The Viral Evolution of Carli Davidson’s “Shake” Gallery

We’re big fans of Portland, Oregon based photographer Carli Davidson, which is why we profiled her and her adorable pet photography just last year. Carli – an animal caretaker turned pet photographer – inadvertently accomplished the marketing fantasy of photographers around the Internet. In the past few months, her gallery “Shake,” featuring dogs and cats caught shaking off water, went viral, appearing in major national and international publications, photography blogs, mainstream news’ sites, and passed along via countless emails, tweets, Google+ and Facebook shares. The result? Her website traffic increased 370 times. Not 370%. 37,000%.

Over at PhotoShelter headquarters, we started keeping tabs on Carli early on, sending around links to Shake‘s latest feature and trying to guess where she would pop up next. And it got us wondering;

  • How did Shake get to be so viral?
  • What ‘big name’ blog shared the gallery first?
  • How is Carli leveraging all the attention to help her photography business?
  • Is she freaking out?

Without an intentional marketing plan in place, we were curious to chart the path of a gallery gone viral. It’s not that we think there is necessarily a replicable formula for any photographer can use, but the success of Shake does point out that good content that captures people’s fancy can drive significant traffic (and hopefully sales) to even an individual photographer. Luckily, Carli was in New York recently, so we invited her in to PhotoShelter to pick her brain on the sharing of Shake.
Here’s what went down:
July 2011:

  • Carli enters Shake into PDN’s Faces Contest and becomes a finalist.
  • As a finalist, Shake is set to appear in PDN’s August issue. But the gallery is up on PDN online (#76,295 most popular site. Source: in July. PDN typically receives close to 25,000 unique visitors per month.

July 28, 2011:

  • PetaPixel (#12,690 most popular site. Source: features Shake. The post is tweeted 2,506 times, shared on Google+ 793 times, and liked on Facebook by over 62,000 people.
  • Carli receives a >500% increase in visits to her site. Damn.

August 8, 2011:

  • Shake is featured on The Huffington Post (#40 most popular site. Source:
  • The story is shared on Facebook 5,076 times, tweeted 282 times, emailed 517 times, and shared on Google+ 62 times.
  • Shake is shared on BBC Brazil, which gets over 9 million unique visitors a month.
  • On August 8th, Carli receives 97,290 unique visitors directly to her site. 

August 16, 2011:

  • Carli is featured in The New York Times Lens Blog (#64 most popular site. Source: @nytimesphoto shares the article on Twitter. They have close to 190,000 followers and the post is retweeted by 32 people. Carli gets 24,000 visits to her site that day.

Upcoming in September 2011:

  • Shake will be featured in Italy’s Vanity Fair. With previous posts also found on German, French, and Italian blogs, Carli Davidson is officially an international phenomenon.

Between July 17th and August 31st, we see that Carli’s numbers rocketed through the roof. Here’s a snapshot of how people found her and the degree of traffic that came her way during that time:

  • Direct: 686,491
  • Facebook: 150,535
  • Petapixel: 97,948
  • Twitter: 10,392
  • Google: 7,983
  • 2,404
  • 1,469

The traffic increase is significant, but so is the sheer quantity of top quality backlinks and social media buzz that will undoubtedly increase her SEO. This is true even though the vast majority of people didn’t find Carli through search engines (by the way, she is result #11 for the word “Shake,” which is amazing for such a generic term, especially when you consider that Apple is #9 and Microsoft is #10).

In June, Carli received an average of 27 visits to her site each day. Today, she sees an average of 10,000. “The most amazing part of this is that this isn’t just a viral blip,” Carli says. “It’s been months now and the buzz for Shake is still going strong.”

Today, almost two months after the initial pop, Carli Davidson Photography has received over 1 million unique visits to her website. An elated Carli found this out as we were sitting down together checking out her Google Analytics. We high-fived.

As important as the big name media outlets were to the success of Shake, the analytics suggest that Facebook was crucial to Shake’s virality. A few thousand people might have seen Shake on The New York Times website, but hundreds of thousands of people used Facebook to spread it. In other words, if Shake was Avian flu and Facebook was an airline, you wouldn’t want to be on that plane because you’d get that virus.

The gallery also appealed to people all over the world because the content was not specific to one country or culture. And we see that although Shake was popular, web traffic to her other galleries also caught fire along the way.

Carli believes people are interested in Shake because very simply – it makes people happy. “I can’t tell you how many emails I get each day from people thanking me for making them smile.”
Carli has now secured a book agent and is working to put Shake onto the pages of a photo book, which if online interest is any indicator, we have a feeling will do just fine.

  • Contests can give you good exposure, but make sure you stick with reputable ones that will drive eyeballs to your work. PDN doesn’t have stellar traffic, but it’s well-respected in the photo community.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of a strong Facebook post. Have you ever said something stupid, but received tons of comments? You just can’t predict what will catch the attention of the masses.
  • Be ready to take advantage of spikes in traffic by increasing your merchandising opportunities, or advertising your services in a very obvious way. Having lots of traffic is worthless if you can’t convert it into revenue.

Wanna learn more? Download our free guide “Freelancers Online Marketing Blueprint.”

p.s. Here’s the human equivalent of shake, courtesy of Petapixel, called “jowling.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the "I Love Photography" podcast on iTunes.

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Per-BKWine at 3:58 pm

    Fascinating. But I don’t agree with your conclusions. (Although they are of course relevant to the message you want to sell.) What this shows most of all is: – great photography grabs attention, especially if – it is unique It helps that it makes people happy, yes. And why will jowling not work in that way? Because those photos are not good, not in the way that Shake is. In the same way as cute stretching cats would not become viral either. It is just fantastic pictures. But one thing I wonder about – how (HOW!) could her site survive with such a surge in traffic? Incredible!

  2. Allen Murabayashi at 4:01 pm

    @per: how did her website survive the surge in traffic? answer: photoshelter! i’m actually not being facetious. i think that’s a benefit of using a service vs. hosting your own site. because we’re architected to serve a huge audience, her surge didn’t really affect our total capacity very much at all.

  3. John W at 1:44 pm

    It’s not clear to me how much of this traffic and buzz translates into income. The book contract presumably will make Carli some money. However, as far as I can see, none of the content providers listed above paid anything for any of the images, and now that they are out there for free, what will motivate anyone to fork over money for them in the future? This whole scenario reminds me a bit of the dot com bubble – lots of buzz, and lots of people talking about lots of buzz, but not much in the way of real income. Without actually providing dollar figures, could you guys (PS and Carli) take a look at actual number of sales that came out of all of this? BTW: Cool photos and a fun project – nice work Carli! I want people like you to be able to make a living doing what you do, but I’m not convinced (yet), that social media is a good/productive way to connect with serious buyers.

  4. MikeinCusco at 8:49 pm

    Excellent article showing the pwoer of social media. The images are different, simple, memorable. Going by the numbers alone I’m sure Carli must be receiving some monetary benefit from all this – if not becoming known worldwide. Must get my facebook page up for my travel company Tambopata Travel and become more active with my photography submissions!

  5. Carli Davidson at 1:32 pm

    Hey all!

    So in lieu of the business boot camp, and because I am just now seeing some of your questions here is a response…

    It’s now been five months since all of this hubbub stated, and I’m still receiving thousands of hit a day on my website! Social media is totally priceless, and I’ve had more of my work picked up recently, such as my pets with disabilities series and my grandpa cat series.

    I’m hip to the passing craze of Internet hypes and I’ve used this knowledge to build sustainable relationships out of this ‘bubble’. I’ve secured an AMAZING commercial agent ( ) and am bringing in work. I had a publishing agent and I’m excited to see what happens there… I’m selling limited edition (12 each) prints of my work for what I think they are worth and looking for galleries to rep me in big cities. I have an opening here in Portland in a couple of weeks.

    Oh and then there is the licensing. I am licensing the images worldwide to magazines. I’m picky about who I go with because I want to build a strong and positive reputation as a fine artist, not just a pet photographer. I say this in no way to bash being a pet photographer, but to address the fact that I am a fine artist first, and have been one as long as I can remember. Anyways all of this has been ‘lucrative’ for me as an artist in a recession, and I’ve learned a ton about playing hardball and asking for what I’m worth instead of just taking the first offer.

    I see this as a very special opportunity to thrive as an artist in my medium, and I’m excited to see how this attention follows me into my future. My father who was a Madison Avenue art director in the days of Don Draper and worked regularly with everyone from Avedon to Norman Parkinson looks at this publicity and laughs… “It was my job to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that kind of exposure for my clients” he says. I’ll take that for what it’s worth, it’s been a fun ride and a learning experience at the least, and I hope the images resonate with people for years to come.

    Thanks so much for enjoying my work!

  6. Pingback: Viral Photographs Bring Instant Success

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