Designing a homepage that gets people excited about your work, and maximizes your chance of selling them a print
Defining a niche
The market for photographic fine art prints is saturated. Very few people would dispute that. Art.com and a handful of other sites have locked up most of the low hanging fruit, with a dominance of SEO and low prices.
So where do you start? First, what kind of a photographer are you? Can you pinpoint a market, a niche, so that you can direct all your energies towards a fixed point rather than a scattered approach? Particularly with SEO, it’s much easier to move on a narrow market segment than a broad one, so if you’re able to do this, it makes your job a lot easier.
Luckily I can. I have a blog, A Gothic Curiosity Cabinet, which combines my images with my articles, focused mainly on things haunted and historical. Or if you will, haunted travel photography from historic sites. Which no matter how you look at it, is a pretty narrow niche. That said, it’s a large enough niche to provide sales, as the blog brings in about 200,000 readers a year.
What’s in a name?
My name means nothing to these people, which is something I should have been pushing more. So it made more sense to come up with a name for the store which speaks more to the subject matter than to identifying myself. Additionally, common sense will tell you that if you start an online store, if you can move beyond art prints, you’re liable to make a lot more sales. With that in mind, I abandoned the idea of naming the site after myself.
After a lot of back and forth I settled on The Wytchery. Witches are always popular, especially now. There are a variety of meanings associated with the word witch, and yes, some people see it as highly negative. But for my audience, it can be anything from a fun symbol of something that doesn’t exist, to others who pursue it as a religion.
So the first step was creating a logo, which was fairly straightforward … in other words it only took about three months to finally make up my mind. Or rather, have my mind made up for me. The idea behind it was to create a store that my ex would go to if she wanted to buy me a present, or visa versa. So I put the decision in her hands, and she guided me to the final logo.
Sometimes it’s quite helpful to have a specific person or persons in mind when building a site like this. Know your audience is the first, and best rule of thumb.
The tagline – telegraphing what it is you’re offering
Next up was the tagline. The tagline to a site helps set the tone for what people are about to see. Think about it … if someone says “look at this, it sucks,” when you take a look you’re going to see it in a negative light. The same is true if you say something positive. The logo and the tagline should be the first thing a visitor sees when landing on your site. Once they’ve read your tagline they should have some idea of what they’re going to see, and hopefully had a mood set for them.
I settled on “Fine art prints from the haunted, historic and the macabre.” Some might question the word historic, but those interested in the supernatural often share an interest in history as well. Also, most of my stock sales, and a good deal of my print sales have been for my images of historic sites (which are often haunted sites as well), despite the fact that it’s the ghost stories that draw most of my audience in.
The word “macabre” is key, as my research showed that the word has a bit of emotional appeal, and is quite effective at setting a mood.
Screw slideshows … they don’t work
The next element on the page is typically for sites like this, a slideshow. What to do about that?
Slideshows are standard on photographer’s websites, and I’ve always wondered why? I knew from my work building regular websites that people tend to skip slideshows and animations. Why would photography sites be any different?
They aren’t. Research has showed that time and again, particularly when it comes to print sales. So I lost it.
If you have to have a slideshow, for the love of God, at least add text to it, a bit of sales appeal. Use it to describe what you sell, not what you take photos of. Your subject matter should be apparent. What isn’t always apparent is that the images that draw people to your site, are also for sale.
Look at your site the way a visitor would
So if people don’t want to see a slideshow when they land on your site, what do they want to see?
That varies from person to person. But every person who lands on your site was sent there for a reason. What your site needs to do is make it easy and incredibly quick to find whatever drew them there to begin with.
So rather than a slideshow, I went with a single graphic, of three framed prints and a word about my guarantee (which is backed by SmugMug), and a phone number to show that there are actual people you can talk to if you have questions, or a problem with a purchase. Trust is one of the most important things you can build with your customers, and a phone number goes a long ways towards that.
I also added a link right at the top to collect email addresses, which is also the subject of another post. We all hate those popup windows asking you to sign up for a newsletter, but the ugly truth is, they work. I didn’t have to debate the morals of adding one to the site however, as thus far, I know of no way to add one to a SmugMug site. So I went with the next best thing, a link at the top and bottom of the page.
If I really wanted to push it, and I likely will someday, I’d have made it twice as big as anything else there.
Next I added some galleries. Having several galleries on your homepage means what a visitor is looking for is likely just a click away. Getting the gallery titles in your navigation isn’t enough. Particularly with mobile users, people navigate by image now. So I went with fairly large thumbnails, and the gallery choices divided by several large headlines, explaining what they are.
Up first are the most popular images, divided into six galleries. These galleries provide a good overview of what we offer, broken down into categories most likely to appeal to visitors of my blog, because aside from Google, most of the traffic to my photo sites have come from there.
An important point to consider is that Google tends to send people to a specific image, rather than to the homepage. If someone likes the image, likes the look, feel and apparent content of the site, they are then more likely to click to the homepage. In which case, we have the same type of person who would be clicking to the homepage from the blog. So when it comes to Google, remember that they’re bypassing the homepage, and so the essential thing to do is get them someplace else in the site.
My work, both photography and writing has been big in Salem, Massachusetts for a few years. I’m lucky in that WGN has created the series Salem, which is proving to be quite popular. This benefits me as more people are looking for images of Salem, and since the new season starts on November 1, just in time to start the Christmas shopping season, it makes a whole lot of sense to get Salem on the homepage.
So I created a collection of galleries featuring specific town or cities, with Salem as the feature. It’s also Halloween soon, and another of my featured locations is Sleepy Hollow, New York. As these are both places that I rank well for on Google, so I made sure to include that.
Note that these galleries aren’t archive galleries, but instead are the best and most popular images. It’s important to have your full archives on your site, as that can be invaluable to rank with Google. But for the casual viewer, a limited selection of your best images is your best bet. Very few people will look at more than twenty or twenty five images, unless they’re really excited by the subject matter.
And of course, if they were really excited about a particular subject that you shoot, they’d likely have landed in that gallery to begin with, rather than your homepage.
Below the galleries I repeat the guarantee, the email signup, larger than at the top, as well as contact information for the site. Particularly when viewing on a phone or tablet, people tend to flick through your site, and are a lot more likely to see something at the bottom of the page than the top. Unless of course your gallery or home page has a few hundred images. Which is another reason for keeping your galleries manageable.
And so the homepage is basically finished. There are a couple of odds and ends to add, such as a starting price for images. Let’s face it, if a person thinks your cheapest price is too high, you’re not going to make a sale. But a lot of people will start shopping if they can see from the start that they can afford something on your site. Even if it is the smallest sized print.
Next up is why developing an email list is so damned important, what tools you can use to build it and send emails, and develop a customer base.