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.

Clay Cook's picture

Portrait and Editorial Photographer, Clay Cook has learned the importance of going the extra mile, after a long, arduous run in the music business. Clay has shaped creative projects with History, Lifetime, Comcast and Papa John's Pizza. In addition, he has photographed assignments for Time, Forbes, The Guardian, W Magazine, USA Today, ESPN and Inc.

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Great article Clay... Sometimes less is more in the eyes of the user. Less options, means quicker time for them to find what they need to make a business decision and we all know time is money. As photographers we need to let our work do the talking, they do say a picture is worth a thousand words right?

Also I am humbled by your inclusion of my website. I feel honored to be in your article. Thank you

Absolutely Jeff! Your imagery should sell itself, you don't need a flashy site to accomplish that. I was happy to show off a few of my talented students! Thanks for reading!

Great read brother! Goes nicely in hand with the "You are your own brand" philosophy... Being responsible and productive with it goes a long way with present and future clients. Thanks again for paying it forward yet again.

Thanks my man! Really appreciate that. A website should only be the digital face of your brand and reputation. It's only a gateway.

Amazing article, some really useful stuff there, things that I desperately need to put into practice! I have two sites, one for my automotive photography and one for personal work and I am still in the process of building both so I will be using some of the tips above! Thanks (cars) (personal)

Thank you Ross! I really appreciate you reading! Good to know you'll put these tips into use, look forward to seeing some web growth!

great article! I tear my website apart on a regular basis out of distain and self loathing... most of the time with no clue what I'm doing or why I'm doing it. Thanks for this insight! Maybe next time I launch a hate parade on my own work I can approach it more methodically.

LOL! Thanks Jason! I know what you mean, I dislike about 90% of what I do, but I suppose that's what keeps us going...

Nice article Clay, it hits in the nail perfectly!
As a photographers we tend to add a lot of our best shots in our websites. We said: I like this one, that one, oh that one too, and end up with too many images making our portfolios to look more like an online backup of our photos. Personally I'm at the stage of edit and re-order sections to show only the style of photography I'm doing and left the other kinds of photography that I like to personal social media sites.

Thank you Carlos, I appreciate you reading it all! So many photographers have trouble with selection and purging. I'll be the first to admit, it's not easy. Just remember to find what you love in photography and be great at it.

Thanks Clay.

Cheers Clay, thanks for article. I'll have to look at my own website critically now :)

Thanks for reading Robert!

Amazing article Clay. As always! This is definitely something I've been thinking a lot lately; about how to improve my website. I just recently simplified my website and moved everything to only one single scrollable page which works perfectly. I've got some really good feedback about my new website but there is honestly still so many things to enhance and this article gave some good points which I will definitely take advantage of!

Thank you Aku! That's great you've simplified everything. Be sure to track everything with Google Analytics and you'll see some web growth!

Great article, Clay, and this for me was on the back of your TogTools podcast which I enjoyed immensely from a business/entrepreneurial standpoint. A lot of great info and inspiration there.

I don't pretend to know a lot about websites, however, I'm constantly...constantly amazed by how many flat out annoying websites photographers have. Drop all the popup toolbars, disappearing slideshow controls, hard-to-navigate slideshows, etc. That stuff is so annoying. I click off the site before seeing any of their best work. Frankly, many of those folks are better just having their stuff on 500px or somewhere else where the design is vanilla but standardized just to take the design out of their hands.

That is awesome Jason, thank you so much for reading and tuning into that podcast. Totally! I even recently critiqued a few sites with loud music, which is guaranteed to have a high bounce rate!

Thanks for the article Clay! What if my bounce rate is 0.32% and user spent about 2 minutes on my website is that a bad thing? I currently do have way too images too and plan on gutting a ton of it on my rebuilt website I am currently rebuilding.

Thanks for reading Chris! I appreciate that brother! That is an excellent bounce rate, but what is your unique visitors count? That is obviously going to play a role, because of my role for Fstoppers and my brands, I see a lot of traffic. The more traffic you see, the higher the bounce rate will be. These tips can be said all across the board, remember your website is only a gateway, it should not be a stopping point.

When you say "Lose the Pricing"

Do you also mean lose all prepared package sheets for certain genres like weddings and other non-commercial works?

When you need a muffler replaced, do they list their prices on their site? Every job varies. When you hire someone to paint your house? Every job varies. Plumbing? Varies.

For what I do in the commercial market, every job varies and every client is different. By having a "ballpark" price on my site, I'm immediately backing myself in a corner and its simply bad business for myself. I want to keep you on my site and engaged. Those willing to go the extra mile for my rates are the clients I want anyway.

I think it's perfectly fine to have price lists and package rates, just don't list them on your website(unless you shoot weddings).

On your "Complicated User Experience"

Would you recommend those photographers who "specialize" in different markets and genres to have 1 website to each area of "specialty" to not "put off" other markets?

Absolutely. I know several fashion photographers that also shoot weddings, but they are completely separate brands.

pretty good article.
If you are shooting fashion there are a couple of things to consider, don't just show one off photos. Editors want to see multiple cohesive "stories" in a portfolio this can be as few as 4 and up to 10 photos per story. The other thing that truly drives fashion editors nuts is when you show the same outfit more than once in a story, there is no reason to show 3 photos of the same outfit, pick the best one and thats it.

Thanks for reading TD! Completely agreed. Never have more then one photo from the same look. I see a lot of that and I think photographers are guilty of it quite a bit.

As far as the photo stories, I think that is great for young shooter with a portfolio to build, but for those of us that shoot 4 times a week, I don't want that much content on my site. Thanks again man!

Clay I'm strictly speaking about fashion shooters and its the young shooters that don't have the full stories in their book. Most fashion editors want to see that you can carry a concept for more than 2 photos and that is where the decision to book someone is made. Look at the websites of Mario Testino to show the most established to Victor Damarchelier for the younger. All the established fashion shooters that shoot editorial and the better fashion advertising have complete stories on their website. Some of the best portfolios are the "double wides" that will show a double page spread that has 4 tear sheets across it. Again look at the websites of the most established reps such as every photographers section when you see a photo it has a "click for full story" pop up. same thing full stories. I've heard it from the editors themselves you need to show full cohesive stories not one offs. Oh and all the photographers on these sites are shooting more than 4 times a week.

Great article. I'm gonna give you a flip side to the "pricing" argument. When I am shopping for anything, I want a price. If a website does not have a price, I find myself leaving that page and looking elsewhere.

Your points are extremely valid tho so I may have to consider taking my pricing down.

Thank you Mark! I appreciate you reading! I figured I would see some heads raised about my standing on forgoing the pricing on the site.

For what I do in the commercial market, every job varies and every client is different. By having a "ballpark" price on my site, I'm immediately backing myself in a corner and its simply bad business for myself. I want to keep you on my site and engaged. Those willing to go the extra mile for my rates are the clients I want anyway.

If you shoot weddings, I think it would be acceptable to have a ball park pricing on your site. For example, "Weddings start at $3,000 and move up"

If you are shooting commercial assignments a great tool is to use to help you estimate they have a "bid consultant calculator" that really helps with trying to figure out what market rates are.

Nice! :::)
I've been surprised to see that your blog is hosted on another domain. Usually it's better to have one strong domain with tons of inbound links, so you get a good notoriety for google ranking. I'm curious to know your strategy about this one.

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.

I see :) A quick fix would be to use a sub-domain like this: (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:)

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.

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.

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

Thank you Matthew!

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).

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

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

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!