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radiantphotography.com > Blog > SEO

For some time we’ve debated whether to use a contact form on our main website, like we do at whiteproductphotography.com.  Years ago, people weren’t familiar with them enough, so to use one would have seemed a bit stand-offish.  Now people fill them out on a nearly daily basis, so we’re interested in the pros and cons of using a contact form versus putting text-based contact info out there for clients to use.

Pros:
– A contact form can act as a screening pre-qualifier for potential clients.  Someone who invests the 30 seconds to enter their contact information and reason for contacting you has already shown you they’re serious about having a dialogue with you.  A contact form can screen out tire-kickers.

– Contact forms still make pretty good spam filters.  Putting your email address out there either as text or a “mailto:” hyperlink can quickly turn your inbox into a spam-infested mess.  Spam bots scour the net looking for uses of mailto links and text with the @ sign, hoping to get a viable address to send junk mail to.  Sometimes you can curb this by typing your email address as “myname[at]domain.com”, but you’re still forcing your client to manually enter the correct version into their email client before hitting send.  A contact form isn’t foolproof, as spammers have more sophisticated bots now, but it cuts down on the spam significantly.  More info below.

– Contact forms can make it easier for a visitor to give you feedback about your site.  Rather than hassle with an email to let you know you have a typo on your About Us page, they can simply fill out the form and go on with their day.

– Contact forms can be tracked and analyzed.  A contact form can be used as a conversion goal in Google Analytics and other tracking programs, so you know how many people make it to your contact form and how many then use it.  You can also use contact forms to more easily send an autoresponder to the client, letting them know you got their message.  You can do this with incoming emails as well, but it usually involves creating a special email address to receive those inquiries and then autorespond.  Then you use your regular email address to further communicate with the client, which can be confusing.

Cons:
– Contact forms can look impersonal on an artist’s or small business site.  When someone is hiring you to perform a service, they may expect you to appear available.  A contact form can seem a bit corporate to some clients, and they’d really prefer to see your phone number, address, email and such on your website.

– Contact forms may not format right across all browsers.  This isn’t as big of a deal now as it used to be, but depending on your contact form platform and coding, some browsers and mobile devices may not display your form as you had planned.  If you’re a design snob and that one drop down menu simply has to be in a particular location, a contact form may not be for you.

– Contact forms are still a source of spam.  As mentioned above, contact forms can still fall victim to spam bots.  It’s a good idea to use a CAPTCHA image for clients to verify they are real humans, before submitting the form.  This can prevent most spam from making it through.

CAPTCHA

In our opinion, it would seem that the benefits of a contact form outweigh the negatives, and Radiant Photography will be converting to a contact form system soon.  But we’re interested in your thoughts.  Did we miss a pro or con here?  Do you use, or refuse to use, a contact form and why?

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A custom 404 error page can inject some fun into your company website, should a client get lost while navigating your site.  It doesn’t take much time and it looks much better than your browser’s stock text-only 404 page.

We at Radiant Photography just finished our first custom 404 page, and plan on rotating out some more creative ideas in the future.  Here is a sample:

Radiantphotography.com 404 error page

Radiantphotography.com 404 error page

To make a page similar to ours, you can take a screen shot of your original homepage, play with it in Photoshop and saved it as a jpeg on a colored background in your favorite html editor.  You would give this html file a name like “custom404.html” or something similar, then uploaded the picture and the html file to your server.

After uploading, you need to figure out what type of server your files are on and pick an appropriate method of redirecting your 404 errors to your new page (list of server types and methods here).  In our case, we use an Apache server, so if you’re in the same boat, here’s how to redirect to your custom page:

There should be a file called .htaccess in your root directory of the server (usually where your “index.html” file is).  Us using a Windows-based platform (and being first timers at this), we couldn’t modify the .htaccess file, so we found a workaround.  Open WordPad or another text editor and enter your 404 error command in the following format on one line:

ErrorDocument 404 /errors/”your404filename.html” (in our case we named our custom page “custom404.html”)
Save the text file as ‘htaccess.txt’.  Open your FTP client and drop the file into your root folder.  After it uploads, delete the existing .htaccess file and rename your htaccess.txt file to .htaccess.
Test your modification by typing in a non-existing URL at your domain, like “http://www.yourdomainname.com/iloveporkchopmilkshakes.html”.  You should see your new custom 404 page!
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It’s no surprise that photographers and designers love Flash-based websites! Flash portfolios are dynamic, interactive, and offer a decent level of “right-click, save-as” image protection to keep people from stealing images. As of this posting, Radiant currently uses an XML based flash portfolio plugin for our portfolios, primarily for the protection aspect. The rest of the page is designed in CSS for accessibility across various platforms. But, like other photographers with Flash-based content we had to rethink our design when the iPhone came out. This topic has been covered before, but it’s worth a revisit, and we’re giving you the HTML code to solve the problem.

In it’s stock form, the iPhone doesn’t allow flash content to be seen on the device. If an iPhone user jailbreaks the phone or uses a third party app, they can enable flash content, but many people don’t want to pay for this functionality or risk voiding their warranty. It’s really annoying that the iPhone doesn’t show Flash content out of the box. Furthermore, as of November 2010, the iPhone controls 28.6% of the smartphone market share (Nielsen chart). I’m comfortably guessing most photo buyers, art directors, and editors are Mac and Apple users, so they’re an important demographic to appeal to. Until the iPhone enables Flash content viewing, what’s a photographer or designer with a flash portfolio to do? You need an html version of your portfolio that can be seen on the iPhone.

We didn’t write the script below, but were given it by another photographer, who found it online as well. We’re no coding geniuses here, just sharing the wealth. Plop this script above the tag on whatever page you want to redirect to a mobile version, then make an alternate HTML-based portfolio to redirect to. In our case our WhiteProductPhotography.com “Portfolio” page has this code in it to redirect to a “/mobile.html” version upon sensing the viewing device is an iPhone (see our mobile portfolio here).

Code:

<script>
if(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“iPhone”) != -1)
{window.location = “type your alternate html portfolio URL here”;}
</script>

Our iPhone version of WhiteProductPhotography.com’s portfolio has been online for just a few weeks and has already garnered just shy of 10% of the site’s total page views. The average visitor spends four minutes looking at the images and it has a 16% bounce rate. While that’s not bad at all, it prompted me to review the mobile page for usability and add two links, one to our FAQ and one to our Pricing/Contact page. That way users don’t have to back out of the mobile portfolio page get back to these features on regular home page. We should see even less bounce rate now that we’ve given clients some navigation options. (Edit: went down to 12.5% in next day after revisions)

If you’re using flash for your portfolios and you’re comfortable with some simple coding, put yourself ahead of your competition with an HTML mobile portfolio.

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I’ve been semi-active on a couple social networking sites for some time now. For me, the best use of social marketing hasn’t necessarily been to acquire new clients, but to continue relationships and dialogues with existing clients. I update Twitter with strictly business stuff because of the one way nature of the updates, but I use Facebook’s more interactive interface to inject some personality into my postings. Myspace has fallen off my radar a looong time ago, but I still have a page I check every couple months.

After being published in Entrepreneur magazine this month, I’ve fielded a couple requests on how I made that happen. Did I know a guy who knows a guy? Did I get a hold of the editor directly? Um, no and no. I simply interacted with the magazine’s fanpage on Facebook. Here’s what went down:
Entrepreneur’s FB people posted up an inquiry if any small biz owners had been affected by having their credit lines pulled. I definitely had something to say about it, so I posted up a synopsis of what happened, but also posted that we were not going to seek a replacement line of credit, instead opting to save cash for the foreseeable future. This answer differentiated mine from other answers.

Something clicked with the Entrepreneur folks, because I got a FB message a few days later asking if I was open to a reporter contacting me for a story they were writing. Um…let me think…ABSOLUTELY!

That’s it! No pulling strings, PR blasts, or magic fairy dust. Just simple interaction and adding value to a conversation where others were being vague.

Earlier in the year I also won a book for posting in another Entrepreneur FB post, about how I use social media for marketing.

So while I’ve approached social media as a way to engage existing clients and spread news about Radiant happenings, being proactive about posting to others’ conversations seems to be paying off. Go out and actively seek social media pages where you’re opinion might be valued. In short time, with intelligent postings, you might find yourself being rewarded for being a valuable contributor.

Follow Radiant:
Facebook – New Radiant fanpage (under construction)
Facebook – New Whiteproductphotography fanpage (under construction as well)
Twitter – Radiant
LinkedIn – Ryan

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This post is a far-cry from photography, but I feel it’s interesting business information for any photographer or creative artist to consider.

I’m assuming you’re probably already aware of Google Analytics, but if not, check out more info here.  It’s a very powerful and useful (and free) tool that photographers can use to track website traffic.

I set up my analytics account about a month ago and since then haven’t touched it.  I wanted to see what type of results my current online marketing efforts were offering, so I didn’t alter any keywords or page content.  The results were compelling.  Here is a brief synopsis of what I found interesting:

– Traffic is coming equally from referral sites (Facebook, Twitter, other websites), direct traffic, and engine searches.  I find this interesting that just as many people type in radiantphotography.com, as do people clicking links to the site, and people finding the company through search.  I really thought the referral sites would take the lead, assuming most people don’t type direct URLs in much anymore.  People really feel compelled by my business card and face time to look up the site after meeting me.  That’s great, but in the future I’d really like to see more search and referral results.   I’m obviously not using the internet to my full advantage right now.  That said, I’ve never mailed out a promo piece or done an Adwords campaign, so the personal/social marketing  I am doing is working.

– Most of the site’s visitors are using Internet Explorer.  41% of the viewers are using a Windows-based Internet Explorer setup for their web viewing.  Followed by Windows/Firefox, Mac/Safari, then Mac/Firefox setups.  So when designing anything on the web page, it’s important to use CSS code that will display in IE acceptably, something IE had always had trouble doing.  While I’d love to say that art directors, art buyers, and other creatives on Macs are our primary audience right now, that’s not the case.  It may not be for naught, however, since some of the corporations we market to use system-wide Windows computers in their business.  Another factor in using this browser info for site design is the fact that most visitors are using high-res monitors (1440, 1280, 1024 pix wide).  I used to design websites at 800×600 pix to serve the lowest common resolution used in the marketplace.  That type of website would look minuscule on today’s LCDs.  Knowing I’ve chosen a better size for our current site makes me feel confident that our images adequately presented on the viewer’s screen.

– “Photography of celebrities” is our second highest keyword hit, right under “Radiant Photography”.  I Googled the term today (6/1/09) and sure enough we come up as the second Google result.  That’s a position some photographers would pay money for, so our keywording is definitely working.  However, combined with the browser results above, I feel like the wrong people are finding us.  Magazine art directors are more than likely using Safari in their Mac-driven world, probably followed by Firefox and Opera.  Combine the term “photography of celebrities” with IE browser and we’re probably getting teens or star-struck fans Googling around for pictures of their favorite celebrities…something we don’t offer.  This also explains the 36% bounce rate.  Some folks are leaving after the first page view.  They obviously know what they’re looking for and we’re not it.  I don’t know what an acceptable bounce rate percentage is, but this number needs to come down through our future marketing efforts.

While the results our mixed, I’m positive that using Google Analytics is a wise addition to our box of marketing tools.  Our social marketing efforts are paying off and people are visiting the site.  In another month or two we’ll have enough info to embark on our first Adwords campaign to directly target the art directors, buyers and editors we’re looking for.  Same applies for our other project whiteproductphotography.com.  There we will be interested in gaining marketing momentum with product manufacturers, designers, retail outlets, etc.

I’d like to see Google incorporate keyworded images into their analytics.  To be able to track your keyworded images across the web and figure out which images get people to your site, would be an amazing tool for visual artists.  I’d be more inclined to hand out sample images for people to use if I could track where they would end up and if they really paid off as online marketing pieces.

I’ll report back in the future as I learn more about Analytics and how useful it can be for photographers.
-ryan

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