Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SEO and Stock Photography Research

More and more, prospective clients are searching for imagery on the internet, and, more specifically, Google Images. Yes, the other search engines have image search, but for today, we'll limit this discussion and comparison of capabilities to Google's systems.

How do we compare SEO (that's search engine optimization if you're living in the dark ages) between the industry behemoth Getty (and their ankle-biter brands) with Digital Railroad, PhotoShelter, and, for kicks, our own SEO efforts.

It gets interesting fast.

(Continued after the Jump)

First, let's look at the results from a search for "maryland tobacco farmer":

Notice that Jamd is Getty's consumer media website (About the Image - reported here, 7/11/08). Jamd appears in position #1, #3, and #13.

On that same page, and for the same search, Flickr returns:

Flickr returns images in positions #6, #17, and #20.

This is a remarkable way to leverage the search tool that people are already using. So, how am I doing?

Several years ago, I obtained several URL's for this purpose. One of them is www.Stock-Photography-Research.com. Going there, you can browse though several thousand of my images, but they're not designed for you, the individual, to browse. They're designed in a way to maximize their ability to be returned on the search engines.

Suppose you were working on a travel book on Prague, and were looking for an image of the nightlife there - specifically the Music Park nightclub. A Google Images search would return:

Yes, that would be my image, in position #1.

Of great importance is the contact information that is not only embedded in the metadata of the image, but also added to the bottom of the large version of the image, as seen here:

Of critical importance to any client visibility and marketing service is for online services like PhotoShelter and Digital Railroad to do the same thing. So, how are they doing?

First up, Digital Railroad. Criticised here previously, they're doing well with SEO placement. Maris Berzins, President of Digital Railroad commented "SEO is a key focus area for us. Buyers have told us that they are increasingly using search engines to source photographers and images for licensing. As a result of our efforts and evolving buyer behavior, a growing percentage of traffic to the DRR platform— Member Archives and Marketplace— as well as competitor sites comes from search engines. Here are just a few examples of how DRR is driving buyer traffic to both our member archives and Marketplace." Here's a link showing that over 56,000 images on the DRR system are indexed:

So too, here, is a PhotoShelter 1st place result:

According to Grover Sanschagrin: "Search engine providers have told us that heavily watermarked images provide a 'poor user experience,' and they receive a lower search ranking or are not included in search results at all. They've also told us that larger images receive a higher search ranking.

So, photographers who insist on adding watermarks to their images, and
photographers who are making their images small, and especially
photographers who are doing both, are doing themselves a disservice if their goal is to show up high in search engines."

To that end, you can see how PhotoShelter (above, on the "man fixing his bicycle" search) and Digital Railroad (left) are unobtrusively watermarking their images with information.

DRR's watermark appears with a center- aligned one, while PhotoShelter has the photographer's copyright information, and PhotoShelter ID# in opposite corners.

Here are several #1 results from PhotoShelter:

Digital Railroad has respectable results as well - check this link for "beijing Cheering practice" which returns this result, for example:

So, how deep does Google go into them? "well before the end of Q3 our total number of images indexed by Google is expected to well exceed 2.8 million images," said Tom Tinervin Sr. Director of Platform Sales and Support for Digital Railroad, and Sanschagrin reports that "Right at this moment, 41% of all the pages on PhotoShelter's site map are indexed by Google."

Sanschagrin went on to say: "We take search engine optimization very seriously. Over 25% of our traffic on the PhotoShelter Collection originates from search engines, and we monitor the efficacy of our SEO efforts on a daily basis.
"We've taken several step in order to allow the pages and images for the PhotoShelter Collection to be indexed by automated web spiders. Most importantly, all images on the site can be reached from pages without the use of Javascript or Flash via our photographer and term directories. Many sites that use AJAX to power their sites do not include the information in a manner accessible by search engines.

We also provide summaries of a page in the meta-description header and, when available, include keywords about the image. Our photographer and term index pages include links to RSS and Atom feeds that provide another mechanism for finding images. We provide sitemaps to the major search engines. The sitemaps are updated on an hourly basis to provide pages as quickly as possible to search engines, and by registering our domains with the major search engines we can monitor our site for any problems that may prevent indexing.

In addition, we are working with search engine vendors to prepare other forms of sitemaps that provide more information about our images."
Whew, that's a lot of information, but really shows how committed to SEO PhotoShelter is, and DRR's CEO's comments before echo the importance of getting their images to appear in the of Google Images.

So, if you're wondering just what you're shelling out your percentages of each of your sales for, SEO optimization of your images into the Google Images organic search results, and the ongoing efforts of both PhotoShelter and Digital Railroad, are a clear indication that this effort to reach the eyeballs of photo buyers continues.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Surviving the Downsizing in Photography

With thanks to PDN (here) and MediaPost (here) for bringing this to my attention. I wrote about this in my book - essentially, if you're a staff photographer you must be prepared to become freelance unexpectedly. 3500 people (and counting) are being forced into the freelance world (from all areas of the media newsroom) without notice. Back in April, I wrote Staff Photographers - An Endangered Species, which is worth a re-read.

What does this mean, exactly? And more importantly, what should current members of the freelance community do as those that are the talented photographers that are a part of these layoffs enter the freelance world?

(Continued after the Jump)

For staffers, your first thing to do will be to have a website. I know of several current staffers who have their own websites. that means having your own business cards to hand out where appropriate. This means knowing how to send a contract and figure out rates and rights.

Oh, and if you're one of those staffers who used to look at a $200 freelance job as gravy to complement your meat-and-potatoes staff job revenue, and now you're out of a job - those clients you have expecting you at $200 you can no longer afford to work for. This alone should be an argument for why you - as a staffer - shouldn't be doing these jobs at side-job rates, not to mention how doing this affects your freelance brethren's ability to charge a living rate in your community.

What must be done by the freelance community these photographers are joining? I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but you need to get them work. Really. The question is - how?

If your normal rate for a wedding is $3,500, or a press conference coverage is $750, or your family/pet/child portrait sitting rate is $350 and an enlargement is $950, then rather than trying to convince your newfound friend to charge those rates - book the job on their behalf - at those rates. By doing so, your friend will soon realize that that is what they're worth, and will apply that same rate structure to people calling them directly. Everyone, from time to time, gets a call for a period that they are double-booked. Don't forward on the job, and hope your friend does things right - do it right for them by taking the job and then you hiring your colleague to do the assignment, and you passing through the assignment fee to them. What chance to do it right do they have if they've never negotiated an assignment rate, or a rights package, before?

By embracing, and helping these talented people out, not only are you doing a nice thing, but you're also ensuring that your community will remain robust and survivable amidst the constant downward pressure on rates.

Here's a partial list of where they might need some assistance:

Contracts - If a photographer has been a staffer for awhile, it's likely their last agreement to provide photography was done on a handshake. If a photographer has only been on staff for year or so and came straight from school, they too don't understand the importance of a contract - signed by them and the client. Offer to give them a copy (prefably in a Word document so they can edit it) of yours to get themselves started.

Equipment - They likely need help getting their equipment setup. They may have been given their old equipment from their place of work, but in most cases the gear is on it's last legs. Redundant camera bodies, and lenses ranging from ultra-wide - 14-24mm Nikon, or 16-35mm Canon, all the way to 200mm lenses for each, plus two strobes, and a Jackrabbit/Quantum battery pack will be sufficient. In the rare case that they are going to do sports, or major news events, a 300mm with a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter is useful, but freelancers headed that direction with a need to sustain themselves are not going to find a lot of success chasing sports.

Software - They may have their own laptop, but are unclear about the importance of backing up their images, and acquiring legal copies of the software they'll need. Don't start them off on the wrong foot by giving them copies of your software. We recommend they get full versions that are registered in their own name of Photoshop, Photo Mechanic, FotoQuote, Microsoft Office 2008, QuickBooks Pro. They should also read: © Infringements - Don't be a Hypocrite.

Dealing With Clients - Send them this link - Lies, Lies, and More Lies , Traitors Among Us?, and this link - Top Ten Lies Told to Naive Photographers, and encourage them to read the posts - the first two are mine. Then, be sure to tell them that when the client says "oh, you're the first photographer I've talked with that has a problem with __________....", where the blank is either "work-for-hire", "wanting to be paid", "charges for post production", or "wanting a contract signed"; they they're being dishonest at best, and more than likely, lying.

Marketing - This one's tricky, because if you're not careful, you'll teach your newfound freelancer to compete for your own work - and will be doing so without the understanding of the true costs of being in their new shoes as a self-employed person, and so may well undervalue themselves (they did just get laid off, remember? Their self-worth wounds likely need a bit of time to heal before they remember that they're worth a lot.) About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled Getting Clients - A Few Options, that could be helpful. Most important is to get a website that you can get online fast, and is easy for you to make changes to - Effective SEO - Please Welcome liveBooks, talks about the solution we recommend highly (and yes, they're an advertiser here too). Once they get a website, they can begin their marketing campaign. The notion of having a printed portfolio these days applies maybe to 10% or less of the assignment work out there (much of which is in the advertising field) so the online version of that is the best route to go.

Pricing and Rates - The FIRST thing you should do is send them to the NPPA's pricing calculator. This calculator works for the vast majority of photographic fields, and gets your colleagues thinking about the true costs of being in business - which in turn, will assist them in calculating what they should charge. Reading Good, Fast, and Cheap - Pick Two, that I wrote in May is probably a good place to send them, also Selling Something You Don't Own is a cautionary tale. Cautionary to the person doing the helping is that neither of you say "we'll agree to charge $X for this..." because that could get you in a bit of hot water with the anti-trust folks. Discussing what an assignment could cost is one thing, agreeing what you both would charge is another. The biggest problem with photographers rates is not that they've been artificially inflated to a price that's too high, it's that photographers fail to contemplate the total costs of being in business, and thus price jobs too low.

Longevity - I sat at dinner three nights ago with a colleague who had thought he'd gotten his golden ticket - a staff job at a community newspaper. Just under three months later, he was laid off. Guess what? He wasn't eligible under the rules that applied to him, to even collect unemployment. Everyone is replaceable. No one is safe.

Then there's Where Does All Your Time Go?, that's all about time management and why $100/hr does not multiply by 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and 52 weeks in a year to become a photographer that's paid $208,000 a year, and how $100 an hour isn't enough.

Lastly, I'd suggest they read: The Conundrum of Doing Nothing, that I wrote about how to get things going, and getting a few of the books that are at the right of this page - they are the tools that I used as I was growing my business.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

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