We photographers are notorious for having terrible websites. Hiring a professional web designer isn’t always in the budget so sometimes you have to figure out how to do it by yourself. Here are a few tips that most people completely overlook when building their own website.
Before photography, I was a web usability expert that focused on optimizing high-traffic web properties for optimal engagement. These are the three most common mistakes I encountered along the way.
1.) Make Sure Your Visitors Are Focused On Content Rather Than Figuring Out Your Site
Any moment a viewer spends time focusing on “figuring out” how to use your website is a moment they don’t invest learning about you and your work. Steve Krug put it rather eloquently with the title of his book "Don’t Make Me Think" where he goes on to explain why making viewers “think” about how to use a website is a bad thing.
Aim To Answer Questions Before They Are Asked
Any information that a user requires should be accessible and discoverable at a moment’s glance, but more importantly your site should aim to answer the most pertinent questions before your user even thinks of them.
Here is are a few questions that a visitor should never have to ask:
What do you do? Just because the user sees photos doesn’t mean they know you are a photographer. You could be a makeup artist. You could be a stylist. Be very clear what it is you do.
What makes you special? A potential client can throw a metaphorical rock in the digital air and hit 10 photographers. Figure out what makes you special and use it as the bedrock for your entire brand.
Where are you? With surprisingly few exceptions, photography is a geographically driven career. Few clients can afford to pay travel costs to bring in photographers from out of town. If they can’t figure out where you are from they will move onto someone more forthcoming.
How do I get in touch? Making it difficult to get in contact is one of the most brutal barriers that you can place between you and a viewer. Don’t hide behind some impersonal contact form with a frustrating CAPTCHA that only works half the time. You are a professional that is eager to communicate with a potential client in any form that is most comfortable for them. This means supplying an email address and phone number. If you are worried about getting spam, too bad! Sacrificing a visitor’s convenience in order to avoid having to delete the odd spam message tells your customers that you are unwilling to put their needs ahead of your whims.
Don’t Let The Interface Become A Burden
The Internet has been around for long enough now that users have become accustomed to using it in a certain way. Leave the evolution of web paradigms to graphic designers whose entire careers are focused on that topic. For your website, follow the rules by giving users the experience they have come to expect so that they can interact with your website instinctively.
Use expected nomenclature in your navigation: When creating your navigation, avoid the need to be creative. Users should have an idea of exactly what they are about to see before they click on anything. Don’t try to be cute with your navigation items, instead label buttons by what they are or you might find that users simply don’t click on them.
Keep it simple: Your site should be as minimal as possible. You are a photographer, not Wikipedia. As a general rule, if your navigation requires sub-navigation menus, then your website is too complicated.
Minimize the number of clicks that a user needs to make: Clicking is a frustratingly necessary burden on the user. It may seem like such a simple task, but each time you ask a user to click they risk having to wait which means you risk losing them. Don’t make the user work by having to click through sections and categories to get to the content they are seeking. For the average viewer, anything they are looking for should be no more than a click from the homepage.
2.) Make A Personal Connection With Your Audience
Photography is a learnable, mechanical skill. Knowing how to use a camera is a barrier to entry that doesn’t build value. The value you bring to the table is your vision, your story, and your voice.
Bring that vision to life through your selection and sequencing of images. If your portfolio is merely a bucket of your best photos, you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect with the viewer. Choose images that trigger emotion and order them in a way that creates a journey. End that journey prematurely leaving the viewer aching to be included as the next chapter.
Supercharge the soul of your story with how you reveal your identity. Talking about achievements and experience is for technical jobs. You are an artist. Who you are drives the quality of what you create. Give the viewer a glimpse at what makes you tick. Show users what motivates you and inspires your work. Reveal just enough to make them yearn to get to know you better.
Create a connection by showing how your voice creates something special. By having something to say you give the viewer something to listen to. Everything from the words you choose to the colors of your brand should tie back to how you want to speak to your audience and most importantly how you want them to listen. Make your viewer both comfortable with what you are saying but also excited to delve deeper.
3.) A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, But You Still Need The Words
We are not writers. We are not designers. We are photographers. Your pen is your camera and it should be what begins the story. The first 10 seconds of a user’s experience on your website are the most important. Those first few heartbeats should be dominated by your best attempt at coaxing an eruption of interest.
When a visitor first arrives on your site (from any device) the only thing that they should notice is photography. Only after that initial "wow" should they begin noticing the words or the design. Go load up your website and ask yourself: Is there anything on my homepage competing with my absolutely best image(s) for the user’s attention? If the answer is “yes,” you know what needs to be done.
That said, words become the meat of how you communicate to the user. Photos are great at building excitement, intrigue, and identity but it is your words that drive the specifics. After the viewer has experienced the visuals they will look to the text to continue their exploration. Make sure those words are available when they need them but are never a burden drawing away from the work itself. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the words are a driving force in how Google and other search engines index your page. Without them, Google is blind to what you do.