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Q&A #10: Portfolio tools SEO, domain name tips, blog vs portfolio pages, WP plugin performance

I’m answering your questions about photography websites, business, marketing, SEO and more.

You can ask me anything. I’ll try to answer within 24 hours, and the most useful questions get featured here on the newsletter too. Need any help with your website? Don’t hesitate to write, I’m all ears.

Thanks to George, Fabio, Jewel & Ricardo for these topics.

Check out my answers below, and jump in with your own thoughts by sending me a message or leaving a comment below.

 

 

“What are the shortcomings of using PhotoShelter or other similar portfolio hosts regarding SEO?”

Great question. Using a powerful platform like WordPress (and a plugin like Yoast) gives you a lot more flexibility with on-site SEO. Here are some things that you usually cannot accomplish with a portfolio tool:

  • setting up redirects
  • controlling social previews (how your post snippets look when shared on social media sites)
  • more control over permalinks (to include keywords in the URLs)
  • setting more advanced technical stuff (like setting canonical URLs, control over the sitemap XML and robots.txt files, RSS feed enhancements)
  • advanced analysis over your tags (things like setting focus keywords to help you write your content, readability checks, SEO title and meta-description length counters)
  • and generally, the ability to control the source code (to add the proper heading tags, image ALT tags, etc.) and to optimize the site performance and mobile-friendliness (which in turn affect SEO)

That being said, there are many successful photographers that use portfolio services and they’re doing fine. That’s because on-site SEO is only part of the equation.

If the goal of your website is just to function as an online portfolio piece (and not necessarily as a marketing engine), then the simplicity of a portfolio service is sometimes worth it. WordPress is very powerful, but it does come with a learning curve.

 


 

“I’m not based in the US, but I have a .com domain name; pros and cons of this choice?”

It’s definitely a “pro”, you have nothing to worry about.

I’m from Europe myself, and also have a .com website, because that’s the easiest for people to recognize.

What matters is where you target audience is, but even if they’re mostly not from the USA, choosing a .com domain is still a safe bet. Search engines don’t rank .com ahead over others, so it’s just a matter of what’s easiest for people to use and share (for which .com is the winner, it’s been around for a long time).

Slightly related to this topic is this article, you might want to check it out: New top-level-domains (TLDs) for photographers

And if you have a website in a different language, it’s also OK to have a regular .com domain. Google doesn’t look at the “.com” part and this that it’s English straight away. It has other ways of determining the language of a website (using special HTML meta tags, and by simply sampling some text on the site and detecting its language). There are many non-english websites out there that use .com, because it’s the easiest to remember, it’s the most popular.

 


 

“I’m about to purchase a domain name for my new website. Should I include my City in the domain name for SEO benefits?”

You should think less about the SEO aspects, and more about the future of your business.

If you include your local city in the domain name of your site, you’re kind-of restricting your site to that specific city. This also applies to including your specialty in the domain, like johndoeweddings.com

Many photographers have done that in the past. They choose a domain like that because they want to include keywords in there for SEO purposes, but then they expand. They either expand to other cities or areas, or they change their photography specialty (besides weddings, they also do families and portraits, for example, or they move away from weddings altogether). And they’re stuck with the old domain name.

That’s why most photographers choose the “firstnamelastname.com” domain, because it’s more flexible, they can put whatever they want on the site in the future.

 


 

“Can I use my blog to showcase recent events & projects that I shot?”

You could, but it might be better to also have a separate “Portfolio” area on your site.

Photographers usually use blogs for articles, for informational/education content for their target audience. And they place larger image-only galleries (with full-screen sliders sometimes) in a section called Portfolio.

The reason people do that, and not post all images in a blog, is because Portfolios are more visually impressive. You click on a thumbnail and it opens up large (whereas a blog is usually more narrow).

The George Vivanco website is a good example of this: the have wedding and engagement portfolios in the navigation (which expand to show specific couple names, but also a “best-of” wedding portfolio). And their Blog section simply contains a ton of useful articles and guides that brides & grooms might find useful (about wedding day timelines, choosing a venue, etc.). This is what a wedding blog should do, and how it would be different from the portfolio pages.

Blog posts are also excellent for sharing one simple image and writing the story behind it. Steve does a great job of this on his blog.

 


 

“Should I only use a few WP plugins to not slow the site down?”

No, I don’t think that necessary.

If you don’t know how to make your website fast, and you’re not using any sort of caching plugin, then yes: plugins can impact the page speed, of course.

But once you take care of performance, and you use a caching plugin, then it doesn’t matter. You could have 1000 plugins, and the output is already cached. When a new visitor comes to your site, the website just serves a cached copy of the code directly, it doesn’t need to process all the plugins again. That’s what a caching plugin does.

The only impact plugins can have is in the admin area. If you have tens of complex plugins, the WordPress admin is going to be slower, of course. That’s why you need to use a good hosting company, because cheaper hosts have really low resource limits and can’t handle too much stuff (GoDaddy and Bluehost, I’m talking about you).

My site is very fast, and I use 20-30 plugins. But I always keep them up to date, and I tested them, and I know what they do, and I’ve used them for many years and know they’re not causing problems. And with performance measures in place, plugins are not a problem.

And you need plugins. You can’t just stay with the default WordPress features or with what your theme provides. You can’t just use an SEO plugin and that’s it. Plugins are useful.

 


 

“Digital is a blessing and a curse.”

Following an opinion piece I wrote on the Newsletter about paid photography, a photographer replied with their interesting take on it:

Photographer 1: “Mass consumption is the blessing and the curse of the digital world.

I’m 48 years old and I began editing websites in 1995. Every site I built for the next 7 years was bespoke. Because editors were so bad when I first started, I coded in …Notepad! Yes, manually.

In 2002, I switched to Movable Type and used “skins” for the first time, but still heavily customized my site. At this point, I moved into other positions that did not require me to create a website, but I kept up my basic skills.

In 2006, I used my first theme from someone else, and merely changed the colors and added a logo for myself. In 2009, I moved to WordPress and haven’t looked back.

If you had told me even 10 years ago that in a matter of hours someone could set up an entire eCommerce site, I would have been amused. Those were hard to do and not have security leaks. Now, you have SquareSpace and Shopify, among others.

The blessing: anyone can set up an eCommerce site. The playing field has been leveled if you have $14 a month and some time, plus the ability to take a few decent photographs. Now, whether or not you will get found online or sell anything, that is another story.

I’ve seen something similar with photography. I learned on film cameras pre-PhotoShop, and to this day, I set up a shot if it is formal. I don’t PhotoShop out anything. The limitation to becoming a good photographer prior to 2000 was the ability to buy a camera, buy film, pay for the development of the film, or have your own dark room. PLUS, the most challenging of skills, having both an “eye” and being a “chemist”, too.

In other words, it wasn’t cheap.

Now, DSLRs are a wonderful thing and like web design/development and eCommerce sites, “anyone” can be a photographer. Pay for the camera, have a laptop, and a PhotoShop subscription. So, expensive, too, but less so than buying and developing 10s of thousands of negatives on film.

And now we have Way. Too. Many. Photographers.

Thank goodness for the wedding and engagement industry that keeps so many budding photographers busy. I blame the ease of photography tools on the plethora of “gender reveal parties”, and the rise of maternity photography. People have to make a living, so…make up events and charge for them.

Digital in all areas is a blessing and curse.”

Alex: Making up events and charging for them is probably a form of specializing (to avoid the flood of photographers). Carving a niche is obviously a way to survive.

The alternative is probably way harder: creating a different style, a higher lever of quality. Creating more unique work. It’s harder because:

  • it requires having a gift/talent
  • or at least having the courage to do things out of the ordinary, battling with the fears of success and/or the fear of failure
  • it might also require better (and more expensive) gear, or more free time

And still, there are a few who do it. New photographers who rise above the noise and make a name for themselves.

 

Photographer 2: “It’s my understanding that some companies are creating stock imagery specific to their campaigns. The libraries they build can then be used for multiple projects, with the style and look that supports their brand.

If I bid on a commercial assignment for a campaign with the mindset that it’s bespoke work, invariably other creatives bidding will rationalize it as limited, or even worse, mass content.

My solution is to hold steady, and continue to create content and communicate value, in the midst of the race to the bottom.”

Alex: That’s really well said. Didn’t know that sometimes bespoke work gets redistributed like that.

Race to the bottom indeed. It sounds like climbing a mountain when the whole mountain is sinking in the sea.

 

Photographer 3: “Sometimes, no, oftentimes it surely feels as if the mountain is sinking…but thankfully there are still many, many gold nuggets to be found in the gravel. The digging for them, unveiling them and cultivating them however is significantly more cumbersome and time consuming than before. One has to continuously pierce through a tough curtain on the recipients / prospects side of gatekeepers, pre-occupation, lack of time and attention, competition, do it in house approach, “my niece has a camera and shoots for us…”, etc. etc. When once however these nuggets are polished, and shining, as gold does, they work rewardingly based on old standard well proven business principles.”

 


 

Your turn: ask me anything. I’d love for this to become a valuable “repository” of answers from the entire community of photographers.

You can help with that by getting involved:
1. Ask questions. Send them to me via email or on Twitter (@foreground).
2. Answer questions yourself. If you have anything to add to any of my answers (or can answer from a different perspective), jump right in! I’ll share relevant notes with other photographers so everyone can benefit.

Off-topic or inflammatory comments may be moderated.
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