Since leaving the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and embarking on my new career as a commercial photographer I have re-designed my website, KevinManningPhoto.com, for the third time and have learned some lessons along the way, some of them the hard way. My new website uses the HTML5 format and is hosted by Photobiz.com. The beauty of the HTML5 format is that it duplicates the effect of Flash but is searchable by SEO search engines unlike Flash. It also works on mobile devices such as the iPad and the iPhone which flash does not. It also is scalable on screens of different aspects and resolutions.
My first website was custom designed by my good friend Larry Hirsch, of Larry Hirsch Design, and used the HTML format. It was hosted by Visionary Web of Wabash, Indiana, and was a nice little website. It worked great for SEO purposes but the images were limited to a size of roughly 700 pixels and lacked impact. I loved Visionary Web. They were responsive and reliable and the site loaded fast and was never down. They usually design and build custom commercial websites and a photographer was an anamoly for them. I was not able to directly control content except on my blog and even though they were fast and efficent it cost money every time I had an SEO or image change. A control panel was prohibitively expensive. This is a screenshot of my first web presence.
It did not yield a lot of business. My photoshop mentor, Mike Swoboda, who teaches photoshop and design at the Center for Visual Communication at Meramec College, suggested that I try Photobiz.com. They have a lot of templates in HTML, Flash and HTML5 formats and are wonderful to work with as well. Whenever I have a problem they are able to solve it and like Visionary Web they are efficient and responsive, which can be rarity in web circles. My first effort with Photobiz was a new website based on the design of my first but in the Flash format. It looked great, but was not as searchable as my former HTML site. The Flash format is not searchable for SEO purposes.
At Photobiz's suggestion I added a splash intro which was in an HTML format and that worked well. It did great with search engines and the photos were impressive. I got a lot of work and also compliments from this website. As I was moving my business to Virginia I took the time to shorten my URL and also thought that it was time for the next evolution. The photos were able to be tranferred and populated the new HTML5 site flawlessly and saved me days of work uploading. I love the new website and have been tweaking the SEO and it is climbing the ranks of pages on Google. Here is a screen shot of my old Flash webite, the splash intro page.
Adding type to the splash intro helped with searchability but I noticed that a lot of potential clients dropped off on the splash intro, not bothering to look inside, which was another reason to go to an HTML5 format. I also had an HTML mirror site of the Flash site which helped with searchability but sometimes viewers would enter the HTML site by mistake. Another positive aspect to using Photobiz is that they were able to talk me through setting up Google Analytics accounts and Google Web Master Tools to monitor activity on the website. A good source that I found for understanding SEO is a PDF from Photoshelter that is free and explains very simply how all this works. I am not a Black Hat Master of SEO but I learned enough to take my website from Google page 99 to page 1 on some search terms. A truism of building your first web site is that by the time you are done you are sick and tired of looking at the same photos. With Photobiz the process is fast enough that it can be done in three days of steady work and when you are done you still like what you have created. This was not the case with my HTML site. When I finished I never wanted to look at it again. I also transferred this photoblog to Photobiz when they offered it and it works great as well. It is piggybacked to an ecommerce site which I am not totally happy with but life is a tradeoff sometimes. If you are considering setting up your own website I hope some of this info helps.