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Time Out With Tanya

Tanya’s Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Photography Website

By Tanya Goodall Smith on August 16th 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

As I visit photographer websites and blogs when considering them for an interview here at SLR Lounge, I’m often appalled by what I see. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve genuinely been impressed by a photographer’s blog. Now, let me say this with the disclaimer that my own blog has many of the same mistakes. Aren’t we all a little like the mechanic who never has a working car? We want to have our own family photos organized and our website looking up-to-date, but time restraints often make us push those things to the end of the to-do list. If you’re one of those photogs, I get it. You’re busy.

If you want to improve your website, and just aren’t sure what needs to be done, here are my Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Photography Blog, based on what I’ve been seeing as I browse the world wide web of photography websites…

1. Don’t Make Me Think

don't-make-me-think
The biggest mistake I see in websites in general, are complicated designs or poor choice of design elements (colors and fonts that hurt my eyes, too many photos, too much going on, ads all over the page, etc.) and confusing navigation. If a potential or current client visits your website and can’t find the information they need within a couple seconds, trust me, they are going to click away from your site and find a more user friendly one to visit. Don’t even get me started on pop-up windows. Please, oh, please don’t use them! Pop-ups lead me to item #2… P.S. If you’re wanting do dive deeper into what makes a good user experience online, I highly recommend you read Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug.)

If you’re looking for a way to add texture and interest to your website without distracting from your beautiful images, consider using a texture in the background from our Photoshop Texture Collection. For the price of a single stock photo elsewhere, you get over 230 handmade, custom textures for (only $29) and you can use them to add color, tone and texture to your images, too. I love them!

2. Make it Mobile

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The Google Analytics of my own site tell me that about 35% of those visiting my website are doing so from a mobile device or tablet. And those numbers are climbing. 36% of those people are using an Apple iPhone. 31% are using an Apple iPad. Was your site designed with mobility in mind? How is the user experience when viewing from a phone? Does the site take forever to load? Does an annoying pop-up window asking for their email address impede their ability to view the actual site? Can they easily navigate to the information they need? If not, it’s time for a re-design!

3. Only Show Your Best

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Here’s where a lot of newbies fall short in the website category. I’ve struggled with this myself because I still haven’t figured out what I want to specialize in (I honestly think writing is my thing and it took a year of doing it at SLR Lounge to figure that out!). The most successful photographers pick a niche and only show images from that niche on their website. Weddings, newborns, corporate, kids, product, food, glamour… Which is it going to be? The photographer who specializes in everything really is telling the world they specialize in nothing. Only show your best, and only show the kind of work you want to do.

4. Don’t Write a Novel About Yourself

One of the most annoying things about visiting a photographer’s website (from a journalists point of view, at least) is having to wade through a 3 page, totally irrelevant “About” page. I’m sure potential clients feel the same way! Nobody cares about your favorite flavor of ice cream or whether or not you like long walks on the beach or that you shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and 70-200mm L series lens exclusively. I promise you, your clients don’t care about the brand of your gear. They care about whether or not you will do a good job for them. Why should they hire you? What makes you so special as a photographer? In a follow-up article, I’ll include some tips for writing an effective and non-annoying bio. Stay tuned!

5. To Blog or not to Blog?

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As a photographer, do you really need a blog? If you blog as a means to book more clients, I say go for it. But only if you do it well. For tips on using your blog to book clients, check out my past article 5 BLOGGING STRATEGIES FOR BOOKING MORE PHOTOGRAPHY CLIENTS. When I’m consistently blogging, I get more inquiries. The most effective blogs stick to one or two topics. Just like your portfolio, you should stick to blogging about whatever kind of business you want to bring in. But don’t just post sales and petitions to buy from you. Post behind the scenes shots, little tidbits about what makes you a unique photographer, your joy moments while working.

6. SEO is KEY

social-media-marketing-for-photographers
One good reason to have blog is that it can boost your SEO. If you don’t even know what SEO stands for, stop reading this article right now and start learning all you can about it. There are plenty of books about SEO and probably a lot of free advice online. One book I found helpful was Social Media Marketing for Digital Photographers by Lawrence Chan. I know I’ve mentioned it several times in past articles, but I can’t help it. It is that good. It’s an easy read and full of humor, which I like, especially since a subject like marketing and SEO can be so dull.

7. Spell Check

No explanation needed here. Just double check and make sure you don’t have any spelling and grammatical errors. Just do it! You might think a few typos won’t hurt, but think about what those mistakes say about you as a photographer. Are you someone who misses small details? Are you sloppy in your work? I’ll actually cover this more in-depth on Monday in my follow-up article…

8. Do Show Some Pricing Info

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Whether or not to show pricing information on your website has been hotly debated amongst photographers. As a consumer, I personally want to see some kind of indication of pricing when I visit a website. I feel it would be a waste of time for me and the service provider if their minimum price is way outside my budget. Sharing your “starting at” prices is a good way to go if you don’t want to fully disclose your pricing. As a photographer, I think this also weeds out those who are not your target demographic and eliminates that really awkward conversation when you tell someone your pricing and they totally flip out because they can’t afford you.

9. Do Include Videos…


…but only if they’re amazing! I’ve seen a few really powerful behind-the-scenes videos on a handful of photographer’s websites. I’ve also seen some really horrific attempts at video that were probably doing more harm than good, especially since the still images in their portfolio were actually very nice. Use video if you’re able to produce a good one. Otherwise, focus on a different marketing strategy that will actually help, not hinder you. I made this simple slide show with Animoto, which is fine as long as you stick to simple backgrounds and slide transitions and your music choice is appropriate and legal. You’re only as good as the worst image in your portfolio, which include videos on your site.

10. Have a Professional Profile Picture

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Image credit: Michael Franklin

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most common mistakes I see amongst photographers. You’re a professional photographer! Have a professional headshot! Unless it’s perfectly crafted and unique, selfies don’t count. Trade with a friend, hire another pro in your area, whatever you need to do, but get it done. My favorites are those that showcase the personality of the photographer, like these two of my friend Michael Kinney taken by our other friend Michael Franklin at a photographer BBQ. Seriously! If you’re a little quirky and fun, it’s great to show that in your profile picture. If you’re more serious and corporate, make sure your head shot communicates that. A picture is worth a thousand words. What does your headshot say about you?

[Rewind: Click here for Animoto Discounts]

I desperately need to make some of these changes to my own site. Will you take the challenge and do it with me? Somebody give me a deadline, LOL!

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Awesome article

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  2. mugur ic

    Yup, like Dave Lyons, on WP platform (wp = WordPress), are many themes and plugins, for SEO and other, but your website will be more vulnerable and working hardly. You need to be very carefull what are you install on your WP platform.

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  3. Brian Drumm

    SEO has proven to be the game changer with our site. We use a Pro Photo plug in on our wordpress site and it helps tremendously with figuring out what needs to be fixed.

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  4. Willi Nuechterlein

    Thanks for these awesome tips, Tanya!
    You mentioned the book Social Media Marketing for Digital Photographers by Lawrence Chan. I’m thinking about buying it. But I saw it was published in 2011.
    Do you think the information in this book is still up to date? I mean, social media is a rapidly changing environment. Right?

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    • Tanya Smith

      I think his concepts are pretty timeless. Maybe the section on SEO might need some updating over time, although I’m pretty sure I still use the same SEO rules myself.

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  5. Brandon Dewey

    All great tips and Social Media Marketing for Digital Photographers is a great book.

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  6. David Salahi

    Dave Lyons,
    I can’t agree with your recommendation to get a hand-coded site. You’re right about the $$$$ part. But there’s no reason why a WordPress site, a Joomla site or other similar site can’t be SEO friendly. Some of the largest, most popular sites on the web are powered by WordPress. And the functionality you get with a solution like WordPress or SquareSpace is huge compared with what you would get in a custom hand-coded site. Need an SEO plugin for WP? There’s a bunch of free ones. Need a slideshow for your portfolio? There’s an endless variety of free or low-cost plugins. What happens when the site needs updating? The photographer will have to pay the developer of a hand-coded site. Not so with WP. Need a blog? WP. I could go on but I think the value/price ratio is much higher in the case of a solution like WP, SquareSpace, Koken, etc.
    Dave Salahi

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    • Dave Lyons

      david.. and I completely disagree with that lol

      WordPress is a fricking security nightmare!!!!!! DO you run you’re own or manage your own servers? If you did you’d know what im talking about. WordPress is most likely the easiest cms to hack into and it is… constantly!

      WordPress and those cms systems are “seo friendly” meaning you can add title and keywords… but they also add tens of thousands of lines of unnecessary code thats ripe for hacking, slows site down, causes more chances for errors and makes google work 10x harder to figure out your site. Those cms systems have to cover a lot of ground and so they are filled with horribly written, extra content that 90% of it has to keep loading that isn’t being used.

      Yes plugins are nice but they also add a huge hole for security issues and a lot of them are written by people who shouldn’t be writing anything… it’s kind of like windows or android… you don’t know how safe any of those really are because theres no quality control.

      Why do you all think “free” is good??? I sure as shit ain’t trusting my business to “free” shit! That’s insane.

      Updating layouts isnt hard, change the damn css file, if it’s built right there’s no issues.
      And all these people who pay “programmers” into install wordpress and and a skin and charge them more than a good site are crazy. Usually people who use wp or whatever can’t really code at all and if any issue comes up they cant fix it, i got plenty of friends like this, it’s why I got out of it and now god forbid trying to find a host to get dedicated servers that are usable because of all the crap they gotta do to try and secure wordpress… uggggggg

      So value for price… so if you have all your images online even full size for downloading if you offer that… and you get hacked and they take all your images and sell them… is that value?

      A wordpress site and server its on have to be constantly checked, updated, patched, etc… because of the massive amount hacking bots. You gotta change file structure so they don’t know where to login, limit login attempts, constantly check plugins for updates, constantly check logs for intrusion, blah blah… and hope to god your host is on the ball or it will happen to you. Given the fact that wp people like free and cheap they also go that way with hosting which leads to more and more problems…

      Sure some big sites use it and they probably have a team that’s sole purpose is to do all that all the time, i guarantee you all these lil wp “programmers” sure as hell aren’t.

      Personally theres no way on gods green earth wp will ever be on any of my servers ever again.

      Now seo side…
      I could get a sharpie and a banana write SEO friendly on the side of it and that will do about as much good. A hand coded site done right vs a wp site done right will most always prevail over a cms system… there’s just too much extra code for the search engines to parse and when you’re not in control of the code god only knows whats going to happen.

      Just look at forums like
      http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4671556.htm

      or this was funny but true quote

      “Anything you can do with WordPress can be done with hand coded pages. Not everything that can be done with hand coded pages can be done with WordPress.

      Therefore the only people who will gain any SEO benefit from using WordPress rather than hand coding are beginners who have not learnt enough to be able to do those things that WordPress does for them without using WordPress to do it.”

      In the end, either way it comes down to you either getting a real programmer or a wanna-be

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    • Rafael Steffen

      Thanks so much for providing us with some detailed advices on web page designs.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I need to get a great profile shot for my webpage so that it has the same quality as the work presented.

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  7. Gonzalo Broto

    Helpful points, thanks Tanya!

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  8. David Salahi

    As a website designer/developer myself I can say that Tanya has provided some excellent advice here. For starters, the Steve Krug book is an excellent, easy-to-read primer. Also very good, and with more depth, is Paul Boag’s Website Owner’s Manual.

    As Tanya points out it’s essential to have a website that works well on mobile devices because many people are browsing websites on their devices now.

    “Only Show Your Best,” yes, edit ruthlessly. I like Tanya’s line “You’re only as good as the worst image in your portfolio.”

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    • Tanya Smith

      Thanks for the feedback and comment. I’ll check out that other book you recommended.

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  9. Michel Andy

    Thanks for the great article Tanya. Any recommendation for website builders? (pro photo, wordpress, zenfolio, etc)

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    • David Salahi

      Michael,
      Personally, I tend to prefer WordPress and that’s what I use for my own site. But another interesting alternative for photographers is Koken (http://koken.me/). One nice thing about it is that it has a Lightroom plugin that can upload photos directly to the photographer’s website. I haven’t actually used Koken on a real site but I played around with it recently (my review here: http://photoperformance.photos/website-design/kokens-photography-portfolio-website-software/)
      David Salahi

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    • Tanya Smith

      I personally use wordpress.org (not wordpress.com) with a template I customized myself. I’m not a pro website coder, I just kind of hacked my way through (ha!) SLR Lounge is built on a WordPress platform as well. I haven’t really tried anything else, so I can’t vouch for those.

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  10. Daniel Thullen

    Nice article Tanya! Do you think the “average” photographer should go the 500px, flicker, smugmug, photoshelter, etc. method, or some other method? Which to you prefer?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Personally I think that yes, sites with a community, especially the likes of Flickr, can be a huge boost to even the hobbyists out there! I know a handful of folks who have achieved much recognition, and even sales / business, through those sites. Depends on what your goals are though, of course.

      Looking forward to seeing what Tanya has to say on this question too!

      =Matt=

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    • Dave Lyons

      The features of those sites are nice and easy but like everything if you want to be found outside of those networks then find someone to HAND CODE you a nice SEO friendly site. IT WILL cost you $$$$ but the advantages will pay off if you do it right.

      I’ve been building hand coded sites for about 14 years now and HEAR me when I say that google loves nothing better than being served up a nice, cleanly coded, info filled, well seo optimized site because it makes it easier for it’s bots to parse and figure out what the site is about. They don’t “see” the site like we do, it’s code based.

      So the issue with all these sites that do it for you or even worse… wordpress… omg kill that crap! is that that those sites have 20x the amount of code to parse and it’s all similar except for a few small places so nothing really separates you from everyone else on there, it’s the same thing realtors don’t get.

      Here’s an example… lets say you’re a wedding photographer in Denver and you need to be found by people looking for wedding photographers… do you think these non photo people go to 500px or smugmug or whatever, actually do you even think they know about those sites?? And if they do you better have the best damn images on there of the Denver shooters because if they find you they’ll find the others as well and that might not be a good thing.

      Revisit item #1 of this article “don’t make me think”. If these people don’t have referrals from friends they go to google and type in “Denver wedding photographer” and hit search.. If you’ve properly invested in a well done, high quality site and done your diligence on writing in a seo manner and having the best info then you should get to the top and be the first person they call.

      it takes money to make money and it’s an investment but one if done properly will reward you handsomely.

      There’s a lot more to this but like everything… the cheap way is not your friend

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    • Tanya Smith

      Hey Daniel, I think it’s better than nothing if you want to have an online presence (which is a must, in my opinion). Just make sure you’re following the same rules about what types of images you show, how is your spelling, what brand image do you want to portray?

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