Today's post is an excerpt from the book Professional Marketing & Selling Techniques for Digital Wedding Photographers, by Jeff Hawkins and Kathleen Hawkins. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.
SUCCESSFUL ONLINE MARKETING
How does a photographer capitalize on the rapid expansion of e-commerce and the popularity and effectiveness of an Internet presence?
Let’s begin with a typical example. Pretend for a moment that somewhere there is a small wedding photography company. The business owners would definitely want to create a website, because not having one would negatively impact their image and reputation, right? So the proprietors diligently create a small web page with their company name on it, complete with address and phone number. The page might even contain a picture of the crew donning an array of appropriate formal attire, with all their equipment close at hand. (Most small [and some large] company websites look just like the one described here.) They need to select a name for the website, and it just so happens that www.GetWeddingPhotos.com is available, so they register this name as their new website address.
Imagine that there’s a young bride in need of a wedding photographer in her metropolitan area. Unsure where to begin her search, she turns to the web. An experienced web surfer, she knows to first head to a popular search engine and type in a few words to get her started. She chooses “wedding” and “photographer” (try this yourself). Fortunately for the small company above, these words appear on the web page that they hastily designed, but according to the search engine, those same words also appear on about 38,300 other web pages. The site www.GetWeddingPhotos.com is somewhere on that list of 38,300.
Make it easy for your target clients to find your website, which should employ beautiful, up-to-date images.
With a lot of luck and some skillful application of key words (called metatags) that explicitly describe the site’s content, it might even appear somewhere in the first 2000 entries. Assuming our bride had the patience to go through several hundred options, she would quickly find that the majority of these websites were for photographers who lived and worked in other states. The moral of the story? Just because you put a website on the Internet does not mean that anyone will ever find it!
Well, our hypothetical wedding photography company learns quickly from its mistakes. In an attempt to solve their “lost website” problem, they opt to place their web address on their business cards and correspondence, so that people can easily get to www.GetWeddingPhotos.com. This is certainly something you should do—it’s a great idea. Don’t embarrass yourself, however, by handing out a business card featuring your web address, and then having a potential customer find only a one-page site with basic contact information (name, address, phone, etc.). That information was already on your business card. You just wasted their time, and they will repay you by taking their business elsewhere.
According to Dan Chuparkoff, an experienced software developer and website designer, there are five simple “P.I.E.C.E.s” to creating a successful website:
Purpose—Define the purpose of the site.
Identity—Determine a name for the site.
Essence—Choose the content’s depth and the frequency of changes.
Creation—Design the site with the help of an experienced web designer.
Enlighten—Begin to advertise to attract people to your site.
Purpose. The most common mistake made by business owners during website construction is that the purpose of the website is incorrectly gauged. The first question to ask yourself when creating a website is, “What is the purpose of my website?” Whatever your product may be, the answer to this question is, “To get customers.”
That much is simple, but it is easy to overlook the fact that the task of acquiring customers is broken up into two stages. These two stages are commonly referred to as advertising and sales. This may seem elementary, but failure to make this distinction is the most common mistake made in business-website development. Making this mistake will lead to wasted money and frustrated customers. The goal of advertising is, naturally, to somehow grab the attention of your potential customers. The goal of sales is, of course, to persuade these potential customers that your product is the best of all the available options. Which of these roles would a website service? Most people answer this question incorrectly.
A website is not an advertising vehicle. Rather, a website should be used as a tool to aid in the closing of a sale. There are many ways to draw people to your website, and some of them will be described in the following paragraphs. This having been said, however, the assumption must be made that there has been some previous interaction between you (or a studio representative) and viewers of your website. There will be a few exceptions to this rule—people who live in your town and want your services, who coincidentally type in exactly the right key words and stumble upon your Internet doorway, for example. As search engines on the web evolve and people become more experienced at performing searches, browsers will become more successful at finding what they are looking for. Unfortunately, as things are, you cannot rely on attracting clients in this way.
Viewers will most likely have decided to browse your site after:
1. Meeting with you and following your suggestion to check out the site.
2. Viewing an advertisement in a publication or on another website.
3. Making contact with a satisfied customer who recommended your services.
So, whether you design your site yourself or commission a web designer to complete the task, your site’s purpose should be clearly defined before you begin creating pages. At the very least, provide examples of your work or let visitors view a calendar of your availability. Ideally, your website should contain a completely painless way for visitors to purchase your product or register for your services while browsing the pages that you have provided. Use your website to give prospective customers information that gets you closer to a sale.
Identity. The next step in jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon is coming up with a skillfully chosen name for your website. This is commonly referred to as your “domain name.” The most obvious choice for a domain name is one that matches your existing company name. You can find out if a specific domain name is available by going to the website of an accredited registration service. There is a list of accredited services available at www.Internic.net. One of these registration services is www.Register.com. Try surfing over to the Register.com site to see if your own business name is available. If your business name is a registered trade name and it is already held by someone else as a domain name, you may have legal rights to that domain name. You may dispute such conflicts in a manner similar to disputing other trade-name violations.
If your first choice of names is unavailable, remember these tips when choosing a different name:
1. You may only use letters, numbers, and the hyphen character (-).
2. Avoid the use of homophones (“by” and “buy,” “for” and “four”). These add confusion when passing the site’s name along through word of mouth.
3. Keep in mind your company’s future growth when choosing a site name. The name www.JeffHawkinsPhotography.com is a good name for a wedding photojournalist’s site, but it would be slightly less suitable if used to promote the other consultative wedding services provided by the same business.
4. Somewhere near 99 percent of the words in the English language are already taken, so don’t expect your first choice to be available. Be prepared to spend some time looking for a name that isn’t already registered.
The task of acquiring customers is broken up into two stages. These two stages are commonly referred to as advertising and sales.
Essence. Here the task becomes more difficult. Determining the depth of your Internet presence can be more important than time spent on design and style. A prospective customer’s visit to your website will generally be their second instance of exposure to your company (the first having been an introduction via an advertisement or a personal endorsement of some kind).
Each time you require your target customer to spend time and energy to interact with you, a few more people will get bored, distracted, or will be somehow motivated to go elsewhere. It is important to make sure that your site isn’t an added stage in your selling process, without offering a clear benefit to the customer. Before you had a website, prospective clients would typically see your ad in a publication and be prompted to call you. The last thing you want to do is run an ad that instructs the user to check out your website, and then have your website do little more than prompt the user to give you a call for more information.
Create a website that works to bring prospective clients a little closer to buying your product or service. The most important thing to viewers of your site is immediate gratification. People want information immediately. They don’t want to wait to meet with you to find answers to their questions. Give viewers of your website as much information as you can possibly provide them. If you have ever received a request from a customer for your portfolio, your biography, or your references, then put these things on your site. If your website has convinced them that your service is the one for them, provide them with the opportunity to purchase or register for your services. This removes the opportunity for them to change their minds while they wait for your e-mail response or a scheduled appointment.
As suggested earlier, creating an online ordering system is the best way to profitably capitalize on the flow of traffic onto your site. For example, you can offer a program in which clients pay a set fee to have their images posted online. This will allow them and their friends and family from around the world to see the proofs and order images. Set a specific price for placing engagement proofs online and an additional price for wedding images. We also suggest that the photographer selection the prints and the length of online visibility. For more information on online ordering, try contacting www.MorePhotos.com, www.MarathonPress.com, or www.EventPix.com. The cost is minimal, and the response can be incredible.
Creation. In most cases, you will want the help of a consultative web designer to create an effective Internet presence that results in a positive user-experience and, more importantly, in increased sales. On the other hand, there are many tools available (such as Microsoft’s FrontPage) that will allow you to create and design a website on your own.
However, in order to add some of the really productive components, like online ordering, online registration, or an automated response system, you will probably benefit from at least consulting an experienced Internet professional. Enlisting the help of a designer will also free you from the pressure of trying to register your own domain name and trying to find a site-hosting service.
Hire an experienced web designer who can consistently update your website and optimize your key-word phrases and metatags to make your site as easy to find as possible.
Choosing a web designer is a difficult task that may take several attempts. Depending on the depth of your site’s content and the frequency of its changes, the fee for this service can range from just a few hundred dollars to several thousand. If you don’t have the benefit of a personal referral, the quickest way to find a web designer is by consulting your local Yellow Pages. A slightly better way is to search for “web designer” using a search engine like www.Yahoo.com. Remember that it’s not necessarily required that your designer live in the same city (or even country) as you. Contact with your site creator will most likely be conducted via e-mail and the Internet itself, anyway.
In the experience of professional web designer Dan Chuparkoff, these are the top things to consider when hiring an Internet site designer:
1. Look at the designer’s past work.
2. Have them create a low-cost prototype before committing to the entire project.
3. Discuss availability in the future to update information as it changes.
4. Get quotes from several different web designers (they will vary dramatically).
When designing (or when helping to design) your website, keep in mind that a well-planned, easy to navigate website is crucial to creating a pleasant user experience. Keep it simple, using common web standards and conventions.
Only use underlined text, for instance, if that text is a link to another page. Users of the Internet have been conditioned to expect certain things to happen when they browse a web page.
Capitalize on this fact. People know that when they see a tiny picture (commonly called a “thumbnail”), they can click on it to see that same picture in a larger size. Keep these conventions in mind, but don’t compromise your style and expression. Just as you would “dress for success” when meeting with a prospective client, your website should communicate exactly what your own professional appearance would have conveyed to the client in a face-to-face meeting.
Furthermore, remember that images are very important. Bridal couples are visiting your website to see your gallery and view your images. Excessive wording or a cluttered page will quickly bore the reader. Replace excessive wording with the images you choose to promote. Keep in mind that not everyone viewing your site has a modem or a computer that is as fast as yours. Always provide thumbnails to any large images on your site. This will considerably shorten the time it takes for your pages to load.
When you are finally finished with your site’s creation, test it on the slowest computer you can find, and with different web browsers. Try to determine if your prospective client would have been patient enough to wait for the whole page to load, and make sure that it loads correctly on all major browsers.
Enlighten. Finally, you must spread the word that you have a website and let people know what the site’s address is. After all, just because you have a website does not mean that everyone in the world will surf onto it.
Networking and word-of-mouth are still the most effective forms of advertising. Make sure you include your new web address in all of your promotional materials. Place your web address on all of your business cards and letterhead. Make sure you send e-mail messages out to everyone in your address book, informing your friends and family about your site. Also send notifications to the affiliates on your vendor list and consider adding a signature file to all of your e-mail notifications. For instance, add “Visit our website at www.JeffHawkins.com!” to the bottom of all your Internet correspondence.
Finally, be sure to watch your advertising dollars carefully. Take advantage of free links on related websites to promote your company. In some cases, you can submit your website (and possibly your work), and the partnering site will post your information at no charge. However, some sites negotiate a link exchange. This is where you attach a link on your site, linking them to you and vice versa. We don’t recommend using a link exchange, simply because it sends the viewer away from the site rather than keeping them there.