A Professional Web Designer Tells You Why Your Website Sucks

A Professional Web Designer Tells You Why Your Website Sucks

As creatives, most of us know the value of a strong internet presence and what that can do to boost brand recognition and our business bottom-line, but we don’t always know how to make the best of that presence. I spoke with a successful web builder and graphic designer to get a glimpse of the most important aspects of boosting web potential for photographers.

If you’re anything like me, you find that the hardest part of running a successful photography business is not actually the photography part. Instead, many of us find that it’s the business part of the business that leaves us anxiety-ridden and ready to throw in the towel. One aspect of business that leaves photographers and other creatives scratching their heads is often their web presence, or lack thereof. I recently reached out to Ismael Burciaga, a creative, photographer, graphic designer, and web builder based in Amarillo, Texas, about what we need in a website as photographers who rely on web presence as both an advertising and networking tool. He gave me some great advice on why hiring a professional is usually a good idea, on what makes or breaks a great website, and, if you must, on how to approach your own DIY web design.

Burciaga got his start in the creative field of graphic design after first pursuing higher education in both the fields of medicine and architecture. During those first few years, getting his feet wet in the design arena, he also developed a love for photography, which he began to pursue several years afterwards with the purchase of his first DSLR, a Canon Rebel. Now, 14 years later, he finds time for photography when he's free, and when he can get a break from running his own marketing agency, as well as heading up his own creatives conference each year, The Circles Conference, the Dallas-based conference which was named #2 conference for creatives to attend in 2018, just behind the behemoth SXSW. Held this month, the conference sold out to over 500 attendees for 2018.

Image property of Circles Conference, provided by Ismael Burciaga.

As a web designer and brand developer, Burciaga visits hundreds of websites each year. He says that 95% of the time when someone reaches out to him for web help, they are needing a total revamp of the website that they currently have. And he can usually pinpoint right away what the website is lacking and why a particular client is reaching out to him for web development.  “Most websites we see lack attention to detail,” Burciaga says. “You can easily tell when a website is using a theme that was purchased for $15.”

Mobile-Friendly Websites are a Must

Another problem he sees are websites that are not responsive to mobile devices. This can be a killer considering the large amount of website traffic that is served to mobile devices in this day and age. In fact, mobile internet usage has surpassed computer web traffic in recent years, and continues to climb. It only makes sense that your website needs to look just as amazing on a mobile device as it does on a computer. While the everyday photographer or videographer may not even realize there is a difference, mobile-friendly websites are a must-have that a professional web designer will be likely to focus on.

Burciaga says many clients come to him because they have tried the DIY approach and are struggling with non-user-friendly templates. They also often struggle with making a website that is consistent with the way they want to portray the personality of their brand. They are looking to share the heart and soul of their creative business, and much of the time, the cookie-cutter, pre-built website templates found on many DIY website platforms are just too generic for a client who has a certain vibe they want to express. After all, it’s hard to brand yourself to stand out from the crowd with a web template that 10 other photographers in your area are also using. This, along with a lack of website design experience, is why photographers, videographers, and other creatives will find hiring an expert beneficial.

Web design by Ismael Burciaga.

Making Room For Future Development

In addition, an expert, as opposed to many generic DIY web building sites, will be able to build a design that leaves room for future growth. One day you might want to add something such as a storefront for selling tutorials, templates, or prints, or you might need to link to other websites for client proofing and other purchase options. A professional will build your site in a way so that he can later integrate these options seamlessly into what he creates for you now.

DIY if You Must

Burciaga says that while he recommends hiring a pro for a supreme website experience, he understands that there are those on a budget who will seek the DIY route. In these cases, he recommends choosing the best template you can find for your brand through one of the tried and true services like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly. He says that these can be cheap, quick fixes. “But,” he warns, “they can be hard to update or expand the services of your business.”

Good SEO is Still King

One thing every successful website must take advantage of, whether created and maintained by a professional or built using a DIY service, is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Good SEO is what gets you to the front page of a Google search, and gets your name in front of potential clients. This can often be a frustrating and daunting task to take on for a DIYer. “Just make sure you name everything when adding content and photoshoots to your website,” says Burciaga. Adding file names that will direct a search engine to your site by using location names and keywords is a good way to go. And if you’ve been hearing and thinking that the blog is dead, Burciaga will beg to differ. “If you can keep a consistent blog, that’s a big plus, too, because it allows Google to see you bringing fresh content on a consistent basis.”

Some of Burciaga's own portrait work. Copyright Ismael Burciaga.

Learn more about the Circles Conference here, and check out some of Ismael Burciaga’s photographic works here, and, since you're most likely on mobile... on Instagram.

Do you have any great website advice? Share it in the comments below.

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If you not willing to put in several hours per day monitoring a web site you should hire it out. There are plenty of "web designer wanna-bees" that never should have tried. And dancing babies and their I'll won't make a poor attempt good. They just make it silly.

Mike Kelley's picture

no photographer should ever have to spend several hours a day monitoring a website. that's asinine

Gosh, my point exactly.

It might have been the point that you wanted to make, but no, you didn't communicate that.

And now that you've said it, it doesn't make any sense. The job of a web designer is not to monitor a website for hours a day. Why the hell would it be? You can read the stats for traffic for a whole day in a few seconds. You obviously know nothing at all about this subject, so why are you telling people what to do?

What kind of activities you are expected to do during this monitoring?

Fixing bad links? Making your "style" professional? Spell checking? Removing juvenile junk? Stuff like that.

Are you sure you need at least 20 hours every month for that? Especially on a well built website?

He's obviously "sure" or he wouldn't post. Correct, which is what matters, no. Competent people verify links with software tools and use a magical piece of technology called a "spell checker" when they create their site rather than stare at it for several hours a day thereafter. His reasons are even more bizarre than his original claim.

"A professional will build your site in a slightly less (but still) terrible way so that he can later pull his hair out by trying to integrate these options seamlessly into what was once a state of the art web framework but got deprecated four years later"
Fixed it for you :)

Scott Mason's picture

These are all great points, Jenny. I would like to add that having good, client-oriented copy on your site is also a must. Sorry photographers, nobody clicks on the About page expecting to read three paragraphs of your life story!

so true. one of the most amateurish moves you can make is listing your equipment or blabla why you love photography and your cat

Scott Mason's picture

The cat stuff - it really happens! There are people out there who successfully market themselves using their personality as their brand, but few of them are photographers. Most of the time I've seen it done, it comes off to me as contrived.

Motti Bembaron's picture

I once looked into someone making my site and maintain it for me. Judging by the price I was quoted, they wanted to be partners :-).

Also, I was suppose to do quite a lot of work myself in determining clients base and such.

My site is simple but does the job. took me a while to put it together (based on a template) but the satisfaction of knowing where everything is (in the site) makes it worthwhile.

Michael Comeau's picture

I went to Mr. Burciaga's own website and found it incredibly confusing and difficult to navigate.

Yeah, it's missing the most fundamental part of a website...the navigation bar? A one-page is fine but what if I don't feel like scrolling through all that and want to send someone else some content from the website to review before hiring him? Kind of embarrassing to see, but then again, most people can do for others better than they can do for themselves

R. P.'s picture

All text on his website is 3rd person-ish.

Web designer here. Being mobile-friendly, having good SEO, and avoiding "$15 templates" is generic advice that applies to any industry.

For photography websites, I recommend showcasing relevant photos, clearly stating your services, showing social proof, and being relatable.

It's obvious that you want to showcase your best work, but also make sure it's a good representation of your services. Focus on weddings? Then ensure you show photos that would make someone think "I wish my wedding photos looked like that".

Speaking of services, make it clear what you offer and how to go about hiring. You can go into detail about your process and what's included, but those small details should not get as much priority as your call-out to the service. If you offer a few categories, it might be nice to pair up the service title with a photo representation of that service. The more specialized your are, the easier it is to explain your services.

Social proof is important and isn't limited to your website. Make sure you get reviews from your clients on to your Google listing or FB page etc... You can pull your favorite lines onto your website, but another way to show off proof is to simply share various sessions. If all your photos are from one event, it might seem like you have only done one gig in your life.

Be relatable. You are not an iPhone and able to sell yourself with state of the art specs. Few prospects understand equipment. However, if they see you are passionate and don't come off as a weirdo, they will see you as a solid option.

Lastly, make sure the viewing experience is user friendly. There are various ways to display galleries and some are built horribly. I'd avoid overuse of slideshows, where photos change without user intervention. Have friends and family try out the gallery software before adding it to your website to get devistatingly honest feedback.

Burak Erzincanli's picture

I just don't get it. Some say Instagram took place of websites. Now this guy says website design so important. I'm just confused.

Why does he list his daily timetable? How is it relevant?

Or is it because he wants to show off that he gets up super early and spends half the day in the gym? Wow, you superhuman creative genius! I worship at your feet!

As with many successful people in life, telling everyone you are the best and a genius is often enough - just look at Trump.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

A professional cook tells you why your kitchen sucks.
A professional race car driver tells you why your vehicle sucks.

From the article: >> mobile internet usage has surpassed computer web traffic in recent years <<

Yes, but no one sensible would give a damn about this stat. If you're telling people that they need a professional, then you have to start by exercising professionalism.

Overall web traffic is completely irrelevant to any particular site - it's an average for a thousand different types of site and will be biased towards the most heavily visited. Meaning porn and social media.

What should matter to you is the traffic for your site - and even more, the traffic that leads to sales. That people are mostly visiting xhamster and facebook on their phones has nothing to do with your business.