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[▶️] Should you try to rank for “photography” or “photographer” terms?

Video transcript: 

Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer looking to improve the content on your portfolio website and your Google rankings.

You can try to rank for a specific location, for the City or area you cover, and of course for your specialty – weddings – but what about using “wedding photographer” vs. “wedding photography”?

The same thing applies to any other specialty out there.

Is it the same thing to Google? Should you prioritize one over the other?

Let’s find out.

Tracking search volume for terms with “photographer” vs. terms with “photography” is tricky.

Our best bet is to check Google’s Keyword Planner, part of Google Ads, and here’s what I found:

Google Ads - Keyword planner tool - comparing photography vs photographer search terms

I searched for family, maternity, and wedding variations of those keywords, both with “photographer” and “photography” at the end, set as exact matches (otherwise Google would lump them together).

Notice how the “photography” terms all have much more impressions than the “photographer” versions.

Here’s another tool confirming this:

searchvolume.io comparing photography and photographer keywords

These results would signal that “photography” terms have more search volume than their “photographer” counterparts. But search volume is not the whole story, that’s just one metric, and it’s definitely not the most relevant one.

It all comes down to WHO is doing the search, and implicitly what their intentions are.

In the first scenario, with “xyz photography”, I can imagine a lot of people simply looking for images on a particular topic:
  • for putting together slide decks/presentations, etc.
  • for a research project
  • or simply out of curiosity – many people use Google Images for inspiration

Whereas the “photographer” queries are likely from people actually interested in hiring photographers or at least doing some type of research about them.

Searchers are not looking for the images, they’re looking for a photographer that shoots those types of images.

At this stage, let’s do a quick analysis of what happens between search volume and your actually getting more money, because that’s the end goal, right?

There are two main steps in the process:

1. Out of all the people doing a Google search (aka “the searchers”), how many of them are actually clicking on your domain and reaching your site (aka “the visitors”)?

That’s called the “click-through rate” and can be measured in Google Search Console.

2. Out of all the people visiting your website (aka “the visitors), how many of them are actually contacting you or purchasing something from you (aka “the buyers”)?

That’s called the “conversion rate” and can be measured in Google Analytics. This is of course tightly connected to the inverse of the bounce rate. People that don’t resonate with your site and then bounce are obviously not converting.

This last part might even be broken down further because maybe they’re not buying something from you directly, they’re just doing an inquiry, leaving you a contact message. And out of those people, not all of them will actually hire you, it comes down to how you communicate to them and whether you’re a good fit to be able to help them.

But anyway, for simplicity, let’s just talk about click-through rate and conversion rate.

Your income is determined by this equation: search volume x CTR x CR = results

  • “Photography” terms have higher search volume apparently, the CTR is probably similar, and the CR is lower.
  • “Photographer” terms have lower search volume, similar CTR, and a higher CR.

So you can see it now becomes a numbers game:

  • 800 people x 2% CTR x 0.25% CR = 2 leads
  • 200 people x 2% CTR x 1.00% CR = 2 leads

Your numbers may vary :-) And it all depends on how well you’re doing on-site SEO, how well your content is signaling to Google what your site is all about.

Assuming this is all correct, what are photographers supposed to do then, right?

If you do on-site SEO to optimize for “XYZ photography”, basically to target the higher-volume term, your conversion rates will also be lower. Because all those people just doing a general image search will not hire or buy from you anyway, they’re just not looking to do that.

Whereas targeting “XYZ photographers” will get you lower volume but higher conversion rates (of course, assuming your images & website are high-quality).

So the decision comes down to your goals:

  • If you’re selling services, which means you’re selling your own time, then go for “photographer”.
  • If you’re selling images (stock images, prints), go for “photography”.
  • If you’re offering both, then you’ll try to target both phrases. But you still have to prioritize which of them to use in the most important SEO elements: for example, the SEO title and the H1 tag on your homepage.

Google’s algorithm is very smart to try to match the searcher’s intent, but it’s also a complete “black box”, we simply don’t know what goes on in there.

So I think your best bet is to try to match the intent of your target audience.

For most photographers selling services, that would be using the “xyz photographer” in your content, where “xyz” stands for your specialty and maybe also your location.

All right. Hope this brought you a bit more clarity. 

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