Websites - Custom Built or Templates? Who do you use?
I am redesigning my website and was wondering if anyone out there uses a service like Livebooks, Photoshelter, GoDaddy, Nerds Software or someone else for this. I am website illiterate so I'd like something plug and play that I can easily edit myself when needed. I don't need a stock module right away but would like to be able to add later. I would like a shopping cart with PayPal or whatever. I see Art Wolf uses Livebooks for his main website and I think Photoshelter for the stock module. Nerds Software sells rights to templates outright while sites like GoDaddy rents them. Anyone out there with any experience in this? THANKS!!!
I believe that there is no one right answer. Which is right for you is going to depend on what you want the site to do for you. I also believe that most photographers build websites to please other photographers versus what the customer wants.
What are your goals for the site?
Stock sales? Prints? Proofs for clients? Do you want to process orders or have it hands-off? Will you be offering live downloads?
Those, and many other, questions are things that you need to answer for yourself before you can really make an informed decision regarding which approach is best.
I just want a place where I can have a few good looking galleries of some images, an ability to sell some note cards and prints and most importantly post information about my workshops, speaking engagements, news. I want the ability to add a stock module later (like PhotoShelter) if I choose too. I mainly wanted to know if anyone had any experience using Livebooks, Photoshelter or Nerds Software templates as to ease of use. I guess maybe I should have said it like that!
I agree with Doug, you've really got to clarify your goals before setting out for either solution. My good friend, and also a website illiterate, Nancy Rotenberg recently redid her website with Rapid Weaver. She had a design that was probably 10 years old, and one that I did the updating on previously, she wanted a new design that she would be able to update, post images and workshop dates herself. I believe the company is a template selling business, like some of the others you mentioned.
As for livebooks, I have no experience with them. I met the owner when he talked at an ILCP meeting last year, and it seems like many people are using that solution. They seem very expensive to me, as does Photoshelter - which I'm a user of.
I would say that Photoshelter isn't by any means a marketing tool, you need to already have the clients, that you are simply providing an easier way to purchase images. Next year I'll probably drop Photoshelter, and put up a stock searchable page on my personal website. The only difference being that I won't have download capability for clients, and I won't have the Photoshelter bill. It's getting harder and harder to sell enough stock images to new clients to justify a service like Photoshelter, and I think while some photographers like Art Wolfe can, many others will find that it just doesn't justify the cost.
I do use goDaddy as a hosting service, but have no experience with their templates. I learned to program websites a long time ago, and so I do the programming myself.
I have some experience with Dreamweaver and finally finished my new site using Flash. But, a good friend, and NANPA member, without those skills is using ZenFolio, and has a good looking site that is easy to maintain. Looks pro!
The good stuff: very easy to maintain; you basically build your pages yourself in PS and upload them into the Flash template, which you get a hand in designing. Pretty much unlimited portfolio and image space if you buy the pro site. It comes with a companion html piece so the search engines can find you easily, since it's a Flash-based website. The integrated shopping cart works well and links with Paypal. You also have a Client Access area via password, and can make high-res files available for upload via FTP (better make sure they're paid for first, though - a good reason to link with Photoshelter or other). They host their sites too, and I don't think they're going away anytime soon, which is good news.
The things I'm not so happy about: you have to keep files around 60k for verts and 120k for horizontal or the site will slow way down very quickly. I think my stuff on Flickr and other sites actually looks better largely because I can use larger file sizes. LiveBooks has not been very receptive to criticism in this dept, and seem to suffer from a lot of the "attitude" you get when dealing with IT "professionals". Then again, they have to deal with a lot of newbie concerns, and I was definitely one of them once. And, of course, there is the high initial price of the website build.
As far as linking with Photoshelter, I haven't done it, as I prefer to let an agency represent me currently so I don't have to deal with all that myself. But I've heard from other folks that it won't magically increase your stock sales if that's what you were expecting. Art Wolfe, lest we forget, has exceptional name recognition and is virtually synonymous with nature and wildlife photography. People won't find you if they're not looking for you, which is all the more reason to hook up with a good stock agency that has the distribution channels in place and is interested in actually representing your work (I know, I know ... where are they nowadays, and where can I find one that won't use third-parties extensively and suck up all the $?).
Flash templates look nice, but generally work very poorly with Search Engine Optimization, which is how you would generally get traffic to your site. I would recommend looking into using WordPress as a content management system. There are a lot of templates that you could use, but if you have no experience with html, I would seriously recommend finding someone to set the site up for you, then you will be able to maintain it and add to it yourself.
I've had some difficulties with wordpress, as their CSS configuration can be a bit obtuse. It's not that they are bad, just that if you plan on being able to configure all of their preferences yourself, it helps to have some experience with HTML and CSS.
On the other hand, if the company that ios making the flash site neglects to build a full HTML site, then the search engines will ahve a difficult time cataloging the data on the site.