How I built my website

As I previously told, I’ve developed my website on my own. Its first release, no more available, was a simple frame-based html web site. When I decided to develop an on-line photography business, I was looking for a website structure fit for the business purpose. I learned very much studying on Dan Heller’s photography business books, two “bible” for the XXI century photographer! Dan suggests to his reader to build a site with one idea on his mind: the purpose of the website.

I already defined a website the new “business card” for an artist so I chose the minimal web structure, using basic XHTML and CSS, because I think that visitors must be attracted by photos and by articles, more than web design.

What I considered first: a website must be “visited” and above all “re-visited”.

So I tried to put everything I thought good to enhance web traffic. I chose to avoid flash or similar graphic enhancement. Although extraordinary from a web designer point of view, they cannot be indexed by search engines. And for the most part traffic on a website is above all coming from a search engine query. How many times did we find something just looking for it on the web and “googling” its name or a part of it? Personally I use search engine deeply, both for business and personal purposes.

A XHTML website structure choice can avoid the problem of no-indexing of all pages.

When I was deciding about my photo gallery presentation, I tried to avoid a simple “slide-show”, with only photos I mean: from my point of view it could be boring visitors and above all it might be inefficient from a “webmaster” point of view. First, I’d like to give some supplementary information about a shot: apart from usual shot data, such as EXIF date and basic fields (like IPTC ones) as photo title, location, country, artist name, copyright, keywords, etc, I was interested in new info to provide to visitors. So I preferred to put a comment field when I had something to tell people visiting my webpage or to describe places I visited or people I met. This choice has an incredible advantage if I put my “webmaster hat” on my head: it can be a way to increase traffic on my website because a comment is just “text” and it can be indexed by search engine.

Another aspect that must be considered when designing a website is that visitors have to spend the least time while loading pages. In a photo on-line business it is critical. In fact the more the time in loading images the more the possibility that visitors change site!

Two things must be discussed: tables and images. I tried to avoid tables, expect for some pages, because a CSS layout is more efficient, considering a loading speed parameter. CSS layout can help webmaster also in positioning objects in a html page and it is very powerful in order to design the site. Probably it is not so immediate to use because it is not WYSIWYG, but once used we cannot work without!

In fact you can decide an “object” structure and then you can control through an external file (.css) how your browser will “render” the page. Working on CSS file is also an advantage when you want to perform a multi-browser simulation, in order to correct possible rendering problems that may occur when a html page is loaded with a browser. I found CSS approach very powerful and I still use it when I develop my web pages. For example I use Mozilla Firefox browser and I test my site using MS Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari for Windows, but for the last two browser I have to work a lot more to solve problems I have in rendering. But working with CSS file I can proceed only on external file, avoiding to work directly on the main webpage.

The most important part of my website is obviously the photo gallery. I decided to use a simple and basic slideshow structure, with info displayed under the picture and three/four button to browse the slideshow and to access to “license an image” or “buy a fine art print” order form.

It was the most difficult aspect I had to manage with: photos are the main asset of a photo business and how you show them to customers is very important.

The database I am using is IMatch and it is a programmable dB which contains a certain number of scripts that can be customized in order to fit photographer needs properly. Day-by-day I realize how much powerful IMatch is. It is fully customizable, there are good scripts useful especially for people that don’t have a Computer Science degree and I chose a middle customization for this website release. Thanks to these features I was able to generate all my galleries, update all IPTC fields, etc. and I have to find out more in order to coordinate photo dB features with other dB, such as business management dBs.

For the “shopping cart” features I realized that a simple “PHP” query was the appropriate choice at this step. Customers are requested to fill a form and then via e-mail contacted to finalize order and to be informed about payment options. Future features will be implemented when business grows. PHP is an open source scripting language that I found quite simple to my purposes.

In the future I want to focus mostly to IMatch dB and how it can be a valid support to my business growth.