Beat Me Up - Please

Discussion in 'Website Creation' started by bobatkins, Apr 18, 2013.

  1. OK I'm opening myself up to a brutal critique of my website. There's definitely something wrong with it (or me) because I'm loosing traffic. More competition is one answer. Dull, boring and irrelevant is another.
    I know the typical "SEO" advice (keywords, tags, titles etc.), but what I want to know is what would make you, as someone interested in photography, come back to it, use it as a reference source and - above all - buy something through it (or at least click on an ad)?
    Does layout matter? Does the color scheme matter? If the content is good, would it be better in a different format? If the content is bad, what's bad about it? What's missing that would make you want to return to the site?
    Does indexing matter? Though you can find anything with a simple search, do you still need a detailed index of every page on the site?
    What's a perfect photography website look like? Is "look and feel" more important than content? Is speculation, controversy, fluff and fiction more interesting than fact?
    Would you recommend the site to others? If not, why not?
    Do I need more LOLcats?
    All comments welcome, especially negative ones!
    BTW the site is supposed to be a general photography, camera, lens, optics and digital information site. It's not intended to be a gallery site or serve as an advertisement for my photography services.
    URL: http://www.bobatkins.com/photography
     
  2. It's really dark. And it looks like a "pushed' pop up you get when you click on something else. Presentation is 90% of everything visual. Maybe 95%. I don't know where to look first. The subsequent pages don't look like they belong to the same site either.
    Does layout matter?​
    Yes
    Does the color scheme matter?​
    Absolutely
    If the content is good, would it be better in a different format? If the content is bad, what's bad about it? What's missing that would make you want to return to the site?​
    More readable and easy format like, well, like Pnet. Don't know if the content is bad because I couldn't get past the design. What's missing is attraction.
    There is no perfect photo site. Pnet is about the closest, IMO, to one. It's the only one I repeatedly come back to.
    Would you recommend the site to others?​
    Yes, but only because I know your reputation on this forum.
    And please, please, no more cats. :(
     
  3. Yes, I used to have a white(ish) front page, but the structure was bad and the drop down menus disn't work well. When I redesigned the front page I made it black for some reason (Maybe unconciously trying to copy DPreview?), but I think I agree that white (or light) is better and I'll probably go back to that.
    I think all the site pages (or at least most of them) are very readable with black on a slightly off-white background. If anyone disagrees with that, I'd like to know. Here's a typical example - http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/reviews/pro-optic_85mm_f1-4.html
    The switch to a black front page was done in mid-February and it doesn't seem to have made any change to the traffic I'm getting. That sort of suggests that the reason for the traffic decline I've seen since late last year isn't design related (or at least not front page design related). More likely related to a Google reindexing, something over which I have no control.
    BTW as far as I know, my site is 100% cat (and baby) free.
     
  4. There is a lot going on there.
    My biggest issues:
    1. It loaded relatively slowly, with the ads popping up (and changing the layout) after a few second pause.
    2. The center-panel content is small (ex. fonts) and cramped (esp. relative to the ads on either side).
    I'd suggest simplifying as much as you can so that what's left can be made larger and more obvious.
    I would make the section headings (ex. "Current Deals and Rebates", etc.) much larger.
    Indent the items under each section heading to help reenforce the separation between sections.
    Something else that will help is to have tighter line-spacing between the sub-section items, slightly more space between the heading and the items, and more space between the bottom of a section and the heading below it.
    I would experiment with tightening up the vertical white space as much as possible to get the most important items up near the top of the page. For example, there is a (relatively) huge space above the Amazon, Adorama, B&H links. You want enough to visually group them, but no more.
    The grouping/separation might be helped with some strategic horizontal and vertical lines, and maybe some boxes/frames. I would try a medium/dark gray so they don't stand out too much. The idea is to give the viewer's eye some hints about what things are together.
    With that much fine-motor-skill navigation (ex. the cascading menus), you should probably consider a mobile-tailored version, too.
     
  5. I don't care for the black background and the bright colors.
    The second example looks very good.
    I would work to change the block type banners and subdue the bright colors. It appears "old School" html. The colors seem to "pop" out.
    Possibly use Frames to show the images in the galleries.
    These are all subtle but I think effective changes to make.
     
  6. OK, the black isn't popular!
    Try this. I've modified the CSS code for a larger font and back on white text, plus tightening up the layout a bit. I've also removed some of the slower loading code. Any better?
    http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/hometest.html
    It's still probably a little "old school" and Google seem to want to serve me any ad they have in their inventory EXCEPT the ones about photography, but that's beyond my control at this point. If they can't figure out the page is about photography, there little hope for them!
     
  7. I think the 'hometest.html' page is an improvement. IMHO the garish yellow/green color was pretty hideous.
    The boxes/borders around the left and right ad areas helps with the visual separation.
    One thing, the section-heading text is now smaller than the font used in the lists.
    Do you need the ads in the center section? It makes it hard to separate your content (which is presumably what draws people to the site) from the externally supplied elements.
    On a second look, I would suggest increasing the size/conspicuity of the menu-bar at the top. In some respects that's the gateway to most of your content so making it more prominent is probably a good thing.
    Also, I checked the site on my phone (Android) and it renders pretty well. The cascading menus are easier to navigate than I expected.
    The "stuttering" load process is still there, but that may just be the ads taking longer to serve up. Can you change the layout spacing code so the left and right ad areas don't re-size as the ads load? I haven't looked at the HTML to see how you are handling the horizontal spacing, but there is usually a way to let the browser know the boundaries of elements that haven't loaded yet so it can reserve space for them during the initial page rendering.
     
  8. Thanks for the suggestions. I've used a couple of them.
    I think the stuttering may be related to displaying the most recent blog items on the home page. It's a PHP program that reads the blog RSS file and I think that is dynamically generated from a MySQL database. I suspect that occasionally hangs. I'll have to dig deeper into the code (which I didn't write myself) to see what's going on. It's supposed to be caching the data, but it's not working as it should.
    The left and right areas are fixed width. They don't change with content, so they're not causing any page speed issues. There's not much I can do if externally served ads are slow, so I'm trying to use locally sourced ads. Can't really do that with dynamic ads from Amazon or Google though, but they are generally pretty fast.
    Many thanks for the comments.
     
  9. Hey Bob,
    My first impression is to leave immediately. The whole layout suggests that my interests as a reader are pretty low on the priority of the design. It seems like the whole design is prioritized for:
    1. Advertisers
    2. Search Engines
    3-19 Maybe some other stuff
    20. The reader
    You are also using a few techniques that seem aimed at tricking the reader into clicking on your ads — a pretty shady practice. For example, the very first links I see are:
    — 11x14 prints only $2 each at AdormaPix
    — Canon EOS 60D 18MP APS-C Refurbished. $639 now $589
    These are in the same font, color, and layout as the rest of your content, but turn out to be ads that take me off the site. It all has the feeling of one of those markets where you hold tightly onto your wallet because you feel at any moment that someone is going to swindle you.
    This HAS to hurt your traffic especially for users that don't know you. The first impressions is that it's just a link farm or some other contrivance to manipulate referral codes and google. People are a lot more suspicious of this now and will bounce off the site. There's too much content that is monitized in a much more subtle way. Even fairly ad-heavy sites like Petapixel manage to make it seem like the content is the priority and encourage visitors to stay and read.
    I think you have to find a way to back off the ads and put your content front and center. It's the real value for the visitor, and the design should reflect that.
    Also, you would benefit from some consistency in branding. Maybe it's because you're in the middle of a redesign. But the blog and photo reviews look like different sites. The logo color and font are different on the home page, blog, and articles.
    One other note about readability: Like many people, I'm reading this on a pretty big monitor. It would be nice if you enforced a maximum width on the articles so I didn't need to resize my window to make the line lengths readable. When I look at a page (e.g. http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/reviews/pro-optic_85mm_f1-4.html) the lines of text stretch all the way across my monitor. That's hard to read.
     
  10. Thanks Mark. I appreciate the comments. Yes, I'm doing some redesign and hopefully I'll be able to address some of the issues you raise. I'll definitely see if I can tweak the css code for the content pages to limit the maximum width. Looks OK on my monitor of course, but that's not much help to you! The Home page does have a maximum width, but it's using different CSS.
    If definitely helps to have fresh eyeballs on the site. I've seen it so often that I just don't see it like other people do!
    I think I have the content, which is the easy part for me. It's the presentation I have to work on and not having a background in advertising, marketing or graphic design, that's the hard part
     
  11. There's definitely something wrong with it (or me) because I'm loosing traffic. More competition is one answer. Dull, boring and irrelevant is another.​
    I left after spending 30 seconds on the home page, for these reasons:
    - The page is so cramped with different info, it hurts my eyes and spins my head. Yet I can't find what I usually look for at a photographer's site. Too much and not enough, at the same time. Some specifics follow.
    - I hate ads, especially when they dominate a large part of a page.
    - I always start with the "About Me" tab in the menu bar, which is absent in your case. It usually provides some context about the photographer, which will let me decide if I want to stay. More importantly, a well written one would tell me the objectives of this site. YOU DID HAVE OBJECTIVES BEFORE DESIGNING THE SITE, DIDN"T YOU???
    - If the "About Me" interests me, I look for a "Gallery" or "Portfolio" tab in the menu bar, which is absent in your case. I come to a photo site to look at photos.
    Photographers should be better designers than others. After all, they are familiar with the key elements of a good photo, such as the intent (message), the composition, keeping it simple, leading the eye, color and contrast, legibility, etc. And when they put up an exhibit, they pay attention to editing, selecting, and sequencing, etc. All these apply in a web design. Yet they seem to forget.
    Start with this skinny book, follow its advice, and you will have a much better web site that viewers would appreciate.
    http://www.sensible.com/dmmt.html
     
  12. Robert's response reminded me of this book, which has not only guided my own feeble attempts at web design, but that also led me so many years ago to photo.net. Has it really been that long?
     
  13. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Start with this skinny book, follow its advice, and you will have a much better web site that viewers would appreciate.​

    Did you follow this advice for your web site? Where is it?
     
  14. Bob,
    Awesome content on your site. Way to go! Quick pointers...
    • Reduced the noise
    • Simply the color palette: 4-5 main theme colors max throughout the entire site.
    • Use different font sizes to draw the visitors eye, but keep it under control
    I see that you're doing this economically. Koodoos and nice job. It's harder than most people think to create and maintain a website. You've done a lot and your content is fantastic. I would recommend at one point moving to a Wordpress, Joomla or similar Content Management System. They will do most of the work for you and have endless themes, plug-ins and applications that will do everything you need.
     
  15. My favorite web design book is also "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug. The basic advice is probably still good, though it's now a good 7 or 8 years out of date with regard to design - bit then again it's not really a design book. It's a site structure guide with some design tips thrown in.

    My site is a Photography Site, not really a Photographer's site or Gallery Site, so it's not aimed at the casual picture browser. I basically don't really care if people view my images or not. That's not what the site is about.

    My "About" link is on the Home page (http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/about.html), but I assume that's NOT what the majority of visitors are looking for, so it's not particularly prominent, nor do I really want to give it priority visibility. It's long, involved and wordy and probably exceeds the attention span of the average reader.

    As they say, you can't please all the people all the time.

    I can't shift to Wordpress or similar. Rule #1 of website admin is DON'T BREAK ANY LINKS. Moving to any CMS is almost certain to break a boatload of links, in fact most of them if not all of them. Redirects are possible, but it's more work than I'm prepared to put in and the potential search engine hit is way too much of a gamble.

    I get the distinct feeling that photo information websites are dying. People want blogs and picture sharing. Digicam sales are way down, most of the uploads to Facebook are from iPhones and camera and lens manufacturers are struggling to deal with falling sales and lower profits. There is still a harcore of gearheads, but I suspect their numbers will dwindle with time.
     
  16. I've ready similar books on UI and Usability. I'll have to take a look at "Don't Make Me Think"
    Tis a shame you can't move to Wordpress, I fully understand the need to keep the links alive as they've already been spidered by the search engines. For others who might want to update or create their own site, I'll provide some quick tips from my experience.
    I've successfully launched numerous content and photography sites using Wordpress in just a few hours. http://TheWildGrizzly.com, http://tfxStudio.com, and http://JohnFinleyPhotographer.com are just a few examples. I've deployed at least a dozen more for customers, friends and family.
    We've mixed the gallery capability with Wordpress' inherent content management tools. The "net" provides endless themes and plug-ins you can either get free or inexpensively. There are thousands of free plug-ins for Wordpress providing endless types of functionality and apps for your site. I get a lot of my themes from ThemeForest for around $50-60 a theme. The themes usually allow you to upload your own logo and modify most of the settings. I admit that Wordpress' administration is not completely intuitive, but learning their admin screens is certainly easier than learning how to develop or paying a company a couple thousand to do it.
    Wordpress is perfect for photographers (as well as any other business). In the case of tfxStudio.com and JohnFinleyPhotographer, I've integrated a Smugmug gallery into the site (http://jfinley.smugmug.com in the case of tfxStudio). If you click on the Gallery link on these sites you're taken to a Smugmug site behind the scenes. We've kept the themes the same so it appears you're still on the same site, although it's not perfect it does the job well. Smugmug has a very robust image management and printing solution making it a great choice for an out-of-the-box solution for photographers. All I did was modify my Smugmug theme to look like my main site. The entire setup only took me a couple of days of tinkering and I was up and running.
    There are lots of other out-of-the-box solutions for photographers, I've just found this path to be the most economical and flexible. If anyone needs any additional information on how to make all this happen, just give me a shout.
    The one thing I don't do well is the rich content that you have. I'll admit I hate to type content, just not one of my strong points.
     
  17. I've built Wordpress sites too and it's a very simple way to get a site working. The Blog portion of my website is actually pretty much stock Wordpress (and it looks like it!).
    If I was doing it again I'd use some sort of CMS, but when my site started (I think the first content dates back to the mid 1990s), CMS systems didn't exist, or if they did they were crude and hard to use.
    Though it's certainly not impossible to port an existing site with thousands of pages to a CMS system, it's a lot of work to do right, more work than I'm prepared to do. I think Google has something like 6000+ pages indexed on my current site.
     

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