Your Website Weaknesses And How To Improve Them

Your Website Weaknesses And How To Improve Them

I’ll never forget the email; I was on a plane somewhere over the Florida coast, on my way to the Bahamas for the Fstoppers Workshops 2014. Just before I left the States, I had signed on with the artist consulting firm Wonderful Machine. The first step in preparation for a press release was to tear my website apart. The critique was tough and they slashed it hard… here I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, feeling a truck load of anxiety. For years, I had thought I had a clean and straight to the point website, but it turns out I needed to strip it down even more.

After a much needed consultation and some personal research through Goggle Analytics I learned that the average time on my website was under three minutes and I had an average bounce rate of 72%. Instead of browsing around, the viewer simply glanced at the homepage slideshow then clicked off the site. With the advice from my firm and the wonderful people at SmugMug, I gutted my website, significantly reduced the amount of galleries and went from displaying over 300 images to just around 60 images. I removed a few dead sections of my site and simplified everything. After two months, my bounce rate reduced to 30% and the average time on my website had increased by a minute. Basically, potential clients were spending more time on my website, all due to the contraction of images and links.

Last week, I decided to casually post a screen shot of my website to my Facebook Page promoting my friends at SmugMug as well as offering a quick website critique to those who commented on the post. By the end of the day, I had responded to nearly 30 comments and critiqued dozens of websites. The post is now at 45 critques and climbing, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to keep up with it all, but I was able to give a valuable critique to those that commented within the first 6 hours of the post. I visited a lot of talented photographers with good websites and a lot of talented photographers with terrible websites.

Find Your Niche

The biggest flaw I see with many photographers’ websites is the fact that I can’t tell what type of photography the photographer mostly captures. I recently critiqued a website where the photographer had an image of a newborn baby and a nude model in the same gallery! I think it’s great to explore the photography business by shooting weddings and newborns, then dabbling in fine art fashion or vice versa. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should promote that exploration on your website; know your market and clientele. Let's say you are a new mother shopping for a newborn photographer online, the last thing you would want to see on a photographer’s website is a sexualized shot of a model in a bikini or a busy blonde in lingerie lying on a messy bed. The same can be said on the other side of the coin, if a commercial business is looking for a quality shooter with a reputation, having a gallery of seniors on your website can send the wrong message and perhaps be a major turn off.

Too Many Categories Of Images

I am completely guilty. One of my biggest critiques I received from Wonderful Machine was that I just had too many galleries, to many categories and too many options. I needed to reduce the amount of images drastically and merge them into one section entitled “Portfolio.” I decided to heed the advice, and begin the exhausting project of analyzing every single one of my images, judging the lighting, composition, processing and subject matter. I decided to separate my publication work into a separate gallery to act like a “client list” or a representation of my tearsheets. I’m not saying delete all your life’s work, but really take into consideration your clientele and the attention span of today’s world.

Add A Personal Touch & Portrait

Out of all the websites I critiqued this past week; only a third had an actual personal touch to their biography or “About” section. By personal touch, I mean a portrait, headshot or behind the scenes image. It’s important for potential clientele and viewers to put a face with photographs. Also, a lot of the biographies are in third person, which is great, only if you have the portfolio to back up the accolades, most did not. By adding a personal touch to your “About” section, people will feel more comfortable reaching out, especially if they know who will be on the other end of the email or call.

Complicated User Experience

I see a lot of Adobe Flash, unnecessary drop down menus and buggy slideshows. Somewhere along the line we decided it was cool to have a crazy tacky, flashy web experience. But, now the website is more of a gateway to a personal connection via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. So, now more than ever it’s important to grab the viewer in seconds and have a simple, straight forward web experience that is easily navigated through all mediums including smartphones and tablets. A big reason why my bounce rate was at 70% is because provided the user too many options. In this day in age, people want to be feed the visual experience and won’t want to spend the time to work for it. Simplify the user experience and make sure it’s stupidly simple.

Lose The Pricing

Coming from the commercial side of photography, each client is special to their own needs and each client deserves their own quote. On the other side, one might argue that a “investment” section is to avoid hundreds of emails from people wanting to know a vague price range. But, even if you shoot weddings and babies, I think the same argument can be made. Each client may want an extra outfit or perhaps an additional location, which is more work for you(the photographer). By having a set price list on your website you’re immediately boxing yourself into that range and shooting yourself in the foot. You are also avoiding a potential conversation to connect with a future client. You may get a lot more nonsensical emails, but it could lead to more clientele in the end. Lose the “Investment” section and see what happens.

Build A Brand

I still have trouble understanding how a photographer can operate a business without a proper identity, which should be first and foremost. Establish a solid foundation with a brand and make sure it’s unique to you, and easily recognizable. A simple text just won’t cut it in today’s market. If you don’t have a professional logo and identity, then hire a graphic designer to produce one for you.

I could really go on and on and spend hours critiquing all my followers and friends’ websites, but I’d just be saying the same thing over and over again. I’ve setup SqaureSpace sites, dabbled with Photoshelter and shared some laughs with the people at PhotoBiz. There is a lot of competition out there for photographers and displaying a portfolio, but I’ve been a customer of SmugMug since day one and I stand by their product. They’ve really put a lot of energy into their user experience this past year and I’m proud to be an ambassador. With that said, if you’re looking for something new or need a change, I can offer you 15% off a brand new SmugMug site, right here. If you're not a "coder" and looking to add additional CSS customization to your new SmugMug site, check out my friends at Fastline Media.

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42 Comments

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Clay Cook's picture

Thanks Eric! That's a great point to bring up. I decided to host my blog on Tumblr and set it with a custom domain. The reason I decided to do that is because I wanted to keep my blog on a social site compared to Wordpress etc.

I'll take social exposure over Google ranking any day, for my blog that is.

Eric Pare's picture

I see :) A quick fix would be to use a sub-domain like this: blog.claycookphotography.com (easy to configure on tumblr) ... This is what I do for specific projects, and it works really well :)

One important thing to keep in mind that website should be mobile device friendly: correctly resizing to a device screen and not loading huge images where it is not necessary (real responsive/adaptive design). Nowadays traffic from mobile devices is growing rapidly and you don't want to neglect those users:)

Clay Cook's picture

Absolutely Martin, that's a very important aspect of a website! I cover that briefly in "Complicated User Experience"

Thanks for reading!

Clay, sorry for running ahead then. Good player always keeps some trumps in his sleeve:) I did small research on your website, specially responsiveness aspect of it which is why I was wondering why it was not mentioned in the reading. Your website does load images depends on device size;) Good to know you will cover this topic in your next post. Is good practice of naming image files and impact on SEO something to talk about as well? I know there are tons of articles on that, yet many of us tend to forget importance of a small things.

John Spannos's picture

I'm always tweaking my site. Sometime I feel like I should tell people I do SEO instead of Photography because I spend so much time on it.

http://www.johnspannos.com

Matthew Odom's picture

This is an article of the highest order. A real website 101 for photographers :)

Clay Cook's picture

Thank you Matthew!

Austin Burke's picture

I'm constantly looking at what to do with my website and have currently been using sqaurespace. It's great but I'm afraid I might be moving away from it soon due to the fact you have to pay separate for each site you want.

That's the current reason I have all my work on one site, which for now is fine as I'm not sure what my niche(s) are just yet (even though I love architecture photography and commercial work) plus I also do video work. Yet this wide variety makes it a hassle to make the site easy to manage (even though I think I'm doing an okay job, but it could be better).

Clay Cook's picture

I love SqaureSpace. But, there are limitations for photographers.

Lee G's picture

Nice article, I'm about to go change a few things on my site.

heikoknoll's picture

Thank you for the article. I find it a real encouragement to continue building my own. I guess the "how much" and "how to categorize" is one of the things we are most unsure about. Something else I find difficult is choosing the "right" way to publish a site, i.e. using a service like SmugMug or a WordPress Site (I am currently trying out photocrati, which, according to the web, is the "best" photographers site -- I will see). Have a good day!