What are famous photographers doing right on their websites? Or better yet, what are they doing awfully wrong despite being successful? In this detailed research report, I thoroughly reviewed over 100 individual websites (from the most well-known photographers out there) to try to uncover all of that.
In my summary below as well as the full report here, you’ll find a goldmine of statistics and data all about photography websites that tells the story of where the industry is going.
22 Percent of Domain Names Contain “Photo” or “Photography”
While keywords in the domain name are considered small ranking factors, they’re not as important as people think (out of hundreds of other SEO factors).
This is proof that you don’t need to include “photography” (or other variations) in your domain name to be successful.
Google confirmed this a while back when tweaking their algorithm to download “keyword-stuffed exact-match domains.”
…just because keywords are in a domain name doesn’t mean that it’ll automatically rank for those keywords. And that’s something that’s been the case for a really, really long time.”
– John Mueller from Google
Takeaway: A keyword(ed) domain has to “fight” just as hard to rank high as a branded domain. So you might be better off going for a short and simple domain instead of including your profession or specialty in it.
Only a Third of Top Photographers Use a Different Brand Name
Two-thirds of professional photographers prefer an online presence under their personal name, as opposed to working under a brand/business name.
But navigating this decision comes down to many factors:
- If you have a difficult hard-to-spell name, then going for a cleaner brand name might be beneficial
- If you plan on building a larger business (with a team of photographers and assistants), or if you’re goal is to sell the business in the future, a brand name is the better fit
- On the other hand, a simple personal-name domain is easier to find and remember and gives you more flexibility to change your photography niche in the future
- Personal domain names signal that you’re a one-personal business and might make you more relatable and easy to work with. And since business success depends on “trust,” a personal domain might be to your advantage.
Takeaway: In most cases, you should opt for a simple domain name with your first and last name (all in one word). Unless you know what you’re doing and you need a brand name.
29 Percent of Top Photographers Have Multiple Websites
Most successful photographers have one single website (on one domain), trying to keep everything under the same roof even if they cover multiple specialties.
However, many have opted to create multiple websites. When deconstructing this, here are some reasons why photographers opted for separate sites:
- They don’t want to mix completely unrelated niches
- Marketing for separate websites is more straightforward if they’re each focused on a different target audience (although it obviously takes more time)
- They want to keep their portfolio website completely clean and separate from their other offerings
- As their business grew, they needed separate full-featured websites for their new ventures (education sites, online stores, collaborations with other photographers, etc.)
If you like shooting multiple types of photography, the decision of whether to have one or more websites can be difficult. Check out this dedicated article to help you decide: Having separate photography websites or merging them?
Takeaway: Most famous photographers have one single website, but many did branch out into separate websites (for covering other photography specialties or other side-businesses).
80 Percent of Photography Websites Have a White Background Color
White is the undisputed king of background colors when it comes to photography websites. It looks clean, and it doesn’t distract visitors from the stars of the show: the actual photos.
Photography websites opting for backgrounds in black or dark shades of gray only make up around 12 percent of all reviewed sites.
“Light gray” considered for anything “above” #BBBBBB (but not full white).
“Dark gray” considered for anything “below” #333333 (but not full black).
Takeaway: Don’t overthink it. Go with a white background color for your site; you can’t go wrong with it. Dark backgrounds usually only work well with indoor and low-light photos (architecture, indoor portraits, etc.).
What Do Famous Photographers put at the Top of Their Homepage?
The slideshow is still the most popular way to start a homepage (for most popular photographers), and together with the single image option, they represent what I do not recommend. Let me explain.
When people come to your website for the first time, they form a very quick impression based on what they see first; they “box you in” based on the top of the homepage. Even if that single image or that slideshow is visually impressive, do they actually show the full range you’re capable of as a photographer? Probably not.
That’s why I’m a fan of showing a grid of images (or a small set of thumbnails, doesn’t have to be large) to showcase multiple aspects of your photography niche straight away, followed by some sort of introductory statement (a short sentence or paragraph) on what your website is all about. More on this topic: Homepage slideshows are dead – 4 better ways to design the top of your website front page
The chart shows a significant percentage for the “blog posts” option because many of these famous photographers are effectively running travel blogs, so it makes sense that the homepage just becomes an entryway into the blog archives for them.
Takeaway: Even though slideshows or single images are still very popular among photography websites, you should consider displaying a grid of thumbnails to show a diverse set of images on your homepage (all within your photography niche, of course).
More Than Half of Top Photographers Write Their Bio in the Third Person
The majority of photographers I reviewed refer to themselves in the third person on the “About” page (“Jane is a photographer…”, “John is based…”) instead of using the 1st person (“I,” “me”).
Considering that most photographers run a solo business, it makes more sense to communicate with their audiences in the first person to make the website seem more friendly. Maybe that’s why many photography websites lack personality because they don’t follow this basic rule.
Takeaway: Having more direct communication with your audience (“If you need an XYZ photographer, I can help”) increases trust. So consider writing your photographer bio in the 1st person (even though more than half of famous photographers don’t do it).
In terms of length of text, famous photographers have concise bios, 61 percent of them having fewer than 300 words on the About page.
Whether they didn’t know what to write or felt they didn’t really need an extensive bio, they usually wrote two to three paragraphs in total. Check out the full report for the shortest photographer bio I could find (just five words).
Most Top Photographers Have a Blog on Their website, But Some are Abandoned
Almost 70 percent of all famous photography websites have a dedicated blog area, which is quite an impressive number. But after looking more closely, a quarter of those are abandoned blogs (they have not been updated in two or more years!)
Combining those two stats tells us that precisely 50 percent of all famous photographers have an active blog area on their website!
Takeaway: Blogging is still very popular among top photographers, so consider using it as a tool in your own business (to help with SEO and website traffic and gain the trust of your returning site visitors).
And out of those websites with a photography blog, 88 percent are correctly placed on the same domain as the main website, so they’re tightly integrated:
That’s the ideal scenario for SEO as well: placing your blog in a “sub-folder” has SEO advantages over having it in a “sub-domain” or a completely separate domain.
Takeaway: If you run a photography blog, try setting it up in a subfolder on the same domain as your main portfolio website instead of moving it to a different domain.
Let’s Sum It Up
When doing this research, I was negatively surprised to see how many popular photographers had really bad, awful websites! A long time ago, I wrote a big list of 60-plus mistakes that photographers make on their websites, and — well — I think I encountered most of them in this research study:
- Broken internal pages (or complete sections of websites) and external links
- Annoying intro/splash pages (sometimes with animations) blocking users from using the site in any way
- A complete mess with SEO tags (they were sometimes either missing or copy-pasted on all pages, or, even worse, with spammy lists of comma-separated keywords)
- Ugly designs with outdated layouts and poor typography
- Sites that, although technically mobile-friendly, had a terrible mobile user experience or were incredibly slow to load (e.g., a website homepage that loaded 64 full-res images, one below the other)
- And generally, many unpolished details. When doing these website reviews, too often did I have to write down in my notes: “Great images, crappy website.”
That’s why this report is mostly a list of “what not to do” to have a great website. It also shows that the quality of your images matters most! The website is just a multiplier of your work, but it’s not the main reason why some photographers end up becoming popular or successful.
Check out the full report at ForegroundWeb to learn actions you can take to avoid making the same mistakes on your photography website and to see all 58 different statistics, including things like:
- 13 percent of websites risk “duplicate content” penalties by being accessible at both “www” and “non-www” domains
- 15 percent of websites still don’t load on a secure HTTPS connection
- Compared to its measly two percent global market share, Squarespace is used by 18% of top photographers.
- Navigation menus have anywhere between two and 26 links!
- Half of all websites use free font faces from Google Fonts.
- A whopping 93 percent of popular photographers DON’T watermark the images on their websites.
- And much more
About the author: Alex Vita is a web-designer working exclusively with photographers and photo agencies. ForegroundWeb is his educational website for photographers, offering detailed web design articles and services — all about photography websites. This article was also published here.