10 Web Site Strategies for Emerging Photographers
10 Website Strategies for Emerging Photographers

As a photographer and web designer, I really believe that the website should be a vehicle for making business happen, and connecting with clients and possible clients, not just an online brochure or replica of a print portfolio. Too many shooters have websites that simply mimic the old passive model of advertising and promotion. “Here are my pics, got a job?” Today, that may not be enough when you are an emerging talent. With less capital, less fame and a challenging working environment, there are things that must be considered when creating an online presence.

As the web moves solidly into a more interactive mode (Google Videos, YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, Twitter and more), it makes me wonder why photographers are creating websites that are more web 1.2 than web 2.0. (Before you write, yeah, I am over that 2.0 term too, but for now it works for our purposes.) Again and again I visit photographers sites totally done in Flash with no visible search engine ranking, no collaboration, no customer tracking, no interactivity – and, for the record, chasing your thumbnails around to click on them isn’t interactivity, it’s annoying.

Too many photographers seem to turn a deaf ear to the basic tenets of the new web, preferring to have monstrous, slow loading, nearly impossible to update sites that look far more like a commercial than a resource. I see it first hand as a web designer. Recently I had to turn a design job down because it just went against all that I believe in on creating useful sites instead of brochure sites. The photographer has nice images, and is just starting in the business, yet insists on having a site that will never be indexed and will drain him of assets while he has to traditionally market his website instead of having it found by people looking for what he does and his services. Spending money on advertising to drive visitors to your site is backwards, folks.

With a careful eye toward his budget he will end up with a beautiful site, with music and 60 images that will cost him a fortune to change out. No interactivity, no collaboration, scheduling, estimates, client area, CMS or CRM… just a site with images. And every time he wants to add an image, or change an image, or whatever, he has to go back to his Flash designer with the change, and some bucks. That restricts him too much in my opinion. Yes, there are some Flash designers who can build a backend management system for him, but not for his budget. So, to me, it seems like wasted bucks on a site that needs even more bucks to promote it, and will only be seen by those who have been prodded to visit.

Definitely last century web-think.

I have ten must-have’s for photographer’s websites. Let’s take a look. I have found some examples to go along with the information, so be sure to say hi from LE when you visit their sites.

1. Be Found When People Are Looking For You – Or Looking for What You Do
A very friendly search engine optimized site. For starting out in the industry, being found by people looking for you can be invaluable. Being found means for your work, not your name. There is a lot of information that can be found on how to make a site more friendly to the search engines, and the things you can do for your site should be done. Diligently and with a sense of purpose.

This means you have to have the tools in place to be found. That takes work. That takes stepping out of your comfort zone. It means you may have to give up on the notion that things should only be the way you want them to be, and accept that there are things that simply are as they are. I hear too many photographers say “I don’t know why I have to have text on the home page, so I won’t do it.” OK… but that sort of denial of the reality of the way Search Engines work certainly doesn’t make it work your way.

And, BTW, searching for Don Stevenson will return Don’s site, www.stevensonphotography.com. That is as it is supposed to be. Don has a redirect from the site name www.donstevenson.com. So that is about as magical as him answering the phone when you dial his number. However, search Google for “Arizona Corporate Photography” and you get www.stevensonphotography.com. Search for “Editorial Portrait Photographer Arizona”. Search for “Arizona Industrial Photography”. You will get the same websites… different pages. Now that is SEO.

Don gets about 40% of his business from being found by editors and corporate art departments. He is quite busy and keeps his site robust and ever changing. Daily, there are new articles or links added to the many landing pages he has created within his site. Not one to waste time, Don has a very detailed editorial plan, and keeps the site fresh and inviting to new clients and old alike.

2. Constantly Changing Content
And to keep the content changing easily, you need a tool to do that. It’s called a Content Management System. From WordPress to proprietary CMS solutions, it means that the photographer can change out the content on the page whenever they want. Calling or emailing a designer everytime you need to make a change is frustrating and not cost effective at all.

Using a system that allows you to manage your work effectively, while on the road, and on location, keeps the site fresh. And the easier it is, the better.

Look, if you want to learn how to do it in Dreamweaver, it really isn’t that hard. But, for most photographers, it is simply a waste of time. Find a designer / developer / platform that allows you to easily manage your site’s content. WordPress, Joomla, .NetNuke… there are lots of ways to do it. Even Adobe’s wonderful Contribute makes it easy to update and modify the site.

And an ever changing site is very, very important to Google and other Search Engines. There are many reasons why.

Google looks at your site from the standpoint of a lot of different values. And the purpose is to decide if the content is relative to the search. If someone is searching for you, a food photographer in Cleveland, they are not really interested in deals on toner cartridges or online dating. So the relevance of your site to the searcher’s needs is very, very important. Google can only know that by what is on your page, gauging how others who were searching for food photographers in Cleveland reacted upon arriving and how popular the page is from places mentioning food photographers in Cleveland and then linking that to you. Trying to trick Google into thinking you are one thing when you are actually something else will not work.

So you need content about food photography. Food photography in the studio. And on location. And in Cleveland – and Akron – and anywhere else that is reasonably close enough for you to market and shoot in.

Keeping the text changing on the pages is important as well. Think of it as ‘proof of life’ for your site. Best way to do that is keep the content ever-changing and relevant.

Enlight Photo
Don Stevenson (corporate events) (editorial portraiture)
LE WordPress Themes

3. Content That is Compelling
By compelling, I mean that there should be some reason for clients to come back to your site. Projects are a great way to show images and keep interest high. “New Work” can be featured, and additions to the portfolio should be announced and published.

Projects show clients how you handle long form assignments. How you tie subject matter together… and make it interesting. Do you like telling stories or creating a set of images? Then that is a project. What I like about projects is that they can be ongoing. Adding a few pictures a month can be a compelling reason for people to come back to the site. Sure, you can do that on your blog, but that is a different architecture and doesn’t present the same way.

Look at your site. Is there a reason for me to come back next week or next month? Is there anything there that would change if I did come back in a few weeks or even a few months? Or would it be the same. Same won’t work. I just won’t bother coming back to the site if things are not changing.

Find ways to get new stuff on your site and let everyone know that there is new stuff there.

Nick OnkenStories
Chase JarvisPanoramic Project
James Cowlin (Route 89 Project)

4. Access to You.
A contact page is important. So is honesty. Trying to pretend you have no phone number because you are not wanting to give away that you live somewhere no one ever heard of is silly. Actually being somewhere other than the big centers could work to your advantage. You know, at some point you will have to give me a phone contact, so just get it over with. I have seen too many websites with insufficient contact information.

And forget contact forms. No one wants to fill out those things. If you must have one, keep it simple and to the point. Ask only for what you need and keep it to only a few fields of information.

Embedded maps to your studio makes it valuable for your clients as well.

5. Information For Clients – and possible clients
This is especially important for those of you who do work with the same kind of subjects. Senior Portrait and Wedding Photographers have information pages that can be very robust. From fees and packages to what to wear and what to expect, these pages give a client confidence in the professionalism of the photographer. Make it downloadable so they can print it out, share it with friends, and spread your name around.

If you are working with portraits, have a page that can relax the ordinary person. What to expect, what to wear, what to do to get ready. Make sure your contact information is there. (Actually, I like contact information on every page.) Let the possible client know how well you prepare for your shoots. It can be quite interesting to people, who are not currently clients, when they see the detail and planning that goes into your work.

KaizenPhoto (LA)
Kevin McLellan

6. A PDF to Download
Whether it is a portfolio, or a few images in a project, or even a fee/information document, a PDF download can be a wonderful way to get viral with your work. It may get printed then passed around and seen by people you have no way of every marketing to. That is called viral… and that means that you also have no cost involved in delivering your message to those people who inadvertently ended up with your PDF.

Creating something that can be taken by the client, possibly printed out and saved is a great branding tool. And if they can send that portfolio to peers and clients, that just gets the work out to more and more interested people. Keep your branding on every page in case the document gets split up. Wouldn’t it be terrible if someone saw an image and really wanted to work with you, but couldn’t find you because the contact information was on a page not attached? Suck? Oh yeah.

Mini Portfolios can be designed in InDesign, Word, Photoshop or Illustrator and then saved out as PDF presentations or documents. The nice thing is that they work cross platform and nearly everyone can see them. Keep your branding and contact information on every page and hope that tons of folks download it.

Frank Petronio (Possibly NSFW)
Cherrystone Photography
Jim Lewchuk

7. Big Photos.
Yes, we are now at the point in our connections that we can show big pictures. And show them really big. Buyers love them and if they are optimized well, they look great and download fast.

I don’t recommend any larger than 900 pixels wide, as larger could be a problem with some browsers having to go sideways scroll to see the full image.

Should they be in html or Flash… I don’t care really, but my strategy is to allow every image to be searched with keywords, alternate text and keywords. Searching for an image and finding mine could lead me to some new clients. If I try to hide from the world from fear of someone using my images, I may lose to someone who puts the images out there with no fear.

Fearless promotion means being comfortable enough to show the big images big. Without worrying about the occasional thief. And when you do find someone who took your picture be ruthless and powerful and do whatever you can to expose and punish them.

8. iPhone Compatibility
The smart phones and devices are becoming very hot right now. Make sure your site can be seen on them, or at least mostly seen. I have known photographers who have gotten portfolio showings from their iPhone presentations. Me being one of them.

As more and more smart devices become the rage, being seen there will be an important strategy. People Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo and more from their smart phones… looking at websites is one of those things they do as well. To dismiss that trend as meaningless (as someone did recently) is to be simply unaware of the way things are going. I like to be out and have a nice presentation at my fingertips. I’ve shown it at restaurants, pageants, the skate rink, in airports… and walked away with contact info. Three jobs this year directly tied to the iPhone presentation.

So if you have to have a site in full Flash (sigh) then at least make sure that the portfolio images can be seen on an iPhone or other smart devices. (BTW, Flash is not compatible with iPhone technology at this writing.)

Steve Dreisuszun
Chase Jarvis

9. A Very Strong “About Me” page.
Introduce yourself. Tell us about who you are and why we should consider using you for our assignments. There are lots of photographers with good work. There are probably other photographers that do a similar style, and subject matter. There are cheaper and there are more expensive shooters, and there will always be. But there is only one of you. Let us know a little about your sense of humor, and how you see yourself. Above all, be clear and concise and be who you are.

The “about” page is one of the most viewed pages on a site. Does yours say anything about who you are? Are you comfortable with people not getting the impression you want? Do you have an impression that you want to impart on them? I hope so. People hire people. They like knowing a little about who is behind that site or voice on the phone.

Make your “About Me” page as robust as you can. Tell ’em all about you… you crazy devil you.

Chase Jarvis
Don Stevenson

10. Multiple Channels of Content Delivery
That’s a fancy way of saying you need to have other ways to get content under your site. The most easily understood is a Blog. Whether it is a full text and image Blog, or a Photoblog, it is a way for your site to gain content and keep the visitors interested in what you are doing.

Wedding and portrait shooters have been successful in building interest in their work by showing images from recent weddings and engagement shoots, portrait sessions and just fun personal shots.

Commercial shooters are using blogs to create buzz and interest in their work. And interest begets interest. When people are talking, it creates a sense of excitement. And that creates interest and that creates more visits by more people. More people mean more exposure and that can mean contact from people you have never met in places you have never heard of.

A. Blog or Photoblog
B. Social Network (FaceBook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Plaxo)
C. Twitter – even if only for a tweet a day… to stay connected.
D. Email Portfolio showings
E. Additional Portfolio Sites to show off your work.
Format Pixel

These are places where your work can reside, and portfolios managed. Most of them have great tools for sharing those portfolios on all kinds of sites and digital media. So more people can see your work and link to to your site. And that means a higher ranking with SEO. And that, gentle readers, is a good thing. A very good thing.

I hope you enjoyed this post for the business section… “Going Pro”, we are back with a lighting post and two Photoshop posts next week. On the following weekend (Aug 8, 9) I will be in Seattle for a workshop. Hope to have some time to wander around and shoot. I will keep you all posted.

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