Until recently, our website had grown up like an old house, adding a room here, an extra outlet there. Finally, last summer, we decided to level it and rebuild from the ground up. I had been compiling a wish list of improvements that I wanted to make, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to put them into action. Here is that list:
- Make the search interface, the blog, and the other informational pages appear to be parts of a cohesive whole rather than different websites. The very first version of our site was little more than the photographer search. Then Brian Mills, our web developer at the time, quite smartly created a companion site (which we called The Cog) to house our blog and all of the other information pages. Our new site integrates all of these pages into one seamless experience.
- Make the site responsive to all screen sizes. The proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets means that websites have to be able to automatically adjust their layout to accommodate screens of different shapes and sizes (rather than merely shrink). There are also times when you’re looking at a website on a desktop computer, and you want to resize your browser to make room for other applications. Our new site is fluid and automatically reconfigures all of our content to make the best use of whatever real estate you provide.
- Make it easier to search just by specialty. The emphasis of our old search interface was definitely on searching by location. However, many clients have told us that sometimes location isn’t important, and they often simply want to find the best photographer in a particular specialty, wherever they may be located. As a result, we decided we needed to rethink the search interface. Now you can choose any location or none in particular. In the absence of a specific location, the results are randomized to give all of our photographers an equal chance of catching a client’s eye.
- Make it easier and more fun to browse through lots of photographers. Though, at the time, I loved the minimal design of our search interface, I’ll admit it was a little clunky when it came to seeing lots of search results. Our designer Melissa Ginsiorsky came up with the idea of adding a “grid” view that would allow viewers to see lots of large thumbnails very quickly. As an added benefit, I think it will encourage clients to select photographers who best suit their project over ones that are simply the closest to the assignment location.
- Optimize the location search. One of our core philosophies is listing photographers where they’re actually located, even if it’s a place nobody has heard of. We like the geographic diversity of our photographers and clients like knowing where they’re actually based. That being said, we recognize that when a client searches any location, they’re looking for a photographer nearby – not necessarily in the center of that town. So when someone searches any location, we return a randomized list of all the photographers within 50 miles of that search. After that 50-mile radius, we display the photographers in order of distance. That way, all the photographers within an hour’s drive of the search location will have equal chance of coming up high on the search results. Also, with our grid view, clients are more likely to consider photographers further from the search location than in our old interface.
- Emphasize our three main services (Find Photographers, Shoot Production, and Stock Requests). Though the photographer search remains our core service, we have found that both clients and photographers love our shoot production and stock request services. As ad agencies have trimmed producers from their staffs, we have found an opportunity to help them source (our) photographers and organize shoots. And even though it’s a small part of our business (and free for clients and photographers), clients love our stock requests because they’re able to find images that they can’t get from a stock agency. Many of our photographers have told me that they have not only made stock sales this way, but they’ve gotten assignments too.
- Reconcile how we communicate to our 3 core audiences. One of our challenges has been the fact that we have three distinct audiences: clients, member photographers, and non-member photographers. We’ve always felt that our emphasis on clients is the best way to serve our photographers, but our new website takes this philosophy a step further. The new main menu is entirely aimed at clients, except for the little gold camera icon, which is literally photographer-facing and will take you to the photographer side of our site. Once there, non-members can learn about membership and our consulting services, and members can log in to access exclusive content just for them.
- Create additional value for our members with exclusive content. Providing valuable information for all photographers (like our Pricing & Negotiating and Expert Advice posts) has always been a part of our business philosophy. But lately, I’ve been feeling more protective of some of the data we’ve been gathering, and it seemed to make sense to reserve it for our paying members. So, as a result, we’ve created a menu of member-only content, including Find Crew, Agents, Resources, and Discounts. Instead of having crew “membership” where we invited people and companies to join—with all the associated profile pictures and headshots—we’ve decided instead to list every respectable crew member we can find around the world and forego the invitations, profile pictures, and headshots. We’re launching with over 3000 crew in 15 categories, mostly in the United States. Moving forward, we’re going to continue to research and update our database to include more categories, more international crew, and motion picture crew too. We have also created a blog just for our member photographers. Instead of one gigantic newsletter each month, we’ll be reporting on the work we do for you (and other items of interest) throughout the month (some items will show up on both the member and the client-facing blog). And though strictly speaking, the member blog isn’t password protected, it only shows up in the menu when you log in.
- Find a place for our New Photographers, Recently Updated, and On The Move widgets. Our On The Move widget has been popular with photographers and clients alike, so we wanted to find a way to make that more visible on our site to give it the attention it deserves. So we moved it to the front of our Find Photographers page, along with New Photographers (who have recently joined), and Recently Updated (to reward our photographers for updating their websites). Now our clients can easily explore these categories before beginning their search.
- Update the look of the site. As much as I loved our original logo and color scheme (because I created it), it really was time for an update. Melissa took on the task of reimagining our entire brand from scratch, and she came through with flying colors. After exploring many options and considering everything we were trying to communicate, we all fell in love with her teal and gold treatment and her suite of icons, fonts, and other visual elements that make our site fun to look at and easy to understand. Our web developer Sparkbox also turned out to be a great collaborator, contributing excellent solutions that we could not have come up with on our own. (Melissa will follow up soon with a blog post about the rebranding and her creative collaboration with Sparkbox.) Melissa also did an amazing job as project manager, gracefully responding to ideas coming from all directions and deftly balancing form and function to create a website that not only looks beautiful but works beautifully too!
Finally, I’d like to thank all of our member photographers who have been generous with their feedback over the years. As a photographer myself, I have always (to the chagrin of my staff) taken every aspect of this business personally, and I’ve always worked hard to make Wonderful Machine really truly valuable for our members. I hope you agree that this new website is a big step in that direction. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or other aspects of our efforts.
Let us help you Find Photographers, source Stock Photography, and Produce Your Shoot — or just reach out to hear more!