I have noticed a trend of decreasing photography inquiries even though we’re ranked on the first page of Google. Those who know me know that I have had our photography website ranked in the top 3-4 of Google in both Charleston, SC and Denver, CO.  It would stand to reason that all thing being equal, our inquiries should not change much from year to year.

What I mean is that each year, if our prices stayed the same, we should expect the same number of inquiries each and every year from Google.

As an SEO guru, this decreasing trend has baffled me a bit. The mathematical formula for Google rankings as they relate to inquiries or conversions has always been as follows:

To keep this simple, let’s assume a set of search terms gets 10,000 monthly inquiries. (these numbers are close to what they were in 2008)

  • Charleston Photographers (4,000 monthly searches)
  • Charleston Photographer (2,500 monthly searches)
  • Charleston Wedding Photographers (1,500 monthly searches)
  • Photographers in Charleston (2,000 monthly searches)

Then the search traffic would go to the following

  • #1 on Google would get 30% of the traffic
  • #2 on Google would get 20% of the traffic
  • #3 on Google would get 15% of the traffic
  • 20% of the traffic would go to the ads on the right side of the page
  • 15% would be split with everyone else ranked #4 and below.

Thus, if you’re ranked #1 on Google, you should expect 3,000 monthly visitors with a full 1/2 of 1% turning into inquiries.  In layman’s terms, 3,000 monthly visitors would be about 5+ inquiries.  That’s enough inquiries to build a healthy photography business if you can close 50% those inquiries.

Basically, when we were in Charleston, we got 5+ monthly inquiries
from Google and we closed a LOT of them. 

If you want a simple formula for Traffic to Inquiries, then take the monthly searches, divide by 2,000.
It works well for SEO ROI.

Enter Google Trends

I decided to use Google Trends to see if the searches were down.  You can see the Trend by following this link:  I then created a little graph in the image below using the four search terms described above.

Each solid line follows the peaks of the searches and in all four cases, there is a very noticeable downward trend in the amount of searches done for each term.

Remember our formula, search divided by 2,000 = inquiries.  By my calculations and from information gathered from the Google Keyword tool, I think we’ve seen about a 30-40% drop in people searching for those four terms in the last 4-5 years. Those terms have traditionally have been the biggest ones to win for.

Let’s apply our formula again to the new numbers using a 40% drop in search volume.  6,000/2,000 = 3 inquiries.  If we close 50% of our inquiries, then we should expect to see about a 50% drop in income from Google

The question of “Why?”

There are several prevailing theories out there as to why, in general, search volume has decreased.  In 2012, estimates that search traffic was down 4% due to mobile phones being used instead.  That makes sense.

I have a different theory though as to why, specifically, photography based searches are down ten times that 4% number.  I ran a Google trend including one more search term:  “become a photographer” and what I found helps support my fledgling theory.

Though a little harder to see the downward trend in our main four searches, the results should still be equally as shocking.  Not only does “become a photographer” have a pretty flat-line trend, it also represents 8-10 times the number of daily searches.  It completely dwarfs the local searches we relied on for our Charleston, SC photography business.

So, here’s what I believe is happening.  Each day, fauxtographers are entering the marketplace in EVERY city and town across the U.S. We’ll save the normal discussions about who is to blame for a later article, but the reality is that every MWAC, Faux, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Uncle Tio, Jamie and Johnnie, is coming in so that they can find “push button riches.”

One of my old sayings is that “if I threw my shoe across a restaurant, it would hit seven real estate agents, and 15 photographers.”

Too few barriers to entry

Each time one of these new photographers enters a market, he or she takes money from the established togs in that city. Let’s say that in Charleston over the last five years, a full 500 new photographers entered the marketplace.  That is 100 photographers per year, for five years. Under that assumption, we get 500 people taking weddings, family portrait sessions, newborn sessions, seniors, and etc.

If each photographer just took a one wedding this year, then that is 500 less weddings that are available for the established businesses to shoot. (it may not seem like it, but there are a finite number of weddings in Charleston)

Since Charleston averages about 75 weddings per weekend, that would mean about 3,900 annual weddings.  Now, take 500 of those and give them to the new photographers entering the marketplace and we see a reduction of 12% in the market.

Minor in economics

I don’t have time in this article to explain what a barrier to entry is, but you can read more on Wikipedia here. I do, however, have a minor in economics and photography has too few barriers to entry meaning that it is too easy for individuals to enter the marketplace and take business.

For example, it would be tough for me to enter the new car marketplace as a car dealer right now. A new car dealer has to have an enormous amount of capital and financial clout to woo the manufacturers to give them contracts to sell their vehicles. They have to build buildings, have employees, lease land, and have capital to cover HUGE monthly expenses.  Not only that, they have to be licensed by the State of South Carolina to deal cars.  The barriers to entry are stinkin’ high to become a dealer.

Becoming a chef or a mechanic also has pretty tough barriers to entry. A mechanic has to be able to fix cars and has to have certifications from schools like ACE and brand specific training institutions.

Becoming a photographer means simply buying a “nice” camera and then pestering your friends on Facebook to hire you to shoot a $50 session with all digital images included.

On top of that, the State has licensing and sales tax regulations that are largely ignored by the newbies, thus making it even harder for the established businesses to compete in the marketplace. Prices for the established companies have to be understandably higher to cover State regulations and to go at this business legally. New Fauxs don’t adhere to those regulations and thus have a lower cost of doing business.

Where are we now?

Thriving in your photography business is becoming increasingly more difficult. Over the last 10 years, I have seen photographers leave the marketplace or drop down to part-time work because photography is no longer panning out. I have also seen togs who have thrown a bunch of new stuff against the wall to “see what sticks.”

It is not impossible to work in the current marketplace and certainly there are many of us who haven’t felt the sting of this ongoing downward trend. However, it is harder to work when there are hundreds of new players each year putting negative economic pressure on our pricing models, taking clients out of the marketplace and ignoring the State laws thus increasing costs for the established companies.

Some will read this and say that I am anti-competition.  I certainly am not.  In fact, quite the opposite is true. I love competition because it forces me to be better at what I do.  I have always believed that if I work harder, better, and smarter than others then I will have a leg-up on them in the marketplace.  It has always been a great compliment to us when a bride would say, her choice has come down to us and another top-rated photographer. We LOVED hearing that.  We have never been scared of the big players and enjoy being lumped in with them for our client’s decisions.

However, flooding a market in economic terms does one thing and one thing only. It LOWERS demand.  The economic theory of supply and demand will ALWAYS dictate prices in EVERY market.  I know, I am hammering economics in this post and I apologize.  There simply isn’t a better way to explain it.

When you increase the supply of anything, the demand goes down. Demand can equate to prices, inquiries, or bookings for a photographer.  Demand is what gets you your business.  Without demand, there isn’t an industry. We have a finite (or limited) demand each year for our services. That demand is met by a certain number of suppliers (photographers).  Increase that certain number of suppliers and you will find that the demand is lessened.  That means there will be less inquiries into your business, less bookings and ultimately less money.

Since there is nothing stemming the supply in the photographers marketplace, there is downward pressure applied to our prices and bookings.  This means that prices will go down or bookings will go down, OR BOTH.

What can we do?

I will not enter the debate about regulating photographers and whether there should be a governing body over them granting licenses to shoot photos. I will however speak to the marketing aspect of your business and what you can do to separate yourself from the literal “pack” of new photographers entering the marketplace each year.

There are several places where you’ll want to concentrate your effort in order to keep the level of revenues you’ve enjoyed in your business in the past.

  1. Develop positive relationships with other vendors in the industry to encourage referrals
  2. Concentrate on providing HUGE levels of customer service
  3. Be GREAT at your craft.
  4. Offer INCENTIVE for doing business with you
  5. Gather REFERRALS from your existing clients

Today’s photography business climate is such that a photographer is only going to succeed with all-out effort. If you want photography to be your full-time income, then it is important to understand it will require more than full-time effort.

I can offer you advice in the form of business consultations over Skype or the phone.  I am available by appointment and I do charge for my consulting time.

During a consultation, you will learn practical ways to overcome a growing challenge in our industry. You’ll come away with step-by-step procedures for increasing your business in a challenging marketplace.I teach you to do things that will pay LONG-TERM dividends to succeed in your business.  Even if you simply need a “tweaking” please contact me.  I am glad to help.