I bet all of you have done it at least once: you grab the flash you need for a crucial shot, only to find the batteries are dead–or worse, have leaked or corroded in their compartment. Or you pull out a lens to discover you forgot to put the cap on last time you used it–now it has a scratch. You don’t have to experience THAT sort of thing very many times before you learn: taking care of your equipment is not optional.
While you clean and dry and properly store your cameras and lenses and flashes, there is one important piece of equipment you may have let slide: your website. Just like your physical gear, your website requires regular updates and maintenance to keep it at optimal performance. Many small- to mid-sized studios invest resources into creating their websites, but drop the ball when it comes to maintaining their site.
Creating a site, however, is just the first step in a dynamic process that continues to require attention. if you don’t already have an upkeep strategy, the start of the new year is a great time to put one in place.
This is especially relevant if you sell your work from your site. For you, the digital sales space is what allows you to compete against the etsys, Alibabas, and eBays of the world. At the same time, it means you have an extra responsibility to keep your online presence user-friendly and make sure you always have up-to-date security against hackers.
Website Problems Go Deep
A neglected website is much like an automobile left unattended in a yard or driveway. For a while, it will probably still work fine. Over time, however, it will start to rust…the paint will start to bubble and the chrome will flake…the tires will get eaten by dry rot and go flat. Eventually, it will become unusable.
Your website is similar: left alone, it will work more-or-less the way it was programmed…at first. Then small problems–a broken link, a non-loading image–start to take away some of the shine. Over time, more outdated content and klunky interface problems begin eating way at the functionality. Emails get lost. 404 Error messages flash. Even navigation becomes difficult. And just like the car in our illustration, the site will at some point simply crash beyond repair.
And the thing is, those are just the obvious problems–there’s also activity going on behind the scenes. Take load speeds, for example: photo sites already tend to load pages slowly (relatively speaking) because of the image sizes. Band-aid software patches and cobbled-on stopgap solutions may not seem to affect performance right away, but each extra piece of code added to a site slows down the system even more. Individually, each quick fix might not be noticeable, but over time they can greatly reduce speed–and that can kill your Google rankings.
Then there are security issues: last year’s protection is virtually useless against this year’s hackers, and not meeting the latest compliance regulations could earn you a fat fine. Plus, struggling along on older plug-ins could make customers frustrated enough to give up: remember, your competitor is only a click away.
Even out-of-date content could be hurting you: inaccurate product descriptions or photos can lead to returned merchandise–or worse, chargebacks. Not having the latest information on your shipping and return policies is also a major source of customer chargebacks. That translates to fees, fines, lost sales, and unhappy consumers that combine to tarnish your reputation.
Keeping ALL Your Equipment in Shape
Just like the rest of your equipment, foregoing proper care and maintenance of your site can lead to extensive and costly repairs–as well as downtime that can cost you customers and money. Ongoing website maintenance not only keeps your site up and running, it can also improve the overall user experience and promote your studio’s brand image.
Sure, it’s an easy thing to let slide if funds are tight. But prevention is almost always going to be cheaper than trying to correct problems (and any damage those problems caused). That’s why I recommend a scheduled website tune-up (at least quarterly, but preferably monthly) that simply becomes part of the operating budget.