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We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what we might not know is that a picture can also be worth a thousand links. Contracting a professional photographer to capture images of a news-worthy event can be a great way to both build links and establish new relationships, and based on my experience it can be cost effective as well.
Photo Journalism Link Building Examples
Some people think of photo journalism as something that falls strictly into the realm of traditional media. However, any marketer can use photo journalism to tell the story of an event or topic in order to build links. Here are a couple of examples:
1. Photo coverage of a niche-specific event. Automotive enthusiasts are a great example of a passionate, niche-specific community of Internet users. Very often auto enthusiasts feel a strong kinship with people who own the same vehicle make and model. One of the sites I manage is geared toward Toyota Tundra enthusiasts, so when I learned that a car show specific to the Toyota Tundra was being held, I was eager to provide photo coverage of the event (which you can see here).
We published photos the Monday following the car show, and within 24 hours we found half a dozen decent links pointing to our post, a dozen Facebook likes, hundreds of visitors, tweets, etc. In addition to links, we strengthened our relationship with a site in our niche (which should lead to more links down the road), gained a few dozen Facebook fans, and gained some additional YouTube subscribers. Today, about two weeks after the fact, Google shows over 800 links to that specific post. While many of these links are admittedly spam, I’m quite happy if only 1% are quality links, especially when you consider that almost all of the good links are from sites in the same niche and therefore highly relevant.
2. Themed photo coverage of a larger event. One of our clients (Denver photographer R.J. Kern) offers another excellent example of link building via photo journalism. R.J. attended the 2010 Burning Man festival, but rather than provide general photo coverage of the event, R.J. focused on capturing images of “Burning Man Couples in Love.” In essence, R.J. told a story, which is, in my opinion, what differentiates event photography from photo journalism. Intuitively, all of us are more inclined to look at photos for the story behind the image, not the “pretty” factor alone. . (NOTE: At Burning Man, clothing is optional, so the photos you can see here might not be safe for work).
R.J.’s photo journalism work was nothing short of a tremendous success. To seed the content, R.J.’s images were shared on a couple of Burning Man fan forums, which in turn led to them being shared on the official Burning Man Facebook page (the one with nearly 200k fans). This in turn lead to tweets, more fan site links, etc. Google Analytics tells us that this single post generated nearly 20k unique views, 57 tweets, 1500+ Facebook likes, a dozen bookmarks on Delicious, and most importantly we’ve tracked dozens of links from dozens of unique domains since the post was shared on Facebook on February 8th, 2011.
While R.J.’s photographic talent is undeniable, I firmly believe that these images took off because they were tightly themed. I highly doubt that general images of this year’s Burning Man festival would have received the same response (only I haven’t tested that theory, so take it for what it is).
Photo Journalism as an Inexpensive Link-Building Tool
When I evaluate a method of link-building, I consider cost per link to be an important metric. While I realize that cost per link is limited in that it assumes all links are equal, I think it’s good to consider cost per link when forming a long-term SEO strategy and suggesting a client budget.
When I first considered hiring a photographer to help me create link-worthy content, my initial instinct was that the cost per link would be significantly higher than other forms of link building. However, when I compared the cost per link of photo coverage to a more mainstream link-building tactic like guest blog posting, I found the results to be favorable.
Hiring a photographer to cover that car show cost a little less than $200, with another three hours of time to needed to organize the images, write the post, etc. If we assume writing a post and organizing photos has a cost of $75 per hour, and if we assume that we received only six good quality links, the total cost per link was just about $70.
This is very good compared to guest blog posting, which can cost us anywhere from $100-$250 per link when we account for the time needed to find a blog that might be a good placement, pitch the blogger on our guest post topic, follow-up, etc. While I’m not advocating that guest blog posting should be eliminated in favor of photo journalism, it’s interesting to note the cost differences.
The beauty of the Internet is that there are tens of thousands of passionate communities who actively link to content within their specific niches – local beer, DIY quilting, geocaching, marathon running, and the list goes on. If there’s any logical connection between your site and a niche with a passionate following, providing photo coverage of an event in that niche can be a good way to build quality links and establish relationships.