Will Social Media Change the Way Photographers Use SEO?


I recently read a fantastic blog post by designer and photographer Don Giannatti. In it, he mentioned (briefly) that search engine optimization (SEO) as we know it will change dramatically over the next few years. This left a few people wondering how much will it change, and what photographers should do today if they want to stay ahead of the curve.

In the post, titled “I am more interested in thriving photographers than thriving Flash developers…” (more about that later), Giannatti says, “While SEO as we know it will probably be done in the next 24 months, there is still a lot of energy being expended in finding stuff on the web [such as] Google, Bing, AOL, Yahoo… all billion dollar businesses based on being able to find stuff.”

So, what will change, and does this mean that our current SEO efforts going to waste? According to Giannatti and others in SEO and social media circles, social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter) are going to become a big part of the ranking algorithms used by search engines, but SEO is not going to “go away” or become unimportant. You will continue to benefit from your SEO hard work now, and into the future.

But honestly, we’ve known that social media would have a big impact for a while. Back in October, as an indication of what’s coming, VentureBeat wrote about Bing’s partnership with Facebook. The story mentions that the two companies are working together–Bing providing search results inside of Facebook, and also personalizing regular search results using Facebook data.

In other words, your friend’s “likes” in Facebook will play a role in search results in Bing. You should also expect to see recommendations from members of your own social network, people you know and trust, popping up in search results.

With all the rich interaction data stored within Facebook, some argue that it will rival traditional search engines, and some people are taking this one step further, saying that social media sites are going to completely replace search engines as a way of finding things on the Internet, but I think that’s going a little too far.

Facebook is great for passive discovery (a trusted friend makes a suggestion that might be useful later on), while search engines are there to help people find something specific (when there is an immediate need for it.) Although they work well together, it’s important to remember that these are still two very different things. Photographers shouldn’t ignore either of them.

Similarly, Twitter is great for getting a pulse on what’s happening now. But if you searched for something specific like “Nikon 85mm review,” you’d be hard pressed to find relevant results. One obvious reason why is that SEO (and information retrieval in general) is contingent on the quality of information that’s indexed. That’s why SEO starts with having good on-page content. A Facebook Wall post or Tweet simply can’t contain the level of information depth that a full article on the Internet can contain.


As social media data continues to make its way into Google, Yahoo, and Bing – photographers with a large social media networks will have an edge over those who don’t.

Imagine that there are two wedding photographers. One has a large social network with many “fans” and “likes”, and one has no social network at all. Which photographer is going to have the edge? This is particularly true for wedding photography where referrals are commonplace. If you see your friend “liked” their photographer when you log in to Facebook, you’re automatically being influenced.

What can you do today, right now, to make sure that you’re well-positioned as search engines evolve?

1) If you haven’t done so already, get into the game.

Participate in social media. Get an account with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or any of the hundreds of other social media sites that have popped up within the past few years. I don’t suggest joining every site in the world, but I do suggest that you take a look around and find ones that are a good match.

The website SEOmoz maintains a helpful list of the top 101 social media sites. The list contains the most popular and effective sites for marketing your own business.

2) Place a Facebook “like” button with every image, and page, on your website.

It’s important to get your content (images, words, ideas) into the world of social media. Doing so is not difficult. If you are already running a WordPress blog, there are several plugins that will accomplish this for you. Otherwise, Facebook has a Like Button configurator that will create code that you can add to your site.

(If you have a Flash-based website, sorry – you’re out of luck. You can’t use either of these options.)

3) Maintain a blog, and encourage social sharing of your posts.

A blog is the best place to send your social media traffic. It allows you to expand on an idea and share more content than you can with 140 characters. Blog posts are text-based, simple to link to, and are easily indexed by search engines.

The name of the game is to create content (blog posts) that get both links, and likes. The math is simple: The more of these that you get, the better your site will rank in search engines.

4) Make it easy for people to talk about you.
If sharing your content (aka: “word of mouth”) is important to you (and it should be) then you need to make it as easy as possible for people to spread the word. Remember, there are hundreds of social media networks out there, and it’s a good practice to allow people to share links to your content on the networks you may not personally belong to.

A cool WordPress plugin called “SexyBookmarks” will let you choose from 88 different social media sites, and install a row of attractive icons at the bottom of each post for easy sharing.

We just added the capability to “Ask Grover Anything” or “Ask Allen anything” via links in the right column of our blog. You might consider the feature frivolous, but we’re increasing accessibility which hopefully will increase our credibility and trustworthiness on the Internet.

5) Continue to be mindful of traditional SEO efforts.
Traditional SEO methods, as outlined in our free 2010 SEO Cookbook for Photographers, are still valid, and should be continued. The changes that are coming won’t replace these efforts. Instead, social media will be an additional (potentially very important) factor within search engine ranking algorithms.

Oh, by the way, as for the main topic of Giannati’s post — the use of Flash in photographer websites — his points were spot-on and I ended up re-tweeting his story enthusiastically. If you have a Flash-only website, or if you are considering one, I highly recommend reading his post. It just might change your mind.

If you’re truly interested in SEO, you should avoid Flash, and embrace social media — today.

Grover Sanschagrin, co-founder of PhotoShelter, contributes several articles to the PhotoShelter blog each week. Follow him on Twitter at @heygrover.
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There are 8 comments for this article
  1. Photoblog Alliance at 3:17 am

    Our collaborative photo blog has seen a huge percentage of users coming from social networking efforts (3:1). I think for a photo blog, or for photographers in general, this is important because users are looking to connect with photography in a way that is different than other sites. I connect much more emotionally than with a text blog. Social media and relational marketing are much better ways to get the word out for photography. Just think about how you find photography in the real world. Do you search on Google or find out locally or through a friend? Get high on Google when selling your professional services, but work your social network for artwork. There’s a big difference and, as this article suggests, there will be some big winners and losers when the switch to relational search is made.

  2. Paul David Drabble at 4:58 am

    I’m sorry but I cant see this. Search engines serving up results based on what my virtual mates like in a medium which allows so many people to have a virtual personality, that is to say not the personality they have if you meet them face to face. It sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Don’t get me wrong I can see where the idea is (on the face of it) good but the pit falls seem many and extreme. How many of us know our virtual friends on facebook, twitter, myspace and LinkedIn well enough that we would trust them with fairly significant amounts of our own money? Thais what is being suggested spend your money based on the recommendations of people you don’t really know. Take a look through through your “Friends” lists on your social network sites and count how many you have met and actually Know. Google search “Dump 10 Facebook friends, get a free Whopper” and find the numbers, I was surprised by how many friends were defriended. If that’s how fickle social networking is, this would surely mean it was open to unfair manipulation by the giants in any industry. Imagine Getty offering a defriend 10 photographers for some kind of incentive deal. The suggestion that photographers place a facebook like button on every page and beside every picture would leave most of our sites looking like an ad for facebook rather than a professional photographers business site so who would be the winner there? oh yes Facebook. There is such a thing as over kill. I’m already trying with social networking right now blog, facebook, linkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo, Stumbelupon, have been for a while I see numbers growing Very Very slowly. This is not translating into any significant increase in blog or website traffic. The number of Jobs I have taken in from these efforts are none yes zero nil not one. I am starting to think Social Netwroking is like the emperors new clothes, everyone says its great but there is nothing really there. That or stills photography is a dying industry, in 5 years my turnover has halved. The real question is Recession? Poor Marketing? or Obsolescence? Maybe We should all stop and take a step back and look at who is making money from the internet. Id take a fair bet its not most photographers

  3. Jaak Nilson at 1:19 pm

    Yes, it ia truth that Bing and Facebook-co-operated. Unfortunately our photos on Photoshelter platform are not very well indexed by Bing. Google is indexing our photos better than Bing. At least at the moment. All Photoshelter SEO is optimized mostly for Google. In IT world a things changes very often and maybe after seveal years a Google is history. Bing or another search enging will triumph.

  4. Donald E Giannatti at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the mention, guys. When I state “While SEO as we know it will probably be done in the next 24 months…” I am referring to the ever-changing logarithms of the might SE’s, and the change from hard-target tools for SEO like meta tags (keyword and content) to more dynamic approaches like actual content. The more that move continues, the less ‘code’ approaches and tricks and such will be relevant. We used to say “Content is King” – and it has never been more accurate. What you show and what you say and how you present – that is what is relevant now… and the SE’s are becoming more and more powerful in their abilities to find, index and promote that content. The additional content aggregation of Social Media, with its inherent relevance of like-minded participation, draw marketing, trusted recommendations, and ‘flocking’ – where people begin to congregate to share work, ideas and more – has opened a new set of opportunities for those who are involved to become visible. As to this comment: “Maybe We should all stop and take a step back and look at who is making money from the internet. Id take a fair bet its not most photographers…” Participation is not a guarantee. Participation is not a sure deal… twitter ‘x’ and get ‘y’… It is an ongoing process of involvement, engagement or whatever you want to call it. It cannot be faked, or done with resentment. It is a ‘buy in’ required endeavor. Faking it will not work, so if one doesn’t buy in to it, do what ever else is working for you twice as hard. There are many photographers, successful and busy, who do little to nothing in the SEO/SM thing. Cool… as I said, it is not a panacea nor will it save anyone from impending decline. It is a new way to converse with the marketplace. It is a new way to become engaged with those who may have been difficult to engage with previously. It is, for me at least, kinda fun. But I can confidently state that if one is looking simply to ‘make money’ from the mere presence of a linked in page, then the expectations are WAY off base.

  5. Doug Marke at 3:56 pm

    Great, so we are going to have to spend even more time talking rubbish and less time on our photography. The increasing power of Google etal to determine how we market and run our business is making me distinctly annoyed. We all have to play Google-roulette and hope that if we do something magical that our numbers will come up. Now we have to act as billboards for Twitter/Facebook and Linkedin…. I wouldnt mind it so much if they actually gave us the same publicity that we give them…

  6. Donald E Giannatti at 8:41 am

    Doug, “Great, so we are going to have to spend even more time talking rubbish and less time on our photography.” No. This is what I meant when I said a “buy in”. It is a marketing approach. It cannot be faked or done with an approach of dread or loathing. If you see it as ‘talking trash’ then it may not be the thing for you. Or possibly you have not found the voice that would be fun and exciting for you. I don’t participate in the ‘my sandwich is soggy’ sort of conversations. For Social Media, the cool thing is YOU choose who to converse with. Choose wisely. Maybe you only choose to engage with art directors who do editorial. Or AD’s from ad agencies in your area. But it is a conversation, not a sales pitch. And others may listen in. Like a conversation at an after work bar where a group of people are discussing something about the industry they work in. Others may choose to listen in, but the conversation is amongst those who are engaged with you. You chose who to talk to. However, the resentment to Social Media may be more due to the perception than the reality. There are many who are simply not interested in being social. That is nothing new.

  7. Doug Marke at 5:06 am

    I think that you can sense my frustration! We do seem to spend a enormous and growing amount of time trying to talk to folks… but in the end I have the sneaking suspicion that actually no one is listening… As more and more people start “Talking”… then there will be less and less opportunity to differentiate yourself. At the end of the day, the point of all of this activity is to drive more people to our pictures.. but the system as it exists is not visual in nature and as a consequence we have changed the ground upon which we compete… we no longer compete based upon the quality of our work, and its suitability to the end user… we compete on the quality of our “Journalism” (For want of a better term..) and I cant help but feel that this change has been bad for photography, as it dilutes the essential nature of what we do, and how we should be judged. Our marketing is now driven by systems which are a one size fits all vision of how google thinks businesses need to be marketed… Is the new emphasis on social networking going to have a positive effect on this by diluting the dominance of google oriented SEO, or simply make the system more complex and less predictable? I cant help but think that we are going to end up as some sort of photodrone in the big collective, and our voice will be lost to those with more time on their hands… 🙂

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