So What Good is a Website?
Well, my last posting stirred up some of the controversy I expected. I think it’s important to point out that when a lifelong marketing professional says something like, “your brand doesn’t matter,” he’s probably making a point. (At least I hope that’s the case because if it’s not, then I’ve wasted an awful lot of time over the years). The point I was making in that message is a pretty simple one really. If you’re spending all of your time in front of your computer wondering where your clients are, then you’re business is going to die. Your clients aren’t in your computer, they’re outside your front door.
So, if that’s really the case, than what good is a website? Why spend all the time and energy necessary to keep it up to date? Do you really need a blog? We’ll dig into that a little here.
Think of the website as the place someone goes to find out a little more about you. It’s a confirmation. A person has heard a recommendation from a friend (best), or read about you online (still good but nowhere near as powerful). Something they heard has them wondering if you’re the photographer they’re seeking, so they go to the first place they think of to find out, your website.
Now - take a second and look at that. I didn’t say your blog. I said your website. If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘well, all of my newest stuff is on my blog’ then you have a problem already. Note that when most of the outside world goes shopping the first place they go is www.whatI’mlookingfor.com (no - that’s not a real URL). ‘But I want them to go to my blog.’ Yes, I know. The world is littered with marketing ideas that didn’t work because the marketplace didn’t do what the marketer wanted. Go figure. The fact is that people will go first to your site because that’s where they want to go. In the photography world we think of blogs as the most up to date -most vibrant content, but the outside world thinks of blogs as places where people diary their weight loss- cat exploit - rant about whatever - praise my shoes - happy - sad - mad - finally motivated - completely depressed stuff for only the most committed readers to see.
So your website matters. Now - what’s on it? Information. People who are coming to your site want to get to know you in one of two ways. They’re looking for a photographer. Some folks will be image centric. They’re going to want to see your stuff. Your galleries should be well organized, quick loading hierarchies of your most current, best, images. Your absolute best images need to be first. With the back button drawing the visitor’s cursor with every passing breath, you have only seconds to make an impression. Don’t save it for last - make it first. If there are certain kinds of people you especially like to shoot (and if these people make up a viable market) then make sure your galleries feature those kinds of people. When THEY come to the site you want them to connect. If you shoot different kinds of work, don’t be afraid to display it here.
There are differing points of view on whether you should have different sites for different sides of your business. Lots of gurus say yes. I’m not so sure. My view is that there is nothing wrong with showing your clients you have some breadth. There also seems to be a direct correlation between site stagnation and the number of sites a photographer has. So long as the information is arranged well and is clear, I think it makes sense to go ahead and aggregate it on a single, well planned site.
The only exception in my mind is Boudoir which I think can be linked to a primary site more effectively then simply occupying a gallery there. The sensuous nature of a well planned and executed Boudoir site will limit your ability to market other products. Those who visit it will also be reluctant to have their images (however unlikely) shown alongside images of dogs or wedding receptions. I think it works best for both clients and photographers to have separate sites for this purpose. There are numerous excellent examples to see how these can be executed.
I’m also a big believer in showing your personal work - within reason. If your personal work goes toward the avant-garde or if it may be disturbing to the kind of people whose events, portraits, etc., you want to shoot, than you might want to leave this work off of your commercial site. However, if your personal work is art in a form that the kind of people you want to shoot will like, then by all means have it on your site. This gives them another visual touchstone - another reason to like you.
I said there are two kinds of people who will come to your site and they’ll come for two reasons. The first group comes to see images. The second group wants to meet YOU. For this reason your “about me” section should be written in the first person. (That’s “I” for those who don’t know). Without getting too long, it should nevertheless convey your sensibilities regarding photography. Your goals in working with clients. Your style. I like sites best that really let this sing a little. Sites that celebrate what is different about you. I also like sites that arrest a reader immediately. “I dropped my camera and broke it halfway through my first wedding...” I’m going to want to continue reading it! (especially if it goes on to talk about how you had a backup, etc. the bride and groom were thrilled). Another good start I saw recently was, “Something always goes wrong!” People think these sections called “About me” are autobiographical tomes and they dread writing them. They’re not. They’re hooks. Think of them as speed dating on a page. What’s the thing you MOST want this person who you like to know about you. Start there.
Note that in all of this - and it’s getting long now so I’m going to stop - I have not once mentioned the design, colors, style, etc. That’s on purpose. (not a mistake). It’s not that these elements aren’t important. It’s that they become important AFTER you have figured out what you want to communicate and how - not before. These elements are backups, they come last - not first. I also think you’re artists and you’re pretty good at this stuff once you get started and that it’s in other places where I can more readily help you.