10 Aug 2015 How to Find Photo Buyers for your Direct Sales Website

You’re tired of laborious agency submissions. You’ve had enough of low royalties, falling prices, and subscription sales. You want a bigger chunk of the pie. So you’ve created your own direct sales website.

Since you’re a photographer and not a web designer, building your site was hard work. It was surely a big step outside your comfort zone. But unfortunately, that was the easy part.

Now you need to actually attract visitors to your fancy new website. And then the really hard part: converting them from visitors to buyers.

But one step at a time. Let’s focus on how you can find buyers and get them to your storefront. Fortunately, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We can simply have a look at how microstock agencies do it.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to web design techniques that can improve inbound traffic from search engine results. There are tons of resources you can use for SEO, and they all take some time, and sometimes a lot of work, to set them up.

A common strategy is to use image metadata as page metadata. This means taking the title, description and keywords of an image and using them as the webpage’s title, description and keywords. This can be relatively easy to automate, depending on your website platform.

Another common SEO strategy is offering free images. When effective, this exposes your website listing to a much larger quantity of searches, potentially attracting more traffic. However, visitors seeking free images are notoriously difficult to convert to paying customers.

Some of the most effective tools used by agencies aren’t that relevant to individual photographers selling their work directly. This includes providing bloggers and other websites with HTML codes to post keyword-rich affiliate links or thumbnail carousels. Many agencies also leverage contributors for SEO benefit through tools that display and link to the contributors’ portfolios on the agency website, creating valuable inbound links.

Pay Per Click Advertising

In the pay per click (PPC) model, advertisers bid on search keywords, and the highest bidder gets their ad placed at the top of relevant search results. The more they bid, the longer their ad will be up. Every time the ad gets clicked, the bidder must pay the price they offered. A benefit of this kind of advertising is that PPC performance is easy to analyze, helping you refine your keyword lists and bid prices to improve your marketing efficiency.

PPC ad sales are dominated by Google AdWords and Google Content Network—the performance of ads on Google can be tracked with Google Analytics. Yahoo and Bing also participate in PPC, but at a much smaller scale.

This is the biggest focus of most companies’ online marketing budgets, but it’s also expensive: top agencies spend between $5000 and $20,000 per month on Google AdWords and somewhat less on Yahoo and Bing. Some of them outsource their PPC advertising to online marketing experts, which adds to the cost.

Banner Ads

Banner ads are the traditional form of online advertising. You can pay an advertising network to place banners with a link to your website on a variety of other sites that your customers are likely to visit.

BuySellAds is a good company in this field. They work with a large base of advertisers to offer tailored on-scale and contextualized banner ad services. They also offer content marketing assistance through their network of top market publishers.

Social Media Marketing

All top agencies use social media platforms (mostly Facebook and Twitter), although its tendency to have mostly an indirect effect on sales makes social media a lower priority for their marketing efforts. However, interactive channels like this are very useful to provide customer support, receive feedback, create inbound links to marketplaces, and reinforce brand awareness. Hopefully, smart use of social media to maintain good relationships with your customers will also help you reach new buyers.

Some of the top agencies are integrating social media in their websites. They’re adding Facebook “Like” buttons on their image pages and enabling “ShareThis” services, for example. Shutterstock makes use of what they call Shuttertweet, a daily broadcast of personal stats, image links, and agency blog entries on contributors’ personal Twitter account. Most agencies use similar apps for both Twitter and Facebook.

In the blogosphere, the most common social media strategy is to sponsor imagery-related bloggers and provide free images for their posts. In exchange, the agencies get credited and/or linked in those posts, and they can even demand brand/website promotion in the sponsored content.

However, community building is not easy, and gaining fans and followers is quite hard. Check the social media stats for the top agencies. Compared to their total user and buyer counts, these numbers show how difficult it is to stay relevant on social media.

Shutterstock Facebook page 366,538 likes Twitter account 366K followers
Dreamstime Facebook page 260,533 likes Twitter account 25.4K followers
Fotolia Facebook page 133,803 likes Twitter account 35.2K followers
123RF Facebook page 420,579 likes Twitter account 18.1K followers

Content Marketing

Content Marketing is the fancy new way to say blogging, although pros will tell you there’s much more to it. And there is.

Whatever you call it, it is producing content that can engage an audience and connect them to your business.

But it can’t be any kind of content. It must provide value—blog posts must be worth reading—and be directly related to your business. One of the keys for successful content marketing is to make sure that what you write is always targeting the buyer. Most photographers tend to focus on things that interest them as producers and contributors, which is a mistake.

For good examples of this, check out the buyer blogs of the agencies who do it well, including Shutterstock and Canva.

Pick Your Methods

As you can see, there are several ways to find buyers for your direct sales business, depending on how much money, time and effort you’re willing to put in it. If you really want to compete, you’ll do them all.

Do you use any of these methods to attract buyers to your direct sales website? Which ones work for you?

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