Your website is the single most important asset in your online marketing toolbox, so it makes sense to ensure it has everything needed to do its job properly.
That job is to take visitors and turn them into sales or leads you can personally follow-up with to convert into bookings and clients.
Without a properly-functioning website, all of your online marketing could be for nothing and you run the risk of losing a lot of people who might otherwise become valued clients or customers.
Despite this critical role for successful marketing, every week I see examples of websites afflicted by common, but easily-fixed problems.
These problems can cause your visitors to leave your website without taking action, forcing you to find more traffic in the hopes some of them will convert.
It’s like trying to fill a punctured bucket with water.
Depending on the number and size of the holes, you must add way more water to the bucket than necessary.
These 10 mistakes are a bit like the holes in the bucket and they should be plugged as soon as possible to stop the leakage of valuable visitors…
#1: Putting Design Before Purpose
If there’s one thing that freezes photographers in their tracks when building a website, it has to be the job of choosing a design and layout.
Of course, photographers are visual people with an artistic nature, so it’s only natural to look for an aesthetically-pleasing website design with all the right colors, fonts and graphics etc.
But this can be a mistake, especially if you dwell too much on the look and feel or allow the design of your website to overshadow the purpose.
What do I mean?
As I mentioned already, the job of your website is to connect with visitors and convert them into leads or sales.
Some designs are focused heavily on showcasing the photography, often with large images and fancy slideshows that come at the expense of fulfilling the conversion part of the process.
Others don’t allow you to include the necessary sign-up forms, buttons, or other tools needed as part of a conversion process.
I’m not saying you should sacrifice good looks in order to make the website work, but it doesn’t serve you or your business if the website looks pretty but sucks at generating business.
How To Fix It
I’m not suggesting you replace your entire website design, unless you feel you need to, but I would recommend doing an audit of your website design and layout to identify potential problems.
It helps to look at it from the perspective of a potential client.
- Is your intended goal for each page clear and obvious, or must they think about what you want them to do?
- How much space do your logo and header take up at the top of the page?
- Do you have a suitable prominent spot for your email sign-up forms?
- Is the menu navigation clear without taking up too much space?
- Does the choice of colors overpower your images?
- Do you have an uncluttered page template you can use for landing pages?
- Are there items you can remove from your sidebars?
- What elements can you remove from the footer section?
#2: Slow Load Times
We live in a world powered by instant gratification where everyone wants to get what they want right now, and waiting for even a short time makes people impatient.
With websites, impatience shows up within just a couple of seconds of requesting a page, and the user abandonment rate increases the longer they have to wait for the page to load.
The problem is, we’re talking about mere seconds here, not minutes, and users will start to grow impatient (or worry something’s wrong) if they have to wait much more than 3 seconds.
It sounds crazy, I know, but this is the world we have to deal with, so it’s worth doing our best to make our web pages load as quickly as possible.
Furthermore Google uses page speed as a ranking factor for both mobile and desktop search rankings.
This isn’t a major ranking factor, so unless your website is consistently and incredibly slow (9 seconds or more), it’s unlikely that page speed alone will have much effect on your search rankings. However, why risk losing a potentially high spot in the search results when you can do something about it?
How To Measure Your Website Performance
You could sit at your computer and load your own website with a stopwatch in hand, but that’s not a very accurate measurement!
The good news is there are lots of tools out there to help with this, one of the best ones being the Pingdom Tools.
Paste your website URL into the box and click “test now” to get a report and a score of your page’s performance, as well as a detailed breakdown of the entire process needed to load your page.
They even give you some great recommendations on how to improve your loading time.
How To Fix It
One of the biggest factors in your website’s page loading times is the set of images on a page, everything from page headers, logos, graphical buttons, backgrounds, and (of course) your photographs.
The most obvious culprit is the physical file sizes of those images, combined with where they’re being served from.
You probably already know there are 3 basic elements that determine the size of an image file:
- The file format (jpg, png, bmp, gif etc).
- The dimensions of the image as measured in pixels.
- The amount of compression used when the file is saved (if the format supports it).
The resolution (dpi) has little bearing on the file size, so you don’t need to be overly concerned with the resolution for images being displayed on a screen, such as on a website.
The vast majority of your images will be in either jpg or png format.
Because png files (especially 24-bit png) take up more disk space per square pixel, the png format is often used for buttons and other smaller style-based graphics, whereas photos will more often be saved in jpg format.
For photographs, the first things to consider are the image dimensions, and you should avoid uploading photographs to your website larger than the maximum size at which they will ever be displayed.
For example, if the maximum content width of your website is set to 960 pixels, there’s no point in uploading images wider than this because the files will be larger than they need to be and they will always have to be scaled down by the browser to fit a width of 960px.
Also, if you know your photograph will be on the right half of the page with text wrapping to the left of it, you should save the image at the actual size it’s going to occupy on the screen.
Next, save your website images with as small a file-size as possible, while still maintaining a decent level of visual quality. In other words, you want them to be clear and not pixelated, so this can be a bit of a balancing act.
With most jpg files, you can safely use a 50-60% quality setting, which gives good compression while still maintaining clarity.
In most cases, you also want to eliminate unnecessary EXIF metadata from the image, which can often take up more space than the image itself! Using the “save for web” option in Photoshop solves this issue by saving only the actual image data.
#3: Not Mobile Responsive
The Internet used to be the habitat of the desktop computer or laptop but, in just a few short years, it has become dominated by mobile devices.
This fact isn’t lost on Google, who came right out and said that search results presented on mobile devices will strongly favor those websites deemed fit for viewing on a mobile phone or tablet.
This means mobile-friendly websites are now essential for a strong presence in mobile search results.
In short, your website absolutely must have a mobile responsive design in order to compete.
Actually, the main goal is not even to compete, it’s more about keeping your clients and website visitors happy and making it more likely for them to come back in the future.
If you’re not sure what having a responsive design is all about, here’s what it means:
A responsive website design automatically configures itself to present a readable and user-friendly version of itself regardless of the resolution of the device it’s being viewed upon.
And we’re not only talking about smartphones.
Responsive design is intended for laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, TV’s, or any device where the screen resolution is different to what the designer had in mind when they built the website to begin with.
If your website and blog are built using a recent WordPress theme then you’re likely okay, since most of the themes released since late 2013 have at least some responsive design built into them. However, it’s worth checking to see if there’s an updated version of your theme.
On the other hand, if your theme was hand-coded a while ago, you might have to check with your website developer to have the theme converted to a fully-responsive design.
How To Fix It
Not sure if your website or blog theme is responsive?
Check out this useful responsive design checker tool where you can preview what any page of your website looks like when viewed on a variety of devices.
Looking For A New Responsive Theme?
There are many WordPress themes available, some better than others, but here are the criteria I consider when advising professional photographers about choosing a WordPress theme:
- It should not take over or obscure the full functionality offered by WordPress.
- The theme should be professional-looking and business-focused (i.e. not simply a “showcase” style theme).
- I look for clean and simple design with good use of white space and intuitive usability.
- The theme developer should provide good technical support.
I personally recommend the fantastic set of WordPress themes from the awesome folks at Imagely (the same amazing people who developed the NextGen Gallery plugin). These are good themes for photographers who want a website that means business.
#4: Playing Music
Most people enjoy music, but not everyone likes the same kind of music, and it can annoy someone when they land on a photographer’s website only to hear unexpected music.
As artists, it’s tempting to think that music creates a certain atmosphere, creates a specific mood, or that it somehow enhances the visitor’s experience of your photography.
Sadly, the opposite is more often the case.
While music might be a great idea when presenting images in person during a sales session, people don’t expect music when browsing the web.
They may be at work, or another place where music could be treated by others as a disturbance.
Perhaps they’re already listening to their favorite music on their computer, and your website turned it into a scrambled cacophony.
Or, they might simply dislike your song choice.
Whatever the reason, unexpected music is likely to interrupt their browsing experience and send them in a frantic search for the volume knob and the “stop playback” button.
How To Fix It
This one is simple, right? Disable the music.
#5: Slideshows Without Stories
Slideshows are extremely popular right now on photography websites, and they might seem like a “no-brainer” decision, especially to photographers new to the business.
The reasons for having a slideshow appear obvious:
- We need to show off our work, so what better way than a slideshow at the top of the home page to grab people’s attention?
- Slideshows allow the photographs to speak for themselves – no selling required!
- Then, there’s the industry proof. With so many photography websites sporting a slideshow it must be the right thing to do…
Well, maybe, but maybe not.
Most of the slideshows I see are quite basic with a selection of images showing different aspects of the photographer’s work, with a new image about every 3 seconds.
The slideshow itself often takes up the full width of the website content and extends far enough down the page that the user must scroll past it to see the main content.
In essence, we have a rotating selection of eye-candy for visitors, but with no supporting text or calls to action.
Yes, people do get to see examples of your work, but the downside is they don’t get to interact with it or get the full impact from each of the photographs.
The truth is, the popular idea that every photograph tells a story is a myth when it comes to slideshows.
I mean, who can get the full story of a series of images in 3 seconds per photograph? No one.
Plus, having this take up so much of your prime website real-estate at the top of the screen can actually hurt your chances of building a meaningful connection with the visitor.
How To Fix It
So what can you do about this?
Here are several options to think about:
- Easy: You could remove the slideshow altogether and replace it with static images, compelling text, and a call to action.
- Intermediate: Try overlaying some engaging text in the white-space of your slideshow images, and then slow the slideshow down so people can read and absorb the message on each image.
- Advanced: The best option is to use slider software (or a plugin if have WordPress) to allow text boxes and calls to action to be shown alongside the images, thereby making your slideshow more interactive and purposeful. There are lots of these plugins available, with new ones being added all the time.
#6: Me-Centered “About” Pages
The “About Me” page is another of those seemingly-obvious must-have pieces of any website, and there’s no doubt that you do need one.
But the mistake most people make, and it’s an easy trap to fall into, is making the “about” page all about “me” (the photographer) instead of about “them” (the customer).
Business-centric content was the norm in the days of traditional marketing, but the customer now has a much bigger role to play. Instead of accepting whatever marketing materials companies decide to throw at them, customers instead prefer to work with businesses who show they understand who it is they serve, and that they truly care about the experience their customers get from the relationship.
In this new world the “about” page is no longer all about the business owner, it’s about the customer and how their views and beliefs around the value of photography intersect with those of the photographer.
Yes, there’s still room for information about you, but it’s secondary to the conversation about who your client is and why they’re the perfect customer for you.
No one really cares about what’s in your camera bag, or how passionate you are about photography, but they do care about the value your work creates for them, the quality of the interactions they’ll have with you, and how you address their specific needs or expectations.
How To Fix It
Turning your “about” page around from business-centric to customer-centric isn’t too hard. All you have to do is write to your intended client from her perspective.
For example, you might originally say something like this:
Here at XYZ photography, we photograph your children in our fun studio designed to get the very best expressions and poses to create portraits you’ll treasure for a lifetime…
Not bad, but it’s focused too much on the photographer. A different way to say the same thing might be like this:
You know your children better than anyone, and it’s important to you that they feel relaxed and totally at-ease with whomever you choose to photograph them. You’re looking for a friendly photographer with a studio that’s inviting for kids, instead of intimidating, where they’ll be able to have fun and be themselves in front of the camera because you know those are the times when they produce the most adorable and treasured portraits.
See the difference? We’re saying similar things in both cases, but the second one speaks from the client’s perspective.
There’s obviously a lot to this, but here are 5 more quick tips for a more effective “about” page:
- Relate to your potential clients through shared values…
- Talk less about you and more about them, especially at the beginning…
- Let her know what she can expect from the experience of working with you…
- Explain why you’re the right photographer for them if they are your ideal client…
- Supercharge your page with powerful testimonials…
#7: Intimidating Contact Forms
In addition to acquiring new leads you can follow-up with, getting people to contact you by email or phone is a major goal of your website.
After all, if no one gets in touch after seeing your website then you have no clients or sales, so getting this one right is critical to your success.
On most websites there’s usually a centralized “contact us” page with a form the visitor must fill out in order to get in touch.
So far, so good,
But most photographers see poor conversion rates on these forms, meaning that only a small percentage of the people who see the form actually complete it.
By far the biggest reason for this is too much “friction”.
Friction in marketing is a bad thing because it hinders the process and causes potential prospects to leak out of the system, reducing sales and hurting the bottom-line of the business.
With regard to contact forms, several factors can lead to increased friction:
- No single and specific reason for completing the form…
- Too many fields asking for too much information too soon in the relationship…
- Unclear or ambiguous expectations of what happens next…
- Looking too “official” in appearance…
These are just some of the issues I see standing in the way of improved conversion rates, so it’s worth taking some time to correct them.
How To Fix It
This mistake is usually a simple one to fix, and here are some ways to make your contact pages more appealing:
- Add a headshot of yourself to the right of the form (or at least near the top of the page). This shows them who it is they’re getting in touch with.
- Give the page a compelling headline to explain the reason for the form, other than “Contact Us”.
- If possible, keep the amount of information you ask for to a bare minimum. In most cases, all you need is their name, email address, and a brief message. You can always learn whatever else you need from follow-up conversations or emails.
- Let them know what they can expect to happen after they complete the form.
- Provide other ways for people to reach you, such as by phone or your email address.
- Use more appealing text on the call to action button instead of “submit” or “send”. For example, “Get In Touch With Me”.
- Eliminate those annoying CAPTCHAs. Yes, they can reduce spam, but most people find them intimidating.
#8: Distractions And Unnecessary Links
Once you have someone on your website, the last thing you want is for them to lose their focus on the page they’re visiting or, worse, be sent away to someone else’s website.
Whether intentional or not, many of our web pages are cluttered with potential distractions, including unnecessary links. These represent opportunities for your visitor to head off in directions you don’t want them to.
For example, if there’s a sidebar on your website or blog I’m sure you have some useful elements in there, such as a sign-up box for your email list, or links to important resources, but there may be other items that don’t serve your marketing goals.
If you look at your visitor data and find that people spend less time than you expect on specific pages, or they exit the website altogether at certain points, you should check to see where they go and what could possibly be distracting them.
How To Fix It
Take an in-depth look at your website or blog layout and examine every detail, no matter how small it might seem.
Each outgoing link, including those to your social media profiles, is like drilling a hole in a bucket that allows attention to leak away. With social media, for example, the ideal flow should be from social to your website, not the other way around.
Be especially wary of widgets, links, badges, banners, and anything in sidebars and footers, that are not aligned with the goal you want the page to accomplish.
You should also emphasize any calls to action to make them stand out from the background noise.
#9: Typography Issues
How your content is displayed to the visitor, especially the text, has a major impact on its readability.
If reading the content requires too much effort from the visitor, it can reduce their attention-span, lead to superficial scanning of the page, or cause them to abandon your website altogether.
Clearly, none of those things help your website achieve its goals and the best content in the world is useless if no one can comfortably read it.
How easy or difficult your website actually is for someone to read is the result of many factors, and I see a lot of websites where the consumption of the content is more difficult than necessary, so this one is worth paying attention to.
How To Fix It
Here are some tips and things to look for, and how to correct them:
- Avoid using right-justified text. A straight right-edge might look neat, but it’s been shown to negatively impact the online reading experience, especially for dyslexic users.
- The space for your content should be around 100 characters in width. Over-wide content is hard to read on a screen, and makes it difficult for the eye to keep track of which line it’s on.
- The left edge of the content is called the “reading line”, and you should avoid breaking it with left-aligned images. Instead, use full-width centered images, or align your images to the right of the text.
- Reverse-type (light text on a dark background) should be considered a marketing sin! While it’s okay in small doses, such as in breakout boxes, presenting an entire page this way can be murder on the eyes and cause headaches or eye-strain.
- It’s tempting to embellish our content with fancy fonts, but most of the time it’s inappropriate, or the fonts are practically unreadable unless you already know what the text says. Try to keep the number of fonts to a minimum, and never use specialized fonts that must be present on the visitor’s device.
- A corollary to that is using small font sizes, especially on mobile devices. Small text is obviously hard to read, so don’t be afraid to use a font-size similar to what you see here.
- Your headings, subheadings, and body text represent a hierarchy of content. For that reason, you should use font-sizes and styles to differentiate between them, which can help people who are scanning the content to see the most important points.
- Another barrier to easy reading is writing long blocks of text in paragraphs that span more than 3 or 4 lines on the screen. Many of the rules of writing we learned in school don’t apply to the web, and long paragraphs is one of those.
- Finally, try to allow adequate spacing between paragraphs and lines of text. This not only makes your content easier to read, it also creates a sense of space and allows your words to have breathing room where they can be read and understood.
Many of these fixes can be achieved through simple tweaks to your CSS stylesheet in your theme or website design. You can either make the changes yourself, or have your developer do them for you, and the rewards are well worth the effort.
#10: Ignoring Website Analytics
Anything you do to try to improve your marketing must be based on accurate tracking and measurement of how people are actually using your website – you can’t afford to guess here!
There’s a saying that goes something like, “You can’t fix what you can’t measure…”
Without a good understanding of the numbers and data behind your website’s performance, you’re essentially poking around in the dark with no idea of what could be wrong, or what you need to do to fix it!
How To Fix It
For this, I recommend you sign up for these three services:
Each of these systems collect valuable information about your website search metrics and visitors, which you can use to better understand what’s actually happening on your website and the user behavior.
The Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) gives you access to actual keywords people used to find your site, along with your average position in the search rankings. You can also see how many incoming links you have, and who links to you, along with a lot of other useful SEO information.
Google Analytics is the most well-known, but Clicky is a great real-time analytics system with some added benefits such as more intuitive presentation of the data, and the ability to see who is on your website at any given time, and which page they’re on.
Armed with this information, you’ll be able to assess the performance of your landing pages, find your most popular posts, discover who sends you the most referral traffic, and identify areas where you need to make improvements.
Before you make the potentially damaging decision to trash your website and start over, here are the 10 areas to focus on to see if you can fix the website you already have. Go through each one and evaluate how they might be affecting your marketing, and then take the appropriate steps to correct any problems you find:
- Website layout and design supports your goals…
- Pages loads at acceptable speeds…
- Your website is fully device-responsive…
- Remove any auto-play music…
- Tell stories to support your slideshows…
- Rewrite “about” pages to focus on the client first…
- Simplify any contact forms…
- The focus is on the content, not distractions…
- The website is easily readable…
- Track and review your website analytics…