It seems like I get the same question at least once a week. “What website platform do you recommend?” or “How do you feel about SquareSpace?” Among lots of other questions about SEO and Hosting. I will say that I do have a degree in graphic design. Web Design is also what I do for a living. With that said I’m not claiming to know everything about every platform and god knows I don’t know everything about SEO. But I do know a good bit. Thanks to YouTube I have my bachelor’s degree in web design & Search Engine Optimization =).
Obviously I am not able to teach you everything you need to know about web sites in just one blog post. But I will try to keep writing on these topics. Today I want to write about website platforms and hosting services. That seems to be the main question people have. There are thousands of website design services; WordPress, SquareSpace, ProPhoto, Showit, Wix, GoDaddy. The list goes on and on. Before we start I want to say that no one is paying me to write this. I just know what has worked for me and I’ve played with most platforms. So I like to think I know a good bit about the topic. So here we go…
It seems SquareSpace has blown up over night! It seems like everyone is hopping on the bandwagon with them. Justifiably so! It’s very appetizing. With most of their advertising marketed towards creatives how could you not like them? Tons of photographers like Jared Polin (FroKnowsPhotos) & Trey Dillon are using SquareSpace. All of their themes are VERY easy to customize. That’s the idea behind it right? It’s so easy a caveman could do it! So if you are looking for something that is easy and if you set aside a whole day to design, you could probably finish your site. It’s really that easy. But it does come at some expense. First off it’s a little expensive. The cheapest plan being $8/month if you pay for 12 months and $10/ month for month-to-month payments. The one you would probably want is $16/ month for the 1-year commitment. You would want this package because of the storage and bandwidth.
There are a few pros and cons of SquareSpace. The con being the fact that it is NOWHERE near as customizable as something like WordPress. It also is closed source. Meaning you can’t mess with any of the backend stuff. For most people this is fine but if you ever plan to start getting into SEO or tidying up the backend of your site, you can’t do it. Another thing that I really don’t like is the fact that you are stuck with their hosting service. So if you were dissatisfied with their servers, you can’t take your site and go with another provider like BlueHost. You’re also pretty limited with SEO and website optimization. That’s a HUGE problem for photographers when our main goal is to be on the first page of Google. Right? But its biggest selling point is the fact of how easy it is. You don’t really need any web design knowledge. They also have access to their support team. Something that WordPress doesn’t have. Although, a simple Youtube search will answer your question most of the time =)
Although SquareSpace’s popularity is on the rise, it is nowhere near as popular as WordPress. WordPress is the most used web platform out there and it’s free! This is because WordPress is open source and WAY more optimized for SEO right out of the box. Not only that but you can also pick your hosting provider, you are free to move your website to whoever you want and have millions of theme options for around $50. I get all my themes from ThemeForest. For these reasons alone I am bias towards WordPress. It gives me the most amount of choices and I’m not stuck with anyone. It gives you so much room to grow. You can start small and just keep building. There are no limits here. I mean really! We are all familiar with sites like Fstoppers, SLR Lounge & PetaPixel. These are ALL WordPress sites. You get a practically endless number of plus-ins and trust me, they make a plug in for anything you can think of.
As far as hosting providers there are thousands to pick from. GoDaddy, Host Gator & BlueHost are some of my favorites. All of these services have dedicated plans for WordPress. You don’t have to use these plans but these dedicated WordPress plans are designed to perfectly integrate with WordPress and have the wonderful 1-click WordPress install. Installing WordPress used to be a pain… Not anymore! So let’s talk price. If you remember SquareSpace is $16 / month. For a practically identical plan with GoDaddy it’s $4/month. You get all the same features as SquareSpace hosting plus more! You get an email address. WHICH EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE! Please, please, please stop using a Gmail or Yahoo account for your email. You also get WordPress support with GoDaddy as well as backups among tons of other features.
To me there is only on downside to WordPress. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to use. It’s more intimidating at first glance than it really is. It’s not that bad. Spending a week or so watching YouTube Videos should give you a good idea how to get started. Marketing Easy Street is one of the best WordPress tutorials to help get you started. But there are TONS of tutorials online and CreativeLive usually has a class involving WordPress. If you can’t tell, WordPress is my favorite. But I do understand it’s not for everyone.
You may or may not know that ProPhoto is a plug-in for WordPress. But I think it deserves its own category. The way ProPhoto works is very similar to anything else on WordPress. It just simplifies the process a little. All of the customization options are housed under one tab. My personal opinion — this is a little more annoying. But for beginners who have never used WordPress, this is probably a little easier to use. Each tab in ProPhoto has it’s own tutorial video that makes it very easy to understand what you are messing with. Also, ProPhoto’s support is second to none. If you ever need any help they will log into your site and help you out. Which is very nice! Photographers like Bobbi & Mike, Jonas Peterson & Simplicity Photography all use ProPhoto. The Youngrens used to have a custom ProPhoto site that was beautiful but now use WordPress.
So you’re probably asking “Alex why wouldn’t I just go with ProPhoto? It sounds awesome!” Well hold on. I’m about to tell you the downside. ProPhoto cost a pretty penny. Starting at $200 for just the plug-in. This does come with 14 DECENT themes. So you could pay the $200 and be done. I wouldn’t! Spending that $200 and picking one of the free themes is what most people do. Meaning if you pick one of those themes your site will be almost identical to the thousands of other photographers in your market. When your main goal as a photographer is to stand out and tell people why you are different from any other photographer, this just doesn’t cut it. The way around this is to buy one of their additional themes that are around $75-$200. On top of that you still have that super annoying copyright at the bottom of your site. “ProPhoto Photo Website by NetRivet Websites” or “ProPhoto5 Blog | Design By Design Aglow.” You have to pay an additional $100 to have this removed. Which is NUTS! Why would I pay $300 for something and still advertise for your site. I hate hate hate it! That reason alone is one why I don’t like ProPhoto. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great product but I’m not sold on it.
ShowIt is the last one on the list. I have played around with ShowIt but I have never fully built a website on it. I just know from the research I’ve done and from playing around with their trial. I saved this one for last 1. Because it’s the one I know the least about & 2. Because it’s the most expensive. Coming in at $39 a month! From what I understand this does include your hosting. But that’s a good chunk of change. Photographers like Katlyn James , Justin & Mary , Jen Rozenbaum or Hope Taylor use ShowIt. You can see the appeal of using something like ShowIt. There themes are very eye catching. It’s almost like a Flash website. You can have all the cool page transitions and moving parts. Which is very cool. These guys are specifically for photographers. So I can only imagine that SEO is a big part of their platform. So it’s up to you to decide if you want to invest in something like this. It’s very expensive BUT you get the performance and optimization of a WordPress site while having the ease of a SquareSpace site.
Ok! So now I have talked you through all of the most popular platforms I wanted to touch on a few other things. There are tons of website builders out there. Personally I would stick with one of the ones listed above. Everyone has a website builder now-a-days. I think most of them are junk. To be honest. I also want you to say stay away from flash websites. This really shouldn’t be a problem since most website builders have gone away from it but it’s worth the mention. Next, whatever platform or theme your pick you want to make sure it’s mobile optimized. Whether it’s a responsive theme or has mobile options, you want to make sure you have this ability. 80% of my website view are from Iphones. So this is where you want to spend some time making sure you have the right theme. Lastly, make sure you have a professional email address. Most of the time when you buy your domain name a free email address comes with it. If not GO BUY ONE NOW! Why spend all this time and money on your site and not spend the few extra dollars making your email address match your website.
Lastly, web design and branding is something that you really want to take seriously. Save some money and hire someone to set you up if you can. You get onc chance to WOW your visitors. You defiantly don’t want to make someone upset because your site doesn’t load or has a confusing layout. You also want your website to stand out – be different from every other site out there. Your logo and website needs to convey your identity. Typing your business name out in Chopin Script Font and calling it good is not what you want to do. All that to say. This is all great information to know and make an educated decision but make sure you have room to grow and don’t try to add graphic and web designer into your daily routine. As wedding photographers we already have to play business manager, marketer, wedding planner, accountant, lawyer & writer. There is no need to add something else to your ever-growing workflow. Luckily I have a degree in this subject but there are times when I still pay someone to help when I don’t know about it.
Feel free to comment with any questions and I’ll try to reply to all of them. I’ll also be working on more content regarding SEO and WordPress specific tutorials.