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.