WordPress offers a superb platform for any variety of websites. Here’s a little background on how I’ve found it useful. Each week I will be writing something specific about how WordPress can help you as a photographer: help you display your work, promote your work and even sell your work.
After I left the music business, myself, my wife and our first child [just recently born to us back in 2001] headed back to the countryside of Wales. Six months later I started my own web-design business which I ran until 2008.
Throughout those six years I tried a number of different platforms for managing sites: off-the-peg content management systems and more bespoke ones, that myself and my business partner adapted from GNU open-source code.
In 2008, when my business partner dissolved the business and we went our separate ways, I needed a rapid solution to get my own sites re-hosted and managed. After having left WordPress alone since looking at it in around 2006 for a client’s blog site, I decided to take another look.
I haven’t looked back since.
Rather than spend much time telling you why other systems didn’t attract me, it’s worth just telling you why I have stuck with WordPress and -specifically – how it can work for you if you are a photographer. Regardless of whether you are a pro or an enthusiast, I’m convinced WordPress has what it takes.
Massive Base of Users, All Over the World
This is reason number-one for choosing a content management system, in my opinion. Too often in the past I went with systems because they looked awesome, allowed for a good level of customization and had a growing user-base only to see them – twelve months later – shrivel up and die from lack of activity.
Wordpress has millions of users. Quite simply it’s extremely unlikely that you are going to wake up one morning to find out that everyone’s gone with another system.
That many users means there are lots of developers too, so new plugins, themes and modules are always coming out; more and more every day.
Because the core of the software is free, that also means a lot of the plugins and themes are free too. Two of my sites use free themes. The theme for this site was one I paid for; all of $59. Cheap for a good magazine-style theme that had in it a tremendous amount of flexibility.
Lots of users means that there it’s very unlikely you will have a problem that someone else has not had – and blogged about – before.
Lots of users and lots of developers means that the core of the system gets updated regularly. The last 12months of updates to the system have brought some very welcome and powerful new features as well as logical developments of existing features.
Powerful, Simple User Interface
Wordpress is simple to install, simple to set-up and simple to use on an ongoing basis. Its user interface would be familiar to anyone who has used any sort of word processing software. Ongoing developments with WordPress mean that the business of installing plugins and themes – and then managing them – gets easier and more ‘one-click’ with every passing week.
The biggest thing with any website is that it shouldn’t be complicated or time-consuming to update. If it is, you don’t feel like updating it often enough. If it isn’t updated often enough… what’s the point in having it?
Wordpress makes the business of updating your site easy. It can even be done from your cellphone. I do it that way, in conjunction with my Google Plus account and a plugin for wordpress. That method also gets me double the search-engine hits….
A Large Amount of Free and Good Value For Money Paid-for Themes
One of the issues with a lot of the content management systems I used in the past was the rather limited number of skins or themes that were available. During the time I was working with a code developer in the UK, we had a core software around which we wrapped our own custom themes. It was very tailored to each customer at a time when wordpress didn’t have the level of flexibility or user take-up it has now.
There are now so many great themes available for wordpress that you’ll never be short of options.
Some of the best free themes for photographers?
WPShower have some nice themes. The horizontal scroll theme I use for alfigoodrich.com is one of their free themes which, like most of the themes I use, has been bent into an appropriate shape by me. Japanorama’s theme is also by WPShower.
DesignNet have a load of awesome free themes and some nice premium themes.
A Plugin For Almost Anything
Whatever you want or think you want your website to do, there is very likely a WordPress plugin out there that will help you do it or do it all for you.
Here are some of the ‘must-have’ free plugins I would recommend you install….
- Add Meta Tags – Adds the Description and Keywords XHTML META tags to your blog’s front page, posts, pages, category-based archives and tag-based archives. Also adds Opengraph and Dublin Core metadata on posts and pages.
- Akismet – is quite possibly the best way in the world to protect your blog from comment and trackback spam. Nothing will really stop spam coming through, but this plugin traps it ahead of it reaching your page [provided you have the settings for comments in the main WordPress settings section set to ‘requiring approval before publication’.
- Clean Options – installing plugins and themes and uninstalling them [which happens plenty over the life of a website] leaves lots of files in the system which are no longer required and which can cause performance issues. This plugin sifts your system files and deletes anything it knows your site no longer requires.
- Contact Form 7 – some themes come with a pre-installed contact form module. If yours doesn’t this simple but powerful plugin will allow you to design all sorts of forms, simple or complex.
- Google+Blog – built by a Google Plus pal of mine, Daniel Treadwell. This will pull all [or some if you use it with hashtags] of your Google Plus posts into your wordpress site. This plugin is a god-send for G+ users. It allows me to write content once, on G+, and have it also appear in my website. Because it runs through G+, I can post content from my smartphone and have it appear – well formatted – in my website. I use the free version. Daniel also does a premium version for $10.
- Google Calendar Events – Parses Google Calendar feeds and displays the events as a calendar grid or list on a page, post or widget. You have a decent amount of control over the styling of the calendar too.
- Google XML Sitemaps – This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com – I self-host my wordpress sites. Meaning that I have web server space on which I have a package of the latest version of wordpress, which I can install on any domain or sub-domain I like, whenever I like. Jetpack is a set of plugins once only associated with sites hosted on wordpress’ own system. Jetpack plugins are now available to all users of wordpress. Great stats, gallery and other modules.
- Optimal Title – makes the titles of your posts and pages more search-engine and human-friendly.
- PHPlist - this plugin requires you to have PHPList installed on your server but this a very common free software install that comes with most hosting packages. PHPList is an easy-to-use and powerful way of creating and managing mailing lists. The wordpress plugin allows you to put a subscription form on your site, allowing people easy and automatic sign-up to the list of their choice.
- Thank Me Later – I am a busy guy. I would love to have the time to reply to everyone who adds comments to my sites. This plugin sends a customised, automated message to everyone after they have left you a comment.
- Twitter for WordPress – displays a list of your latest tweets. Widget-friendly plugin, so you can place it in sidebar, footer etc just by drag-and-drop.
- WP Super Cache - great way of speeding up delivery of pages. For advanced users who are signed up to Amazon’s cloud services, SuperCache offers full compatibility.
- WPtouch – very simple to setup way of creating a mobile [iPhone, Android, Blackberry] compatible version of your site. Took me five mins to setup the first time I used it.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – shows a list of related posts based on a unique algorithm for display on your blog and RSS feeds.
Google Webmaster Tools
Not a plugin for wordpress but a way of optimizing your site for the search engines: On your Google account search for an app called ‘WebmasterTools‘, get the verification code it supplies, shove it in the relevant place through the ‘Add Meta Tags’ plugin I mention above and then after you have built a sitemap with the Google XML Sitemaps plugin [see above], invite Google to sniff the site through your Webmaster Tools panel. That will improve your site’s visibility massively.
How Do I Get Started?
Because I like to be in control of my sites and partly because I do still do a little bit of design and hosting on the side, I went the route of buying web-server space with a hosting company. Lately there have been some issues with uptime and connectivity with my host. But for five years they have been very good to me. The recent blips could be as much about the general issues with hacking activity and DDOS attacks as anything specific to Bluehost. They do have a lot of customers but if you are polite and stick with it, no query or complaint has gone undealt with in my experience. There are lots of choices though…..
Hosting can cost as little as$69 a year from some of these people. Less from some. You typically get your first domain-name for free.
You’ll get a server control panel, which typically is very easy to follow and use. From there you’ll be able to do everything from set up your own email address to installing software on the server. My hosting account came pre-installed with around 100 pieces of free software: everything from WordPress to Magento’s ecommerce platform.
Installing WordPress: difficult?
If you go the self-hosted route, which I recommend for flexibility, then it’s as simple as following a number of very well described steps. First time I did it, I was up and running in 30mins.
Then you’ll need to install a theme, which is now very simple: find one, download it as a zip file and then in the ‘Appearance>Themes>Install New’ menu of the wordpress dashboard, upload that zip file and activate the theme.
Will The Theme Need Customising?
To add in your name or logo, yes. A lot of this – in the more up to date themes – is done via a ‘Theme Options’ panel in the Appearance>Themes’ menu. You’ll just to need to make specific sized graphics [the theme options panel tells you the correct size of logo banner etc] and then upload them via the options panel
And what about the plugins?
Latest versions of wordpress offer very automated theme installation and setup. Go to the ‘Plugins>Install New’ menu, search or browse for the ones you want; click ‘Install Now’, then activate the plugin. Done. Some plugins need other steps but I have not ever come across one that doesn’t spell out what you need to do in clear enough steps.
Next week’s article? – the best of the free photography themes available: grid layouts, full-screen and more.