Business Trends
Make Your Web Site Work For You

Business Trends

By now, we have come to consider web sites common, but how effective can they be? This question can be answered by starting with two important concepts. The first is that your web site is not a stand-alone promotion. It must be integrated into the entire marketing "mix" of your sales calls, e-mail, advertising, promo pieces, and direct mail. The second is our recommendation that the best place to start is by getting professional help!

It is no longer a question of if you need a web presence, but how you are going to create one that works. In this "new marketplace" we are all in--both consumer and commercial photographers--it is a necessity to have a web presence. It is an additional and valuable marketing tool, but it must be kept as up-to-date as your portfolio is supposed to be. In addition, it must be mixed with your other tools, such as a reference for your e-mail and direct mail, as an additional portfolio, and even (with additional links available only to clients) as a proofing tool.

Finding A Designer
Finding a web site designer can be a challenge. Some photographers have had good success with personal referrals or by looking to their own design clients. If you start a search, try your local chapter of the Direct Marketing Association or the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Be sure to look for someone with a lot of experience in web site design. Look at their work and always talk to their clients before you hire anyone.

For some professional advice on this topic, I turned to a design firm I found by happy accident. I discovered Grafico Design (www.grafico-design.com) when I was interviewing photographer Coles Hairston (www.coleshairston.com) and commented on how much I liked his web site's design. I found it easy to navigate--simple, but classy. He then introduced me to the designer, Chris Beeler, partner at Grafico Design.

What follows is an interview with Beeler about some of the best ways for a photographer to get more out of a web site design.

Shutterbug: Does a web site work for a photographer as advertising or as a portfolio? How can it perform both functions?

Chris Beeler: A web site for a photographer works as both a portfolio and as advertising. It leans more toward the portfolio function, but when used with collateral material such as e-mail promotions or mailings it also works as an advertising tool.

SB: How do you feel about having a web site vs. a web page on a "portfolio" web site with other photographers?

CB: If you can't afford to have a web site designed for you, then you should definitely take advantage of the availability of a "portfolio" site. Even if you do have your own site, being on a portfolio site can serve a purpose. Ideally, placement on both is best. That way you can have an avenue that sells only you and another, that has more traffic, looking at other talent as well as yours. The more opportunity to be seen the better.

SB: How do you make a web site more effective using keywords on the HTML meta tag page? What are the fields of description required when you register a site with the available search engines? Any tips on submitting a site?

CB: Write a description, (fairly brief, 25-100 words or so) that describes best what it is that you do. Keep keywords to about 15-25 words. These keywords should be the top words that you think someone doing a search may enter when looking for your services. Two tips on submitting to a site would be: 1) Register with every major search engine and any free ones that you may come across. 2) Do a search yourself to find ones you think would suit you best.

SB: What free search engines have you come across or can refer us to and what submission companies have you used or can recommend that do the submissions for the web site (like Submit It!)?

CB: Check out google.com and yahoo.com. Google is a pretty popular search engine. Others to check out would be excite.com and goto.com. If you have a decent host they should also provide you with free search engine submissions. Did I mention to not register more than once in 30 days or so...search engines tend to think that multiple submissions are spam.

SB: Clients often complain about slow or difficult web site navigation. What should a photographer look for to make sure their web site is easy for the client to use?

CB: Good, logical, clear navigation is key to any web site. If the user is confused and/or frustrated, you will lose them in a matter of seconds. A well planned out site can enhance user ease. Also, take the typical audience into account. For example, will mostly professional agencies with fast Internet service and state of the art computers be the ones you are targeting? Or is your target the average consumer with a slower system who is looking to book a photographer for a personal event (e.g., a wedding)? The site needs to be tailored to the speed and computer capabilities of the audience. Taking those factors into account as best as you can is just as, if not more, important as designing the site to the taste of your potential audience.

SB: How do you feel about guest books or contact pages? What do you recommend a photographer do to get as much as possible in client's response or reply (even if it is just to get an "opt in" of the client's e-mail address)?

CB: I am not a big fan of the guest book, but I feel that it is important to give the viewer a way to contact you. A photographer could provide a button option for the user to request a newsletter/promo piece or to be on a physical direct mail list.

SB: Would these buttons be on the toolbar or a contact page or both? Should clients be able to "contact" the photographer from any page on the web site?

CB: I feel that the more opportunities you give the viewer to contact you the better. But not in excess, of course. A location/button for a link to your e-mail and phone number on each page would be a good idea. Plus your name of course. I'd put the buttons on both the "toolbar" (or another area on the page that works well but is consistently in the same location) and on the contact page.

SB: What thoughts, ideas, or recommendations can you add for getting a more effective web site designed?

CB: If you can't afford to have a professional help you design your site I would recommend either signing onto a "portfolio" site or learning to do it yourself. If you decide to venture into web design, look at as many web sites as possible and decide what it is you like or dislike about those sites (e.g., navigation, arrangement, etc.). Adapt the ideas you liked and thought worked best into your own site. I'd also recommend getting some good beginner web design books to help you get started (e.g., Lynda Weinman's Hands on Training books). There are also several web sites out there that offer free advice and tips on how to do HTML.

SB: Finally, I forgot to ask, how do you recommend a photographer find the right web site designer? Also, how did you and Coles find each other?

CB: Finding the right designer can be like finding the right dentist or contractor. It has a lot to do with your liking their work, a bit to do with the chemistry between you (after all, photographers are creative people, too, and usually have a great eye for visual layout), and some to do with budget.

Coles and I have worked on print projects (annual reports) together in the past. I guess he really does like our work after all. Heck, he hired us to create his online image.

Photography Portfolio Sites

Here are some online photography portfolio web sites.

Note: This is a partial list, if you have any suggestions to add to this list, please e-mail a link to directories@mpiscopo.com.

The Alternative Pick: www.altpick.com
The Black Book: www.blackbook.com
Cosgrove Editions--Northwest Photography: www.cosgroveweb.com
KliK Showcase Photography: www.americanshowcase.com
PhotoSource International: www.photosource.com
Photofolio: www.photofolio.com
PlanetPoint: www.planetpoint.com
Workbook: www.workbook.com
Workbook Stock: www.workbookstock.com

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