The second article in a series on finding the best photography website templates for photographers. This series reviews the major template providers and gives photographers a more systematic basis for comparing and choosing. See also: The Best Photography Website Templates: Introducing a New Series***UPDATE: Below I say that I ultimately chose Photobiz as my solution.
I did for my wedding site. But I’ve recently converted my personal site (as well as this site) to the new Photocrati WordPress themes. You can check out the themes here: Photocrati’s Photography WordPress Themes.Of all the template shops I considered in my recent search for a new web template for danzerphotography.com, I ultimately chose Photobiz.
Here is a screen shot of a gallery page on my site as it currently appears with thumbnails on the right: Since I chose Photobiz, that should mean I think it’s the best choice out there, right? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Photobiz, like all template-style solutions has its own limitations. For some users, lack of flexibility, high cost, or search engine optimization challenges might mean trying another solution.
Photobiz is an all in one web solution for photographers.
For a mixture of one time fees (to buy a template, set up shopping carts, etc.) and monthly fees (for hosting), they handle everything: flash templates, hosting (in fact, you HAVE to host there, which is a limitation), online proofing and sales functionality so you can sell prints directly to clients, and a range of other functions and services. Photobiz templates and the system for selecting them is at the heart of the Photobiz solution.
They offer over 30 different templates, all with Flash and HTML equivalents, to choose from. One of the best features is that you’re allowed to change templates as often as you like. So if you decide you don’t like one (which I do often) you can change to another with a few mouse clicks. That’s incredibly useful.
Their internal architecture ensures that all your galleries and information pages get converted seamlessly to the new theme.
The main reason I chose Photobiz was that I liked the look of its websites. I wanted to try a flash site for my website this time, and Photobiz offers an ample array of beautiful flash templates and allows you to switch between them effortlessly.
Their templates vary from traditional to modern, simple to decorative. You can see demos of most of their templates from their home page. Here is a screen shot of the template selection page in the back end where you can change your template with a few mouse clicks:For each template, Photobiz offers an array of color palettes that can transform the look of your site even with the same template.
They also offer the option of setting your own colors – you can manually change the color of backgrounds, titles, text, menus, and other parts of the site.While I have not set up the e-commerce functionality on my site yet, I should also note that the appearance of their online ordering pages seems quite elegant, simple, and user friendly. See below for full description.The combination of beautiful templates, and the ability to not only choose between templates, but customize colors within them means that, overall, I really give Photobiz high grades on appearance.
EASE OF USE
This is another strength of Photobiz. Their back end management system is super easy.
I don’t think they could have made it any easier to add, substract, and change your website than they have. Here’s a quick look at the backend management system. When you first log in, you are taken to this page:The round “Flash/HTML” icon on that screen shot, which takes you to all of your main site content. Here’s what you see when click that button and look at your site from the back end:
To make changes to any of those, you click on the relevant menu item. You change text using a normal text-edit box. And you upload photos with an easy-to-use, java-based upload system that looks much like the page above. You tell Photobiz which directory on your computer you want to upload photos from, and it shows a list of thumbnails in that folder on your computer.
You just select the ones you want, and click upload. The uploading process is relatively fast and glitch free.
AFLEXIBILITY OF DESIGN
As already noted, there is substantial flexibility to choose between templates and customize colors within templates. That is, however, as far as the flexibility goes.
While Photobiz’s template system creates all kinds of advantages, one of the biggest disadvantages is that you cannot customize your site in the myriad small ways you may be used to if you’ve had your own site in the past. You can’t add extra notes and announcements to your home page, and your home page title is limited to a specific number of characters.What this ultimately comes down to: when you set up a site with Photobiz, you won’t have direct access to any of the html, css, or other files that comprise your website.
Actually, since the sites are flash-based, even if you had access to the site files, making any adjustments would be very difficult. So it’s partly a function of flash, and partly a function of the fact that Photobiz only allows you to work on your site through their provided back end management system. You don’t get FTP or other access to the server. As a consequence, YOUR ARE LIMITIED TO WHAT EVER DESIGNS AND FUNCTIONS PHOTOBIZ HAS THOUGHT TO PROVIDE.
If you are technically savvy and like the ability to tweak the appearance of your site and add little extras here and there, that won’t happen at Photobiz.
None. The other, and perhaps even more important limitation to a Photobiz site, is that there is no blogging capability. I want to maintain a blog, you would need to host it on a different server and different domain name.
Give the importance of blogging today as a critical way to interact with past or potential clients, that’s a surprising omission and big, big limitation, as least as far as I’m concerned.
Now we move back into one of the potential strength areas for Photobiz. I haven’t set up e-commerce functionality on my site yet. It costs an extra $125, and I have not yet had a reason to pay the extra fee.Once set up, a link appears on the top menu of your site that takes you to the main landing page for online proofing/shooting galleries.
The landing page can be set to show categories; within each category you can set up a list of galleries. Click on the galleries for thumbnails of images, and click on the thumbnails to see a particular image. Pretty straight forward. Here’s an individual image page, where clients are able to place orders.
You can see the interface on the upper right where clients can select print sizes, number of prints, etc., before adding the image to their cart. There seems to be an upside and a downside to Photobiz’s e-commerce functionality. On the upside, their online ordering pages and seem remarkably elegant and user friendly. This seems to fit with their overall knack for design.
Also on the upside, this functionality is remarkably easy to set up, and it’s great to have a beautiful selection of flash templates AND online ordering in the same place.On the down side, while the Photobiz online ordering system takes orders for you, it DOES NOT offer order fulfillment. Once a client submits and orders, Photobiz simply emails you with the order, and you must fulfill the order through your normal labs.
I talked to a Photobiz representative about this, and they said they may add this functionality in the next year. They also noted that many photographers prefer it this way, because they can use their own preferred labs.Personally, I would strongly prefer to be removed from the order fulfillment process, and have orders gone directly to a lab, as happens with pro storefronts at places like Printroom or SmugMug. Individual order fulfillment can be very time consuming.
COST AND FEE STRUCTURE
So how much does this all cost? Clearly, Photobix is a premium template provider.
They’re not selling based on price, but based on an impressive package of services. Accordingly, Photobiz is very much on the expensive side of the spectrum for photographer templates. Beyond that, I also find their fee structure a bit confusing in the sense that there are a lot of add on costs that you won’t expect if you are not paying very careful attention. For most of their services, they charge a one time fee.
For example, it costs $125 to get a flash template plus the right to switch templates as often as you like. It costs $45 to set up an HTML mirror of your flash site, $95 to set up online shopping functionality, etc.. On top of those one-time fees, you then pay a monthly that varies depending on the total number of images hosted on your site.
On the low end, you can pay $15/month if you have 200 or less photos. At the high-end, it will cost you $100 if you have 12000 photos. For most photographers, the best level is someplace in the middle – say $60 for 3600 photos.This monthly fee is the potential killer. If you are a pro who shoots lots of weddings, for example, and you upload 500 images per wedding for your clients, those photos add up fast.
You are going to need to pay between $60 and $100 per month to host all those images.In addition, there are strange small fees that seem a bit stingy. For example, by default a website comes with 4-5 text pages – any non-gallery page with text on it, like your about page or the page where you describe your services. If you would like to add another text page, you have to pay a one-time fee of $15. Seems like an unnecessary way to extract a bit more from you.Given all this, how much would it cost to set up a basic site? One time fees are $140, including flash template for $125 and an extra text page for $15.
Monthly fees are $15 per month (for 200 or less total photos on your site). So the total for the first year: $320.How much would it cost to set up a very complete site and take advantage of all Photobiz’s functionality? One time fees are $310, including flash tempate $125, HTML mirro4r $45, shopping cart and online ordering $125, an extra text page $15. Monthly fees are $60-100 (for 1800-12000 photos on your site).
The total cost for the first year: $1030-$1510. Needless to say, that’s quite a bit. Obviously you’re getting a lot for the money. And, of course, if you compare it with the cost of hiring a web designer to create a flash html site with e-commerce functionality – which would cost $1500-5000 – it seems reasonable.
But the difference is that if you keep your site with Photobiz, you will continue to pay this amount year after year, rather than just once for your own site. And the appropriate comparison here is not your own designer, but other templates you might consider.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
Flash-based websites have traditionally created problems for search engines.
This is of critical importance, since most traffic to most websites comes via search engines. What’s the point of having a beautiful site if it can’t be found? The problem with flash is that search engines see your whole “flash unit” for lack of a better term, as a single image or video with no readable information.
Because the text is effectively part of the flash animation, search engines cannot see it, and that’s how they generally determine the relevance of a given site. So you don’t get the same benefits of a text rich website.There are a number of ways to mitigate the negative SEO-effects. Photobiz is obviously aware of this and provides a means to add meta tags to each of your pages.From their FAQ: “Can I optimize my website for search engines? You will have the ability to add meta-tags to your website.
We also offer useful links to submit your website for free to major search engines.”But this only gets you so far. In addition to the internal SEO challenges, another related problem is that you can’t link to any of the individual pages on your site. You can only link to your homepage.
FREE TRIALS AND GUARANTEES
Photobiz offers a 30 Day Money Back Guarantee.
I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know how easy it is to ask for a refund, but I’ll take them at their word and assume it’s relatively straightforward.
In short, Photobiz offers an impressive array of beautiful flash templates, and allows you to switch between them for free. The templates, the back end management system, and online ordering system underscore that Photobiz has some great designers who know how to make websites that look great and are very easy to use, all while packing powerful functionality. On the downside, Photobiz occupies the most expensive end of the spectrum for template-style solutions at $300-$1500 for the first year.
It lacks flexibility for tweaking a site if you are the tech-savvy type and, more important, lacks any blogging functionality. It’s an online order system, while elegant, does not offer any order fulfillment, so you still have to do that part yourself