Think you are pretty damn amazing!

    So keep it up, but no need to spend every waking hour on it. Keep working on what you do best, take photographs!

    - Tyler

  2. Tyler – thanks for the comment. I’m trying to go after more commercial work and just my experience anyway, but those clients rarely find photogs using google. It’s all about relationships and recommendations. Sure, some new work comes in through google but it tends to be a single shoot for an individual. The steady, consistent work tends to come from clients who have already worked with me and who aren’t using search engines to find their photogs. Just my experience anyway.

  3. Tyler says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I just figure it never hurts to try, just make sure to also keep doing what got you to where you are!

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