Melissa Love is a web design specialist for photographers and she is also the founder of The Design Space, a one-stop design shop which sells beautiful, affordable website templates and courses teaching web design to complete beginners. She is also our featured expert in the DNG Inner Circle this month where she shared her knowledge on WordPress & Divi.
Still unsure of whether you should set up a website or not? Check out our blog post on why every digital nomad girl needs a website!
8 Ingredients of Winning Websites for Digital Nomad Girls
Or alternatively, do you have a website but feel like it’s never ‘done’? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Everyone feels like that and it’s not a bad thing. Your website is an ever-evolving project that needs keeping an eye on, even when you’ve launched the latest and greatest version.
But what to tweak and when? Here are my must-have ingredients for the coming year.
1. A Home Page with a Message
Standing out from the crowd means sending a strong message to your potential ideal client about what you can for them and how you can do it differently.
Many creatives fall into the trap of thinking that it’s ok to just let your work speak for itself. I’m going to break it to you gently. It’s just not enough any more.
In fact, your home page has only one job to do. It serves just one purpose.
And that is to make your visitors click further into your site further, to raise their hand and to think, I’m in.
Famously, there is this quote which says that you have 7 seconds to really grab someone’s attention and keep them on your site.
So your home page is not about the portfolio preview (though it goes without saying that your homepage images and copy need to be killer) and it’s not about giving them as much information as you possibly can. It’s to create resonance.
Check out this example from Nadia Meli of a website which directly speaks to her ideal client and has clearly signposted call to action.
Nadia isn’t afraid to reach out to attract her ideal client and also repel those clients who aren’t a good fit, and this is a good thing. Above all, her home pages is designed to create real resonance.
How you do that is up to you. My top tip is to ask yourself:
“What one thing would my ideal client want the most?”
2. A Responsive Website that Looks Great on All Devices
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that a website that works well on mobile is crucial now. But in case you aren’t convinced, here are a few stats.
- We passed the mobile tipping point in 2014, which means that more internet browsing takes place on mobile devices than on desktop devices
- Views on vertical screens are now exceeding views on horizontal screens, which means people are used to scrolling
- First time visits are now more likely to happen on a handheld device
So, what does responsive design mean?
Pinching and zooming to view content isn’t good enough any more. Truly responsive content adjusts to fit all browsers and you’ll find that column layouts change and stack according to browser size.
If you are thinking about buying a theme or template for your website, resize the browser to make sure that the page content and menu rearranges itself to be viewable on mobile without needing to pinch and zoom to easily view the content.
Check out how this website behaves on mobile or by resizing your browser.
Think, ‘mobile first’.
Do streamline your visitor’s mobile experience: you might want to hide or show some elements on mobile but don’t hide key blocks of text or pages.
Try to reduce clicks and repetition. If you have landing pages where people need to make a decision, eliminate them.
Don’t build an alternative mobile version. Google doesn’t like duplicate content and is starting to downrank mobile versions (eg. where you are redirected to an alternative url on mobile) in favour of websites where this doesn’t happen.
Designing your site to be mobile friendly, doesn’t mean that you can neglect your desktop site. Think of it as ‘mobile also’.
A note on Google’s new mobile-first index.
With more searches taking place now on mobile rather than desktop, Google recently announced that the Googlebots that crawl and index sites will be switching to mobile-first. This means that it’s now more important than ever to make sure your visitors are getting a great mobile experience.
3. Get Google Friendly
Although you might feel that getting to the top of the Google mountain is an impossible task, the good news is that Google just wants to do a good job, serving up the best and most accurate results it can to people who are searching.
This means you need to be more aware than ever before of what your current audience are searching for to get to your site and looking at once on it, so that you can serve up more of the same super-relevant content, in just the right format.
To do this, you need to be using Google Analytics & Search Console together, to get the full picture. Here’s what each of them can do for you…
Google Search Console
- Tells Google which version of your site to serve up (ie. with or without the www)
- Tells Google to index your sitemap and crawl your pages
- Lets you know about any security issues and missing content
- Tells you which terms people searched to get to your site
- Tells you which links people used to get to your site
- Tells you where visitor are from and which devices they used to browse
- Tells you where they went and what they looked at
Don’t forget to associate your Google Analytics property with your Google Search Console account.
You can find out more about Getting Started with Google here.
4. Speed Up Your Website
Image-heavy photography websites always struggle with balancing image quality with speed.
I see many photographers uploading high resolution images to their website, mistakenly assume that their website platform is going to reduce the size of their images automatically. There might be some platforms that do this but it’s not common and having images that aren’t optimized for web will make it very difficult for your site to load well on mobile and Google do take site speed into consideration.
Here are a few must-have tools.
Check your site speed on Pingdom, using the servers nearest to your location: https://tools.pingdom.com/
Use a compression tool like JpegMini reduce file size without reducing quality: http://www.jpegmini.com/
Make sure you’re happy with the quality of your web hosting in the first place. Some larger companies offering shared hosting have thousands of websites on the same server, which can dramatically slow down your site. A quick conversation with your hosting company will give you all the options.
Find more tips about speeding up your website here: https://thedesignspace.co/how-to-speed-up-your-website/
5. Install an SSL Certificate
If you’ve been hearing rumblings about all websites needing an SSL (security) certificate, then you’re right and now is the time to act because Google have announced that their Chrome browser will begin displaying a notice in the browser address bar marking sites without an SSL certificate insecure.
If you’re wondering why you need to do this, when you don’t sell anything on your website, Google are stepping up the good fight against data theft and want all websites that exchange data (cookies, contact forms) to be more secure.
Luckily most hosting companies have stepped up and are now offering free/cheap SSL options which are easy to install.
Find out just how easy it is here: https://thedesignspace.co/adding-an-ssl-certificate-to-your-website/
6. Backup, Backup, Backup!
Hand on heart, is your website properly backed up? No? Then don’t get sucked into the circle of updating doom.
You know what I’m talking about:
- You’re not 100% sure that your site is backed up.
- So you don’t update your theme and plugins in case something goes wrong.
- Which makes your site less secure and more likely to get hacked.
- And if you don’t have a recent backup and your site is hacked, you’ll be really, really sad.
So it’s actually more of a black hole than a circle. Don’t fall into the hole.
Firstly, not all backup plans are equal.
Most free backup plugins are what I call ‘zip and ship’. They zip up a copy of your website and send it off to the remote location you specify. Eg. Dropbox.
The problem is that as your site gets larger (photography sites get large quickly), errors start to occur with both the zipping and the shipping.
Instead, the safest way to back up is by using an incremental backup system. This means that after a first backup, the system only has to back up and changes, meaning your backup is way less likely to fail and can be set to run continuously every few hours.
There are some brilliant options (my favourite is Blogvault) and you generally have to pay for brilliance. But it’s a very small price to pay for peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.
Here’s a detailed walkthrough if you don’t have a solid backup plan: https://thedesignspace.co/how-to-backup-wordpress-website/
7. Contact Form Success
The moment a potential client presses send is probably the most excited and receptive that they are ever going to be about hearing from your business.
And what usually happens? I look at a lot of websites and test a lot of contact forms, and I can tell you that mostly I see a boring default message starting right back at me, along the lines of “Your Form Has Been Successfully Submitted”. Sure, it’s reassuring but it’s hardly going to be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Secondly, the contact page often receives very little visual love. We might spend hours on building elaborate and enticing home pages, but not really give a second thought to how we present a contact page. ‘As long as it gets the job done’, seems to be the general approach.
In short, here’s what I think every Contact page should have:
- Images and attention to detail when it comes to styling
- A friendly, personal introduction
- An email link as well as a contact form
- Information about what will happen once they have contacted you (ie. timeframe, next steps)
- Your social links
- Redirection to a success page with a friendly message and links to your best work or bonus / fun content.
Find out how to implement your personality-packed contact success page, check out this blog post: https://thedesignspace.co/beyond-the-contact-page/
8. BONUS tip for creatives & artists amongst you: A Portfolio Designed to Sell
Although there has been a trend in recent years, of moving away from the traditional gallery, to showing only blog posts to showcase recent work, I think the ‘best of the best gallery’ is one of your key selling tools.
By showing only blog posts, you are forcing your website visitors to dig further to find what they are really looking for, when really, you really be making it easier for them. Your site won’t be the only site they visit. Why make them work harder?
A ‘killer images’ gallery is a great way of giving them a snapshot of your best work (and I mean your best – be ruthless. Keep it to 20-30 images, max).
When they return for a second look, that gallery will be an easily accessible reference tool, which will remind them what they liked about your work in the first place. They may even be wanting to ‘show you off’ to a friend or relative for a second opinion. In this situation, your ‘best of the best’ gallery comes into its own.
But don’t just leave it there. Below your main gallery, make sure you signpost your visitors to other ‘whole event’ galleries or blog posts that are specifically designed to appeal to the ideal clients you want to target.
Check out the portfolio page I recently designed for Andrea Ellison. It includes a beautiful main gallery, but below the gallery, you’ll see three blog posts which describe exactly the kind of weddings that Andrea loves to book.
Note the language she uses – ‘laid back, ‘relaxed’, ‘chilled out’. The message comes across loud and clear.
None of the steps above are difficult to implement but they do take a bit of time to get right. Getting familiar with some of the underlying principles of maintaining and improving your website, is worth every minute of your time.
Take care of these website basics and your website will take care of itself.
Melissa has an incredible course where she teaches every single step from buying a domain & hosting, to building a beautiful & functional website from scratch using the Divi theme. DNG readers get 10% off the (already very reasonable) course price with the code ‘nomad10’. Melissa’s course won’t only teach you all the skills needed to build your own website, but you’ll have skills to get started working as a WordPress web designer yourself! Check out her course here!