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Right off the bat, this is not an article about what background colors to use, what plugins to install, or other shallow web design fashion trends. Focusing blindly on bells and whistles (flat design, parallax scrolling, full-width page layouts) won’t actually make your photo website better. Sure, it might make it pretty, but it won’t necessarily be effective.
Getting the bigger picture and understanding the WHY behind web design trends will make you better equipped to build a successful photography business.
Having worked on over two hundred photography websites in the past few years, I’ve developed an eye for all the details that make up a great photo website and have recognized some important mindset shifts. My aim with this article is to give you a good overview of where the web design industry is heading (as it relates to photography websites), and how you can stay ahead of the curve.
Focusing on trends that truly matter allows you to then provide real value to your audience.
Web design trends are just a result of an ever-changing landscape. That’s why building your photography website should not be considered a one-time effort. It’s your responsibility to keep an eye on the industry and adapt as you go along.
So, what is driving all the web design changes in the photography industry, and what can you do about it?
The web design world is rapidly evolving in order to manage the Internet boom:
There were more than 3 billion (with a “b”) Internet users in 2014, representing 43% of the world’s population.
So if you think the Internet has grown in recent years, we have yet to reach the tipping point. Not to mention how fast and easy it is to create a new basic photo website these days, instead of just being a content consumer. Everybody is getting online, which is the obvious cause of many web design changes.
Let’s explore some strategies to differentiate your photo website and rise above the surface:
When the market becomes over-saturated, you’re somewhat forced to specialize in a smaller niche and become an expert in it. Your target audience will be smaller, but you’ll also be a better fit for their needs.
Niching down can usually be done through:
This also has a great impact on how you structure your website. Having a clear target audience in mind, allows you to craft your message and tailor your site’s landing pages better.
If a first-time visitor comes to your site and is greeted with 10+ galleries from completely separate photography domains, (s)he might start exploring some of them, but will surely be a little confused and ask “What is this photographer actually good at?”.
Besides having great images (which should be a constant focus in your career), your website is an important way to showcase your personality. Just like you’re trying to craft a unique style in your photos, you should also infuse your style into the way you build your website.
How do you do that?
Your words have a lot of power. What you write (and the tone you write in) can make a lot of difference:
Furthermore, it’s obviously not enough to use a great website template, thousands of other photographers might use the same one. The branding and design of your website are also important differentiators:
To dive deeper into how you can infuse personality into your website, look no further than this excellent article from Smashing Magazine: The Personality Layer.
Using free blogging platforms like blogger.com or wordpress.com (not to be confused with the self-hosted software from wordpress.org), you get what you pay for. I don’t want to sound harsh, because they’re useful to many people, but they’re targeted at beginners, so you also let out that impression when using them.
Check out the tutorial How to Start a Blog for more information on selecting a hosting platform, domains etc.
Using the right platform (like wordpress.org for your blog and/or PhotoShelter, Smugmug, or Zenfolio for your portfolio or archive, to give a few examples) allows you to build your site under your own terms, with SEO advantages and more design flexibility. But then you also have to pay attention to the theme or template you’re using on these platforms. Choosing a weak one (and not even customizing it in any way) makes your site very similar to many other ones out there.
Even if you’re not in the position to hire a professional web designer or developer, or you’re just starting out, it’s important to do a little research first and choose a strong theme as the foundation for your site.
If using WordPress, one of the best places to look for quality themes is ThemeForest (this link automatically filters for the term “photography” in the WordPress category, sorted by bestsellers and does not use any referral code).
Once you have a theme, it’s worth browsing the theme demo, reading its documentation, and getting acquainted with all the various layouts and options it has – they’re building blocks from which you can build your own WordPress-based website.
You can tell a lot about a photographer’s personality from his website layout. Cluttered headers and overwhelming navigation can leave users confused and make them abandon the site (or at least browse to less important pages).
By letting go of clutter and focusing on quality over quantity, you can provide a better browsing experience for your users:
Notice I did not mention minimalism in particular, or using the now-popular flat design elements. Prioritizing your content and focusing on a clean design are key ingredients to being more successful with your site.
Your photo website should obviously showcase your work and let your personality shine, but it shouldn’t be built around what YOU like (as the website owner). Instead, you should embark on the long process of defining your target audience and figuring out their likes and needs:
Answering questions like this should, in time, create a strong new mindset for building a site that’s useful and appealing to your audience. What a great place to mention this quote from marketing expert Seth Godin:
“The only reason to build a website is to change someone. If you can’t tell me the change and you can’t tell me the someone, then you’re wasting your time.” – Seth Godin
The spread of broadband connections and mobile networks are changing the way we browse websites. No longer are people expecting to wait too long for a page to load, or to sit and read very long texts (except maybe for long-form articles like this one).
High-speed connections bring many benefits, but also impatience and superficiality (users not staying long enough on a site to dive deeper into a topic). This has a few important affects on the way you should build your online presence:
Google expects that too. Photography websites usually have a problem with site speed, due to the nature of the image-heavy pages which require more bandwidth and are slower to load. While using a quality hosting provider is obviously important, the three main performance factors are:
Quality content comes first, but a big chunk of users leave your site if it takes too long to load. As technologies advance, this performance expectation will only get stronger.
Make no mistake – with faster websites, users’ patience is also stretched thin. In this era of distractions and (false) multi-tasking, rarely do people sit for long periods of time on a single page. Even if they’re fond of your work, the social media feed in the other browser tab pulls them away from your site and back to their notifications. It is, therefore, important to create a smooth browsing experience:
Since people are so distracted these days, you might be thinking of grabbing their attention and making them stay on your site longer. But this can be done in both good and bad ways. You can either use annoying pop-ups and write bombastic words to trick them into staying, or you can instead create a clean and simple website that’s a joy to use.
When you visit a website and can quickly find what you’re looking for, you’re a happy reader and more likely to go there again. Don’t you also feel the same way when shopping in a neatly organized store? Whereas on websites where you’re wasting time searching or navigating, your frustration level might prevent you from ever going there again.
What are the main ways to create a great website experience, you ask?
The web design industry is evolving. It’s heading towards clarity and simplification, forced by the expanding number of websites out there.
There are many other aspects to take into consideration (the rise of mobile devices, higher content consumption rates, new browsing habits, SEO and social media implications, and many more), but they’re the topic of a future article here on dPS.
If you closely read all the points above, you’ll spot the common thread; helping your readers and always asking yourself how to make things better for them.
Focusing more on the quality of your work and on providing an honest and friendly browsing experience to your readers can go a long way.