A hallmark of virtually every thriving volume photography business is a powerful website where prospective clients can get to know the studio and view a stunning portfolio. According to PEW Research, 79% of consumers shop online and rely on online data to make purchasing decisions. It is safe to assume that parents with children ages 4-14, your target audience, comprise a high percentage of that group.
With that in mind, going online is less of a choice and more of a paramount need for your studio to thrive. If you’re not online yet, you need to get there quickly.
You don’t have to be a professional coder to have a great website, and doing it yourself could save you the expense of hiring a professional. Many tools and builders are available for photographers of all technical skill levels. This blog will examine basic website concepts, discuss some of the tools available for DIYers, and discuss factors to consider when deciding whether to build your own platform to showcase your capabilities, skills, and images or seek the help of a freelancer or professional agency.
What is a Content Management System (CMS)?
The foundation of most websites is the content management system or CMS. The CMS is the functionality that allows you to create, manage, and publish your content on the web without extensive technical knowledge. Your chosen CMS provides a user-friendly interface that lets you create, structure, and control the appearance of the contents of your webpage.
A CMS simplifies web development and maintenance by keeping the code and structure of a website separate from the site’s content. A standard CMS allows others to create and manage content while providing fail-safes like version control, backups, and permissions to control access and editing rights.
Standard CMS features include:
Content Creation and Editing: Users can easily create and modify text, image, and video content using a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor, which lets you lay out your pages visually on screen and then does the coding for you.
If you feel stuck on the specific text or “copy” that should be on your site, you can use an AI tool like ChatGPT to help you word specific sections. You can type something as simple as “What should I say on my volume photography studio website?” or “Write copy for a Contact page on my volume photography website” into the prompt, and it will provide a wealth of information. However, the key to receiving specific information lies in writing very specific prompts. Give the tool as much information as possible and give the tool additional revision requests. Remember, a robot generates the text, so read over it and humanize it where possible before placing it on your page. A tool like Grammarly can help you with tone, grammar, and spelling for AI text or your own copy.
Content Organization and Management: Content Management Systems simplify navigation and searchability by enabling you to categorize and tag your content, which will help your visitors find what they are looking for when visiting your website.
Templates and Themes: CMS platforms often provide pre-designed templates and themes that you can customize to your specifications without any custom coding. There are also online resources where you can search for templates that match your vision. We will tell you more about this option later in this blog.
Publishing and Scheduling: Your CMS gives you control over the timing and visibility of your content by allowing you to publish it immediately or schedule it for publication later. This lets you work on future enhancements, announcements, or blog posts whenever you have free time without publishing the content immediately.
Search Image Optimization (SEO): Most CMS platforms provide tools to help you improve your search engine visibility by simplifying SEO concepts like metadata, URLs, and content tags. It is essential to understand how these tools work so you can attract site visitors and generate more opportunities online.
Plugin and Extension Support: Plugins and extensions expand the capabilities of your CMS and can be helpful for everything from layout to appointment setting. CMS platforms have something similar to an app store where you can download add-ons to help shape your website to your needs. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you have a problem to solve, there is likely a well-rated plugin for it (and most of them are free).
Factors to Consider Before Building Your Website
Before you build a website, it is crucial to have a plan for what you want it to accomplish. You are devoting time and resources to this endeavor and must ensure your efforts are rewarded with a beautiful website showcasing everything that makes your studio great.
Templates are a great place to start. These pre-designed pages allow you to arrange content on an approved visual layout that you have chosen as an accurate extension of your brand. Using a template provides a consistent framework for your website, making the creation process more efficient. Templates are also beneficial because they have been tested and proven to ensure your website is well-organized and easy to use.
The designers who create and license templates are up on the latest web design trends and provide customizable pages that will make it easy and enjoyable for visitors to navigate your site and find the information they are looking for.
An additional benefit of templates is the number of built-in customization tools that allow you to use many advanced features without any coding. Sometimes, using these advanced tools can cause site performance issues if the template is built poorly, so be sure to check reviews and do as much testing as you can before making a final selection.
Content management systems usually offer several template options, but there are also vast template marketplaces like Creative Market and Themeforest, where you can browse, review, and purchase templates to build your studio website.
Whether you are using a theme or building your site from scratch, here are several things you should be sure to incorporate on your studio’s website:
Portfolio Showcase: You should be able to easily display your best work prominently and maintain a current, categorized portfolio showing potential customers your volume photography style and skill.
Services and Packages: Clearly outline your services and give examples of your products and packages.
Contact and Booking Information: Ensure all your contact information is easily accessible on your website. You should have a dedicated contact page to simplify booking for clients.
Testimonials: Positive feedback from satisfied clients builds trust and credibility with new clients. Prominently featuring this influential content is invaluable to generating business.
Mobile Optimization: Research shows that over 55% of global internet traffic comes from mobile devices (Howarth, 2023). Therefore, making your website mobile-friendly is crucial to ensure that you effectively reach and engage with more than half of your potential online audience.
Speed and Performance: Fast loading keeps visitors from becoming frustrated and leaving. It can also impact search engine ranking. Compress images, minimize code, and choose a reliable hosting provider. Make sure that your hosting provider specializes in your CMS. For example, WordPress users should consider WpEngine, while Squarespace users will likely use the default hosting offered by Squarespace.
SEO and Online Visibility: Use the tools provided by your CMS and include words that potential visitors to your website will use to find you. If your studio does most of its work in a specific geographic area, include that information wherever possible.
Social Media Integration: Your CMS will likely have a plugin or tool that helps you share your social channels. Be sure to provide links to the platforms you are most active on and embed social media feeds if you can to showcase real-time updates and engagement.
Adding Pages Easily: If you plan on consistently adding pages and information to your website, ensure there are no technical limitations like limited space from your hosting service or page restrictions from your CMS that will inhibit your ability to do so.
Branding and Visual Consistency: Photography is a visual art, and your website should be as stunning as your pictures. Make sure you create a cohesive, memorable experience for your visitors. Use consistent colors, fonts, and design elements that visually represent your studio.
At this point, you must evaluate your technical skills and the time you want to devote to building your website. Do you have basic skills and want to get your website up quickly without outside assistance? Are you reasonably skilled with resources to help you with anything you cannot do alone? Or do you want to lay out the specifications and hire a freelancer or agency to build your site?
Here are some options and suggestions based on the answers to those questions.
There are many one-stop basic web-building providers available. These platforms will host your site and provide a CMS, templates, and some elemental functionality and plugins. Platforms like Wix and Squarespace are a great place to start if you don’t have a high level of technical savvy.
Here is a comparison of the two platforms based on criteria essential to building your volume photography website:
Ease of Use
Wix: The highly intuitive drag-and-drop editor makes creating and customizing websites easy for users. It also provides a high degree of creative freedom and flexibility when designing pages.
Squarespace: Squarespace’s editor is also user-friendly, but the platform generally takes a more structured approach to design with less room for customization by comparison.
Templates and Design
Wix: Wix is known for a vast collection of templates aligned with multiple industries and styles. The templates are highly customizable and are suitable for users seeking the flexibility of creative control.
Squarespace: While customization options are more limited within Squarespace, the platform is generally renowned for beautifully designed, modern templates that achieve users’ aesthetic goals without requiring extensive customization.
Features and Functionality
Wix: The platform’s App Market offers many tools for streamlining e-commerce, customizing functionality, and integrating third-party services like your social media channels.
Squarespace: Squarespace organically includes features and tools that streamline functions like blogging and appointment scheduling. The absence of an app store may limit some functionality, but it provides a cohesive experience out of the box.
Wix: Wix automatically optimizes sites created on the platform for mobile. It also provides a mobile preview and customization options if something needs to be tweaked.
Squarespace: Mobile optimization is also a feature of the Squarespace builder. Templates are responsive and designed to provide a great user experience from any device.
Wix: Wix offers monthly plans ranging from $16 to $159. All plans include free, customizable templates, tools to boost online presence, custom domains, and 24/7 customer care.
Squarespace: Squarespace offers multiple monthly business plans ranging from $33 to $65. All plans include free templates, advanced analytics, mobile optimization, and personalized support.
Both platforms are exceptional choices for quickly publishing a beautiful, effective online site. In general, Wix will provide you with more flexibility for customization, while Squarespace provides feature-rich templates that require less customization. Your best option will ultimately depend on your preferences, skill level, and expectations.
Intermediate to Advanced
If you are confident in your technical abilities, you can bypass all-in-one website builders and move to a fully customizable solution. In this case, you can use a CMS like WordPress and add a builder or customizable template to lay out your pages how you want them.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is an open-source content management system for creating and managing websites without extensive coding knowledge. The tool’s core functionality provides a solid foundation to build your perfect website.
The range of features and functionality WordPress provides includes:
Content Management: WordPress provides extensive tools for organizing content, managing media files, and applying formatting options. The tool’s interface is very user-friendly, so you can get comfortable with it quickly.
Themes: WordPress comes loaded with pre-designed themes and templates if you don’t want to purchase one to control your website's overall look and layout but still want unlimited flexibility for customization.
Plugins: The vast number of plugins available within WordPress to extend its functionality sets this CMS apart. You can find excellent plugins in the WordPress app store to simplify SEO, contact forms, page editing, and more.
WordPress is great for setting up critical elements of your website. Once these elements are in place, a builder application within WordPress will allow you to create and customize your pages without coding using tools and widgets in a visual editor.
What Builder Should I Use?
Here are some crucial things to consider when deciding which builder you will use for your website:
Ease of Use: Make sure you can use the builder or are confident you can pick it up quickly. The page editor should be easy to understand and provide drag-and-drop functionality for visual editing.
Design Options and Flexibility: Ensure your builder can achieve your creative vision. Look for a tool that provides an array of templates, customizable elements, and styling options.
Responsiveness and Mobile Optimization: Remember that more than half of your visitors will find your website with a mobile device. Choose a builder that supports responsive design and allows you to preview and customize the mobile version of your website.
Integrations and Compatibility: Verify the builder’s compatibility with popular plugins and third-party services like forms, analytics, or CRM integrations you need on your site now or plan to add later.
Performance and Loading Speed: Your builder should generate optimized code and not frustrate your visitors with high lag and poor performance.
SEO Features: Your builder should simplify complex-sounding features like customizable meta tags, clean code output, and schema markup to increase your website’s search engine visibility.
Support and Documentation: You will need assistance learning a new tool. Look for resources like documentation, tutorials, knowledge bases, and active support channels like forums or live chat.
Pricing and Licensing: Understand the builder’s pricing structure and licensing terms. Some require a one-time purchase or annual fee, while others are free. Ensure the builder's value aligns with your budget to make an informed decision.
User Reviews and Reputation: Carefully research reviews, ratings, and feedback from other WordPress users before making a final decision. You will gain valuable insights into the builder’s reliability, performance, and user satisfaction.
Hiring a Professional to Build Your Website
Depending on your skill level and available resources, it may be most logical to put your website design in the hands of a professional. Plenty of highly skilled freelance web designers and agencies specialize in website creation. These professionals are adept in the latest technologies and design trends and can work with you to bring your vision of your website to life.
Choosing this option is a big decision for your business. Seeking agency and designer recommendations within your professional network can offer peace of mind as you move forward. When considering referred designers or vetting new ones, here are some crucial things to consider:
Portfolio and Experience: Review the designer’s overall quality and look for projects that align with your style and the volume photography industry. Determine if they have created work that matches your website's expected complexity.
Client Testimonials and References: Search for reviews from their previous clients. Use this information to get a feel for the designer’s or agency’s professionalism, communication, skills, and reliability level. Speak directly to prior clients, if possible, to learn more.
Project Management and Workflow: Ask about their processes and understand how they plan, execute, and deliver projects. Determine their approach to timelines, milestones, revisions, and feedback. Ensure you and your partner have clear expectations from concept to completion of your website.
Pricing and Budget: Understand the agency or designer’s pricing structure and ensure it aligns with your budget and expectations. Be sure to determine if you have received a fixed project cost quote or one based on an hourly rate. Ask your partner to clearly define all items included in the price and determine if there is a potential for cost overruns.
Support & Maintenance: Your website will require ongoing attention after completing the initial version. Ask the designer you are considering if they will provide support and maintenance after launch. If you intend to avoid handling maintenance, you must ensure they have a strategy that meets your long-term needs.
Contract and Legal Considerations: Carefully review the contract or agreement provided by the designer and ensure it covers the scope, deliverables, payment terms, and other important considerations, like who owns the site’s code and other intellectual property if your relationship with the agency or designer ends. The complexity of the agreement may require you to seek legal counsel to ensure you are protected.
Trust and Compatibility: Before making a final decision, consider whether you feel comfortable and confident working with the individual or agency. Evaluate their understanding of your goals and ensure their enthusiasm for the project matches yours.
Maintaining Your Website
Whether you design your website yourself or hire a creative partner, the site is never “done.” Your online presence requires regular content updates, security checks, and performance optimizations to remain functional and improve your search engine visibility.
Here are some things you must do regularly to maintain the effectiveness and functionality of your website:
Updates: Your CMS, plugins, and other tools will periodically release security and performance updates that require implementation. Failure to stay current on these patches could break your site’s functionality and create a frustrating user experience.
Backups: Regularly backing up your website will protect you against data loss and can be invaluable in resolving security issues. You can set backup intervals and criteria in your CMS.
Security and Maintenance Checks: Ensure your website is regularly scanned for vulnerabilities and that security measures like the SSL certificate and firewalls are up to date. Stay aware of new threats to your CMS and plugins and do what is necessary to remain protected.
SEO Maintenance: Continuously optimize your website for search engines by researching keywords, updating meta tags, adding relevant content, and strengthening your internal linking.
Performance Optimization: Minimize file sizes, optimize images, and remove unnecessary plugins to keep your website running efficiently. This tool can help audit your website’s overall health and show you where to improve.
A robust website plays an indispensable role in the success of volume photographers. A powerful online presence goes beyond immediate networks by attracting valuable business opportunities.
Numerous user-friendly tools and builders are available to photographers at all skill levels. This blog has explored some of these options and provided insights into important factors to consider when selecting a platform to showcase one's capabilities, skills, and images. By utilizing these resources, photographers can establish a compelling online presence that attracts business and propels their success.