December 5, 2009 - 1 comment.

Photographers: Consider These When Building Your Website

Wednesday afternoon I attended the PDN Virtual Trade Show. Like any trade show you can pick and choose which seminars (in this case webinars) you want to attend. One of the webinars I attended was “SEO for Photographers”.

SEO for Photographers was presented by Allen Murabayashi of Photoshelter. I thought Allen did an excellent job (Thank you Allen!) of presenting the basics (and a little more) of why Search Engine Optimization is important for photographers and how the technology behind the structure of their websites can affect optimization. (You can read all the Q&As on Photoshelter’s blog here.)

As I was reading through the Q&A I found myself wanting to expand on some of Allen’s answers from a web designer’s point-of-view. Here are the questions:

What is the best blog building website to use? Does that matter? (Anice)

It doesn't matter. WordPress is very popular, but the platform has no impact on SEO. Blogging regularly and linking to your content does. (Allen)

Define Your Goals Before Deciding on a Platform

Deciding on a blog or website platform can be a tough choice. There are loads of options out there and it can be confusing where and what to start out on. My advice: Step away from the question about “What is the best blogging/website tool” for a second and answer these questions:

  • “Why am I blogging (or what is the purpose of my website)”?
  • “How would my blog “fit” into my overall website and online marketing presence and efforts”?
  • “How much time do I want to spend maintaining my blog and/or website”?

Just because someone tells you that you need to blog/website doesn’t mean you should rush out there and sign up immediately for the fastest solution out there.

Just as you would do due diligence in selecting the right gear to make photographs, due diligence in selecting the right platform is also necessary. Not all blogging/website platforms are alike and not all platforms are built to accommodate growth, customization, integration or skill level. In fact, some also require more technical and coding chops that you may or may not want to deal with.

And, just as you would think about how you would approach making a picture, think about the content of your blog/website and how it can be used to market your self and your work to the audience you want to reach.

Who is the audience you want to serve? What is the purpose of your blog/website? Are you blogging or going online to share photos with other photographers or is your goal to share photos and information to your target audience — the people and businesses you want to service and work with?

If you are planning on creating a website presence for the first time or are considering going through a redesign of your existing website, the tools and applications (features and functionalities) you want to use should be considered during the planning stages of your new website. They are just as much a part of your website structure as your photo galleries and your about page. More thought on the front end will payoff big time in the long run.

The other very important reason why the whole or overall structure of your website should be considered is this question:

My site and the blog linking to my site are on the same server and IP, is this negative? (Luciano) & I've heard that SEO is optimized by having a blog with its own domain, rather than one through WordPress, etc. Is this true? (Nora)

Nope. It's actually the preferred way because you are building more SEO "juice" on a single domain. (Allen)

Domains, Usability and SEO

Allen’s answer here is very important. I don’t know how many photographer website presences I’ve seen where this is true:

  • Blog: Built on [fill in the blogging platform here] on one domain
  • Website: Built in Flash on another domain

I’m not an SEO expert (and beware of most people who call themselves this) so I won’t get into how “juice” is calculated but from a structural standpoint and a usability standpoint, I can tell you it is very annoying to go to a photographer’s website and have three or more different windows open when navigating through a website. Not only that, depending on if the navigation at each portal is well thought out or not, a user may find themselves struggling to go back to a gallery or finding the about page.

Easy navigation and easy to navigate are two primary considerations when building a website. Having three or more different domains not only deprives you of SEO "juice" for a single domain but makes usability challenging.

My point is that URL structure, SEO, Navigation, Blogging, Design, Development, etc. are not mutually exclusive. Building a website is much like building a house with the main difference being that instead of people entering your house just by the doors, they can enter your website through any opening.

And that leads me to this question:

What are good and real altenatives to flash sites for photographers? There is simply no substitute for the flash presentation...or is there? (Neil)

Lots of questions about Flash. Let me do one last explanation of my position.

I'm not anti-Flash. It's just a fact that Flash content has fewer links than its HTML breathren, and Google cannot index Flash images. This means that you might have a pretty Flash website, and people might link to your homepage, but people aren't linking to the 4th image in your 3rd gallery because in most cases, your URL isn't changing each time you load a new picture.

It is an objective fact that Flash websites get fewer links to them, and links are the most important factor for SEO.

The other issue is that photographer often design websites that appeal to them, not their audience. Sure, everyone likes a pretty Flash website, but photo buyers who we've talked to don't care about the technology as much as an easy-to-use interface that loads quickly. You don't need flash to accomplish that. (Allen)

There is an alternative to Flash

Its called Javascript, CSS, HTML and a database.

I strongly believe photographers who want to fully harness the power of the web of today and the future should build their websites using css, html and javascript. If you are a photographer who wants and sees a future in your online presence and has a pretty good vision of what your business could become in 3-5 years and how the internet can help you reach those goals, using Web Standards based technology to build the framework of your online presence will give you a solid foundation from which to build.  

CSS, HTML, Javascript, MySQL, PHP are all open source technologies that are free and allow a high level of functionality. This makes them extremely sustainable and stable.

What do I mean by sustainable and stable? Building a website using technology that allows for easy growth, evolution and compatibility. This includes minimizing the impact on your wallet; the ease of maintenance; the ease at which the visual presentation of your website can be updated/modified; the ease of being able to update content and the long term viability of your content.

Just as Allen said, “I’m not anti-Flash”; neither am I. Flash definitely has its place on the web especially for delivering multimedia content and gaming. But there has also been a lot of news in the past year that Flash could be on its way out. Whether that becomes true or not (in the next couple of years) remains to be seen and it is something to keep an eye on since evolving technology is very much a part of doing business these days, especially if you are using Flash to power your entire website.

Robust Custom Flash Websites Are Expensive

Let me say it again and differently. Robust custom Flash websites that are built correctly and are well designed are expensive. Building a custom-designed Flash website and having it correctly built on the back end to accommodate SEO, deep-linking, be accessible et al will add up costs very quickly.

But What about Flash templates?

Flash templates are readily available and are relatively inexpensive. But I feel a template website is a temporary solution. Think of it as a stepping stone to the custom website you will need and will want as your brand is defined and your business grows. Again, they may be easy to maintain because they have a CMS (content management system) but also consider there are so many CMS options out there that will also allow you to  manage and update your css and html based website.

Really, having just a pretty Flash website isn’t enough. Sure, there are some photographers and businesses that can have a pretty website but they are most likely photographers or businesses that have built up years of recognition and success in their respective industries. They have the cash flow to be pretty.

With a bit more thought on the front end (structure, navigation, features, functionality, etc.) the long term aspects of maintenance and scalability are more cost effective with a database and a css and html based website. Start up costs are minimal compared to buying into proprietary solutions.

Design for the Long Term

So, if I were a photographer and I didn’t have a lot to spend on a website, I would choose the css-html template that is clean and easy to navigate over a temporary Flash-based template. Why? A css-html template website will be positioned for growth and compatibility. A css-html website will be able to accommodate and integrate so much more of the new technologies and web-based applications being developed now and in the near future. You win immediately from the starting gate as these new applications and technologies evolve and launch. Or, would you rather fall behind because you have to find a Flash developer to tweak your website or wait for Adobe to catch up. Exactly how many Flash-based website versions or templates are you willing to pay for? (And yes, I'm a big Web Standards advocate and practitioner.)

I know I’m kind of harping on growth but I say it because I’m generally an optimist and heck, if you are a business person and aren’t of the frame of mind that you are going to grow, why are you in business for yourself?

Building a website these days is confusing and can be extremely overwhelming. Redesigning an older website or converting a website can also feel overwhelming and could feel like a serious blow to your wallet.

For many of you, you may feel a need to rush to get online. My advice is to not panic and really think about what you want to do and how you want to get there first. A website is a constantly evolving presence just like a magazine or newspaper.

Focus On Your Brand

[ A Photo Editor had a recent post about Photographer Branding and links to some other articles about branding which got me thinking about whether I agree or disagree. ]

Take the time to really think about your brand. This will help you focus not only which photographs you choose for your website galleries, your promotional pieces and your book but help you find your voice. Taking the time to brand will help narrow down all the choices because if the choices don’t fit your brand or your goals, you limit the number of choices and making it less overwhelming.

Branding is not just about a logo or a business card or a website. Branding builds and evolves over time so also don’t assume results will be immediate or that you will find or even “nail” your brand whether or not you devote large sums of cash. Why? Because a brand is not static. It changes. It evolves because it is not a thing, it is an expression of an idea.

"A good brand is a promise, a great brand is a promise kept." —Tom Sitati, Director of Brandscape, a brand strategy think tank

Read more about why a brand matters here.

And that whole thing about "It's All About the Work". That's a bunch of hooey and frankly, I think, to believe that the success of your business relies only on "the work" is myopic and self-centered. Your photography should be edited to be cohesive and consistent and reflective of you and what you can deliver. It has to be authentic.

Of course working on and improving your craft is your first commitment. Photography is the service or product you are selling. And being in the business of photography is getting people to buy your service or product. You can be the most amazing photographer on the planet and what good is that if you can't get a client? It's the same with a website. So you get tons of traffic. Has it resulted in a sale?

Published by: dpdavis in Self Employment, Design
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Comments

Flash CMS
December 9, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Thank you for these useful tips! I agree with the author that first of all you should define your purpose and according to them choose the right CMS or start creating website.

Thanks.

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