As a busy photographer, my days are often filled with shooting, editing, and client communication. I need to know that my website is working properly, and is capable of being viewed on any computer, or device. When I started the site in 2003, I used a program called Dreamweaver. Although this was quite effective, there were a few downsides. First, was a lack of mobility. In order to make a change, I needed to be at my desktop computer running the software. Simple design changes would be very time consuming, and required a solid understanding of some of the program’s complexities. In addition, a great deal of browser compatibility testing was needed. What worked in Firefox did not necessarily work in Internet Explorer or Safari. Considering how many different browsers are used, this was a daunting task.
I began to search for a solution with a web based interface. Ideally, this would be as easy as updating a blog. Just log in from any computer in the world, upload the image, add your photos and text, and you’re done. Of course I still wanted the ability to quickly customize the design, and be confident that it would work on any computer, browser, and mobile device. Sounds simple right? Well, it should be, but there are many web based solutions out there. Each one has pros and cons. Over the course of a few months I carefully researched several options before making my ultimate decision. I believe the information I found will be helpful to those looking to build their own website.
Several photographers I respect use Livebooks, so I started my research there. All of their websites use Flash technology which most people either love or hate. It has a sophisticated look to it, but can be terribly slow to load. Also, it does not work very well on mobile phones. I tried visiting many of their sites from my iPhone and received a generic message that said “To view the Flash version of this website you must be using a Java script enabled browser, and a Flash plug-in.” While there is a link to view the html version of the site, it appears to be a watered down version of the original design. With so many people surfing the net on smart phones, I find this to be a major issue. After giving Livebooks a “one time fee” of $3199.00 for a customized site, plus $90 a year for hosting, there’s a chance that many people will not be able to access the site due to the limitations of Flash. Livebooks also offers basic predesigned sites for a one time fee of $1199.00 plus an annual $90 hosting fee. You are charged extra for any “add-on” features.
Next I checked out NeonSky. They also have Flash websites, but they seem to work much better on iPhones as mobile visitors are automatically routed to an HTML version of your site. Their package is a $350 one time fee, and $45 per month for hosting. Although this is priced very competitively, they currently only have two main navigation styles to choose from. You can modify many aspects of these two styles, but if you want to add more customization like a splash page or contact form, you have to pay a design cost of $125 per hour.
Clickbooqs runs $499 per year plus a $99 annual hosting fee. They also have an option to make a one time payment of $1699, plus the annual hosting fee of $99. Like Livebooks and Neonsky, Clickbooqs is a flash based site and requires users to have a java script enabled browser and a Flash plugin.
After reading many online consumer complaints about Bludomain, I quickly ruled them out. I also discovered that you can not add caption info with Bludomain. This essentially makes their services useless for Photojournalists. They seem to be catering more to wedding photographers who want music on their homepage.
I looked into BigFolio and their plan for a one time set up fee of $450 and a monthly hosting charge of $20. They have some really nice, simple templates that allow some modifications. Further customization is done by emailing them for a price quote. Unlike any of the options above, Big Folio offers a “small folio” add-on for people who are browsing with an iPhone or iPod touch. It is an extra $49 fee to set this up.
Finally, I came across Squarespace through a colleague who was satisfied with their services. Adding photos, video and text can be done very quickly from any computer with Internet access. There is no set up fee and the monthly plans range from $8 a month and up. They are not Flash based sites so everything loads rather quickly. Mobile visitors are able to experience your true website’s design and functionality.
Then came the game changing announcement. Squarespace launched an App that gives users full control over their site or blog using an iPhone. You can post, edit, see your referring links, incoming traffic, and subscribers. You can even insert images stored on the phone. It also features one touch sync capability with your desktop computer. You can start a post on the road, and finish it at home. This App is free for all Squarespace users.
Squarespace also offers an excellent blog importing tool. This enables you to import all content from your old blogger or wordpress blog directly into a new Squarespace blog. I had 450 posts in blogger, and they transferred over without a hitch. This benefits my site’s SEO as all of the blog content now falls under my domain name, rather than some third party blog host. No other website service offers this streamlined feature.
The design and customization of your site is virtually unlimited. You start by choosing one of many templates and modify it however you want. While this does take a little getting used to, the system is very user friendly and requires no HTML or coding experience. Since switching to Squarespace, the number of new clients I’ve attracted through the site has increased significantly. Best of all, it saves time and allows me to focus on photography and business. Whenever I’ve had questions, their customer support was very responsive. They are even on twitter, listening in real time should you need their assistance. Site uptime has been great with no noticeable slow downs or bottlenecking. For me Squarespace provides a next generation web solution that is both affordable and attractive. They are offering cutting edge features that no other web hosting company compares to. With a user friendly web based interface, SEO benefits, and real time traffic analysis, I believe Squarespace has quietly positioned themselves as a leader in web and blog publishing.