In this post, I’m going to show how to go about setting up a photography website with WordPress including all of the steps you need to take for a successful launch. Including domain selection and registration, WordPress hosting selection, installing WordPress, choosing Core Plugins, WordPress Theme selection, SEO and Launching.
Preparing to Set Up a Website
Let’s take a look at the things we need to do upfront…
The Domain name is the identifier of the site. This domain is chriswright.photography
Choose a Domain
Choose a domain that reflects the product, blog or service that you are building the website for. You’ll find a bewildering array of domain extensions, .org, .com, .co, .uk, .photography etc. If you are going to rely on Google for traffic, then I recommend .com. Other extensions are available cheaper but .com is the de facto standard on the internet and has the added bonus that if you tell someone your website address the chances are they’ll assume it’s .com
Sleep on the name before you register it – what seems like a good idea at 11 pm sometimes isn’t quite so attractive in the morning.
Register Your Domain
You now need to register the domain name. This can be done through a hosting service or through a specialist Domain registrar. It’s easiest to go through your hosting service as it keeps everything in the same place, but often cheaper to go through a registrar.
Example domain registrars are:
To get the best deal, don’t just go to the cheapest. Consider these two things before you jump.
- Pricing. Many registrars offer astoundingly cheap deals for a year. The first year being cheap and subsequent years expensive. They rely on you being nervous about the technology. So check the renewal prices.
- Domain Transfers. All ICANN registered registrars are supposed to facilitate domains being transferred in and out. Check if there is a charge attached and what the cut off period is. Generally, you won’t be able to change in the first 60 days or in the last month before renewal.
On balance, I’d advise getting a domain name from your hosting company. I have moved my hosting twice in the last ten years and because I held the domain with the hosting service had to transfer the domain too. That’s slightly inconvenient, but whether it’s more inconvenient than having another company to deal with is a moot point.
You need a hosting account. Choose a specialist WordPress host for your photography website, with a datacentre close to your users. The site will run quicker, support will be helpful and your viewers will be happier!
I’ll try and keep this article current but Web Hosting is a volatile industry, in 2021 I recommend Siteground as being the best suited for inexperienced WordPress users. I am deliberately not including cloud-based hosting providers like Cloudways because as good as they are, they are a steep learning curve for beginners.
Recommended WordPress Hosting
Siteground use a shared hosting model which is relatively cheap and good value for money for small to medium-sized websites. They have tiered plans so that you can seamlessly upgrade if you need more resources.
Siteground WordPress support is excellent. They are very quick to respond, communicate in plain English and are rightly popular with WordPress folk.
The main benefits of Siteground are:
- Free SSL with LetsEncrypt
- Automatic Daily backups and simple restore process
- Staging Environment
- Google Cloud Hosting Infrastructure
- Free CDN (Cloudflare)
- Sophisticated caching mechanism (SG Optimiser)
- Excellent support
Let’s unpack those options:
Security – SSL
SSL is necessary for two reasons. Firstly Google favours sites with SSL. Secondly, it encrypts all communication between browsers and your website. So email addresses submitted in forms for example are encrypted. Credit card details if you take payments online are encrypted.
If you ever get hacked, then you’ll thank your lucky stars you have a backup. It’s happened to me twice, both times with a previous hosting service. Restoring a backup with Siteground is as easy as pressing a single button.
One of the downsides of WordPress is the plugins and upgrades. Barely a month goes by without some aspect of the site needing an upgrade. All of these need to be tested on a staging server before going live in case something breaks. Siteground make this process childishly simple. A one button process to create a staging server. Log in to the staging server and install the upgrade. Test to see if the site still works (99 times out of a hundred it will). If you’re happy, deploy the staging server to live. It will literally replace your live website.
The last thing you want or need is to find out your website is being hosted on an old PC in your web developer’s shed. Stranger things have happened! Siteground use Google Cloud infrastructure with all the advantages that implies. Reliability (near 100% uptime), Sustainability, Green agenda.
If your site is international in reach then it pays to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). CDNs cache content across a global network serving it from servers closest to your audience. They also use a number of performance enhancing processes to increase the speed of your site. Cloudflare has a free plan that is more than adequate for small to medium-sized websites.
Siteground enable me to host all the sites I manage (currently 14) in a single user interface so it’s very convenient for me.
Siteground has an excellent optimiser built into its hosting plans. Speed is very important to Google and your audience and SG Optimiser is one of the best in the market. It offers most of the features of WP Rocket which is the #1 Speed Boost plugin for WordPress and many people believe it offers similar speed enhancements. I was able to get my site to run faster by adding other plugins, but SG Optimiser is a brilliant start. Check out my article How to improve Core Web Vitals if you want the detail on this.
On the few occasions I’ve needed them, I’ve found Siteground’s support to be excellent. They are very knowledgeable and communicate well. Quick to respond and have never yet failed to resolve an issue.
The above points are good criteria for any hosting service. There are a few that deliver better performance than Siteground but the disadvantages in terms of complexity outweigh the advantages for first-time website builders.
The other WordPress hosts that I see most often mentioned in the same breath as Siteground are:
And a couple I’d not recommend – based on my own observations and talk in Facebook groups
- Bluehost (owned by Endurance International Group whose record in acquiring over 50 hosting companies is pretty much what you’d expect)
- GoDaddy (exceptionally awful reviews on Facebook)
- UK2 (I hosted several sites with them until 2020. Average at best.)
If you’ve chosen one of the hosts I’ve recommended then installing WordPress is a one-button install. The beauty of choosing WordPress specialists is you don’t have to install WordPress! The next thing you need to do is to install your core plugins.
Core WordPress Plugins
One of the best things about WordPress is the array of plugins you can use to extend functionality. Every install of WordPress needs some plugins. The essential ones should be installed as soon as you possibly can. These are:
We recommend Wordfence. We’ve used a number of other Security plugins in the past including Bulletproof Security and WP Security and we find Wordfence is by some distance the best. There is a free version available and it is simple to set up. All of these plugins will protect against brute force attacks (of which you’ll get many). Wordfence offers Two Factor Authentication which is well worth implementing.
You’ll need to do some other common-sense stuff as well. Create a new user with a random name and give it full administration rights. Delete the default admin user straight afterwards and use the new user name. Make sure it has an alias, you don’t want it showing up as the author of your posts! Choose difficult passwords with numbers, symbols and no known words.
Under Construction Plugin
You should never let anyone see your website until it’s ready to launch. If you’re building on a live site then use Web Factory’s Under Construction Plugin to present an attractive front page preventing visitors from seeing the site half baked.
Once it’s finished you’ll need your website to be visible on Google Search. In fact on all search engines! There are two WordPress plugins that I have extensive experience of:
I used the Yoast SEO plugin for many many years but last year I migrated all of my sites to Rank Math. The reason I did that was code bloat. Yoast gets bigger and bigger and although it offers a lot of functionality, especially in its paid plan, it slows the website down. The main functionality that you need is the traffic light system for assessing posts against your chosen keyword which is available in the free edition.
I recommend Rank Math because it is a smaller plugin than Yoast and it does the same job, better in my opinion. Like Yoast it uses a traffic light system to guide your posts in terms of your chosen keyword. What this tells you when you hit Green, is that your post has a good chance of being listed by search engines.
What Rank Math does better than Yoast is
- Support for schemas and featured snippets
- support for multiple keywords in the free edition
- Integration with Google
- Instant indexing on Bing
- Statistics – how many views etc.
If you are using SiteGround you can start by using the SG Optimiser plugin. It really is one of the strongest arguments for hosting with them. If not, we recommend WP Rocket. It is consistently voted #1 performance plugin for WordPress and it lives up to expectations. It also can be used to extend SG Optimiser without problems if you need to shave an extra few milliseconds off your load time.
Image Optimisation is one area that can really improve your SEO. Most images uploaded onto photography websites are twice as big as they need to be and cause the site to load slowly. There are plugins that can help. Be aware that image optimisation is a slow process.
I have recently moved from using Smush to using Imagify because Imagify is made by the same company that created WP Rocket and the two plugins play well together. It also does a really excellent job of optimising your images, making them smaller than any other plugin and at no visible loss of quality. Imagify also offers support for a new image format from Google, WebP. Which offers a 26% reduction in size compared to PNG. WebP is already supported by most browsers.
Choosing a WordPress Theme
I have used a lot of WordPress photography themes over a ten year period and never will again. Why? In 2021 the focus should be on performance as much as design and so many of the premium photography themes are badly engineered to the extent they will slow your site down. Free WordPress themes are to be avoided with few exceptions.
We currently recommend the Kadence theme with Gutenberg builder and Kadence Blocks for a great combination of speed and style. You can choose a full website from their library and change the content or you can start from scratch using their builder.
Check out my review here.
Other themes I can recommend from personal experience as being easy to build with are:
The benefit of Astra and Kadence is that they are built for speed. Divi is a little slower although the sites they produce are just as stylish. Rumours are that Divi is about to release an update putting performance upfront and central.
All of the themes I’ve mentioned here contain builders – software that allows you to build the site on the front end, turning the website design process into a drag and drop exercise. Although these builders add some bloat to the theme, slowing it down, I’ve achieved load times of under two seconds for the slowest one. A difference so small I’m not going to say which one that was!
There will be tutorials coming on all three of the recommended themes.
Image Gallery Plugin
How images are presented is important to photographers. You’ll need a Gallery plugin. Some themes have good image galleries built-in. If you find yourself lacking a certain wow factor then I recommend Envira. It has a long history with WordPress, allows multiple layouts such as Grid, Masonry and Stack, performs well, supports Image SEO and is fully responsive.
Envira also has a Lightbox built in so users can go from thumbnail to Lightbox view with a click. It offers protection against unauthorised downloads. Right-Click is disabled.
Once you’ve built the framework of your site you’ll want to add original content. This is where Search Engine Optimisation comes in.
Keywords are the means by which Google and other search engines index websites. If your site is not indexed properly then it will affect your business. Check out my post Finding the Best Keywords for your Website for detail on the subject of keywords. The trick with keywords is to find phrases that could conceivably be used as searches eg. How to Build a Photography Website and use them as title, heading, description and text in your post. Remember your website is not a magazine, so creative titles are unlikely to work as well as keywords. Most of your traffic will come through search.
Choose broad term keywords for your home page and if its useful include your geographical location. eg Commercial Photographer Shrewsbury choose different keywords or phrases for each page offering a service or product (anything you want to rank on a search engine).
Choose “long tail” keywords for blog posts – this is a great way to bring traffic to your site for a specialised topic – if you are a commercial photographer in Shrewsbury then Shooting Glassware for E-Commerce would be a good example for a blog post.
Install Google Analytics on your site so that you can see how visitors interact with the website. Google Site Kit is an easy way to do this with WordPress sites. Simply install the plugin and follow the prompts. You can use analytics to see how individual posts are performing, and if they’re not then configure Google Search Console so that you can see what the issues are affecting your website performance.
My recommendations for setting up a new Photography site with WordPress are:
- Domain name – get from your hosting company
- WordPress Hosting – Siteground, Brixly
- Security Plugin – Wordfence
- Under Construction plugin – Web Factory
- SEO Plugin – Rank Math
- Performance – SG Optimiser (Siteground) or WP Rocket
- Image Optimisation – Imagify
- WordPress Theme – Divi or Kadence
- Gallery Plugin – Envira
I’ve covered all the essentials here. I’m very happy to offer advice if needed and I do offer website design as a service if you feel the waters closing over your head! Good luck with your new Photography Site and if you’ve found this article helpful, drop a comment in the section below..
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