If lockdown is driving you crazy then make sure you use any extra time you might have on your hands right now to check out your website to make sure it’s doing the best possible job.
WORDS AND PICTURES Dave Kai Piper
THINKING ABOUT UPDATING your website using some of that extra time you’ve currently got on your hands? Great idea, but it helps to have a checklist to hand to make sure that you cover all the basics and, while you’re at it, now is the time to consider upgrades and add-ons to make sure that you not only look your best but also are up to speed on the latest online services that are becoming so essential to offer.
If you’re building a totally new site or are updating an old one, keep in mind that content is king. Make sure the images you’re showing are the ones that showcase the work you want to be taking on and be ruthless in culling those that are not quite up to scratch. Here are some tips and thoughts to bear in mind:
- Keep your work up-to-date and fresh.
- Take advice from your peers.
- Show a variety of images.
- Keep Galleries to a theme.
- Mix up the aspect ratios.
- Keep the site simple and use big images.
- Will your site work seamlessly if a viewer is using a touch screen device?
- Sentimentality is definitely not a good reason to keep bad images.
- Showcase a variety of client and personal work, since it’s good to feature both.
- Always consider your target audience.
- Keep nudity to clearly labelled galleries. I call mine the provocative gallery.
- Use professional level products.
- How many images should I use?
Years ago, I remember being told that you should only be showcasing ten of your best images, but times have moved on and now clients want to see far more, and they can find your work on social media in any case and so you might as well make them available. Remember, however, that you should arrange things so that the most important images will be seen first.
Galleries like the one I use for my overview page are great, as they show images in an order that I can choose. When in specific galleries, I show the images larger and in a grid system. Just make sure to get your top images in and ensure the best of the best are at the very top.
It takes a long time to do, so, don’t rush things. It’s an important task so give it the time it needs. Remember, you can change it every day if you so choose: if something happens to be more pertinent at any one time then you should make sure it’s in.
Should you show pricing? I’m on the fence regarding this one. Some weeks I will, while there are also other times when I don’t. Let’s just say that, yes, you should have a page that’s designed and ready to share, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a page that’s either easy to find or one that is linked back to the main navigation of the page. The more bespoke your service is, the less you might want to show your pricing. A good way around this is a ‘starting from’ price, which seems to work for me.
Art Gallery or Ecommerce?
Firstly, think about what kind of online presence you want. This might sound simple, but it makes sense to set up your website to be the central hub of your entire business, with associated social sites, such as Instagram and YouTube, primarily being used to bring clients to you.
Once they’ve arrived on your site you need to be effective at passing on the messages you’re looking to deliver and it should be simple for visitors to do what they want to do, whether this is to order a print or to make a booking. Sometimes we, as creative folk, need to remember that our websites are the storefronts of old. A modern-day photographer’s site can ultimately have to strike quite a complex balance between being an ecommerce site, an art gallery and a showcase.
For my corporate work I need to be able to give my clients fast access to images on a secure system and there might need to be real-time updates of changes and onsite back-ups. For more casual work, like weddings and parties, I’m operating a ‘payper-print’ system, where all the printing is handled by a third party and all my online images are watermarked. Sometimes I want to have free downloads and sometimes I don’t. In short, I need a website that’s as flexible as I am and can display images in all screen sizes, resolutions and ratios.
Do I want a gallery or a shop?
Do you sell prints to customers or do you work for more invoice-style clients? Is your output more a digital workflow or are you selling individual products?
The truth is normally a blend of most things, which is fine if you have a website with a quick turnkey print store that you can switch on and off. When I have photographed an event, that gallery just has a different layout for people to search for images they might be interested in. I enable the print store and away we go.
I can design these pages with a totally different look and style to my portfolio pages. When building up quite a large site – I have over 25k images, which is almost 280Gb – it’s important to be able to help customers find the images they want to see, and this is where the time honoured
‘3 click’ rule comes in. Quite simply, this states that any visitor should be able to find exactly what they’re looking for on your website inside three clicks. Whether people might actually move on if this isn’t possible is a matter for conjecture, but it is important to consider straightforward website navigation when your site is being designed.
Another crucial thing to think about is whether your website will work equally well on a laptop and a mobile device, such as a pad or a phone. And look for the data that it might be able to feed back to you: my SmugMug site gives me stats on things like total views, gallery trends, photo trends, popularity and referrers, and it’s always good to use something like Google Analytics to get into the stats. On my site, it’s as simple as putting the GA tracking number into the SmugMug account settings.
Have an overview page
Sometimes, people just want to visit your website and have a browse. That’s cool, so why not have a page dedicated to showing a range of your top images in a quick to browse, mobile-friendly way? I find the carousel that the SmugMug gallery has perfect for this as it looks slick and works really well on touch screen devices. Because I shoot a wide range of styles and genres, I use my overview page as a sort of ‘catch-all’ for the site. It ensures that no matter who is coming to the site, they have a high chance of seeing something they like or expect to see. I’ve added a little link in the gallery description if people want to see more.
I also change around my overview gallery about once a week. If I’m pitching work towards a certain client or magazine, I can
switch up the order of the images to make sure they see something relevant to them the moment they hit the site.
Contact and Information Pages
You’d be surprised how many websites don’t give people quick access to a
phone number and email address. I put mine on the landing page, so that if someone just wants to get in touch with me my contact info is right there and doesn’t need finding.
Make sure your contact page is as clean and clear as possible and it should also feature a small bio and an image of yourself. Creating a highly readable and informative ‘About Me’ section is an art in itself and don’t be afraid to hire in a professional writer to do the job if you’re not confident in putting it together yourself. Some photographers will also now offer an ‘About Me’ video, which is another good way of getting your personality across but it needs to be professionally produced.
Some people like contact forms, but I find that just giving a direct email is a little more professional, and less annoying for the client, who might appreciate direct contact. This is a personal choice, but if you’re worried about attracting spam or unwanted emails set up an email address just for the incoming mail from your website. These days featuring a Skype address and your social media links is a wise idea too.
Make a Newsletter
There are many reasons why having a mailing list is important, primarily because it can keep you in touch with your clients and fan base. A newsletter is a direct contact that cuts out all the distractions that communicating via social media causes. If you’re running an ecommerce site a newsletter will let you track your ROI and check that your sale funnels are working the way they should be. If done correctly, the more people you have on your database the more leads you’ll have and, in theory, the more money you’ll make.
I figure that those who have taken the time to sign up to my newsletter want to actively keep in touch with and I can use Mailchimp to directly communicate with them.
Check out the stats: an email is 40 times more effective than a social post on Facebook or twitter. A quick Google search pulled up a page, which had some interesting reading.
Use Google Analytics
Google looks after my emails, my calendar and pretty much everything, so it stands to reason that I use them for all my website tracking and behavioural data. This means they can tell you who is looking at your site, where they are, what device they are using, where they found your site and even how long they spent on your site. They can also tell you which image sets are attracting interest and which ones aren’t.
The site is pretty easy to understand, but there are some pretty specialised tools to get your head around as well. If you really want to get the best out of GA, then spend some time on YouTube checking out the videos: it’s time you won’t regret. For example I discovered that 81% of the traffic for all social media was coming from Facebook with twitter, YouTube and Instagram coming in way behind. For me this served as a timely reminder to work on my Instagram interactions.
Another interesting way to interpret the data from GA is seeing which pages people are looking at and what devices they’re using to access them. It’s worth remembering that sites like Facebook try really hard to keep you inside their ecosphere. When I posted a link the other day I thought that no-one liked the image, as it had a very low interaction count on Facebook, but when I looked at data from GA, the post was quite popular. Counting Likes is not always a good way of tracking interaction or if something worked or not.
Via the Site Content and behaviour flow pages, I can tell that most people arrive to view one gallery, click to see one other gallery then leave the site. Less than 10% view more than three pages on the site. One of the most important stats for me is that 65% of visitors are using a mobile device to view the site. This means that I really have to make sure the site loads fast for those using mobile data and that it also works well for touch screen devices. Luckily for me SmugMug uses the hyperfast AWS EC2 A1 service with Local CDNs to ensure that my images are loaded fast and at the resolution that’s best for the viewing device.
Another plus for me is that there’s a SmugMug app linking directly to Lightroom, which means that I just drag and drop to edit and change galleries on the website. All the images on my site are uploaded full res and SmugMug, via AWS, handles everything else. Gone are the days where you had to export for web and then upload to a site.
Once an image is uploaded, if I want to make a change to it I can just do it in Lightroom, then
Six Positive Lockdown Steps
1. Reinvent your website, freshen up all aspects of it or start anew and use any spare time you might have to make this as interactive and as upgradeable as possible. Think about adding extras, such as a YouTube Channel and bring your About Me page and portfolios up to date.
2. Improve Your SEO. Think of your potential customers and if they were looking for a photographer in Google what would those customers be likely to type in the search box? Optimise your website and content for those keywords and talk to your website provider about how they might help you to improve the SEO performance of your website.
3. Keep in Touch with your clients. You need to have strategies in place to deal with cancelled bookings and to keep your customers informed. You can use social media, adding news on your website or contacting clients individually to reschedule and discuss various options. Website providers such as Online Picture Proof (OPP) can provide Photo Mobile Apps to make it easy to contact clients and help increase their business. Simply create an App for your past customers with some of their best images and send this to them as a surprise gift. When they share their App your contact information will also be shared.
4. Take advantage of some of the free online courses that are being offered by many companies such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Adobe and Sennheiser at the moment. There is some great free resource out there that could really help your business and links to a few are below.
5. Master one new social media platform. You might, like so many others, already be on Facebook but have you checked out some of the many other ways that exist to spread the word about your business? There are lots of free guides and YouTube video tutorials out there to help you understand and plan your new marketing approach.
6. Look after your own well-being. Use any spare time you might have to bond with your family: family portraits, selfies and pet photos are a great way to pass the time, so enjoy each another’s company, have some fun and try to take some of the stress out of your life
resync the gallery. This change is then reflected in all the places where the image is collected or shared. This super simple workflow saves me time, hassle and storage space. This means that on my local drives I never store anything but the high-resolution files.
Once an image is uploaded, if I want to make a change to it I can just do it in Lightroom, then resync the gallery. This change is then reflected in all the places where the image is collected or shared. This super simple workflow saves me time, hassle and storage space. This means that on my local drives I never store anything but the high-resolution files.
One of the benefits of having a website that gives you unlimited storage (as SmugMug does) is that you can use that to literally store anything you want. At the moment I have 280GB stored online. It’s far from everything, but it gives me peace of mind that the important stuff is safe. In case you’re wondering, you can only store JPEG files via SmugMug, but that’s still super useful if you want to get some images up and safe while on location.
Offers from Amazing Internet
TAPPING INTO THE UPLIFT in interest in website building and revamping that lockdown has created, and to provide some extra help to those that might be feeling a financial squeeze just at the moment, specialist photographic website builder Amazing Internet is opening up the ecommerce functionality on its Portfolio Series websites to all levels of the package. Normally ecommerce facilities would only be available on the Gold package (£250 plus VAT per year) but, up until December 31 2020, Amazing Internet will be adding this into all its packages, even the bronze level, which is priced at just £50 plus VAT per year, although there will be a few restrictions in terms of maximum number of images and pages. After the end of the year things will revert to normal, but it will still be possible to upgrade on request to retain the ecommerce functionality.
Amazing Internet is also offering a 20% discount on new custom sites until August 31 to encourage photographers to be ready for a push the moment that lockdown is lifted, and the price rise from £999 to £1500 plus VAT for Pro Series sites is now being deferred until September 1, so photographers that want to take advantage should get their order in quickly to make a saving.
One thing that can really let you down if you’re not careful is spelling mistakes and grammatical errors on your website, so work with a software such as Grammarly, which will keep an eye on this side of things. There are three ways to use Grammarly: the first is the website login, the second the Chrome extension, with the third being the app. I would encourage photographers to use all three and I consider Grammarly to be the best thing since Google.
Finally, check all the links from your website are working. Spend some time navigating your site, send the link to some
friends and have them click about. Ask them to find a page or image and report back to let you know how easy it was.
And that’s a basic run through of everything you should be thinking about. Don’t think you’ve done all the hard work and can now relax though: website maintenance should be an ongoing thing and it’s crucial to spend time on a regular basis making sure that it looks its best. There are some excellent website providers out there and building your own site using their tools has never been easier.
All of them are open to dialogue and have excellent support systems in place and if you search around you’ll find the ideal partner. Use your time wisely and well and by the time we all get the chance to start working normally again you’ll have a shop window you can be truly proud of.
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