The secret to a wildly successful photo website isn’t complicated at all. It’s actually SIMPLE.
For part of my “Websites of the Future” presentations and photo business webinars, I compiled a list, called “Six Elements to a Successful Site.” Most photographers are quickly overwhelmed with the task of building and maintaining a website. If you follow these 6 simple rules, you’ll be headed in the right direction.
These rules will work for just about any website, not just photographers.
The Six Elements of a Successful Site
1) Search Engines index your content.
Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing are extremely rich sources of traffic for any website, so it is vital that your website be constructed in a way that search engines can properly index your content – all of it.
That means lots of text, lots of keywords, lots of captions placed closely to images, lots of text-linked keywords to content elsewhere in your site or archive, carefully written page titles and meta page descriptions.
Be extremely careful of Flash because it’s difficult for search engines to index content within Flash. If your heart is set on a fancy Flash website, make sure you’ve got an html “shadow site” that the search engines can see.
Look for every opportunity to embed keywords in your website. Image “alt” tags are often left blank, which is a shame because they are an opportunity to inject keywords into a page.
Keywords within the URL itself are also another opportunity. Make sure your URLs have actual words within them because this is yet another keyword-rich opportunity.
Download the free “SEO Cookbook for Photographers” kit from PhotoShelter. It will explain, in-depth, how search engines work specifically when it comes to photographer websites.
2) Integrated revenue generation.
All websites should have some ability to make you money. I don’t care who you are, or what you shoot or don’t shoot – if you have a website, there is no reason why it can’t be generating revenue.
The tools to do so are readily available, and easy to install. So what are you waiting for?
I’ve heard photographers say “My publication owns the rights to all my photos. I can’t sell them, so I only need a portfolio site.”
OK, so don’t sell *those* images. But go out and shoot something for yourself that you CAN sell/license. If someone else owns 100% of everything you shoot, you may find yourself in a very difficult position in the future.
You can sell images as prints, license images as Rights-Managed or Royalty-Free, or even sell “Personal Use downloads” for those customers who want an image on their computer desktop wallpaper, or on their cell phone. If you’ve got a PhotoShelter account already, you can sell all of these products simultaneously.
If you have traffic, you might as well make the most of it. There are all sorts of people out there looking for images – photo editors and advertising agencies, as well as regular people looking for images for their wall, or to give as gifts.
Your website should be capable of making the most of any possible revenue-making opportunity.
3) Measured, Analyzed & Tweaked
You may know how many people are visiting your website, but do you know what they’re actually doing when they get there? Do you know which traffic sources bring you the best traffic for your specific needs? Can you tell the difference between a visitor who is just browsing, and one that’s likely to actually buy something, or give you an assignment?
In most cases, people have no idea what’s happening on their website. They work really hard to do things that will increase their overall traffic numbers with the hope that eventually someone will bite – and they’ll get an assignment or make a sale.
The good news is that you don’t have to work this way. With free tools like Google Analytics you can track all the activity happening within your website, and you’ll be armed with enough data to make really intelligent decisions.
Which of your marketing efforts are paying off, and which should you dump? Is your website constructed in a way where your customers are finding what you want them to find, or are they bailing out early? Google Analytics can help you find these answers.
We’ve produced a free report, called “Google Analytics for Photographers” that many people have called the “Missing Manual” for GA. It’s loaded with really valuable information, and will walk you through the process of setting up, and using GA so that you’re making smart decisions.
Stop making business and marketing decisions solely on a “hunch,” or “gut feel.”
4) People want to link to it.
In terms of Search Engine Optimization, links to your website are the single most important factor. In the eyes of the search engines, the more links to a website, the more valuable or important that website must be. Each link is like a “vote” for your site. A site with many links will show up higher in search engine rankings than a site with a few, or no links.
So, what can you do to get links? Encourage people to link to you by producing high quality content. Content that is worthy of discussion usually has a unique perspective. It may be controversial, or it might be funny, or it might be innovative.
You should also make it easy for people to link to you. Include a “Tweet This” link on your pages so people can easily post a link to your content on Twitter. Use an “embedded slideshow” that always contains a link back to your site, and is capable of spreading “virally” to other sites. There are tools within PhotoShelter to do both of these things.
And while you’re at it – get a Twitter account and start Tweeting about your work. Twitter and Facebook networks are a great way to begin getting the word out about your projects, and it’s easy for people to spread the word to others in their networks.
5) Living & Breathing via updates
Websites that are growing tend to rank higher than websites that haven’t been updated in ages. It’s important to update your website often, so make sure you’ve got a website that’s easy to update.
One great way to accomplish this is to maintain a blog. Write about your images, your projects, and your thoughts. Look for an excuse to write about your images and you will be teaching the search engines about the contents of your archive.
Blogs are easy to install and easy to use. A blog doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Services like Blogger will allow you to run a blog for free. If you want to customize the blog so that it matches your website, you can download a copy of WordPress, for free, and install it on just about any web host.
6) Efficient & Save (you, your customers) Time
Your website is more than just an online portfolio. It’s a full-blown communication and productivity hub. Or, at least it should be. More and more customers are expecting a website to contain more than just a few pictures and a phone number.
Can your customers download high-resolution images from your website any time they want, day or night? Can they maintain active lightboxes of their favorite images on your site, leave comments, and edit a large set directly from your site?
Our survey of professional photo editors and image buyers tells us that 82% would like the option to download high-resolution images directly from a photographer’s website. This, and more eye-opening information, is included in the research report titled “Photography Websites: What Buyers Want” – which is a free download from PhotoShelter.
Can they see what you’re up to, and if you’re in town for an assignment? If you’re out of town, can they find out where you are, and if you’re able to take an assignment?
Can you FTP images directly to your customer from your website? Can you export images to many different clients, agencies, and publications simultaneously without having to rely on your own computer and Internet connection?
Your website can do all of the above with very little effort.
Your website can be, and should be, more than just a portfolio. It has the potential to save you time (by off-loading work to your clients), and money (not having to send images via FedEx) – and your clients will probably thank you for it.
Train yourself to think of your website as a business and marketing tool instead of an online portfolio. It’s a SIMPLE thing to do!