So you are a photographer who needs a website, and you are pretty frustrated. To make matters worse, you have no clue how to do this. This article helps point you in the right direction and might possibly even save you years of rework.
Now, in case you are wondering, the tips I offer come from mistakes. I am not an expert or pro developer. I am an experienced professional photographer who has built – and lived with – many versions of a website. For a couple years I tried to avoid these very steps by creating non-Wordpress.org sites at many of the have-a-quick-and-easy-website options for photographers. This is your chance to avoid losing the same amount of time and causing a ridiculous amount of rework after you learn about the drawbacks to such sites first hand. (One big drawback is that you won’t be able to move the site elsewhere if and when you outgrow it, as some of these proprietary sites are not portable. Another relates to you having a comparatively limited ability to make SEO improvements.) And to answer this common question of how long it takes to build a site, you can quickly build a photography website using a page builder, if you have done most of the work ahead of time.
A couple other tips – use YouTube and Google to locate detailed training videos on the topics. They are great resources. There is extensive information available on-line for each that will aid your overall comprehension and decision making.
When building websites, particularly photography websites, there is much offline work you can do ahead of time, long before you know how to build a website with WordPress or a page builder. You can research the types of sites you like. You can study design choices. You can make note of which sites you like best. You can decide on menus. You can decide how you want your home page to look – how many sections. You can decide what photography plans you want to offer. You can write articles ahead of time to prepare future blog posts. In time, you can decide on branding and a logo. Websites require all sorts of detailed choices around color schemes, fonts, animation, slides, movement, number of images, default spacing, and more – all that contribute to a site’s overall look and feel. There is a lot of offline work that goes into have a great looking, clean website.
Finally, you might want to know what choices I made and use. I opted for a webhosting plan vs. WordPress web hosting plan. I deleted my wordpress.com site and finally created a brand new wordpress.org site. I use a theme called Astra (free) and a page builder I highly recommend called Elementor Pro ($). It has a free version, too.
With those high level comments out of the way, here are basic steps and components of building a website using similar resources:
- As I mentioned, conduct research by checking out many different websites. Decide what looks and styles appeal to you and what sites and features you want to avoid. Make notes. Study all kinds of sites. They don’t all have to be photography sites. Think about your favorites. Notice what features you find helpful. Think about what look and feel you most like to use and are attracted to. Think about access to content within the site – the number of clicks required. Think about what information belongs in your site’s header and what belongs in its footer. Then build the content offline for each of these pages so that when you are ready to create your site, you can copy and paste content (using plain text).
- Choose a site name and url and register it. Be sure to read up on tips for choosing a good url and name for your photography site. There is a strategy behind the best names. (Later you might want to also think about creating a logo and common branding for your site, too.)
- Choose a webhost. There are different types. I prefer webhosting vs. WordPress hosting because I don’t want restrictions around which plugins I can install. (This was a big problem when I had a wordpress.com site instead of a wordpress.org site.) Choose a webhost that technically supports the page builder you plan to use and which comes with SSL and good – responsive, friendly, timely, accurate, knowledgable, 24×7, available-by-phone – customer support. I use the pagebuilder Elementor Pro at https://janicednelson.com. Elementor Pro has technical requirements common but not always automatically provided. Know what tools you plan to use before choosing a webhost, so you know what technical requirements you need. You can visit elementor.com to check out some webhosts they recommend. I also recommend finding a US based site, if you are a US based company.
- Once you’ve registered your url and activated your site, you will need to install wordpress.org if it is not already installed. Follow the steps provided by your webhosting company to do this.
- Install a basic theme. Choose one compatible with the page builder you plan to use. I use Astra, the free version. There is a pro version of Astra that is not free, but since I use Elementor Pro, I don’t use the pro version of Astra.
- Once WordPress is installed at your site, install a security plugin that includes a firewall, live traffic, and an audit log. One common firewall is Wordfence. Another integrated security plugin I like is Shield Security. There are others highly recommended, too, like Sucuri, All in One WordPress Security, and Cerber. Videos are available on the web to help you choose one. Consider also using two factor authentication and changing the default login url that you use to edit your site. Some security plugins have these features integrated. If they don’t or if you are using a free version of the plugin which does not have these integrated, be sure to install separate plugins for these two security features. Don’t forget about using a password manager, so that you can use long and complex passwords.
- Install a page builder. I highly recommend Elementor Pro. It is well worth the money. There are others. Many YouTube videos are available online. Elementor.com has an extensive training library on how to use its features as well. And there is one video online that will take you through the process of building a website end-to-end. It’s a great place to start to get a feel for the process.
- Build your pages. Remember to turn off caching plugins on your site while you are building or modifying pages and posts. Assign your site structure (e.g., assign a “static” home page, if applicable) in site settings. Elementor has a unique way for identifying the main page holding your photography blog posts that can be a little confusing. (There is a Facebook Elementor group that is a great help for getting questions answered, and they have an extensive database you can search by topic.) In general, build permanent content (e.g., home page, photography plan page, portfolio page and other main content) as “pages” and blog post articles as “posts.” Build a main overview blog “page” for your blog post articles and assign it as such in the WordPress site settings.
- Remember to also check your site design “responsiveness” on an iPad and an iPhone. Turn the devices vertically and horizontally. Use Elementor’s responsive selection features (the little icon in the bottom left, second to the right) to make manual adjustments for each of these platforms.
- Install a plugin for SEO – search engine optimization. Yoast is popular. (Yoast has wonderful basic free training videos on SEO.) I also like SEOPress Pro because of its integration with many advanced SEO features. There is a free (non pro) version of SEOPress, too. Other SEO plugins exist.
- Register on Google Search Console. Register all four versions of your site – http://sitename.com, https://sitename.com, http://www.sitename.com, and https://www.sitename.com. Then identify for Google Search Console which version you want as the default.
- Be sure to install a plugin for GDPR at your site. You will need to read up on GDPR as it is a huge topic in itself.
- Build a privacy page and a terms/conditions page at your site for your GDPR plugin to reference. Add them to your menu and/or footer.
- Add your posts – articles – to your website. Update your site’s structure for your blog. Check responsiveness again.
- Consider installing a backup plugin like All-in-One Backup. There are many to choose from.
- Build a sitemap for Google (typically something that is a part of your SEO plugin) and a user sitemap for visitors to your site.
- Further optimize your site pages and posts for SEO. Think about the words each page and post might be searched for by potential clients.
- Add your sitemap to Google Search Console for all versions of your site.
- Begin monitoring organic search results for your site. You can use a plugin at your site to do this or log into Google Search Console.
- Hone / maintain your site using Google Search Console results. Fix errors as needed.
- Update your site regularly and be prepared to have to tweak your pages when WordPress or another plugin update changes your site unexpectedly. If this happens, remember to temporarily turn off any caching plugin used at your site, regenerate your Elementor code (Elementor – Tools), and reset the permalinks in site settings. Finally, if you are using SEOPress, flush permalinks to ensure you are using the ones from your SEO plugin and not the WordPress default permalinks. Also, update the sitemaps you attached to Google.
- Use browser plugins to monitor your site’s Google rankings. MOZ is one well known extension that works if you are using Chrome.
Again, many of these steps require additional learning. Their order is not as important as doing them. But the more you know and understand about how a site operates, the better you will be able to improve and control results without losing years of work in the process.