Creating an effective photography website
Originally published on Boston Photography Focus, a blog from the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University
You don’t have to be an expert in html to create a website that showcases your photography. There are many easy-to-use website development tools that help even the most technically challenged build a photography website.
What does require some expertise, however, is an understanding of how to build an effective photography website. Fortunately, the barriers to achieving this are crumbling for a photographer without the wherewithal to pay for a completely custom website. It all starts with knowing who your customers are and what your goals are.
Get to know your audience
PhotoShelter’s co-founder Grover Sanschagrin tells me a common mistake photographers make is to “design their website for themselves.” He says “they ask other photographers for input, but spend little or no time asking their actual customers – photo buyers and editors – for feedback.” Grover advises photographers to get to know their audience and don’t automatically assume that you know what they want.
In the case of award-winning nature photographer Robin D Moore, his audience is primarily conservation groups, humanitarian organizations and ecotourism outfits, as well as individuals looking to buy prints. When designing his website Robin consciously omitted work that is not relevant to his core audience. “I have shot weddings, events and portraits but I have left this work off my site as that is not relevant for my target audience and would look out of place.”
Robin also decided to prominently feature a recent project (Metamorphosis) because it represents the blend of science and art that he believes is his unique selling point as a photographer with a PhD in conservation biology.
Grover echoed these sentiments of being true to who you are. “I don’t stray too far from things that have a natural interest for me,” says Grover. He says “You have to be really into what you do. Choosing subjects that you are not quite into will ring hollow, because everything has to be authentic. If you aren’t really, really into something don’t do it.”
Grover operates TasteTequila.com to serve his primary non-photography passion. He ended up moving to Mexico for a couple of years to immerse himself in the culture and become an expert in the niche. He is also a founder and Executive Producer of SportsShooter.com. Grover mentioned that before he designed the site he made sure that he knew the community really well and then designed around that.
There’s an important point here: don’t try to be everything to everyone. It is difficult to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. These days, anyone can use web tools to put images online. What really matters is that you have passion about what you do and find a niche and specialize in it.
Assuming you’ve done your homework and designed your website to suite your particular niche, a logical next step to creating an effective website usually involves driving traffic to it. Understanding how to optimize your website for search engines (known as search engine optimization, or SEO) can play a role in that.
“In the early days, it [SEO] was a big mysterious thing where everyone wanted the secret formula,” Grover says. “What we’ve noticed is that authenticity is the key to successful SEO. The more you are authentic the more people like it and the more people talk about it.”
Grover tells me that search engines have become extremely smart and can tell what sites are getting traffic, which then helps them rank higher in search results. His advice for photographers is to spend time on the quality of the content and not stuffing keywords into pages. “Create a steady stream of text-based content, too. That means creating blog posts that involve your niche, because these are the things that search engines can index, and users can share with others through social media.”
Robin includes captions and location data with images. “Quite a lot of people come upon my site through image searches and so I think this metadata associated with each image is very important,” says Robin.
The take-away here is: don’t ignore text. As artists we are natural visual communicators and are comfortable sharing ideas and information through images. Relevant written content is important for building your online presence too (you might also be interested in this blog: How to build your online presence).
Trends in e-commerce
Robin tells me successful commissions are a good indicator of his website’s effectiveness. Robin has received some great assignments from it. For artists represented by galleries that sell their work, having an e-commerce site is probably not a top priority. For others who have chosen to sell online, it is critical.
Grover says he’s “seeing a trend of less is more when it comes to e-commerce”. “In the past, it was thought that you needed to include every possible option in the world and cover every possible combination of features so that the customer could get exactly what they wanted.”
What he’s been seeing is that this has actually led to fewer sales because it introduces confusion as the buyer is overwhelmed by choices. It slows down the buying process and in some cases “even stops the process entirely as they plan to come back later but never actually do.”
Grover’s advice? Offer only the most popular packages and explain everything clearly with pictures of the finished product when possible (such as the framed piece).
According to one photo buyer quoted in 11 secrets to a great photo web site, “a big mistake photographers make is when their website creates a terrible user experience.” Clearly creating a great online experience for visitors to your website isn’t always easy, especially for photographers who may prefer spending time shooting rather than on web design.
According to Grover it is “usually the little things that count.” He says to know your audience and talk to them about what they like and don’t like, and what they expect to see in your website.
Do your buyers go online on their mobile phones? Do they use tablets or laptops or desktop computers? One of the latest trends in website development is “responsive” websites that are capable of re-designing themselves on the fly based on the type of device being used to view it.
Robin has a responsive website, which is on the new PhotoShelter platform. He says that the new platform “does what an effective photography website should do – it showcases my images without unnecessary distraction and makes navigating around the site easy.”
For more examples of the new responsive technology check these sites:
What it all comes down to regarding creating an effective website is that it doesn’t neatly fit into a “one size fits all” approach with handy shortcuts. A website is dynamic and will evolve as your business grows and your goals change. Keeping it current will require persistence.
If you understand your target customers and your goals then you’re in a great place to take advantage of the many tools that are available today for creative professionals. Stick with your niche.
“We’ve seen lately that websites that go deep into a niche of some sort do extremely well,” says Grover. “They attract a better quality client or customer, they convert better, and there is less competition.”
Grover Sanschagrin is Vice President of Business Development and co-founder of PhotoShelter. Grover is also founder and Executive Producer of SportsShooter.com, the largest sports photography website on the Internet, and operates TasteTequila.com to serve his primary non-photography passion.
Robin D Moore is an award-winning photographer and author who brings a unique blend of scientific training and artistic flare to paint a compelling portrait of our world. Since gaining a PhD in biodiversity conservation, Robin has been a powerful voice for amphibian conservation, and as an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Keywords: 11 secrets to a great photo website, Cindy Stephens, Grover Sanschagrin, PRC, Robin Moore photography, effective photography website, marketing, photography, responsive photography websites
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I am a marketing professional and a fine art photographer. With more than 20 years of experience as a marketer and image maker during the digital technology revolution, I now educate creative professionals how to create their artistic presence in the changing art world.
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