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As the saying goes, your first impression is often your last. That’s why designing an outstanding homepage should be one of your top priorities.
Think of your homepage as the entry point to your entire website; it needs to grab your visitors and get them to click through to the “deeper” pages where they can either buy your images or contact you for a job.
What makes for an outstanding homepage? It’s more than just great images (although that’s a big part of it). Your homepage also needs to user-centered, meaning that it answers “yes” to the question, “I came here to do X. Can I accomplish it quickly without a ton of effort?”
The following checklist highlights 11 important elements of any great, hardworking homepage. Depending on your website’s overall design (is it a template or a custom design?), you might not be in control of everything. But the best photography website homepages get many of these right.
1. Tells visitors who you are and what you do, right off the bat. Chances are, visitors are coming to your site either because they searched for your specialty or they already knew something about you and came via a direct link. Either way, you want to confirm that they’ve come to the right place. Make sure your name (or business’ name) stands out and that your specialty is immediately obvious – either in your logo or homepage text. There should be no guesswork involved.
Izmostock‘s logo and on-page text clearly communicate that they’re a car stock agency. They even display a CTA (call-to-action) to entice visitors to “Learn More” about their services.
2. Speaks to and resonates with your target audience. Defining and understanding your target audience is crucial to shaping your business, and your website. The images on your homepage should be a direct reflection of the kind of work you want to get. That’s why smart photographers with multiple specialties choose to have separate websites. If you’re an editorial photographer who sometimes takes wedding gigs, you shouldn’t have photos of the bride and groom on your homepage. Make sure your site appeals to your target audience, and doesn’t confuse them.
Chip Litherland hosts two separate websites – one for his editorial work, and one for his wedding photography business Eleven Weddings. That way he can send potential clients to the site with portfolios that will appeal to them.
3. Puts your images front and center. Even if you’re using a template to build your website, your homepage should grab your visitors’ attention right off the bat with stunning imagery. Big, beautiful images will ideally compel visitors to click through to specific galleries, and then individual images. For example, PhotoShelter members can display one large image on their homepage, and thumbnails of other featured galleries to entice visitors. Whether you’re selling prints or licenses, or looking to get hired, strong and prominently displayed photography should convince clients to dig deeper or reach out.
Commercial photographer Alexa Miller displays a big, eye-catching photo on her homepage, showcasing her best work and shooting style.
Alongside a large image, photojournalist Amy Toensing displays smaller gallery thumbnails toward the bottom of her homepage, so clients can see her breadth of work.
4. Clearly communicates your brand’s personality, look and feel. One of your top priorities should be to create a brand that communicates your photographic style, your voice, and most importantly, the feeling that you leave clients with when they work with you. Once you figure out your brand, your website needs to revolve around it – from your logo, to your color scheme, to your photography.
St.Louis-based photographer Jonathan Gayman does an excellent job of using his brand’s look and feel – airy, colorful, and striking – throughout his homepage.
5. Loads quickly! In a survey of over 1,000 photo buyers, we learned that speed is the #1 important thing to clients in a photographer’s website. Forego the fancy introductions and music soundtracks, and get down to business.
6. Displays the right links to your website’s other pages. Your homepage should act like a door to the rest of your website. That means it’s important to have a clear and thoughtful navigation bar that lets visitors easily access your image galleries, about page, blog, and any other internal pages.
Chris Schmid‘s homepage has an easy-to-use top navigation bar that links to his portfolio, video work, bio, image archive, blog and more.
7. Makes your contact info easy to find. It sounds obvious, but accessible contact information is key to facilitating sales, and is something that many photographers overlook. You should have your info included in an easy-to-find place on your website – whether that’s a standard contact form or your direct email. All PhotoShelter websites have a dedicated about page that you can customize with a contact form and your info. You can also opt to display a link to this page in the footer, so it appears on every page of your site.
Washington, D.C.-based photographer Andrew Propp has a “Contact” link in his website’s navigation, and also links directly to his email from the bottom of his homepage.
8. Keeps the important information above the fold. One hard and fast rule of website design is to keep the most important information about the fold, i.e. what you can see in your browser without scrolling down. That’s because visitors are more likely to click away from your site (or to another page on your site) than to scroll down. Abiding by this rule is another way to make sure you’re grabbing your visitors’ attention right away.
Mike Capson‘s homepage has one large image and three calls-to-action linking to other work, all above the fold.
9. Features a site-wide search bar (if applicable). Many photo buyers and potential clients want archive search functionality so they can find what they’re looking for – fast. Make sure your website provider or designer includes this feature so you don’t lose out on any sales opportunities – might we suggest PhotoShelter?
Michelle Furbacher of Foodograph.ca puts her site search bar front and center on her homepage.
10. Plays “nice” with Google and is optimized for SEO. Do you know the #1 thing you can do that will prevent your site from ranking at the top of search engine results? Have a website that uses Flash! Flash is the equivalent of an invisible coat in the eyes of Google and other search engines – their robots can’t “crawl” Flash-based websites, and while they may look pretty, they’re thwarting your SEO efforts. Stick to CSS/HTML-based websites, and be sure there’s plenty of room for on-page text so you can include your keywords. (For more SEO best practices, check out our free guide SEO for Photographers.)
Fine art photographer Jeffrey Murray has a nice splash page that promotes his award without using Flash or getting too fancy.
11. Constantly updated with fresh content. New content is what keeps visitors returning to your site, and depending on your business, repeat visitors might make up a good chunk of your sales (whether it’s images or gigs). On top of that, Google loves fresh content – it keeps the search robots coming back to your site, which makes it more likely to rank in search engine results. So don’t forget to update your featured galleries or link to your latest blog post.
Jerry Monkman keeps his homepage “fresh” by featuring links to his Outdoor Photo Tips video series.
Looking for more examples of great homepages? Check out PhotoShelter members’ pages for some inspiration! See more examples >>