Whether your studio already has a website or you’re looking to optimize your existing site to bring in more customers, you’re in the right place.
If you don’t have a website, it’s time to get to work! We recently published an informative article about website builders, backend website strategy, and other techie stuff. If you’re new to the website-building process, that article will help you make some important decisions to get your site up and running, including which webbuilder features to consider and more.
In this blog, we’ll give you a rundown of the most crucial elements to consider when building a website, specifically, choosing a domain for your volume photography studio website, the must-have elements and pages, creating a positive user experience, converting interactions into sales, optimizing your website for visibility, understanding Google Analytics, and more!
Choosing a Domain
If you already have a website set up, you can skip this section. If not, start here!
A domain is your dedicated website address (or URL) after the “www.” portion of a link. It is the word or words users enter to find your studio on the web. Ideally, your studio name will be up for grabs, and you can use it as your domain. However, there are times when someone else might already have it, so you'll need to get a bit creative. One workaround that often does the trick is adding your city's name or abbreviation to your studio name.
For example, if you own ABC Studio in New York and www.abcstudio.com is already in use, you could try using www.abcstudionyc.com instead. The most important thing is choosing a domain name that is simple, relevant, and memorable.
Another option is not using “.com” at all and trying a different suffix like “.biz,” “.org,” or even “.photo.” The advantages of using an alternate suffix are that (if available) you can use your actual business name, differentiate your brand with an unusual web address, and make a natural tie between your website and the industry.
There are some downsides to this approach, too. Users assume “.com,” so if they’re trying to find your website organically, they may end up at the other ABC Studio. Also, users might perceive your website to be less trustworthy since alternative suffixes are still relatively uncommon. Finally, it costs more to be different. Registering alternative suffixes can be double the cost of doing the same with a “.com” domain.
Once you pick a domain, you will need to check its availability, register it, and manage it for as long as you own your website. This sounds like a daunting process, but it’s actually pretty simple.
There are a lot of domain registrars on the web, including GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Squarespace. You can confirm your domain is available on these sites, then follow their registration process. Your contact information is required to register a domain, so be prepared to provide it. These sites have different pricing and provide additional services like hosting and management, so shop for the best rate and combination of services for your studio’s needs. Specifically, check their renewal fees and enable auto-renewal so your domain will be yours for as long as you want.
Domain management is an ongoing responsibility. You must keep your contact information current with your registrar to receive important notifications. These notifications will alert you to any management issues and usually provide the steps you need to follow to correct them.
Must-Haves For Your Studio Website
A portfolio section showing examples of your work is a non-negotiable on your website—after all, clients and organizations want to see samples of your photos before taking the plunge. If you capture multiple different markets, be sure to show sample images for each one.
If you’re just starting and don’t have sample images with releases to show off, you could consider a “model call” in your community. Providing free photos in exchange for marketing permission is a win-win for your studio and the models. There may be a local model Meet Up group where you can find subjects. Your professional network could have some great pointers on finding people to photograph.
Even with a great portfolio, you’ll need to mix in a few more ingredients to guarantee a seamless customer experience on your site.
- Contact Page: This one seems like a no-brainer, but there are several ways to approach it. You can set up a contact form, simply list your contact information, offer a customer support chat feature or all of the above. Weigh your options carefully. If you publish a phone number, be aware it could be called anytime, day or night. Requiring a form instead of providing an email address will ensure you get all the information you need to help your client and minimize your studio’s exposure to phishing scams. People love to chat, but if you offer it, ensure someone on your team will be ready to respond quickly. We will talk more about chats in the next section.
- FAQ Page: Even if your website is well-organized, your users may not always look in multiple places for the answers they want. A FAQ page is a valuable opportunity to share helpful information with your visitors and link to additional information elsewhere on your site. For example, a user may want to know how to book a session. You can explain where they can easily do this on your site and link to your calendar or relevant page. PhotoDay users can get a head start building your FAQ page by using our customer troubleshooting link.
- Testimonials: Strong testimonials build credibility with potential clients. 88% of consumers surveyed by Big Commerce said they trust online testimonials as much as recommendations from friends and family. Display positive feedback prominently on your webpage so site visitors can anticipate a great experience if they do business with your studio. PhotoDay users can access our Net Promoter Score feature to help gather feedback. For those who don’t have testimonials already, the best way to get them is to ask. Customers who have had a great experience will be excited to help your business grow. You can even consider incentivizing your request for reviews with free photo prints!
- About Page: Help potential clients get to know your studio personally by telling them about your business. Help them connect with the human side of your business. You can share information about why you do what you do, how you got started, and how you approach picture day with various organizations. The About Page could also be a great place to share an experience you are most proud of, talk about your studio’s community involvement, or even share some information about the equipment and processes you utilize to deliver great photos.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Your website should have a goal of helping people find your business and generate revenue. SEO is the art of using keywords in your content to make your website more visible to search engines like Google, and it’s necessary to help your site appear early (near the top of the query) in a customer’s search. The most impactful keywords focus on your services and geographical area. There are free keyword checkers like this one from Wordstream that will point you in the right direction.
- Easy Photo Ordering: Ensure you simplify the ordering process by linking to a platform like PhotoDay, where customers can enter their access code and shop your Galleries. PhotoDay handles the entire e-commerce shopping process, from viewing photos to customizing products to checking out and submitting orders. These online orders are your most direct revenue opportunity, so be sure the link and instructions are prominent and descriptive.
Positive User Experiences
When dealing with potential customers in person and online, the key is to keep things consistent. While you might still get face-to-face time with parents and customers on picture day, it’s important to provide an option for virtual communication.
Live chat is a great website feature that visitors appreciate and can remove and solve customer problems, including how to place online orders quickly—which leads to faster conversions and happier customers. But if you include this feature, make sure someone's on the other end responding promptly so customers don't get annoyed. Most apps even let you set your availability, so you don't have to deal with late-night messages.
Each application has different features and pricing. Here are some of our favorites:
- LiveChat: This popular tool features real-time chat support, widgets that can be customized to match your website, and a user-friendly interface for your team and your customers. LiveChat can also be integrated with your CRM to keep you in contact with customers beyond a chat interaction. Pricing starts at $20 per month for a single user, and the company offers a 14-day free trial so you can test it before you buy it.
- Zendesk: Zendesk is a complete customer service tool that offers an effective chat solution, service ticketing, and interactive tools like chatbots that can be trained to answer common questions. This tool can also integrate with your CRM or serve as your CRM if you do not have one in place already. Pricing starts at $55 per month, which could be a bargain if your studio is able to utilize the many tools the platform offers. You can also test Zendesk for your studio with a 14-day free trial.
- LiveAgent: This versatile tool offers a number of features beyond chat, including social media integration and a unified inbox that combines communications from multiple channels for efficient response. On top of its robust toolset, LiveAgent offers attractive monthly pricing starting at $9 per user. Like the other tools, LiveAgent offers a free trial, but only for seven days if you do not have a business email address.
- Facebook Messenger: A free tool you and your customers are likely already familiar with is the perfect chat agent! Messenger offers reliable chat services and gives your customers peace of mind, knowing they are speaking to a live person, not a bot. Messenger offers little functionality beyond chat, so it will not integrate with your CRM or allow customer communication through any other channel.
Aside from providing answers to questions, there might be visitors to your website who want to know when you're available or even book a photo session. Fortunately, some fantastic free and paid tools can help simplify this process for your customers.
Here are a couple of options:
- Google Calendar: Google Calendar is free to use, and several plugins make integrating it into your website easy. Other benefits include its ease of use and simple customizations to set working hours, time slots, and event types. Factors that make Google Calendar a less attractive option are limited features compared to specialized scheduling products, limited automation, and strict limits on customization, which could give your scheduling page an incohesive look and create a negative customer interaction.
- HoneyBook: HoneyBook is more than a calendar. It is a CRM platform that can also handle invoicing, client communication, and many other aspects of your business. Customers who set appointments with HoneyBook will receive automated reminders and other follow-ups. The tool also allows custom branding, so it looks great on your website. Some drawbacks of HoneyBook include its cost, which may be prohibitive for your studio, and a steep learning curve to integrate all of the tool’s features.
Converting Interactions to Sales
Calls to Action (CTAs) are the phrase-filled buttons, pop-ups, and links that compel users to do what you want them to do as they move around your website. These navigational prompts ensure visitors get your studio’s full story and can make an informed decision. If they are coming to order pictures, an “Order Now” or “Find Your Gallery” button will get them there faster. You can also use CTAs to get more information to follow up with them later, to guide them to contact you, or even to schedule a session or consultation.
Your CTAs should be concise and clear. The following examples are all very effective, but feel free to personalize them based on your studio’s personality:
- Order Photos
- Find Your Gallery
- View Portfolio
- Contact Us
- Follow on Social
CTAs should be placed in prominent locations so page visitors can easily spot them and do what you want them to do. Place your highest priority CTA near the top of your homepage so it is immediately visible without scrolling. Other logical CTA placements would be a “View Your Gallery” button on your portfolio page or “Ask a Question” or “Chat with Us” buttons on your FAQ and Contact pages.
A good rule of thumb for CTAs per page is one at the top, one below the “fold” (middle of page), and then one at the end of the page. If you have a significantly long page, consider adding a few more.
Strategically guiding users on the path you want them to take through your website can ensure they stay on your site longer, which increases your chances of selling them your services. Thoughtfully consider your CTAs and the customer experience to drive sales, contacts, and appointments through your website.
Getting Your Website Found
Sure, word of mouth can bring in some business, but if your website is well-optimized for search engines, you can attract even more customers. On top of SEO, you can take other necessary steps to maximize your website's visibility, including linking your website to your studio’s Google Business Profile and asking Google to index your site.
Adding your website to the contact information in your studio’s Google Business Profile is a necessary first step. Many businesses forget about this, but it’s the first thing customers will see if they Google your company name. You want to make sure there is content for them to view, including contact info, reviews, blogs, photos, etc.
If you haven’t set up a profile, use the link and follow all the steps to create one for free. It’s vital to increase visibility in local searches, share reviews, and control a customer’s first impression of your studio. You must also be registered with Google Business Profile to access other tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
Google Search Console is where you ask the search engine to index or “crawl” your site. Indexing is how you get your page to appear in Google search results. To do this, you must submit an XML file called a sitemap in your Google Console.
You can generate a sitemap by typing YOURWEBSITE.com/sitemap.xml in the address bar. That will bring up a list of pages on your site. Next, paste each URL on that list into the Google Console under the index tab and click submit until each one is listed. Google will then process the request, which could take a few hours or days.
When the request is completed, you will get a confirmation in the Search Console. You can consult this guide if you need help with these steps. It’s a bit technical, but plenty of resources are available to walk you through the process.
Using Google Analytics
So, you’ve set up your website and implemented some of these best practices—good work! But how is your site performing? Google Analytics can tell you. It provides a wealth of information in easy-to-digest formats. You can see what pages users visit, how long they stay, and where they leave. You can also gain insights into how they find your page, including what keywords or search terms helped them find your studio on Google. You can use this data to inform changes to page layouts, content, and SEO optimization.
Click here to create a free Analytics account and get started. Add your website as a Property in your account. This will generate a tracking or “UA” code. Using your Content Management System (CMS), add the UA code to every page you want to track.
Google Analytics will begin recording data within a few hours, and you will have numerous reporting capabilities and data at your fingertips. Google provides a wealth of training, including this course for beginners, to help you process and utilize this information.
While the thought of building and optimizing a website may seem overwhelming, we promise that establishing your studio’s presence on the web is worth the work! Sharing your beautiful images and studio story online will lead to brand-new growth opportunities.
As you work through the process, consider the points we have shared in this blog and utilize all your available resources to build the inviting, attractive, user-friendly site your studio deserves. We are rooting for you!