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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Top Tips for a Popular Photoblog

Monday, September 15, 2008

A friend of mine, who is thinking of starting his own photoblog, asked me recently about the best way to ensure your photoblog attracts visitors. Now I must admit that I had never really thought about this analytically before. I use my photoblog for personal pleasure, and if it attracts some interest - and it does generate around 75 hits a day - then that is a bonus. But my friend's comment made me think that with a bit more thought and a little more effort, I could probably boost my profile quite considerably. So I have written the following five tips for creating an effective and popular photoblog, which I will start to follow more rigorously over the coming months.

Syndicate your photoblog. There are numerous directories out there that will pick up on your RSS feed and display your most recent photo. The big one is VFXY, but you could also cross-post to Flickr, Facebook and Picasa. If you run Pixelpost, as I do, you can take advantage of some of the plugins that allow these cross-postings to happen automatically, so for little or no extra effort on your part your visibility will increase significantly.

However, you should also be willing to add images to more specialised galleries. If I want serious critical feedback on my work, for example, I will post the relevant photo to Ephotozine.

Give as well as take.
So you have put up your photoblog, and are now sitting in your armchair waiting for thousands of visitors to arrive, and the comments to start flowing. And when it does not happen, you sit in your armchair and wait some more. But why should you expect people to comment on your photoblog, if you are not yourself willing to go out and contribute to that community?

Before you check your overnight webstats, get into the habit of commenting on a different photoblog every day. Make your comments worthwhile - perhaps comment on a photo you do not like and explain why, rather than simply saying "good shot," which is nice but essentially unhelpful. If people start to value your input, they will also be willing to take a trip over to your photoblog and see how your shots compare.

Be warned, though. This is a technique for building constructive links with a community. It is not simply a way to build links to boost your Google site ranking, as to prevent comment spam most photoblog platforms set URLs in comment forms with the "nofollow" attribute, meaning Google's crawler will overlook these as links back to your site.

A word is worth a thousand pictures. Well, not exactly. But even if you have a dedicated group of regular viewers, and have built good links with other sites, how are you going to attract casual browsers through the Google search box? Unless your image has been tagged manually, no automated robot will be aware that you have a picture of a stag rutting at dawn in a misty Scottish valley unless you state this in words.

So, talk about what you are uploading. Use the tagging feature on your photoblog platform to tie text to an image, and make sure these tags appear somewhere on the page. Also, describe the image in terms that are relevant, but that may also be picked up by a search crawler. You may - like me - have a nifty geotagging system integrated with Google maps, but why not also explain that this is a picture of "Robin Hoods Bay" so that the crawler will find it? I did on this one, which gets more hits per day than any other single photo.

Be regular. Once you attract regular subscribers through your RSS feed or regular visitors from other sites, how are you going to keep them coming back? If you fail to update regularly (and I'm thinking about once a week at the least) then do not be surprised if those hard-won friends start to get their photo fixes elsewhere.

Quality is king. Ignore all the previous suggestions. If your work is of a consistently high standard, you will attract attention and visitors regardless of any of the technicalities of building a well-linked site. As is true of the real world, talent always reveals itself no matter what the obstacles. Most of us amateurs, however, are simply using photoblogs for a bit of personal satisfaction, to generate a bit of feedback on our work and to learn from a community of more experienced photographers.

Even so, if you post your holiday snapshot of Aunty Mabel and the kids eating ice creams, do you really expect to get decent feedback on your talents? If you have put all your energies into obtaining hits via searches, through a high page rank and good metadata, are those casual visitors really going to stick around to see your smiling faces, no matter how attractice? Probably not. Are they going to be captivated if you have stunning sunsets, sharp wildlife shots, or compelling photojournalism? They may well do.

On the odd occasion, you may want to put something funny or ironic up, which is fine. But a photoblog is not for photosharing, for which there are other platforms. It is for producing a portfolio of your greatest quality work, or work whose quality is problematic and upon which you need feedback from those with more experience.

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Posted by Alistair at 2:25 pm

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