It’s the most discussed topic in wedding photography facebook groups and often the same sorts of answers – ‘stick in there’, ‘blame Brexit’, ‘it’s not you it’s the industry’… so we thought we’d put together our thoughts on this discussion together for you here on the NineDotsZine. As with anything NineDots we welcome discussion and debate so let us know what you think of our 10 reasons why it’s harder to get work than it used to be (yeah that’s the snappiest title we could come up with)!
1. The “industry is over-saturated” chestnut
Right ok. Let’s work on this myth first because it’s the most common complaint. The number of weddings in the UK hovers around 250,000 per year. Of course, not all of those will have a photographer for whatever reason – some won’t want one, others won’t be able to afford one, and that will include all marriages from the two-witness intimate ceremonies in registry offices right up to the extravaganzas we see as ‘normal’ weddings. But nevertheless that’s a big number.
It’s almost impossible to accurately predict the number of wedding photographers in the UK but I found an online estimate of 50,000 from a couple of years ago, and there’s no trend data so this is the most useless paragraph on any article anywhere, sorry.
What we can say is that awareness of “the industry” is at an all time high. When we started out, you had your little circle of friends in your local area and that was your benchmark for how ‘the industry’ was doing. If you were all doing well it was boom time, if you were all struggling it was the end.
Now, with large community groups like ours at NineDots, you have a wider, nationwide (and international) view of ‘the industry’… So you get what should be a more balanced and realistic view. However, it’s important to note a few things… First of all, people ‘doing well’ don’t like to gloat about it on the whole, but people who are struggling will rightly come to these groups to ask how other people are doing. So you will naturally hear more from the people struggling. And then the comments on those sorts of posts will often be from others who are struggling, so you will always get a skewed view of the successful vs struggling argument.
So realistically what the industry is over-saturated with is awareness of each other and how we’re doing. This can lead to two things – despondency, because everyone else is apparently doing better (don’t forget people like to bend the truth too)… or it can lead to determination to keep up, when you realise it’s still more than possible to make a decent living in this game.
I’ll finish this point with one of my favourite quotes I’ve heard about this in the last couple of years in response to the ‘everyone has a camera’ argument… “Everyone has had a pencil for years, but not everyone is a best-selling author.”
2. Photographers will work anywhere
This is an often overlooked point in my view. The biggest trend over the last 5-10 years has been photographers working nationwide instead of locally. I see photographers from all over the country coming to work at venues local to me, and equally 75% of my weddings are outside my area. Each year I tend to do fewer weddings locally. And as the trend grows it gathers pace, because as we know client recommendations are a strong source of business so the more you work ‘out of area’ the more you’re likely to work out of area. And the more this happens, the more you’ll have to work just to get weddings at the venues down the road because you’re competing with photographers from all over the country. To me this is vastly different than when I started 10 years ago.
3. SEO doesn’t work any more
Yeah this is another big one… I started shooting weddings in 2010. I came from a marketing job, with experience of things like google adwords, building websites and SEO. This was a strong advantage back then – before wordpress themes, before Yoast, before any of the website stuff we now take for granted, and it allowed me to steal a march in the SEO race and top google for almost any keyword I wanted to top google for. Fast forward and the online marketing world is a very different place. Unrecognisable in fact.
The thing to remember about SEO is that it’s now arguably the most competitive online marketing arena. An analogy would be those old school markets with traders shouting things like “TEN BANANAS, FIFTY PENCE” but there’s a hundred of them shouting it at the same time and each one trying to be louder than the next. That’s the ‘race for page one’ we’re all in for SEO. It’s a stressful race because whatever the experts tell you, it’s impossible to know how Google ranks people. It’s also a never-ending race, there’s no finish line, unless you keep up with the current so-called tactics, someone else will come along and shout louder about their bananas than you do, and then you’re off page one, and once you’re off page one you basically don’t exist any more. Put that into perspective of the 50,000 photographers thing and the fact that 0.02% of them can make it to page one. Yeah… how much are your bananas?! So SEO isn’t dead, it’s just as difficult as it’s ever been and it’s only going to get more and more and more difficult until there’s a reinvention of the search landscape. And that will definitely happen because currently search isn’t really working well for anyone – ‘advertisers’ (remember SEO is a form of advertising) or searchers – because the search favours those businesses who are ‘beating the system’ rather than those with the best result for the search.
BUT is SEO just a smokescreen? This is what I often ask myself. I’ve always been in a position since the early 2010s that around two-thirds to three-quarters of my enquiries come from SEO. At the peak of my numbers that was around 600-750 enquiries a year, just from SEO. And that’s amazing right? Wrong. And this is the mistake too many people make, they focus on the enquiry numbers as a measure of success. So when I look at my booking data, I see that 15-20% of those come from SEO, and that’s dropping every year. At time of writing I have 8 weddings booked for 2021, and 1 of them is from SEO.
If you can make it past the first hurdle and get into those page one positions, then SEO is wonderful at delivering clicks. If your website does its job with strong calls to action, then SEO is wonderful at delivering enquiries. But what SEO is not wonderful at, unless you’ve got an ultra strong proposition backed up by well-honed sales processes, is delivering bookings. So while SEO is seen as the golden child amongst wedding photographers, it probably isn’t the answer to your problems, especially when you consider that if you start ‘doing SEO’ now it might be another year or more before you see the results.
And don’t get me started on cornerstone content and funnels… well do, because I’m quite into it, but I’ll leave that for another day!