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Oli Sansom | The Real Purpose Of A Website

This is a guest post by Oli Sansom, an incredible Australian wedding photographer, with a decade of experience in advertising and design. Prior to wedding photography, Oli worked as an illustrator, animator, and creative director. His unique creative background grants him a multitude of insights, advice, and fun examples that he’s ready to share with all of you, folks.

Oli is known for his creative and fun approach towards documenting weddings – but also for his witty and truly sarcastic nature that grabs attention and cracks you up. 

This is one out of a 4 article series. Each will tackle important aspects of how to run your business in an original, captivating, and kind way. Grab a coffee, get a pen and enjoy the read!

Oli Sansom wedding photographer and creative director
Photo by Ryan Muirhead

“You know, when you’re a small business owner, doing all the things yourself, and letting that artist-ego hold control over every square inch of the business, sometimes we just don’t get to things in time. And when we don’t get to something in time, eventually when we do, we might end up rushing it. And what happens then? We see all the holes… and get pretty unhappy with it, pretty quickly, because it never had the proper amount of love, care, and foundational processes in place, to make it a success.

Exhibit A: my website. 

Righto, I’m turning the mirror around.

As much as anything else I’m probably known for updating my website every 18 months. The fact is though, as polished as they’ve often looked, I’ve never even finished one (I’m getting closer though, I think). My website process has looked like this: build a website in a couple of days, throw some stuff on it, never quite finish it (but promise to get to it real soon), then start all over barely 18 months later as my tastes have changed and I never invested the time and money in building a solid, future-proof brand and website. Rinse, repeat. Relate? The solution to this, would be ideally to outsource the whole thing to an expert, or at least put in the proper research and planning processes, because… shall I share the irony of it all? I spent a decade as a user experience designer in the biggest and best design agencies, working on everything from small boutique brands up to websites costing $2million +. And yet my websites have resembled a bizarre mish-mash of un-defined design styles because I’ve never given them the respect or attention that I did other people’s businesses when in my day job.

So, Flothemes community, as something different, I wanted to write this article about the real purpose of a website and creating user journeys, to… myself. 

It’s time to have a hard conversation with myself, 

and,
 
maybe, 

hopefully, 

you’ll benefit.

The real purpose of a website

The real purpose of a website is to solve a user’s problem and create a conversion. All the other stuff is just fluff. There’s this weird idea that “create a conversion” is cold, coercive sales language, but that’s just what “artistes” say because we think our art is going to be compromised by commerce. I know this because I was one of them for years.

Well, it isn’t. 

And plot twist: we won’t get to make our art, if our website doesn’t line up with the most basic user experience principles, and communicate to your target market why we’re the best. We know we’re good at “the thing” (photography, and caring for people), so it’s time for us to sell the thing, properly. Define the user (the person coming to the website), make sure you’re speaking to them, and make sure you’re showing them that they’d be bananas to go anywhere else. 

A website isn’t about showing our pretty portfolio, or photos of us in a fedora with our dog at sunset against the backdrop of a millennial whoop. We can do all that of course – but underneath that, every piece of real estate on our website needs to answer this question: “how is this piece of content leading towards creating a conversion from my target market”. 

The end.

Now let’s move away from gratuitous design and start laying out user journeys and solving user problems.

Who is the person that you are trying to generate a conversion from?

This might come as a little surprise, but death-metal listeners and Quentin Tarantino fans (my people) are a narrow target market. Your target market probably includes people about to have a beautiful, euphoric experience, and if you’re just showing dark and moody stuff, as I was, you might be missing out on an opportunity to show them how you care for other things that happen on the day that aren’t just chiaroscuro light. This isn’t to suggest to change your style: it’s to say that even if you have a unique and fixed way of seeing the world, you’re probably photographing all sorts of people, and making images with things in them that your target market would like to see – so having enough diversity in the images you’re presenting might be key, depending on the size of your market. 

Now, it’s time for us to get to profiling our primary user.

Profiling your primary user

For me, my primary user – the one most likely to engage with my brand, and the one that shares some of the same general sensibilities as me (so there is an idealistic fit) – are scallywags roughly around 25-40 in age, with some kind of interest in art and film. And if I really wanted to deep-dive into profiling my ideal user, the one that I’ll then be using all of my website real-estate to communicate to, then I might find they’re simply an easy-going adult, with an interest in design, Wes-Anderson, Tarantino, and good coffee as an added bonus. If we deep-dive even further into this exercise of character profiling, you’ll find that profiling them this way will instantly open up ideas for what words, colours, and patterns to use when communicating with them, so that they feel seen and heard. What do they listen to? Where do they hang out? What books do they read, and what websites out there already speak to them in proven ways?

The real purpose of a website article by Oli Sansom for Flothemes

Profiling your secondary user

Every primary user has a partner, a mate, perhaps family, or a pet lizard. Just because we’re creating a user journey predominantly for your primary user, doesn’t mean that you should ignore your secondary ones. Lay out some characteristics of your secondary users, and see where you can serve them. Got tonnes of bride heavy stuff on your website? Then share some info on some of the most debonair suits you’ve come across. Serve serve serve.

Creating direct appeal to your primary user

Once you’ve defined your primary user, your website starts to write itself. If you don’t believe me, get a friend who knows you well, to design you a cereal box containing some super-cereal made just for you, including all of the giant, explosive, salesy text. You might be surprised at just how well they know you. So flip it around: you know your target market, and you have your primary user profile. Make sure every piece of text, and every area of real estate on your website, is talking to that primary user. Not you, and not the industry.

Righto team… 

I’m off to go and fix up my website. 

I hope there was something in my self-loathing there that was useful. 

Either way, here’s 3 actionable things you can do yourself as a website audit, from my brain, to your eyeballs:

  1. Create circular journeys for your users. Flothemes allows you to have side-bars containing content, as well as custom footers. These side-bars and footers can be filled with content that relates to the page they’re on, so that they stay on your website, and are able to be served by you with any related problems they might have in their planning journey. With the exception of your enquiry form, no page should ever “end”: it should always lead to either information that can further help your primary defined user, or, direct them to making an enquiry. As an example? If I display a wedding in a certain city, my user might be at a point in their journey where they are looking for venues in that city. This is an opportunity for me to take leadership in that part of their decision-making process, so it makes sense for me to lead them to a journey of other venues in that city, through a “top venues” page.
  2. Do an audit on the broad idea of masculine and feminine. What’s an audit? An audit is an unbiased review of your website: in this case, through the lens of the masculine and the feminine. Both masculine and feminine are abstract ideas, but regardless, it is possible to lean too much into either one or the other: my early websites were very “masculine”: lots of hard edges, harsh light in the images being shown, and a focus not on the soft and the feminine. The end result of focusing too much on the masculine is that I miss out on connecting with people who are looking for its opposite. Again, refer back to who your primary user is, and whether your brand presents as either too masculine or feminine in nature for them.
  3. When you are profiling your primary user, you effectively want to “create” a person. Literally, draw them. On a sheet of paper. This process is called creating a client avatar. Label what they’re wearing, imagine what their entertainment preferences are, what their friendships are like. By quantifying and putting a name to all of these things, you create a clear picture of who your website should be talking to. From here, decisions on how to talk to that person, begin to be much easier: because you know exactly who your primary user is.

And your primary user, is not you.”

Was this helpful? Fun? Fresh? Cannot wait for the next article from Oli’s series?
We’ll be sharing one article per week, throughout June, so stay tuned. 

And, if you want to connect to Oli, ask him any questions, or follow his brilliant work and mind – you can find him via one of his 3 websites:
www.olisansom.com
www.briarsatlas.com
www.strangeatlas.co
Or via Instagram: instagram.com/olisansom

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