tl;dr – 2014 started off on a really high note for me with the launch of my totally redesigned portfolio, blog, and shopping cart pages, thanks to the help of Michael Bonocore of SmugMug and Dave Veffer. What’s even cooler is that SmugMug is letting me offer a whopping 30% off any of their annual membership plans for new customers! Just use code BMASH30 at checkout. Note that this discount expires on Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at 11:59PM Pacific/US.
Be sure to read the full story below to see why SmugMug is the only choice for my portfolio and shopping cart needs.
I’ll never really understand what it is about the impending approach of the new year that makes me evaluate the current state of my digital presence such as my social strategy, the sort of posts I want to create and, most importantly, the state of my website. In the years that I’ve hosted my own website, I’ve never really been particularly proud or excited about the end result. It’s hard to explain but there was always something that never felt quite right about my previous implementations.
To give you a bit more context, over the past few months, I had spent a lot of time visiting people’s websites, quietly appraising qualities about them that I liked or didn’t like. I also often turned to my own site and came to the conclusion that it was just not working for me. I wasn’t happy with any of it and knew that a major overhaul was needed but before I dared make a change, I wanted to really understand what my needs were. So, after thinking about it and continuing to visit other people’s websites, I came up with a short list of absolute must haves:
- The portfolio and blog must put the photography first and foremost. When a viewer visits my website and loads a portfolio image or a blog post, the last thing I want to do is distract them with a bunch of heinous sidebars and footers laden with ads. Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot stand websites that load a gigantic photo as the background. It is just so unnervingly distracting and gaudy. So, I wanted to make sure that I chose a neutral color scheme and that the entire platform was devoid of distracting elements. I wanted nothing to get in the way of a viewer loading an image in a lightbox, reading a post, or purchasing a print, which segues to…
- A simple, scalable, and proven shopping cart system. I’ve never found it particularly interesting when anyone boasts online about selling a print or licensing a photo. I see it akin to you advertising your salary online. It just doesn’t sit right with me. With that said, I am humbled and blessed to have had people express enough interest in my work to actually want to give me their own hard earned money to have prints made. To meet this need, I can honestly say that no other service comes close to matching what SmugMug offers, so that was a no-brainer. In this area, I am afforded a scalable range of print mediums, sizes, and labs as well as a very easy checkout experience, especially with the recent addition of PayPal support.
- A website that is fully responsive. I don’t know how many of you keep track of your website’s visitor stats but if you don’t, you really should start immediately. One figure regarding the visitors to my website in 2013 that wasn’t very surprising given the direction of tech is that a large majority came from mobile devices. So, having a responsive website, one that adjusts itself aesthetically and functionally to a phone or tablet, was ultra critical. It also underscores the importance of my #1 Must Have. By having a clean, distraction-free website, I am also making it easier on my viewers to consume my content on their mobile devices. I am not doing myself or my viewers any good if I make the mobile experience of my website cumbersome.
With this short list of needs written down, I set on what I assumed would be a painful process of overhauling my website. The only thing that I had going into it that I was truly happy with was my logo, which I had professionally designed in early 2013 by the great Alan Brusky of Fireleaf Design. I cannot tell you how well worth commissioning a professional graphics designer is (unless you’re comfortable with your own design skills).
I started the overhaul by pinging my friend, Michael Bonocore, who works at SmugMug and who has always helped me with any questions I had about the platform. This time, though, I came to Bono with a doozy but you’d never be able to tell based on how easygoing he handled himself. The gist of the conversation was along the lines of:
Me: “Hey Bono… I’ve been thinking. I’d like to redesign my entire site from scratch and have it ready to launch in early 2014”. (Mind you, this was around mid-December)
Bono: “Sweet! Let me know what your needs are and then let’s go through our templates, find one that fits and we’ll take it from there.”
The next few days were really wonderful. Bono went to town by building the skeleton of my site, making all sorts of changes that I had asked for with total zeal and gusto. It was so refreshing to collaborate with someone who so clearly loves his job. At the same time, I began the process of rebuilding my blog site from scratch using a WordPress back end. The tricky part here was finding a new template that gave me the flexibility to customize it to match my SmugMug portfolio page, which I determined would be my main landing page. It was here that my very good friend, Dave Veffer, helped me out tremendously. Everything from offering up lines of custom CSS to finding just the right plugins, Dave was always there to help out. Friends like these, huh?
And so it went for about a month. Once the major groundwork was set, it was just a matter of making small tweaks here and there… the fit ‘n finish pieces… until, finally, it was ready to ship. Earlier, I wrote about how I had never really been proud or excited about my website. Now, I can honestly say that is so far from the case and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to share this story with all of you.
So, if there is one thing that I urge you to do, it’s to take a look and audit the current state of your website. Does it reflect you the way you want it to? Has it been updated recently? If not, then I strongly recommend investing some serious time… and maybe some money… into building a destination that you can be proud of for your visitors to see. To help with that, as mentioned at the top, SmugMug is letting me offer 30% off any of their annual membership plans for new customers. Just use code BMASH30 at checkout. Note that this discount expires on Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at 11:59PM Pacific/US.
I have no doubt that you’ll have an amazing experience with these wonderful folks.