For many photographers getting a website can be both an overwhelming and frustrating process. Because of that many jump at what seems like an easy or inexpensive option only to run into unfortunate consequences down the road.
Often times what happens is people look at what other photographers are doing, and end up using the same Acme Photo template that the photo “gurus” are raving about it.
The problem is many of these sites get lots of likes on Facebook and forums, but they do little to generate traffic and new clients.
In fact the majority of sites I come across in the industry are poorly designed, don’t perform, are low quality and out of date. Sadly, some are sites of some “big names” in the industry.
- From my experience, most run into problems with their websites because:
- There wasn’t enough budgeted for the site
- Unrealistic expectations about how much time it will take to learn and setup
- Getting bad advice
So which is the best website solution for photographers?
The answer depends on a lot of different things.
I work almost exclusively with WordPress to build custom sites.
With that said I do not necessarily recommend that photographers use WordPress or hire a custom designer to create a site for them. In fact I turn down most custom website requests. And sometimes I even tell people that WordPress might not be a good choice even though I think it’s amazing.
My goal is to recommend the best solution based on your specific business needs.
So the question is, what is right for you at this time?
There are great website choices for all budgets. Building a website is like planning a new house or studio with many different options. You could start from scratch and build a dream house, or you could buy a pre-designed home and add a few touches to make it your own.
In general, what you save in price you pay for in time and handling most of the work yourself.
Here are some recommendations for good website platforms and services options based on cost.
1. If your budget is between $300 – $400
$300 is about as inexpensive as you can get for a good website. The trick is, finding something quality. Many options in this price range are anything but.
The best affordable option I have found is Squarespace. There are many professional site designs to choose from and they take care of all the hosting and technical stuff. The features offered with Squarespace feature the latest technology including native mobile sites, SEO features and a built-in blog. There isn’t anything I’ve found that’s comparable in this price range when you factor in management or technology.
The designs are stylish, unlike many others at this price. A blog is also included which is missing from many services is this price range. Most of the ones I’ve found require setting up a WordPress blog separately from the main site, which requires additional work and expense.
If you’re starting out, Squarespace is a great option. You will most likely grow out of it, but it’s a solid option to start with. It’s sort of like when you started photography with a Canon Rebel. It’s a great camera to get your feet wet with until you’re ready for the next step.
If $300 is more than you can afford then it’s time to take a hard look at your numbers.
Another possible option in this price range is The Grid. The Grid uses Artificial Intelligence and adapts to your needs. It does the work for you. It’s one of the most intriguing things I’ve seen, and is definitely to keep an eye on.
2. If your budget is less then $1000
An off-the-shelf WordPress theme is a great option if you want more control for your site as well as the best mobile and SEO friendly technology. WordPress gives you the ability to customize your site and you can easily add features with plugins. It’s a site that can grow with your business. Often times with many platforms and services adding new features means you have to start over and re-develop your site, and if you’re locked into a service adding customizations may not be an option.
The WordPress software itself is free and there are many free themes available. However I recommend you purchase a design from a premium theme shop. The quality and support are worth it. I build all my sites on the Woothemes framework, iThemes, StudioPress and Theme Foundry are solid, well supported options as well. A quality premium theme might cost $100-300, and include tutorials and support for using your theme.
Good hosting will run anywhere from $15-25/month for a low traffic site. If you are considering WordPress PLEASE read my article on choosing a host for WordPress. Choosing the right one will save you so much time, money and hassles because they handle maintenance and security for you. Many problems I see with WordPress are due to cheap hosting.
People often say that the one of the best thing about WordPress is that it’s free. WordPress is anything but free. It requires both an investment of time and money. While it’s easy to use and learn, some small business owners don’t want the hassle.
WordPress is a great option, however it’s not for everyone. Unless you are willing to do the work of setting everything up and managing your site, or hiring a service to do it for you, then this may not be a good choice.
3. If your budget is $1000 – $3000
You can hire a WordPress developer to customize an existing theme or even setup your theme for you. This is a great option, and can turn a theme into something a little more customized based on your brand. Starting with an existing theme is nice because it’s much quicker than starting from scratch.
As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Don’t go cheap when hiring a developer or worse have your cousin who claims he’s an expert do it. If you think it’s bad when the brides amateur cousin volunteers to shoot the wedding, you should see what happens when the unskilled developer cousin get’s a hold of a WordPress site.
It’s a costly nightmare.
4. If your budget is at least $4000 or more
The attention to detail and time that goes into creating a custom site and web presence is great, however it comes at a cost. This a good choice for businesses who have been in business for while, have established a brand and are ready to go to that next level.
If you don’t have a brand established you’re better off allocating your budget there.
Without an identity you are just another business lost in the noise of a crowded marketplace. A pretty website will be just a pretty design with no personality.
We’ve put together a free in-depth resource, with a lot of solid examples that will help you create a plan for standing out in your market. It’s a great way to get started on your branding before you hire a professional as well.
You can view the Field Guide online, and you can also signup to receive a free downloadable version along with the worksheets to print out.
What’s the difference between a WordPress website and other website services?
“WordPress is like owning a house. You can do whatever you like. You can knock down the walls, redecorate it anyway you want, paint the walls, add on. But there’s more upkeep. You have to keep up the maintenance, property taxes, lawn care and all those sorts of things.” Matt Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress
With other services, you go sign up and choose a pre-packaged design. There are no upgrades, no hosting, no maintenance. It’s all handled for you. You can just add your images and text to a pre-designed template. It’s easy but you lose a little bit of control for adding features and controlling SEO. You don’t have a yard, you can’t knock down the walls – you don’t have as much flexibility.
With WordPress you can do something more customized and you own it. However you need to find a design, hosting, select plugins/features – there are hundreds of options.
That’s the trade-off. You have to decide what works best for you.
While this isn’t a complete list, it should help you when choosing a website service or solution.
Which should you choose?
It’s important to ask yourself some questions based on your needs rather than what someone else is using.
As mentioned earlier, I often see people go into a Facebook group and ask what web service or template that people use. Then 20 people will all list their favorite service as the best ever. But those answers simply tell you what they use.
What those answers don’t tell you is:
- If they are getting actual leads from their site or booking more clients from their site
- Are they setting up the site themselves and maintaining it? If so, how much time do they spend a week/month with site upkeep?
- Has the performance of their website improved since switching services or redesigning their site?
- How has their conversation rate improved?
And those are some of the questions you should really be asking.
Then choose the highest quality option available for your budget or needs. If you only have a few hundred dollars to spend then go for option one over paying for a cheap designer or choosing a cheap WordPress theme and host.
If you take the cheapest route, you will end up with a poorly designed and coded theme, and you open yourself up to security hacks. Plus it will also mean increased costs for a new site down the road since the next developer will need to fix these mistakes.