Today, your Web site is your first impression for most prospective clients. And just as you update your albums and portfolio periodically, it is important to update your site to keep your online image fresh.
I am currently redesigning my Web site and thought I’d share some of my considerations in this process. While SEO for photographers  is certainly important, I’d like to focus on ways to create a site that reflects your work and personality, while also accommodating the needs of your audience.
Here are five questions to ask yourself:
1. What do you want your visitors to think about you? Is your style more documentary or edgy? Artistic or storytelling? Is most of your work wedding or portrait or editorial? The font you use, background color, graphics, and even the first couple of photos a person sees when visiting your Web site will give them a certain impression of your style, creativity and skill. If your focus or style has shifted, make sure your portfolio reflects that.
2. What do you like most in other photographers’ sites? You can get a lot of great ideas from other photographers’ Web sites — and some bad ideas as well. Pay attention to the impression you have when you first look at another photographer’s site, and why you got that impression. Is the contact information easy to find? Are there features that annoy you, like pop-up windows or grating music? The idea is not to copy another site that appeals to you — but to look at other sites as a visitor would, to learn what works and what doesn’t.
3. What do other people like? Just as every photographer’s work is different, we all have our own aesthetic preferences when it comes to Web sites, too. That’s good — but it’s important to get other people’s perspectives as well. For example, you might love the idea of a Flash introduction, but others might think they take too long to load. You might think background music is the perfect complement to your images, but your visitors might find it a distraction — or worse, they might get in trouble if they look at your site at work. So ask a friend (or several) what they think. Keep in mind that most non-photographers probably have a smaller computer screen than you do, so it will be important to create a site that looks good on a variety of computers and browsers.
4. Do you want to do it fast, or do it right? Whether you are building the site yourself or paying a designer, creating a Web site is a process, and it takes time to do it right. You have to determine the elements you want to include and how to organize them. You have to sketch out the look. And then you have to turn that into a working site. A simple step like adding a border around each photo can add hours to your work, as can trying to get the order of your portfolio photos just right. Give yourself time to attend to all the details, because just when you think you are finished, you will find something else you want to change.
5. Are you committed to keeping it fresh? Believe it or not, even after someone has hired you, they will most likely visit your Web site again from time to time — just to see if there’s anything new, or to share it with someone else. Refreshing your site with new photos communicates that you have an active and thriving business, and makes the experience more enjoyable for return visitors. So once you’ve launched your redesigned site, try to update the photos or mix the order around every month or so. Some photographers rely on their blogs for posting new photos, but I think the content on your main site should stay fresh as well.
It is easy to get caught up in the latest bells and whistles, but don’t forget that you are advertising your photography, not your Web site skills. Your photographs should always be your centerpiece.
I started on my Web site redesign in March, and hope to launch the new site June 1. I decided to upgrade from a template site to a custom-designed site, because I wanted more control over the site’s look and feel. So check it out next month and let me know what you think!