Alex Vita is the man behind ForegroundWeb. He started many years with photography, and has been through the struggles of finding work, he did a bunch of weddings, had a portrait studio and learned to build photography websites on his own. Since then he became a successful freelance website designer who has helped over 200 photographers build their online presence through a custom-designed website and has offered consultations for photographers to maintain their sites themselves. Not only does Alex have a great eye for web design, the talent to put those designs into effect, but he understands photographers and enjoys WordPress.
Joke of the day:
Why can't you find good photography jokes? They haven't been developed yet.
What we discuss:
- How photographers sometimes obsess about SEO while ignoring user-experience on their sites
- Optimizing images for performance
- Creating a sustainable blogging practice
- How photographers can differentiate themselves in saturated markets
Where to find Alex:
Transcription was done by Rev.com, using their AI (artificial intellegence) generated transcript. The transcript may contain spelling, grammar, and other errors, and is not a substitute for watching the video or listening to the episode.
Scott: Why can't you find good photography jokes they haven't been developed yet. Welcome to episode 97 my name is Scott Wyden Kivowitz and I'm joined by my guest, Alex Vieta. Alex, welcome to the show. I'm glad to finally have you on, but trying to get you on for a while so we're doing it.
Alex: Hi Scott. Nice to be here.
Scott: Alex is the man behind foreground web. He started many years ago with photography and it's been through the struggles of finding work. He did a bunch of weddings, had a portrait studio and learned to build photography websites on his own. Since then, he became a successful freelance website designer who has helped over 200 photographers build their online presence through a custom designed website and has offered consultations for photographers to maintain their sites all on their own. Not only does Alex have a great eye for web design, the talent to put those designs into effect, but he understands photographers and enjoys WordPress. So perfect guest for the show.
Alex: Well, why do you know? And you've reminded me that my camera is gathering dust on my shelf over there. So just do this now. Yeah, yeah.
Scott: Maybe, maybe, maybe you should set a reminder like once a month, just pick it up, go out and dust them off so to speak. Quite literally. So, so what's going on with you? You've always got something going on. I know you have a course. Did you just launch it or is it still
Alex: So on the launch process, it's a course on blogging, specifically written for photographers. I just see it as an under utilized tool that many photographers don't know how to use. And I'm writing a course on that. It's text only and I'm applying to launch it in a couple of weeks as of recording this and yeah. Awesome. Other other projects, other articles, always busy with a web design services as well. That make takes up most of my time and yeah. Exciting.
Scott: Awesome. Yeah. You know, so I'll be sure to link to the the course in the show notes at least if it's not if it's not launched by the time that this airs, I'll at least have a link to where people can learn more about it for when it does launch. So be sure to please make sure you get me that link, including the shadows. So blogging on that topic. I also teach a little bit of a blogging strategy in one of my own courses on lead generation. And part of that process is SEO and SEO is a topic I feel like it gets whispered about in the, in the industry. I mean, we have people like Corey Potter who are pushing hard for photographers to get better at it and he does a really good job at teaching it.
Scott: And I feel like it, it, it randomly pops up in the foreground, pun like around the big trade shows. Like there's, there's usually the same person constantly talking about the same specific SEO tactic, which may be outdated at this point at all. The big trade shows. And there's, and it's, I feel like the industry might be in some ways too focused on, on SEO and, and, and not so much about the user experience. And I feel like there's a fine line between the two. So I'm wondering what your take is on SEO versus user experience. Because I, I never hear user experience discussed at trade shows
Alex: Or really have quite a weird experience and relationship with SCO. Because there's high demand in ACO stuff. I added I think a couple of years ago an SEO audit on my website as a service and I got requests from photographers and the feeling every time is that they were coming to me with an obsession for SEO when they were having huge, many other mistakes on their websites. The design was ugly functionality problems performance issues, everything to do with user experience, but they were trying to work on SEO only. That was their main focus. And I don't it, it got me thinking why are photographers so obsessed? And the conclusion I came to was that SEO is kind of, is simpler to tackle. It's an easier target to aim at. I'm not saying it's easy to do, it's difficult to do good SEO work, but it's an easier target to aim at because it's, it can be easily measured. You just look at your traffic and say, okay, more traffic, more profit. It's that easy. But, and to me it's, I, I try to coin the term SEO procrastination, right? It's doing meaningless SEO technical stuff to try to avoid more, more meaningful work, which is to improve the design on your website, to think about what your target audience is how to position yourself in industry, things like that. That's my position with SEL and I, I have to refuse SEO audits for photographers because they need to do more important work first.
Scott: Right? Yeah. You know, it's it's kind of this thing like you could rank number one for every topic and keyword that you want to rank well for. But if somebody comes to your site and they're just confused, and the, or the site's hideous or let's say, you know, one of the, one of the one of the big things with, with WordPress or just web in general is a website's themes. WordPress themes. They usually have tons of customization for colors. And it's great because you can make basically any design you want by changing a color, right? But, but at the same time, your customer, you know, let's say Imagely themes, right? So the customer can go ahead and they can, they can, they can just make it bright purple and orange right next to each other. And then, you know, now they just ruined a beautiful design, right? So in some ways it's great. It's great to have customization in some ways. It actually could cause more, more, more problems. And if somebody, if you're ranking well somebody comes to your site and they're seeing bright purple next to a bright orange and it's just a pastel or neon website or whatever, you know, it could, it could be such a turnoff and you won't get the customers even though you have the greatest.
Alex: Yeah. So in business terms, if you, if you call it a funnel, I'm not fond of this term, but it's the same thing. They have a leaky funnel, right? They try to put more people at the top, which is what SEO is supposed to help with, but then the website is just horrible in many other ways and the losing, and that's where I feel UX user experience comes into play. And I don't think it's separate from ACO. In fact, all the signals that Google is giving to the industry is that SEO is actually good UX. If you do that, your website will rank better because, and Google takes notice of all the browsing behavior, the browsing habits that your users have on your websites. It takes notice and then it tracks you better. But it's not just a number you can track and try to optimize. So it's more intangible. That's why people avoid it. Yeah.
Scott: Yeah. You know, like a good example of this is Google is now in a mobile first search platform, right? So they're going to rank people or sites better that are ready for mobile. And so that's a, that's a user experience thing, right? Somebody come to your site and they're on an iPhone or an Android phone and, and your site looks like it's a desktop computer and super tiny. It's not gonna work well. It's not gonna work well as a, as a conversion process and whatnot. And then in turn will potentially rank lower. And one of the things related to mobile and just user experience in general are fast loading images. And we here at Imagely we've done extensive testing of the best image compression plugins for WordPress as well as standalone apps for, at least for Mac. I don't have a windows computer to test that, but we've come to find that JPEG mini is the best for desktop for a combination of compression and image quality. But for WordPress, image of Phi in short pixel are by far the best for for WordPress plugins. And I'm curious of what your thoughts are on image optimization, whether it's in general or or plugins.
Alex: I'm a big fan of both short pixel and Imagify. I use them both. I mean one of them. And I'm a big proponent of image optimization because we're talking about photography websites. They're always image heavy. Performance is such a big factor these days and I think you'd be kind of hitting two birds with one stone cause you're improving SEO as well. Google has confirmed that it's a ranking factor and also user experience on mobile too, on desktop everywhere. Website should should load fast and it says it's, photographers are sometimes they care too much about okay. Visual impact images should be large and beautiful and as high quality as possible, but the website performance suffers and it's not that difficult to do. There are some plugins to help with like the ones you mentioned, they take a lot of the work from the photographer.
Alex: The, the really, that's why I'm a fan of where press for this. We can name many platforms for photography websites that for which you can't, you cannot really do too much about in terms of image optimization. The com as they come, right. Photo shelters, SmugMug Squarespace Wix, they have some recommendations on their health pages, but you can't do too much. Whereas with WordPress and plugins, well you can do lazy loading. So images that are below the fold, they load a synchronously. You can generate next gen images, web be versions of images and deliver them automatically, right? You can limit image dimension. So when you try to upload a high res image, the sites limits it to 2000 pixels of however much you set it automatically so you don't overwhelm the server and things like that all done with a plugin behind the scenes. That's why a fan of WordPress. Yeah,
Scott: Yeah. You know, and I was actually going to bring up the whole web P thing because you know, so for anybody who doesn't know what web P is, it's basically did Google make it, do you know, is it Google who made or it just an open source?
Alex: I don't know if they made it but they, they recommended I think it's becoming the winner.
Scott: Yeah, they recommend. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So web P if you're familiar with like let's say a, I'll just compare it to something everybody's probably familiar with. Let's say you have an iPhone and, and your iPhone in your camera app, you can now set it to as apples. Their, their space, their file optimized space saving file type instead of a JPEG. This is basically the same thing but for the web. And if you turn this on inside of image of fire short pixel or any image compression plugin that offers this, you can actually have it display the web P version for when the browser supports it or the JPEG version when the browser does not support it. And by the way, I think even P and G is can be converted to web P files as well. So it's not just JPEGs, but the beautiful thing is your site will load faster with web P and your, your site visitors won't see a quality loss just because the file type is just better optimized for a smaller size.
Scott: And that's really the simplest way to put it. But that for browsers are not wippy capable like internet Explorer. And I think Safari too, they still get the regular JPEG version. Right. And also when the plugin tries to convert it to web B and the outcome is not smaller, the convert, the optimization doesn't work. It's, it's counsels. It does still delivers the smaller file. Correct. Yeah. And so, so the browsers, I think Firefox supports it. I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure it does. Chrome, Google Chrome of course does end for when, for a windows users, if you are a fan of, of internet Explorer or Microsoft edge, the new Microsoft edge, which is now built on Google is chromium platform will also support it. So now on windows you've got either Chrome or, or, or the new Microsoft edge. That's a beautiful thing.
Scott: Opera. Rob Rosser is also on chromium now. So basically all of the webs browsers will kind of be on the same standard, which is both good and bad. It's kind of like a month monopoly. But yeah, as a web designer it's better because easier to design across polocrosse platform. Yeah. You know I have a love hate relationship with Google Chrome. I love it because of how much allows me to do, I hate it because it is so super resource intensive and that drives me bonkers. Like every extension you add, it's running like a mini app in the background all the time. Can't stand complain about processors. I remind them of internet Explorer and yeah. So don't complain. Yeah. Or yeah. Or Netscape. Netscape. Was that the yeah, the one that, yeah. So I mean you can even go back, like AOL is built in browser and that was pretty bad too.
Scott: Anyway. Yeah, we are. Yeah, we are. So so many photographers blog for the sake of blogging with no regard for what they're actually publishing. Like for example, a hundred photos from a wedding, which there's like a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of value in there because you're showing your work but under photos is going to slow down your site big time. And also there really is very little value because you can show five and you're of the best for the wedding, you know, do just as good as a hundred from a wedding. But they don't usually think of the positive or negative impact from these. And they think that no matter what a blog post helps them, helps their SEO, helps, whatever. Can you share some thoughts on, on a sustainable blogging practice?
Alex: Blogging? Yeah, I'd say it doesn't always help if photographers don't do it. Right. mistakes I've seen are maybe some photographers are blogging only for themselves, which is bad because then it becomes kind of an online journal with irrelevant content and just random photos or I've noticed they're trying sometimes to blog only for SEO purposes. Instead of trying to provide value for their audience and that type of text becomes overly optimized. It become, it sounds fake, it's not share worthy and so forth. The example you gave with photographers like dumping a hundred photos in a blog post I think that that's mainly used in the wedding photography industry. Yeah, scroll down a lot. Just as a simple user experience trick would be to have some sort of gallery there with thumbnails and you can click on them to open in a Lightbox view as a slideshow.
Alex: At least you don't have to scroll all the way down. And another big mistake is the main blog index page shouldn't be all the blah, all the blog posts, one below the other full content. They should be just excerpts of the blog post. So it's, yeah, but back to blogging in general, it's, it takes time. It's not as straightforward practice. That's why people avoid it. Many photographers told me they don't have time to blog. It's too intensive. But I guess there's also some fear involved over there and they don't realize how it can help them. And I think blogging is useful in two ways. One for photographers selling services, it's kind of a direct sales strategy. Like they write blog posts, but they mentioned the services in there. They explain what they can do or use some storytelling in there and not just them photos and in a list. And that's that way they promote their own services. That's kind of a direct method. Or if the blog posts are on other topics, it's kind of an indirect marketing tactic because it just inspires trust. You know, on the
Scott: Web you might need five or 10 occurrences of your brand for your audience before they remember, remember you and they think of you. So just getting more out there for consistencies indirectly helps. Yep. Yeah. you know, regarding the, the blog index page I want to just point out that most, most, cause not all, but most WordPress themes now, we'll give you an option. I would say most modern, you know, updated all the time where press themes we'll give you the option to either take it from a [inaudible] sort of standard blog format to a beautiful image, rich excerpt, rich yeah, well-designed in grids of blog posts or something like that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So no matter where you are in the world and you and I are in two very different places of the world. There was another photographer a mile or less away that does exactly what you do.
Scott: No matter what type of photography you do, there's somebody does the same exact thing potentially using, using the same exact location as well. You share clients locations and many times even the same equipment end software. So how do you recommend for photographers to differentiate themselves in their, in their saturated market? First thing is to not try to differentiate themselves by price. This is as Seth Godin put it, the race to the bottom, right? Yeah, you try to lower prices to try to outrank the competition and that's not a good way. The solution in one word to me is positioning. It's, it's maybe a vague word word for some people, but it's trying to find a way to differentiate yourself through some means. Now, in what way to differentiate. It's, it's hard to, this is the million dollar question, right? It's, it's hard to create your own style, right?
Scott: To become a famous photographer overnight. That's difficult. So a simpler solution is to carve out a narrower specialty for yourself to try to find some sort of vertical or horizontal positioning for your business. If, let's say if you're a portrait photographer, you could try to only take portraits of pregnant mothers or only senior citizens, and that becomes your, your own niche, your own specialty, and you become an expert in that field. Or that's vertical positioning, right? If you target a specific type of audience, our Zantel positioning would be, let's say you're only shooting formal studio for anybody, but in that style or only group photos, group portrait photos that's hard as mental positioning. So trying to carve out some sort of niche for yourself where there's less competition that that way you can, you can get more, more clients. I can give you more examples. So wedding photographers can only shoot gay weddings for example, or they can shoot only weddings in a kind of a black and wide cinematic look. I've seen photographers do that and they're successful. Or if you're, if you're shooting architecture, why not become an expert in hotel chains and only do that or things like that. Trying to carve out a niche and it's, and it's easier and you can do kind of a hybrid approach, both vertical and horizontal. It's, it's more difficult, but it can be done.
Scott: And I think another approach is to show the value that you have, not only differentiate yourself in the ways that you explained, but also show the value that you, that you offer to your clients. So in the, in an episode I did with Chris Scott from Swift galleries and the print maker system he talked about, and I think there's a brilliant, I implemented in my own business in certain areas, but Mmm. He's a big proponent of in person sales. And he does this to, to it too to create beautiful wall art for wedding clients. And so one way that you can add, show your value, add the value and show your value is to actually promote the fact that if you do wall art, that you do wall art, right? That you can do this custom wall art to your client's actual walls and to show the value on your site besides in just text, is that portfolio that's on that page showing your wall art is not just photos of your clients.
Scott: It's not just your weddings, not just your families. Whatever it is, it's actually photos of your client's walls with your client's photos on their walls. That is going to set yourself way up love, at least in this John rhe right. If you do this sort of thing, this is going to set yourself way above the person that's a mile away that just delivers digitals. That doesn't care about print method. You're simply more of an expert because it's a social proof, right? You can see the photos on their wool. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yup, yup. And if you're, if you're just getting, let's say, let's say you like this idea and you want to get going you don't have to, and you don't have a client whose wallet that you have, you know, actual examples on, you can use stock images and mock it. It's not the end of the world.
Scott: If you do that, you can actually use something like Swift galleries or Fundy software or, or sprout studio, any of these systems that offer the mockup function. And you can actually use their images that they have and just download it and put that on your site there. They're telling you to do this actually. So it's not like you're doing this illegally, you know, they're telling you to do this. This is how you're going to sell. So anyway, if you, if you don't already have examples, you have an option to to create one. So so I wanna I wanna before we close up, I want to see if there's anything else you'd like to share about anything we talked about or anything else that we haven't brought up yet.
Alex: I don't know. I guess I'm, when I'm working with photographers [inaudible] I do consulting sometimes and we usually end up talking about intangible stuff, not technical stuff at the end of the cause because I noticed they get stuck with fear with how they, how they show themselves. They feel they don't have a voice. The lack courage to try something new. But I don't know. That's really difficult to deconstruct now. Yeah, it's, it's still, it's still a hard business because of all the competition. It takes courage, but that's why try to differentiate yourself in some way helps. Otherwise it's just a saturated market and all the photographers are, I feel are suffering. That's the main idea I see in all my consulting calls. They're, they're sighing there. It's, it's difficult because cheaper photographers are around the corner. It's,
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. You know, that that topic, the saturated market topic and the, and the, the photographers in your saturated market that are low balling their prices is a topic that I have been talking about with many photographers and web designers for the, for the past couple of weeks in various calls. And, and and whatnot. And it's an interesting topic that I don't think there it might be obvious, but I don't think there's one Mmm. One answer, one solution to this problem. I think that as an industry, the photographers who care more about this problem need to need to have these discussions more often to find all the solutions and heck, make a list of all the solutions because you know, it, it's, it's, it's so tricky. And I feel like this problem will never go away. So all we can do is constantly step up and step up and step up and, and rise above all these other people who are making it harder on us to do the end is more than enough business for, for for, for the people who want to sell a little and dual high volume versus, you know, a good, a good volume
Alex: And, and make more money per session. So, but they need to deconstruct their business to try to change the path of their business. Actually I, I'm doing a big research project. I'm still in the works. I'm trying to review the top 100 most popular photography websites out there. Right. So all the household names that everyone knows about and tracking various stats in a big spreadsheet, and those websites have huge mistakes on them. Right. Really broken pages, poor SEO, poor performance. Yeah. They're still hugely popular. Why? So don't obsess over technical stuff that much when you're going in the wrong direction. Yep. Yeah. Yeah. I can't wait to see that. [inaudible] Would tell people, Hey, most famous photographers are doing this. You should do the same. But it ends up being, yeah, it's showing the opposite. You can be successful. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Scott: You know. And, and, and at Imagely, we are constantly, cause we're, you know, we're we're in a pretty competitive business as well. And we're constantly reviewing how we rank for certain keywords and for certain brands of ours and certain products of ours. And it's so interesting when we see competition that are actually doing things that Google says, we'll get you banned from Google and they're ranking number one. Like, you know, so it's, it's, it's what, what are we're, we're constantly examining what are they doing besides us. One shady thing that they should be banned for. How are they still ranking, number one, what are they doing that we could replicate and then do better? So I feel like that that is something that you shouldn't just look at the SEO. You have to look at everything else that's going on. They could be doing one little thing for user experience that is
Alex: Making them above right. In, in ranking wise, at least business wise, they probably are not doing as well, but, but Reiki wise they're doing something to game the system. But yeah, it won't last long if they're doing shady stuff. Yeah, yeah,
Scott: Yeah. Unfortunately it's been like 10 years Of this.
Scott: It's kind of crazy. Almost 10 years I guess. So I want to say thank you, Alex for joining today. I'm glad that we got you on and that we got, you got to share some of your insights with the listeners and viewers.
Scott: I'm going to put every place to find you and of course your blogging course in the show notes. But if you can tell listeners the absolute best place,
Alex: Well, I need more information about that is on my website, foreground web dot F O R E Ground web.com. That's where I have all my [inaudible] periodicals, my newsletters and freebies, and they can see my web design services that they need. Kind of one-on-one help.
Scott: Awesome. So you can find the show notes where to find Alex at imagely.com/podcast/97 and don't forget to subscribe to the show on Apple podcast, Spotify, Pandora, Google play, and wherever you listen to podcasts. Until next time.