Are you just a little techno-phobic? Does the the thought of building a website give you chills? To begin with you need the best domain name for a photography website to help you stand out in a crowd. If you are getting ready to build a website and trying to avoid all the rookie mistakes, you have come to the right place. In this article, I am going to walk you through the most important things to consider BEFORE you build a new website or embark on a site redesign.
I get it, this marketing and website stuff is confusing and let’s face it -it’s NOT the reason that you fell in love with photography. I will do my best to simplify domain names and website hosting for photographers and give you some practical guidelines to help you get your website working for you.
Before I dig in, let’s answer an important question…
Do you really need a website?
In this day and age of having multiple social media profiles and loads of different places to display your photos online, is it still a big deal to have a website? The short answer: YES.
The problem with displaying your work on social media is that you don’t own the space. You have little to no control over how it looks and works and you are basically just a part of the noise — all of which makes it hard to compete for a potential client’s attention. That’s why domain names and website hosting for photographers is so important. Think of social media websites as one of your methods of advertising and your website as the best way to display your work. Think of it as your online portfolio, if you will.
But before you build a website, you need a name for it. In web-speak that’s called a domain name, or your address on the internet. It is the way that people will hopefully remember how to find you.
You only need one domain name to build a website, but there are some good reasons to own additional domain names for your business.
To give you an example, my primary website is www.joeedelman.com. People will sometimes forget the second “e’, so I also own the misspelling of my domain name. If someone types that in, it automatically forwards to the correct domain, so that I don’t lose anyone that’s looking for me. Now in my case, it just so happens that there are a few other Joe Edelmans who are also photographers. When it comes to domain names… these guys don’t like me very much, because I own most versions of Joe Edelman domains. I bought them to be sure that there was no confusion. If somebody types in Joe Edelman as a domain name, using one of these extensions, they are going to find me, not somebody else. Now I am not saying you have to do that, but it is a consideration.
You don’t need to build a separate website for each of your domains. You just forward the additional domains to your primary website.
Traditionally, the thinking was that the.com domain extension is the most important one to have, especially if you are running a business. That philosophy is rapidly changing. Part of the reason is that the.com domain extensions are running out. It is harder and harder to find available.com names that suit your needs. More importantly, we now have over 600 vanity domain extensions. Things like .pizza, .life, .guru, .xyz, .rocks, .sex and of course, .camera, .photo, .photography, and one that you may not associate with photography, .space. These new domain extensions are more targeted. Domain xxtensions like .photo and .photography .space are targeted towards the creative community of designers, photographers and illustrators, and since it is relatively new, there are a lot of good names still available.
Of course, I don’t own 600 plus domain names, but I do own all the relevant ones. These new extensions like .photo, .photography, and .space are quickly becoming very popular and the public is beginning to recognize them as a place where you can find photographers. In particular .space is quickly becoming known as a domain extension for photographers, artists and designers.
In my case, photos.joeedelman.com leads to my portfolio website. www.joeedelman.com leads to my main website and blog. www.togchat.com leads to my live-streaming shows on YouTube, www.togswag.com leads to my online merchandise store and… well, you get the idea. All the other domains that I own forward to one of these domain names.
It is important for me to point out that you can also have subdomains. A subdomain would be something like http://blog.joeedelman.com or http://store.joeedelman.com. The www, it is replaced by blog or store or whatever you choose. This subdomain can look, feel and work just like your primary website or it can look, feel and work, like a completely different site. Your ability to use this feature is limited by the company that hosts your websites. Most of the template website companies don’t offer this as an option, so I am only mentioning it so that you are aware of the possibility if you decide to manage your own website — more about that in a minute.
A few quick tips before you buy your domain name
Use your name. Your clients are hiring YOU, not a big company, not a team, they are hiring a person and YOU are a big part of the hiring decision. Don’t think it’s all about your photography. So my advice is to use your name.
Keep it as short as possible. Don’t add the word photography to your domain name unless there is another person with your name who is well known for something else. Even then, instead of adding the word photography to the name, consider using a .photography or .space domain extension.
No numbers or hyphens. These things confuse people. When they hear your domain name, they don’t know if you are using a numeral 6 or a spelled out six, not to mention that it is easy to forget the dash.
Use Private Registration. When you purchase a domain name, you are required to provide details like your address, email and phone number. This information is added to a publicly searchable database called Whois. So if you don’t want your address and phone number added to this database, there is a service called private registration that allows your personal information to be kept private. There is of course an additional expense for this service.
Where should you buy your domain name?
You purchase a domain name from companies that are referred to as domain name registrars. Probably one of the biggest is GoDaddy.com. GoDaddy is registered to sell pretty much all the available domain extensions. A domain name can cost anywhere from an average of $12.00 per year to thirty dollars or more per year depending on the extension. GoDaddy will frequently run sales where you can get your first year of registration very inexpensively. GoDaddy is an official registrar of the .space domain extension.
The private registration service that I mentioned runs an additional $8 — 10 dollars per year depending on the registrar.
For this reason, I recommend using Google Domains as your domain name registrar. The reason I recommend Google is that they keep it simple and inexpensive. To register a domain for one year costs $12.00. Private registration costs NOTHING; they include it for free. The only downside to Google is that they do not handle a lot of the vanity domain extensions. So they are not able to register .photo or .space domains — you need to go to GoDaddy or another registrar for those.
Full Disclosure: .space has paid me to mention their domain extension in the video above. I want you to know that I own a .space domain which I paid full price for prior to agreeing to this sponsorship. I purchased mine because I was becoming aware of the growing popularity in the creative space.
Website hosting for photographers
Now that you have at least one domain name and you are ready to build your website… where do you begin?
If you have the time and patience to maintain your own website you can use a platform like WordPress. I don’t mean the free WordPress.com — I mean using a website hosting service like GoDaddy and WordPress software to create your website. While this does give you more control, it requires a lot more effort and is much more detailed than what most of you will need. If you want to see a WordPress site in action, you can check out my website www.joeedelman.com. It is built on WordPress and hosted with a company called SiteGround, which I prefer over GoDaddy and most other hosts. I have had less than stellar customer service experiences with GoDaddy over the years and I believe that it has a lot to do with the size of the company. SiteGround is a smaller website hosting company with servers located around the world and excellent customer service.
Be wary of companies that offer FREE websites. Companies such as WIX have wonderful marketing campaigns and will allow you to build a simple template website at no cost, but then they are going to place ads all over your website and sucker you into spending at least ten dollars per month to remove them. While ten dollars per month doesn’t sound like a lot of money, in my opinion, WIX websites suck for numerous reasons. You can purchase much more attractive templates and hosting with companies that cater to photographers and creatives for even less the cost. Just so you don’t take my word for it… Google “Wix sucks” in quotes and read for yourself.
Many of you have heard of Squarespace, probably because a lot of other YouTube photographers hold you hostage while they read a Squarespace script before they start their video. In my opinion, Squarespace is okay if you don’t mind using the same template that TONS of other photographers are using. In other words, if your goal is to blend in — go for it. More social proof: Google “Squarespace sucks”, also in quotes and you can learn more from people who have used the service.
I use a company called Format for my portfolio website (https://photos.joeedelman.com/) Based in Toronto, Canada, Format is a young company that was assembled with the idea of building websites for creatives, specifically website hosting for photographers, designers and illustrators. Their templates are gorgeous and all of them are responsive, so they work and look great on mobile devices. More importantly, they are extremely easy to modify, mostly being drag and drop. Their hosting plans come with e-commerce and proofing options included and start at $6.00 per month. Their plans come with unlimited bandwidth so if you suddenly become very popular, your website won’t be shut down, and they also have 24-7 customer service that I can tell you from first-hand experience is very responsive and friendly.
Full disclosure: Format is not paying me to say any of these things. I found this company six months ago. I tried their 14-day free trial and loved what they had to offer. I reached out to them, and they offered me a year of hosting in exchange for mentioning them in a video. Because of my commitment to you – I have made them wait six months so that I could fully kick the tires and be sure that I was committed enough to become a paying customer.
Besides how can you not like a company that has an office dog named Snapple?
But seriously Formats platform makes it very easy for someone who is just getting started to have an attractive and professional looking website up and running in minutes and it is robust enough to support the needs of someone like me.
Do understand that it is not uncommon to use two different web hosts depending on your needs. It’s extremely difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution. I already mentioned that I use WordPress software hosted with Siteground for my blog, because I have some very special needs to support my calendars and workshops and things that I do here on YouTube. Then I use Format.com for my portfolio website. If you are a photographer who wants to show proofs online and handle print sales with the fulfillment being done by a lab and shipped directly to your customer, companies like SmugMug, Pixieset and Zenfolio have some excellent solutions for that. They will allow you to upload your photos, set your prices, and send a link to your client. Then the client can place an order that is fulfilled by a photo lab and then shipped directly to the client and you receive the profit. While SmugMug, Pixieset and Zenfolio also offer website templates, I am not really a fan of them and would encourage you to use two websites if you need the proofing and fulfillment features. I’d recommend one for your marketing portfolio and about page and the second for your existing clients where they can view their proofs and place orders.
Once you have a client, it’s not a problem if the proofing and buying portion of their experience looks a little different from your portfolio. You would still use the same logo and colors. In other words, what I am recommending is that you prioritize the look, feel and functionality of your marketing and portfolio for the best presentation of your work and the best user experience. The post shoot portion of your web presence requires that you prioritize the proof viewing and print buying process and in my experience, I have yet to find a company that does BOTH really well.
A Few Tips to Finding Great Website Hosting for Photographers
Bottom line: do some research. Don’t just select your web host based on price and don’t think that you need every wiz bang feature available. Do understand that a website is NEVER finished. One of the greatest strengths of internet marketing is that it is virtual. Back in the day if you printed a brochure, it better be perfect because you were stuck with a few thousand copies of it. Today, you launch a website that can be seen by millions that you can change, update, and fix in minutes, as needed as your images improve and your message grows.
So to begin, find a company with designs that you like that you are able to easily modify so that you can remain unique among the crowd. Be sure to actually take advantage of the free trial and see if you are able to learn how to use their templates easily and be sure that they offer features and services that will allow you to grow. And as your business grows, don’t be afraid to use two different companies and domain names to create the best user experience for your customers.
Ok, that’s all for now. Next up…. Branding and website design. I will walk you through my recent rebranding and also outline what you need in your website and what you should be sure to avoid.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman