How happy are you with your photography website? Is it pulling its weight by really promoting you as a professional photographer?
Or does it sit there, lonely and neglected, because the search engines don’t like it too much, and your few weekly visitors bounce almost immediately, leaving only digital tumbleweed in their wake?
If your website feels like a ghost town, then perhaps it’s time for an overhaul, but the main options seem to be just more of the same old Flash-based templates (albeit with HTML mirrors), designed to “showcase your amazing photography” with beautiful interactive slideshows…
I mean, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then your photographs should be able to sell themselves, so a fancy slideshow is perfect for that, right?
But wait a minute!
You’ve already been down that road… and look where that got you!
Fortunately, there’s a much better alternative…
WordPress For Photographers
Of course, when you mention the term “WordPress“, most people immediately think of blogging, and many assume that’s all it’s good for.
But WordPress is a lot more than just an amazing blogging platform.
Much more, in fact.
The correct terminology for what WordPress actually does is “content management system” (CMS), which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s awesome at helping us organizing anything and everything needed to create fantastic websites, without having to be a programmer. All the content (pages, posts, comments etc.) are stored in a database, rather than being hard-coded into separate HTML files.
The power and flexibility of WordPress allows anyone to create just about any kind of website they can dream up. In fact, many of the websites we visit each day are actually powered by WordPress without us even realizing it.
But, for the professional photographer who is thinking about redesigning their website, are there real advantages to using WordPress to create a photography website that outweigh the benefits of using an off-the-shelf template? Is it better than hiring a professional web designer to create a fully-custom website?
Of course, the primary advantage is cost, which is negligible with a free WordPress website, but I want to focus on more useful benefits than that…
I believe there are some very serious advantages, and here are 17 reasons I can think of, although I’m sure there are plenty more!
When researching this article I found lots of other posts that talk about the top 5 or top 10 reasons to build a website with WordPress, and most of them referred to the same set of usual suspects (some of which I have included here because they are valid reasons), but most of those are just technical reasons.
Instead, I wanted to include at least some reasons that gave a real business advantage, so here are my top 17, in no particular order:
- Seamless combination of website and blog
- Competitive differentiation
- Unlimited room for marketing copy
- Highly flexible page layouts
- Clean HTML code (no Flash)
- Proven website framework
- Google loves WordPress (great SEO)
- Easy to update
- Excellent branding through customized themes
- Suitable for the novice and advanced website owner
- Built-in user engagement
- Fast loading times
- Vast array of plug-ins
- Flexible site structure
- No web designer required
- Membership possibilities
#1: Seamless Combination Of Website And Blog
A website and blog serve quite different business purposes, but their combined power is much greater than the sum of their parts when deployed in unison.
The purpose of the website is to welcome your visitors, show them around, talk to them, get them engaged through emotional connections, and to convert them into “warm leads” with whom you can have a real conversation.
In essence, your website is your first line of sales staff.
A blog on the other hand is more like your PR department. It’s the voice, through which you communicate with your target market on a much more visceral and often personal level.
The blog is where we share news of what’s happening in our business (and sometimes personal) lives, where we highlight some of our best work, feature clients, tell stories, and put on our human face for a change.
Website and blog: different, yet the same in some aspects.
With the commonalities between website and blog in mind, it’s important that our branding and business personas remain consistent with each other across these two platforms. Otherwise we end up with a potential disconnect.
Using WordPress as the basis for both the website elements and the blog ensures that the layout, colors, styling, and overall feel are consistent, with no glaring seam between the two.
Another great benefit of managing both website and blog under one roof, as it were, is that we get the full SEO credit afforded by the WordPress structure, and I’ll talk more about that in just a moment.
#2: Competitive Differentiation
A common complaint I hear from my own photography prospects, when I talk to them on the phone, is that they can’t remember one photographer’s website from another. For example, they say things like:
“I’ve been to so many websites but they’re all just one big blur..”.
Sadly, it’s true.
A large majority of photography websites seem to be based on the usual fancy window that sits in the middle of the screen, with music playing in the background, and a slideshow parade of images floating by. There’s an “about me” page and a “contact us” page, and perhaps a few others, but they essentially look and feel the same.
When we create a WordPress website, this doesn’t just allow us to think outside the box about producing a photography website, it literally stomps on the box, and throws it in the garbage!
No longer are we confined to a letterbox window in the middle of the screen in which we have to scroll the text independently of the screen…
Now we can not only have those great slideshows, but we can add as much marketing copy as we like, as many photographs and testimonials as we want, numerous calls to action, headings, sub-headings and so on… the list is endless.
And one thing is certain – the result looks nothing like all those other cookie-cutter websites!
Success in business depends on differentiation, and WordPress definitely provides that for us.
#3: Unlimited Room For Marketing Copy
I already alluded to this in #2, but it’s such a good benefit that it merits mentioning just by itself.
Because a WordPress page is unrestricted in vertical length, we can write as much marketing copy as we feel is necessary to get our point across and make that all-important connection with the visitor.
You might argue that people don’t read below the fold, and I hear that quite a lot, but that’s just not true…
After all, YOU are reading this, aren’t you? And the end of this post is so far below the fold, we could do origami with the page!
If you still believe in the myth that everything has to be above the fold then go read this great piece called “Life Below 600px“.
The truth is that not everyone is going to read everything you write, but the ones who are actually interested in what you have to say, who value your photography, and are aligned with your true purpose for being a photographer, will read it. Think, as well, about how you can use SEO and website design together to create something truly amazing.
And they will be more excited when they get to talk with you in person as a result.
The business benefit here is plainly obvious – more warm leads who love what you do!
#4: Highly Flexible Page Layouts
WordPress really has two main components to it:
- The content (stored in the WordPress database)
- The outward appearance
The appearance is governed by whichever theme you use, and changing the overall design and layout of the site is as easy as switching to a different theme.
However, within a theme, you can have a series of different page templates. For example, you can have a template for a gallery page, an email opt-in page, a sales page, a landing page, or any other purpose you can dream up.
All you need to do to change the layout of a page is to create a template for it, or change the styling and content of an existing one.
For example, because sales pages should be designed to reduce the clutter, you can have a single-column layout with no menus or navigation, thereby avoiding any unnecessary distractions.
Depending on the theme you use, you might already have a good set of page templates to choose from.
Try getting that kind of flexibility with a Flash site.
#5: Clean HTML Code (No Flash)
One of the biggest problems with Flash is that it’s based purely on images, and the search engines are unable to read those images, even if they contain overlaid text.
Another issue is that most Flash websites use the same base URL for every page on the site, causing even more indexing problems for Google because it’s hard to distinguish one page from another.
The result is very poor ranking in the search engines for the photographer.
Yes, we can have HTML mirror sites, but even those can cause problems, since they’re not always optimized very well for photography SEO, and a lot of website providers charge additional fees for that vital component.
Because a website powered by WordPress is built on solid and clean HTML and CSS styling, the search engines are easily able to digest and interpret every page with ease. Even a basic, no-frills, WordPress installation with no additional plug-ins has some good SEO practices built into it, making it much more likely to be indexed.
#6: Proven Website Framework
This one is not immediately obvious, but very important nonetheless.
WordPress has been around for a long time now, and has resulted in a very robust, stable, efficient, and proven code structure.
For a system that’s developed mainly by a team of volunteers, it has far less bugs in it than some proprietary systems we could mention.
To date, I’ve never seen a WordPress site crash or fail as a result of a bug in the core code. Believe me, as someone who worked for 16 years as a programmer in a variety of disciplines, I know this is impressive by any standard!
#7: Google Loves WordPress (Great SEO)
As already mentioned, WordPress has good built-in SEO, and Google just loves websites built with it.
By adding free plug-ins such as the “All-In-One SEO Pack“, “Robots Meta“, and “XML Sitemaps“, we can really enhance the standard SEO functionality.
For example, many of the posts I publish here on this blog have been crawled and indexed by Google within 10 minutes or less of being published.
I’ve even seen organic search traffic arriving on the site within that time, indicating that new pages and posts have achieved a fairly high ranking straight out of the gate.
The benefit of efficient, no-hassle, SEO and fast indexing is that people will find you more easily and more quickly.
#8: Easy To Install and Update
Installing a WordPress setup is so easy, it’s ridiculous. In fact, you can do that in far less time than it takes to read this post!
It’s as simple as:
- Download WordPress
- Unzip the downloaded file
- Edit the basic configuration file
- Upload the WordPress files to your web server
- Go to the home page and fill out a quick form
- That’s about it!
When you build a website with WordPress, keeping it updated is even simpler. The administrator dashboard alerts you whenever a new version of a plug-in is available, or if the WordPress software itself can be been updated. The same applies to themes.
To update, you just click a button, and you’re done.
#9: Excellent Branding Through Customized Themes
As mentioned already, themes define the look and feel of the site, and are independent of the content.
Don’t like how it looks? Changing it as easy as picking a new theme.
However, I would advise against switching themes too often – you’ll want to settle on a design that suits you and your brand, and then stick with it if you can.
There are many WordPress themes for photographers out there, and a lot of them are free as well as quite customizable.
However, I would advise going with a premium theme, mainly because you know they’re professionally coded, will likely be more efficient, and usually allow you to customize many of the features through the use of a dashboard, rather than having to edit the code itself.
#10: Suitable For The Novice And Advanced Website Owner
Because WordPress is so flexible, and there are no practical limits on what we can create with it, it’s a perfect platform for both the beginner and advanced website owner.
There are lots of people out there who are creating beautiful websites without any programming knowledge whatsoever, and others, like myself, who have programming experience that allows them to poke under the hood to make whatever changes they want.
For example, I’ve very easily created several of my own plug-ins for this website, that work without having to change anything within the WordPress core system itself.
#11: Built-In User Engagement
One of the really great things about WordPress is the built-in user engagement functionality – what we know as comments.
Comments on blogs are very powerful things, which is why spammers latched on to them very early on as a means to spread their nefarious messages. Their joy was short-lived however, with the arrival of the Akismet plug-in which mercilessly deals with any spam, and is now included in every installation of WordPress by default.
Why are comments such a good thing?
For a start, any text that’s entered as a comment will add to the overall copy of the page or post. If there are any useful keywords in those comments, then it’s as though your readers are helping you with your SEO!
Next, Google actually looks at how many comments, social shares, and “likes” a post has, and uses that information as a means to determine popularity and, as an extrapolation of that, relevance.
Obviously, a post with a lot of approved comments must have something useful to say, so Google will give it a little extra weight as a result.
Increased popularity and relevance can lead to higher search engine rankings, which leads to more visitors, and ultimately more clients for the photographer…
Comments are also useful for encouraging reader engagement. By acknowledging and responding to your readers’ comments, you can build an engaged audience that will keep coming back again and again.
There’s also a great plug-in, deceptively known as “Comment Redirect“, which will reward your first-time commenters with an otherwise hidden thank you page…
In fact, there’s such a page on this site, which shows me as never before seen (don’t get too excited, it’s not what you might think).
If you want to see that, and you’ve never left a comment here before, then go ahead and try it out…
#12: Fast Loading Times
The clean and efficient code behind WordPress means that websites built with it generally load more quickly.
Of course, loading times can vary, depending on the file size of embedded media etc. but it usually does a good job.
Why is this important?
First, users have a short attention span, and don’t like to kept waiting.
Second, Google doesn’t favor slow-loading sites, and ranking may suffer if a website consistently shows poor load times.
A fast site equals a better user experience, which leads to improved engagement and higher conversions…
The web has changed beyond recognition since the early days, where text and photographs were about the best we could do.
Nowadays, we have a plethora of media to choose from:
- Interactive slideshows
- Conversations (through comments or Facebook-like wall apps)
With so much available to us, it would be silly not to make use of whatever media is appropriate to our marketing message.
Even in the 3+ years that this blog has been going, there have been changes in the way I use media on the site. When I started out, it was exclusively text and photos. Now, you can find videos, audio interviews, slide presentations, all interspersed within the content.
From a business perspective, for you as a professional photographer, it makes sense to utilize as many different types of media as possible to reach your target market.
For example, video testimonials (with a text transcript for SEO) are becoming increasingly more popular. Audio interviews, YouTube videos and media-rich PDFs also have roles to play in your marketing.
But the truth is, with a traditional website or a Flash-based template, it can be less than easy to incorporate these elements into your website without some technical know-how or relying on costly (and sometimes lax) web designers.
This gives you the business advantages of speed of development, and a more engaging experience for your website visitors.
#14: Vast Array Of Plug-Ins
So, you hire a web designer to build a fully customized site, or you buy a template from a website shop, run it for a while, and then one day you decide, “wouldn’t it be really cool if only I could ________“…
The problem is, the web designer gives a sharp intake of breath you’ve only seen before from your car mechanic, and the website shop can’t accommodate your needs because they don’t offer the functionality you’re looking for…
Just like that, your great new marketing or client engagement strategy flew out the window, and you’re left stuck with the rest of the pack.
But if you build a website with WordPress you probably won’t have this problem.
There are literally thousands of plug-ins for WordPress, designed to do all kinds of things, so there’s bound to be one out there for your specific purpose.
A great many plug-ins are free, and some you have to pay for, but the beauty is that you get to implement new features at the drop of a hat, without any real difficulty, or even having to write a line of program code.
From a business perspective, this means that your website becomes adaptable to change, quickly and easily, making it more nimble than any of the traditional websites out there.
#15: Flexible Site Structure
With WordPress, the photographer is not stuck with one structure model for the website, making this platform highly suited to almost any purpose.
The technical term within WordPress for this is “permalinks“, and this is what translates the internal content stored in the database into the URL’s that we see when we navigate a site.
The standard WordPress permalink structure types include:
In these examples, “wp-root-folder” refers to the folder in which WordPress is installed. So, for example, if it’s installed at the very top level of the site (which is a good way to do it), then “wp-root-folder” will be blank.
You can also customize the permalink structure in lots of other ways, but I don’t see how anything other than the standard ones would confer any business or SEO advantage.
For a website and blog combination site, I would highly recommend using the last one in the list.
#16: No Web Designer Required
I’ve mentioned web designers in some of the other sections here, and this post is in no way intended to malign the many great web designers out there.
But, with that said, some of the photographers that I’ve talked to recently have complained to me that they hired someone to design a website for them, but then the relationship eventually broke down for various reasons, sometimes quite dramatically.
Some of the problems included:
- Taking too long to complete the work
- Not listening to the needs of the photographer
- Ignoring requests for specific features
- Taking too long to respond to emails or requests for support
- And so on…
As I said, there are a LOT of really awesome web designers out there, and if you want a fully-customized website then hiring a reputable and dedicated firm to create the website for you is probably a really great idea.
However, just like photographers, there are those who have entered the business because they think they can, and they are best avoided, in my opinion.
When it comes down to learning how to make a photography website with WordPress, you have a real advantage, because there’s no need for a web designer to be involved. You might need the services of a good graphic designer to create some custom theme graphics for you, but that’s about all.
There are so many themes out there, and many of those are very customizable, that it’s pretty easy to create a really appealing and well-branded website that communicates your marketing message to your prospects and clients.
#17: Membership Possibilities
While this isn’t a standard feature of WordPress, and it does require a premium plug-in to make it work, I mention it here because this is something that solves one of the problems encountered by many professional photographers who want to give their clients access to protected galleries, for example.
While I’m not a personal fan of selling prints from online galleries (specifically of the portrait and wedding variety), I know that many of you do, and you often have to resort to expensive eCommerce add-ins for the template sites, or have a custom-built client area.
The great news here is that there are plug-ins for WordPress that allow you to run membership-based websites where certain content is reserved only for members.
This site, for example, uses the WishList Member plug-in to administer some of the courses and training I offer.
In fact, in the coming weeks, I’ll be offering an exciting new membership program that offers free webinars twice a month, with full access to the recordings, but that’s for another time, so stay tuned for more on that one.
For your business, if you plan to have client-only galleries, a membership site plug-in would make that process very simple for you.
Not only that, because your clients are then members of your site, it keeps them within your marketing loop and helps you form better and longer-lasting relationships with them.
WordPress Photography Websites In Action
So, there you have my 17 top reasons for using WordPress as a platform for building a photography website, and now I’d like to showcase for you some of the best websites I’ve found where the photographers have put this into practice.
These 15 websites are not in any order of preference, so don’t think that any of these are supposed to be “better” than the others, whatever that means anyway! In my book, the best website out there is the one that delivers the results the photographer intended!
#12: Dog Patch Pix
#14: David Grupa Portrait
I hope you found this article useful, and I’m sure I missed a few things out, so let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Also, I wanted to let you know that WordPress websites are the subject of one of the bonus training programs, available when you participate in my “Auto-Focus Strategic Marketing” course, which starts on July 10th 2012.
PS: If you have a full WordPress photography website, and would like me to include a link to it here, then leave me a comment (in the comment section, not the Facebook comments), and if I like it, I’ll approve it. The only requirement is that your comment should include at least business reasons why you chose WordPress over any other platform for your website. I look forward to seeing your submissions!