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Secrets of a Successful Photography Website

Secrets are funny old things. Some stare you in the face and you can't see them, though lots of other people can. Other secrets are so hidden and obscure, nobody knows them or is even aware that they exist - not even the most knowledgeable consultants, academics or industry experts - and only you can find them out.

The Secrets of Running a Successful Photography Website fall into both the former and latter category. Some secrets are not really secrets at all, they're just things you may not be aware of but can easily pick up. Others you'll have to find out for yourself, based on your own interests and creative profile.

People often ask me how it is that my site gets so many visitors and my search engine rankings, particularly in Google, are so high. For instance in Google, I'm number one in the world for 'Volkswagen Camper Van'. For anything to do with Manchester, you won't go far without stumbling across my pages. I'm usually in the top 5 for 'Photos of' plus the name of my featured cities. How did I do it?

Well here they are, my secrets-that-aren't-really secrets of running a successful photography website.

First, it's strongly advisable that if at all possible...

Your website should have been online for a long time, preferably years
I've been publishing my own site since January 1997, the year I registered aidan.co.uk. The longer you've been continuously online, the better your search engine rankings will be. My Volkswagen Camper Van story was my first attempt at self-publishing on the web and has been online continuously since early 1997. This may be discouraging if you're just starting out, but what I always advise is to get a small and simple site up and running as soon as possible. You can then build on it.

The Second Secret of Successful Web Publishing of Photos is...

You must publish lots and lots of high quality material!
A site with only a few pages of static content that never changes is not going to entice people to come back once they've visited. The whole point of having a website is that you have this amazing facility, to publish, at any time, lots and lots of material, as much as you want, including the best you've got, which lots and lots of people from all over the world can see. What's the point of publishing a tiny amount of material once every six months, to be viewed by a tiny number of people even less often than that? However a barrier to publishing lots of content is when you have to build your pages by hand, either using a web page editor or even raw HTML.

If you are going to publish a large online photo album, the secret (Online Photography Publishing Secret Number Three) is to...

Set up a site that runs on a database or content management system
Imagine a photographer who produces a large amount of prints, but has no organising system, apart from throwing them in a pile, or maybe sticking them in a photo album. Soon the pile is overflowing and the album is crammed and totally disorganised. That's what it's like when you try to run a larger website with lots of images using static hand-built pages. The solution for the disorganised photographer might be a filing cabinet or labelled boxes. The web equivalent is a database system, CMS, automated online photo album or asset management system. There are many out there on the web, most of which I found to be useless for my purposes, so I commissioned a database site myself. You're looking at it now. If you're looking for a online photo album or digital asset management system, I can make no recommendations at the moment, other than to look on the web and see what's out there. You can move up from a static site to a database-driven site without too many problems.

The fourth secret of effective online photo publishing I'd like to share - and this one is crucial for picture-based sites - is that...

You must describe the pictorial content in words!
Many photography websites make the mistake of publishing only the photo, with no description apart from a catalogue number and brief title, e.g. 'Dog'. You must describe the content clearly in such a way that search engines can find it. A short concise summary of what's in the photo, using words someone doing an internet search would use, plus carefully chosen keywords will turn what a search engine spider sees as a meaningless collection of pixels into a meaningful piece of content. The art of web page and keyword optimisation is a sophisticated business and you may wish to look into in more detail...

The fifth secret of getting your site and photographs seen by lots of visitors is to

Avoid Flash, Java, Shockwave, Active X, and any other specialised technologies...
The entry pages and main structure should be simple and carefully formatted web pages with HTML text. As far as I'm concerned, the ubiquitous Flash intro is an absolute no-no, unless you're very keen for people to ignore your site and go elsewhere. Strange as it may seem, a site with a starry background, centered giant sized text, jumping mailbox icons and dancing gerbils may well perform better than a designer whizzkid's super-slick Java masterpiece. With apologies to designer whizzkids. Actually it's OK to use these add-on technologies, as long as they're embedded within a text-based keyword-optimised site.

The sixth secret of photography publishing success on the web is to...

Submit to search engines, and get links from other sites
Once your site is underway you should submit to search engines so they can index your pages, but don't expect anything to happen overnight. The process takes time, possibly up to six months. You should also make contact with webmasters of sites relevant and complimentary to your own and request an exchange of links. One technique I use is to encourage people to use my photos on their sites in return for a link. And if any company comes along and tells you they can get your site to the top of the search engines, they are most probably riight. It is possible, but it will take time, effort and money. DIY is possible. Be patient. Prepare, despite your hard work and excellent quality images, for absolutely nothing to happen in the early stages

The seventh secret of a successful photography site is...

Umm, hummm, I don't know.
The magical seventh secret is always going to a difficult one to crack, and only you can crack it. It's the seventh magical ingredient which combined with the others could bring you rip-roaring online success. The only problem is, I can't tell you what it is, probably no-one can. It may not have been invented yet. You may not have reached that stage yet. Or it could be staring you in the face right now. It's the way of harnessing your unique and precious skills, creativity and profile to produce the success you desire. You can find it by keeping an open mind, thinking laterally, doing lots of research, perhaps doing some training - but don't expect course providers or conventional qualifications to provide you with all the answers. The web is a fast-moving thing, and courses generally don't keep up with it. The best person to find the magical seventh secret ingredient of online photographic success is... Yourself.

Good luck in your online photographic career.

My recommended link is www.useit.com Jacob Nielsen's website, more links to be added.

Was this article useful to you? Do you have any questions about developing a successful photography site? Would you like me to give your existing site the 'once over' free of charge? Would you like to know if the database system I've developed for this site could be adapted for your purposes? Please contact

I have intensive experience of producing photography websites since 1997 when I created Eyewitness in Manchester, a site with photos and reports from my home city. In 1998 I was invited by Manchester Online to become a freelance contributor and have Eyewitness in Manchester incorporated into Manchester Online, where it remains to this day. In October 2003 I launched the present site, which has been through a number of development phases. The organisation and concept of this site was developed by myself and it was built by Peter Kelly of Exclaim IT, who did the PHP scripting and database programming. For further info please contact. The original text of this article is copyright Aidan O'Rourke. It may not be reproduced on any other website or in any publication.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-08-02

You are looking at a page on the legacy site of Aidan O'Rourke Photographer, Videomaker, Coach in Languages and Photography. This is an archived page and is no longer updated. Some information may now be out of date / inaccurate. Please go to the home page www.aidan.co.uk for up to date information. Thank you, Aidan O'Rourke

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