Eric Kim Proves the Value (and Fallacy) of SEO for Photographers

Eric Kim Proves the Value (and Fallacy) of SEO for Photographers

In nearly every industry, the web has enabled a cadre of internet-famous individuals, who on the merits of their marketing prowess have gained massive followings without necessarily acquiring the skills that has traditionally defined an “expert.” At the surface, the phenomena seems entirely meritocratic – use hard work to circumvent the traditional gatekeepers, thereby building an audience that one can then monetize. But the insidious by-product is a “fake news” quality to the content. Should we believe and/or value the information?

One of the more polarizing figures in the photo industry is street photographer and workshop instructor Eric Kim, whose website frequently appears as the #1 result when searching “street photography” (search result position can vary by who is executing the search, so experts often refer to the average position which can be gleaned through Google Search Console).

While other photographers have spent time building up followers on Instagram, Kim has focused on creating massive amounts of blog content for the simple reason that the web is arguably a better mechanism for discovery and “intent.” Instagram’s discovery mechanism uses keywords, hashtags and network associations to uncover other images and accounts that you might like – but the user’s intention is usually just to find similar content. By contrast, the web offers users to act upon more specific “intent.” A user can go from broad intent (e.g. “Nikon D810”) to more specific intent (e.g. “Nikon D810 vs Canon 5D”) that leads to conversion (e.g. the purchase of a camera). For Kim, this means using his high position in search results to introduce himself as an expert in street photography, which can can potentially lead to a user shelling out thousands of dollars to attend his workshop.

To “win” at search, websites need good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – the practice of creating content then building links, social activity and domain strength so that a given page comes up higher in search results. Kim exploits a few well-known techniques to build a large ground-covering of content, including:

  • Click-bait headlines
  • Use of listicles
  • Controversial topics & a quirky writing style that cause his content (all open-sourced) to be reposted by sites like DPReview, PetaPixel, Flipboard, etc – which helps him build inbound links, strengthening his SEO.

Kim’s content is prolific and well-positioned. Here’s a list of search terms and their search result position:

  • street photography: #1
  • street photographer: #7
  • Street photography workshop: #4
  • Joseph Koudelka: #4
  • Bruce Davidson: #5
  • Bruce Gilden: #6
  • Martin Parr: #5
  • Alex Webb: #5
  • David Alan Harvey: #6
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson: #5
  • Elon musk photography: #1

Now imagine you have an interest in photography, and come across a piece on Bruce Gilden. You search for “Bruce Gilden” and see Kim’s “5 Lessons Bruce Gilden Has Taught Me About Photography.”

In Google’s “People also search for” box, you click on “Martin Parr,” and you see Kim’s “10 Things Martin Parr Can Teach You About Photography.” As you move down the rabbit hole of street photography, you keep coming across Kim’s content which leads you to believe that he is an expert in street photography.

Is he?

From the viewpoint of building a business around photography, the answer is irrelevant. Whether you like him or not, he has been as successful as any of his internet-famous photography peers, and is doing what he set out to do, namely make a living through photography (that his income comes from teaching might concern you, but it certainly doesn’t bother Kim). More photographers should be building textual content (i.e. blogging) on their websites.

The fallacy of his SEO conquest is that he is, by his own admission, “not the best photographer out there.” Although well-read and erudite, his writing skills are mediocre – partially because he never edits his work – relying on a stream-of-consciousness style that allows him to be prolific, but not insightful. Thus the way he represents photography is not that of either a professional photographer, nor a thoughtful critic of photography. He is playing the SEO game with great success, and building resentment from a large part of the community – both professional and amateur – who view him as a charlatan.

Kim mostly participates in the “long tail” of SEO, building content against niche topics. He isn’t trying to rank for terms like “Canon DSLR,” instead writing about content within the street photography realm. An analysis of his most popular post reveals 1100 backlinks – that is, 1100 links from other sites reference his content. It is a relatively large, but not insurmountable number of backlinks, which means that the next Eric Kim could be around the corner if he/she committed to creating regular content. Why not a photographer like Andre D. Wagner, Issui Enomoto, or Che’ Ahmad Azhar?

As more professional photographers diversify their revenue streams away from strict picture taking, they ought to take a cue from people like Kim. They might never respect his photography, but they could learn from his marketing acumen. In the world of SEO, content is king, and for better or worse, Kim rules the streets.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. Stan B. at 1:29 pm

    He should be holding workshops on marketing- what he’s really good at. If you want a photo workshop- take it from someone whose work you actually admire, a master- not a mediocrity still learning the ropes himself.

  2. Paul at 9:40 am

    I always have to add “” to my searches on google to avoid this guys garbage. testament to how good he is at shilling.

  3. Andrew Molitor at 12:16 am

    SEO is a fool’s game, at least for the individual. Sure, someone is going to be on top, and survival bias will “prove” that whatever he or she did will let you win too. In reality, there are 1000s of people out there who didn’t win. You’re not going to win, probably.

    Use your web site and your content differently. Use them to close prospects, not to generate them. There are a thousand ways to generate prospects. 999 of those aren’t Google search, and every one of those generates higher quality prospects than “some guy who did a web search”

  4. Tom Clark at 9:50 pm

    As an amateur photographer I eventually gravitated toward street photography. As I researched the field Eric Kim was inescapable. It didn’t take long to determine that there was little there. I merely decided to ignore all references and stop following him on social media. As a retired CEO, I know BS when I see it.

  5. Jim at 6:39 am

    I think most people of average intelligence are aware of Eric Kim’s SEO tactics and his ability to market his “lack of expertise” in the field of street photography. As the article states, all I have to do is type in my favorite street photographer’s name on Google search, and Kim’s silly blog posts “10 Lessons I Learned From…” show up in the indexed results. And yes, his writings are on the level of “fake news” because most of his blog posts and e-books are purely subjective with almost no facts.

    The article also makes the point that Kim’s expertise in the genre of street photography is irrelevant. I totally disagree. It most certainly is relevant. Here’s why.

    Whether Eric Kim vocally states that he is an expert in the field of street photography or not doesn’t matter because his actions say otherwise. By writing thousands of daily blog posts and e-books, Kim has flooded the Internet with redundant street photography articles and has created the illusion that he is indeed an “expert” in that particular field – thereby creating a fraudulent persona online.

    ​In simpler terms, just because Eric states that he is “not the best photographer out there” or takes the “you’re a sucker if you sign up for my workshop” approach doesn’t make him any less accountable to his customers that pay for his overpriced photography classes and online products.

    I must admit, I’m confused at the author’s admiration for Kim’s online tactics that deceive beginner photographers into thinking that he is a valued resource for street photography when he has proven himself not to be. Is this really how photographers should aspire to promote their photographs, their business, or, dare I say, their art?

    Furthermore, should a photographer really strive to be the most disliked person on the Internet because they lack the expertise in their field of study for the sake of collecting social media followers and selling a few books from their hidden Amazon affiliate links? Is this a true indicator of “winning”?

    Without a doubt, this article confirms what is wrong with today’s street photographers and street photography websites. These online charlatans base the quality of a photographer’s body of work on social media likes, backlinks, SEO rankings, and piggy backing on other master photographers reputations – not on their artistic abilities, or lack thereof.

    Oh, and by the way – NO, photographers should not fall into the mindless trap of producing an endless stream of repetitious daily blogs for the simple reason that they wouldn’t have any time to take pictures.

    P.S. Nice plug for Andre D. Wagner, Issui Enomoto, and Che’ Ahmad Azhar. Didn’t think your audience was smart enough to pick up on that one huh?

  6. c.d.embrey at 6:50 pm

    The thing I like about Eric Kim is that he does-not-like social-media. “Delete and stop using social media; build your own platform instead!” And: “Avoid becoming a ‘digital sharecropper‘ (“leasing” the digital land from Facebook/Instagram), instead of building upon your own land.” This sounds like excellent advice, to me.

    He also says: “If your passion is photography and you desire to monetize your passion and if you have the opportunity to get a free education, I encourage you to go to business school (instead of photography or art school).” I agree 100%, you can’t teach talent. If you have little talent for photography, become good at business.

    I see little difference between his business model and the Strobist’s. The web is full of folks …

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