Blogs help photographers display beautiful photography portfolios online in a way that can be searched, shared on social networks and viewed easily on mobile devices. I’ve been recommending blogs to photographers for the last five years, and I think so highly of blogs that I believe they should replace the photographer’s traditional website or splash page. Yes, your business can thrive by using a blog platform as your website.
This post outlines how to optimize a photography blog using WordPress as the foundation. We’ll cover the best themes and plug-ins, the best widgets to use, optimization tips for pages and images, workflow strategies, and how to funnel potential clients toward sales. Your blog will become a marketing vehicle for leads that customers will rave about and share with friends.
Photo credit: Yury Imaging
Set Up on WordPress
Blogging starts with choosing the right foundation for your blog site. A self-hosted WordPress site is the best option, given its large user base and robust support, plug-ins, searchability, and shareability. Many of the sites you encounter on the web are WordPress.
If you have a blog on Blogger, TypePad or anything other than WordPress, you absolutely must change your platform now.
With a WordPress blog, you no longer need a traditional website. That’s right — I recommend the blog becomes your homepage because it shows everything to potential clients in a single scroll without forcing them to click around to different sites and pages.
Are you having reservations about making a switch? Let me know in the comments.
If you’re not quite ready yet to make the leap to 100% blogging, make sure your blog and “other” website live under the same domain name. Photographers who have one URL for their website and another separate URL for their blog make it more difficult for clients and search engines to find their way around.
Bad: mysite.com and myblog.com (two separate websites)
Better: mysite.com and blog.mysite.com (one site with subdomain)
Best: myblog.com or mysite.com/blog (one site, or one site with a subfolder)
You’ll want to adopt this one-site approach as early as possible, even though it will be painful at first to consolidate down to a single site. One site is far more easier to manage and to get ranked highly in Google search results.
Set up a proofing site
Proofing is where existing clients can review and order prints. Since proofing shouldn’t be accessible to the average website visitor (new potential clients), proofing doesn’t need to be part of your main blog. You don’t need a proofing link on your website, which would be a dead end for anyone who clicks it.
I know I told you a few paragraphs ago to ditch the traditional website, but if you have a site like SmugMug and BluDomain it may be worth hanging onto them for the proofing system. In this case move the site to a new URL or a subdomain of your existing URL. Here’s a quick example: proofing.myblog.com.
I recommend ShootProof, which can host 15,000 photos for $30 per month and has tons of helpful sales features like galleries, mobile apps for clients and widgets for your blog.
Choose a Provider
WordPress (wordpress.org) is a free platform that anyone can download. The platform is simply a system through which you can manage your pages, posts and images. Web owners still need to install the system through a web host, like Bluehost (affiliate). The process of downloading, installing and buying hosting can get a bit technical. Don’t panic quite yet…
With WordPress installed and hosted, web owners choose a design theme, giving their sites a distinct look and feel. Themes are easy to download and install within WordPress; there are many free and premium themes available. WordPress allows you to change themes with almost a click of a button. Pretty awesome.
I recommend photographers use ProPhoto (affiliate) because it has photography-specific designs, plus you can pay this company to handle the technical stuff I already mentioned. ProPhoto has stellar support and many training videos available for WordPress beginners.
My site uses a StudioPress Theme (affiliate), which are best for the more technically savvy user as well as non-photographers. My favorites are the Expose and Foodie themes.
Pick a Design Theme
With WordPress installed the fun begins. This is the time to pick a blog design, also known as a theme. Make sure to look for mobile-enabled themes that utilize “responsive” design.
Responsive design means the site repositions itself for mobile devices. If you’re on a desktop computer, make the browser window smaller right now and see how my site changes based on the side of the window. So iPhones, tablets and laptops all see the same web content no matter how big the viewing area. You no longer need a separate mobile site.
Beware: Many of the themes found through a general Google search are sold by independent developers through a theme directory. You may get left in a lurch when you try to get support or customization. My Photography Spark theme was full of bugs and very costly to customize, despite being purchased through a major theme provider (MoJo).
Optimize Your Blog Homepage
The homepage of your blog is the first thing many users see. Make a great first impression by showing your most important content first. Then make it easy for users to scroll and find what they are looking for, without a ton of load-time issues.
Stick the most important post to the top
WordPress has a feature called “Stick this post to the front page. ” When you are editing a post, expand the section on the right where it says Visibility: Public. Checking the box makes that post appear at the top of the blog’s homepage as well as relevant category pages.
I use sticky posts to ensure my most important posts appear before anything else.
An important post is one that sets the best first impression, has critical information, directs the user where to go, or makes you the most money. Ideas for your sticky post(s):
- An introduction post about you – “Meet Zach, the Best Photographer in Sacramento”
- A gallery-type post that lists your best work within a particular niche – “My Top 20 Child Portraits”
- A navigational post with jump links to your best posts or galleries – “New here? Zach’s Favorite Wedding Posts”
- A special offer post – “Get a free print when you book holiday portraits before September 1”
Abbreviate posts on your homepage with the “More” tag
The More tag allows you to show a portion of a post on your blog homepage instead of the full post. Click the “Insert Read More tag” after the first paragraph or first image when editing a post. Everything before that line will appear on your homepage followed by a link for users to continue reading. Users can click “Read More” to see the full story.
The More tag helps readers quickly scroll through a long list of posts without having to see every image in every post.
Consider a mom who is looking for newborn photos. She doesn’t want to hunt through your latest boudoir posts to find the newborns. With the “More” tag in place, people will see one image per post at the homepage level and can click into the ones they are interested in. See an example on my blog here.
Hiding full posts helps your main page load much faster (great for mobile users) because the page displays only one or two photos per post instead of 20. Google and your customers like fast-loading pages.
Choose Widgets Wisely
Widgets are the little module boxes that display along your blog’s right sidebar or footer. I’m constantly surprised at how few people take the time to update these.
Recommended blog widgets
- About you – example in the footer of Jill Carmel Photography and the left side of Alison Winterroth Photography
- Most popular posts – example of Featured posts on the right of Beck Impressions Photography
- Book a session button – example on the right side of Dena McMullen Photography
- Helpful resources – examples on the right of Jenn Di Spirito Photography
- Email signup box – example in the footer of Jenn Di Spirito Photography
- Social networks – Facebook Like box, follow me on Pinterest button, etc.
Jenn Di Spirito takes advantage of real estate in the sidebar with the perfect widgets to boost sales: About Me, Resources and Social Media links
Widgets to remove immediately
- Admin – You don’t need users seeing shortcut links to your internal login page. If you want to log-in to your WordPress dashboard it’s easy to remember: yourblog.com/login
- Archives – Nobody cares what you wrote in September 2008.
- Latest Posts – Instead display your favorite posts, best posts, or most popular posts.
- Tag clouds – Those went out of fashion about 10 years ago (and nobody clicks on them).
- Blogroll – Get rid of anything that lists lots of links to other sites.
A cluttered website will hurt your conversion rates. Stay focused with this rule: One page, one goal.
— SonjaJobson (@SonjaJobson) August 11, 2014
Install the Top WordPress Plug-ins
Plug-ins are like apps for your blog. They’re developed by someone else and are available in the WordPress plug-in section. I recommend plug-ins for search engine optimization (SEO), social network connectivity and comment systems. Use plug-ins from trusted sources and only ones that are absolutely necessary, to help keep your site safe and fast-loading. Here are my favorite plug-ins.
Yoast is one of the leading SEO plug-ins. It helps you control the titles and meta descriptions of blog posts and pages. Yoast has a hundred more SEO features that might be too advanced for many photographers. So if you want something less technical and easier to set up, go with All in One SEO Pack.
There is a section called Bulk Title Editor where you can quickly update all of your old page titles. Use this after learning how to title pages for search in my Recipes to Rank SEO Cookbook.
My favorite feature of this plug-in is social integration. You can set an alternate Facebook title and image, which is helpful if your main title is loaded with search keywords that are too marketing heavy for Facebook. With this plug-in you also get OpenGraph protocol tags, which come in handy when working with Facebook apps.
All in One SEO Pack
This is the #1 SEO plug-in because of its ease of use. It adds fields for editing the Title and Description of blog posts and pages, and gives a preview view of how your page will appear in search results. It also has settings for Google Analytics, XML Sitemaps and Google Authorship integration; previously these required separate plug-ins.
Rtsocial adds social share buttons to your pages and/or posts so users can Like, Tweet, Pin or share your content on social media. I prefer this one to others because it includes Pinterest. See an example at the top and bottom of this page.
This free comment system connects with social media accounts to display the user’s social avatar in the comment, which I think looks very nice. I’ve found comments are more legitimate (less anonymous and less spammy) when using this plug-in.
I’m interested in your thoughts on image gallery plug-ins. Let me know your favorite in the comments section below.
Limit Blog Categories
I recommend including anywhere from 5 to 10 categories in your blog — enough to easily choose the niche they want to see without being overwhelmed by a large list. Here are sample categories:
- Studio – This one is a good catch-all for anything not related to a specific photo session (e.g., news, press, specials, etc.)
You will notice these categories all are single words. There is no need to stuff keywords into category names because this doesn’t help search engine optimization and only makes navigation more difficult for users.
If you have questions about naming your categories, ask me in the comment section below.
Tags are NOT needed when blogging and do not help search engine optimization.
Update the Default Permalinks
Permalinks control the URL structure of your blog and are an opportunity to make keywords from the post’s title appear in the URLs of your pages, which is very helpful for Google.
You don’t want the default setting where your blog post URLs have a lot of numbers in them.
The better option is a Post Name structure (this is what I use): http://photographyspark.com/sample-post/
Navigate to Settings > Permalinks to update.
Important note: Changing the permalinks will change all the URLs for your blog posts. This means the old URLs will be inaccessible. Consequently, links from Facebook, a newsletter or other websites might no longer work for your posts (your homepage will remain unaffected). On rare occasions, updating permalinks can disable portions of your website! So you might want to consult with a professional developer or your blog provider before making this change. There is a silver lining — if you change permalinks and something breaks, you can easily change the URLs back to whatever you had previously.
You can make the category name appear in the URL of your posts by navigating and enter a custom structure of /%category%/%postname%/.
Optimize Images for Speed and Searchability
We’ve hit a tipping point online where we don’t like to wait for anything. Don’t turn away clients (or Google, for that matter) with pages that take forever to load because you’re using high-res images. Photoshop allows you to Save for Web with reduced quality, and tells you the file size before you Save. It also tells you how long the file will take to load at 28.8Kbps, which is like saying how much something cost in the year 1800 — a bit antiquated.
Photo credit: iStockPhoto
I think the ideal file size for images is 30KB, a difficult target to hit for photographers.
At a minimum, photographs should be compressed as much as possible, which may mean reducing image size too. Take this example for various image sizes and quality.
900px wide, 100% quality: 521KB
900px wide, 70% quality: 168KB
600px wide, 100% quality: 237KB
600px wide, 70% quality: 79KB
In this case, shrinking the image size will load photos 3x faster and reducing quality will load an additional 2x faster. Do you want users to wait six seconds for a page to load, or one second? Keep in mind that 25% of users likely will be visiting your site from mobile phones, where images will display smaller anyway.
I recommend posting between 5 and 20 images on each blog post.
Too few and you don’t have enough substance and too many will hurt load time and likely lose users before they get to the end of the page.
Utilize alternate text
Within one of your posts, click on an image to edit it and you’ll find a field for Alternative Text. Describe your photos in natural, everyday language to enable machines to understand the image, as if you were describing the photo to someone over the phone. No need to cram keywords or marketing fluff. A pure, straightforward statement about the image will suffice.
Alt text tells Google what your image is about and sometimes is used as the default description for a Pin on Pinterest, so you would be wise to use them.
Don’t take the time to add alternate text on all your old posts. Create relevant alt text on a go-forward basis or perhaps choose two or three of your best existing posts to optimize.
Add captions to photos
Captions help reinforce what is happening in the photos and on the page. Photographers can use captions to describe the emotion of the image, whereas the alternate text is a literal translation of the image.
When written naturally, captions add meaningful text to the page and help give more substance for Google.
I don’t like to use the WordPress caption field since it adds an ugly gray box around the photo. Feel free to simply type some text in the post underneath the image.
Don’t worry about writing a caption for every image, but I recommend adding a few per page.
Create These Must-Have Blog Pages
In addition to your blog posts, there are 3 pages your customers will want to find quickly and easily. You likely will have these pages listed as tabs or links, but don’t rely on users to click those. Make this information visible on every page in a sidebar, footer widget, or manually typed at the end of every post.
As a customer, the first thing I want to know about a service provider is the cost. If I can’t find a price, I assume it’s too expensive and I don’t make a purchase. For that reason, I think photographers should display their prices. Showing prices will attract the right customers who can afford you and save lots of time not dealing with people who ultimately can’t afford you. Display pricing can be used to your advantage. For example, given the choice of three pricing packages most people will choose the one in the middle. So you can inflate the price of your premium package to make the middle option look more attractive.
Note: Don’t name the page “Investment” since users don’t intuitively know that means pricing.
In the service industry it’s vital to show who you are to prospective customers. Most people wouldn’t blindly choose a hairstylist, so it isn’t surprising that people are unlikely to choose a photographer without first seeing who she or he is. Make it easy for your web visitors to see you by showing your headshot on every page of your website. I noticed a huge spike in engagement after I added a headshot across my website. I received more phone calls, more questions, more comments on blog posts and more recognition at events I attended. People suddenly knew the person behind the curtain and felt more comfortable talking with me.
Don’t rely on a simple web form because people will want to contact you in different ways. Write out your physical address, email address, phone number and links to your social media profiles. I recommend placing your physical address in the footer (all pages) to help Google rank you for local search results.
Schedule a Blogging Workflow
Blogging isn’t something you should squeeze in when time is available. There never will be time. Blogging is a scheduled effort done strategically with results in mind. Writing posts in advance on an editorial calendar helps greatly. I write my posts on the first of the month and then schedule them to publish live on future dates. I recommend Design Aglow’s Essential Planner (affiliate) to track your blog schedule … and everything else!
How often should you post?
You might not want to hear this but you should post to your blog at least once a week. A weekly schedule drives the entire marketing pipeline — from Google to Facebook to email newsletters. Sometimes this is so difficult that I’ve been known to skip a week (don’t tell anyone).
Scale your effort depending on the post’s importance. A post about your latest session where you earned $200 warrants much less effort than a sales post about an upcoming special or a super-post gallery showcasing all of your best work within a single niche.
What should photographers write about?
Is a post about a sneak peek going to get you more busines,s? If not, then consider posting that to Facebook instead of blogging it. I choose to write about subjects that will attract new customers, which usually is an educational resource rather than a project.
Put yourself in your client’s shoes. If she is reading one post a week from you, she will quickly burn out and tire of seeing every photo session you’ve ever done. Here are a few ideas for posts you can intersperse with articles about recent photo sessions:
- How to organize photos at home
- Ideas for wall displays
- Where to buy (prints, photo gifts, frames)
- What’s in your bag
- Camera equipment reviews (use affiliate links so you can earn money for your referrals)
- What-to-wear guides
- Guide to local venues
- Lists of recommended vendors you love
- Day in the life of a photographer (behind the scenes stuff like how much effort goes into editing)
- News/trends in photography (stuff about camera phones, metal-backed portraits, Facebook photo privacy changes)
Customers will appreciate your helpful tips and will readily share this content across social media. Any of these posts would quickly become gold on Pinterest.
Blog for others
When I build a new website, I spend most of my work time the first year blogging for other sites instead of my own. I do this so I can generate reputable backlinks to help my search rank, to build branding, and to drive people back to my signup pages so I can grow my marketing list. Not doing this will limit the number of web visitors and referrals you get, and you’ll miss an opportunity to extend your brand to thousands of people who don’t know about your website yet.
Want to write for me on Photography Spark? See my guest post guidelines.
Funnel Web Traffic and Sales
Don’t rely on your homepage
In Google Analytics navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages to see your blog’s traffic breakdown by page. The item marked as “/” is your homepage. You can see here my homepage gets only 7.27% of my total site pageviews. This trend is prevalent across the web: Today’s users more often are visiting deep pages directly from search, social media and email — completely skipping the homepage! Your site layout and marketing messages should reflect the fact that users will skip your homepage.
Create some “super posts”
I made up the phrase “super post” to describe a post that showcases multiple photo sessions instead of just one. Consider it a gallery, but with photos stacked vertically in blog format.
Super posts are like a marketing brochure you display at an event or in a shop window. You don’t want a single session represented here; you need your BEST work.
Consider the difference between sharing a sneak-peek post called “Zach’s Baby Photos” on Facebook, versus a super post called “The 20 Best Newborn Photos in Sacramento.” Not only will the super post attract more people, but a larger percentage of those visitors will want to contact you. Extend that tactic through Google, Pinterest, emails, related links on your site, sticky posts, sidebar modules and features on partner websites. Now you have stunning
brochures posts to funnel people toward and a key tool for improving your chances of a sale.
Not every post needs to be perfect or generate a ton of sales. In fact, a couple of well-crafted posts can significantly grow your business.
Decide what you want customers to do
If you have one web visitor today, what is the single most important action you want that person to take? Tell them to do it.
Let’s admit, you want them to “Call to book a session.” Yet I find most photography blogs don’t make this a clear or simple task for a first-time visitor. If that is the goal for your visitors, it needs to be extremely clear and in the user’s face on every page. The visitor should not leave the site without having seen an opportunity to contact you.
The only problem with this approach, other than the blatant marketing that might turn off people, is that first-time visitors are unlikely to hire you during their first visit to your site. The sales cycle often takes a number of visits and careful deliberation. Therefore you need secondary objectives to get people back to the blog and to keep them on the blog a while when they arrive.
These are the most important objectives for a blog, listed in order of importance:
- Contact and hire you right now!
- Sign up for emails
- Connect with you on social media
- Comment on a post or share it via social media
- Browse more stuff on your website via well-placed, strategic pages
The first four items connect with users in a way in which they are likely to receive continued exposure to your brand. If they’re not ready to connect, the fifth item links them to one of your most important pages. Hopefully it will convince them to do one of the first four.
Take a closer look around this page and count the number of times I try and hook you. In the header, right sidebar, footer, and even within this article I’ve strategically positioned sign-up modules for emails, follow buttons for social media, and provided links to my most important pages and products. I’ve written this post with the clear intention to capture some of you as people I can sell to down the road. So sign up now already, LOL! You should do the same with your posts.
Take your three most visited pages and add some of the above objectives to those pages.
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