Friday, November 6, 2009

Websites and mysteries

Right now, I have three websites meaning web space for which I pay out money. I am not counting free stuff such as Facebook or Bebo or etc. Oops, forgot about a fourth website where I put family stuff.
I churn out a lot of content. Most of it is pretty narrow in scope. I live in a small town and take pictures there of the town of Moosonee, sometimes Moose Factory, often the Moose River and its traffic and birds, mostly Common Ravens. I should not forget the trains that come here, mostly the Polar Bear Express and sometimes freight trains.
As a former computer programmer, I feel guilty that I have never learned how to set up fancy, interactive websites with lots of amazing features. I drag and drop pictures and thumbnails or just upload pictures to fit into templates that other people have developed.
I started off with just one website. At first it had the name assigned by my service provider then a better name became available and I went for it.
I do this website in Microsoft Frontpage. It has a bit of text but  mostly pictures. I started out with some tight space limitations so the pictures are 800 pixels wide or 1024 pixels wide. Because I do not use a fancy setup for it, just pages of pictures with thumbnails, it is a bit of a nuisance to update. If I want to add descriptions I have to put them in separately. Sometimes it is a pain to add pictures of different shapes. However, I have it, it uses my last name and is my only CA website. This site is hosted by which, while not cheap, has superior customer service and reliability and is hosted in Canada.
A few years ago I signed up for pbase, a photo sharing website that is not too expensive. I am limited in how much space I use there so I keep the pictures to 1024 pixels wide. What is the difference between this site and Sometimes the same pictures but I have used the pbase site more for events such as weddings or carnivals in the past. Pbase has had some issues lately, they were down for several days in September and are still working on their recovery from that downtime caused by a power failure at their hosting company. The severe impact of that failure somewhat surprised me. As with the site, pbase requires manual input of descriptions.

About three years ago I started using smugmug. They have basically unlimited traffic and webspace and a very sophisticated hosting service that uses Amazon's S3 service so things are backed up all over the States. Still, they have had down time as well. I usually upload full size images to this site and a few videos. I have by far the most stuff on the smugmug site. One thing I really like is the fact that smugmug can extract descriptions and keywords right from my picture files. Since I mostly set those fields up in bridge or lightroom, it means that it takes no extra work to descriptive information to my pictures.
So which sites get used the most? I use google analytics to analyze the traffic. Remember, these are hobby sites that I run, traffic in terms of visitors or bytes is tiny compared to commercial sites. All together I get a few thousand visitors a month, maybe more if I have uploaded content from a popular event here such as a wedding or the rising of the river in the spring.
One thing that intrigues me is how the sites get searched. I notice that smugmug is a poor third. For some reason, pictures on the other two sites seem to show up more often in search engines. When I look at google analytics this is confirmed, a much lower percentage of the traffic on is from search engines than on the other two sites despite the fact that the images there have far more descriptive information. I have tried various things, mainly adding detailed descriptions to pictures, lots of accurate and meaningful keywords. But, in the end, the smugmug hosted site does not impress the search engines. This is too bad because it has the best versions of my photographs and often far more photographs of a given item or theme.
I used to print a few photographs but now I just tell people they can download the pictures from the sites and print themselves. Alternatively, they can order prints through the smugmug site ( or ). There is not a lot of demand for this, I have not sold a lot of pictures but then again I am doing this for fun not for recouping expenses let alone making a profit.

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