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Q&A #14: site rankings, Google Analytics reports, using large WP themes, changing domain name

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 Shirley, Mark & Dennis 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.

 

 

“How do I check how my site is doing according to keyword rankings?”

First of all, when searching on Google, be sure to use a private browser tab, otherwise the results will get skewed by your search history (and the ton of info that Google already knows about you).

A more accurate way, however, is to use a tool like SERPs Keyword Rank Checker

If you’re looking to do more advanced keyword research, look at this list of tools from a previous Q&A article.

 


 

“Is there anything particular that I should be looking out for in Google Analytics?”

“(because right now the only thing that interests me is seeing the different nationalities that have been on there… which is interesting but not so useful)”

In short, you should take some time to read through this PDF guide from PhotoShelter, it’s quite insightful:

A few ideas though off the top of my head:

  • Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels: just to see where the traffic is coming from, and then click into either channel to see sub-channels and the progression over time.
  • Behavior > Site Content > All pages: most popular pages on the site
  • Behavior > Behavior Flow: getting an idea of where people land on your site, and where they navigate to afterwards.

And by the way, a common problem these days is referral spam (basically ghost-visits from spam sources, that never actually visit your site) affecting reports.

This article explains in detail what’s happening and what you can do about it.

Once you put everything in place, you’ll also create a new segment that shows non-spam traffic:

Google Analytics report with spam removed segment

(the orange line is the non-spam traffic)

 


 

“Are multi-purpose WP themes too bulky and is it better to look for a light-weight theme (or even consider having it custom coded)?”

Full question: “Regarding the large ‘do-everything’ templates like The7 and Divi, I’ve heard that by having all these options built in…these themes might tend to create unduly bulky code (particularly with Visual Composer and other page builders). Which sounds like it can present certain issues, and possibly longer load times. Since my site is so simple, would I be better off looking for a lighter weight theme? So we can keep the architecture as streamlined as possible? Or even consider having it custom coded? If the goal was to create as lean and as functional a site as possible?”

Good questions, I see your point.

I used to custom-code WP themes in the past (on top of the Bootstrap library sometimes to help with layouts, otherwise from scratch depending on the project), but I no longer see a reason to do so. It’s indeed a game of compromises sometimes, but the benefits of using an existing strong theme usually outweigh the downsites, even for a really simple site like yours:

  • even though a big WP theme comes with many bells and whistles, a good performance plugin not only caches everything, but also combines & minifies CSS and JS resources, so the perfomance gap has become neglijable. Caching is great for that, because the WP site doesn’t have to re-generate the output HTML from all the theme features and plugins.
  • a good theme makes it easier for my clients (the photographers) in the admin area. It’s not just about the page builder, but also the other included plugins (for slideshows, newsletter optins, etc.), the integration with WooCommerce, the easier way to manage photo albums in the admin area. A good theme is indeed bulkier, but it saves you from using some other separate plugins sometimes too.
  • themes get updated to fix security vulnerabilities, to re-code certain elements with new CSS & HTML syntax (like many theme features were rewritten with flexbox recently). In my experience, completely custom-made themes (that are coded from scratch) don’t usually get re-coded by their site owners. With an actively-developer popular theme, that’s easy.
  • there are many small details behind the scenes that would be very time-consuming to code from scratch (like small “material design” animations when clicking on buttons, lightbox effects when enalarging photos, swipe and keyboard navigation for sliders, etc.). All of these really add up when coding from scratch.

Custom-coding might appear simpler initially, but it quickly becomes more complicated for both the developer and the site owner (because adding any extra new site feature or layout becomes a coding job in itself, instead of a few clicks). So using an existing theme is more future-proof, and more secure down the line (outdated code becomes a security risk).

 


 

“What are best practices when it comes to using these larger themes (and or page builders)?”

Besides taking advantage of the theme’s included plugins and features, you need to customize the theme as much as possible (because in a broader sense, it comes down to differentiation). The default theme demos and settings are “generic”, to say the least, they’re used by thousands of sites out there.

So I recommend going carefully through all of the theme options (and The7 is most capable/flexible in this department) to try to make things as unique as possible based on the branding and positioning needed for the site. All sites I built usually end up containing hundreds of lines of extra CSS and JS code and various PHP functions as well. I expect things to be ligther in your site’s case though. Plus all theme features that are not needed should be disabled (in the theme options or via functions, to reduce the code fingerprint).

Page builders are basically just tools to help you create more beautiful page layouts.

 


 

“Should I make the executive decision and change my domain name, or power through and use new content to steer my audience down the correct buyer journey?”

Full question: 

“I made the cardinal sin in including my photography specialty in my domain name and am now in a pinch because I continue to attract unqualified leads and calls due to this decision.

To recap my first year in business: I struggled to gain enough clients from the videography side of my business, so I took your advice and created a separate domain for my photography specialty domainanonymized.com. This was terrific advice, because I needed to get leads fast and make a dent in search rank targeting [my local area] for real estate photography.

In about 3 months, I was ranked high enough to where calls started coming in and I was able to improve my portfolio enough to attract commercial clients.

Fast forward to now, my business, fortunately, is more stable, and I have shifted my focus towards commercial/interiors work, however I continue to attract unqualified, or VERY low paying RE agents due to my domain name and my blog content (I believe).

I know adding a pricing page will add transparency for my leads, however I am not sure if this is an intelligent idea, as commercial/residential interiors and architectural projects vary so much in creative charges and licensing fees, thus fluctuating rates.

Should I make the executive decision and change my domain name, or power through and use new content to steer my audience down the correct buyer journey?

Love your articles and strategy, your site and methodology is inbound marketing at it’s finest.”

Great question overall, and do take anything I say with a grain of salt. I can’t pretend I completely understand your particular industry/niche, there might be more factors that affect this decision.

But in cases like these, I lean towards keeping the existing site and re-positioning it with new/better content.

Assuming it will also still be about “real estate photography”, but just for different types of clients (wealthier commercial clients, based on your notes).

The only problem would come if you ever switch away from “real estate” photography altogether, which is baked into the domain name. Then a change of domains would be needed, yes. But for now, from what I understood from your notes, keeping the current domain makes more sense.

It’s better to take advantage of the current traffic you’re getting, and the SEO value you’ve gathered so far, and try to extract some new high-paying clients from that. Maybe the existing audience won’t afford higher fees, but maybe among them there are some ideal clients, or they recommend your services to others over time. Or simply just that you have some SEO organic traffic coming your way, might still help in the long run when you position yourself for a different audience.

And that positioning, like you said, is done through more targeted content:

  • the tagline and text on your homepage should really reflect the new type of clients you’re after. You should rewrite your current tagline (= headline = “Showcase your work…”) to make it crystal clear you’re targeting commercial work.
  • testimonials & logos from commercial clients
  • case-studies
  • a change in the tone and content of blog posts
  • even if you don’t post prices on your site, you could at least give some ball-park numbers, so people can self-select.

This topic on whether to post prices or not is actually quite difficult. The way I navigated this decision on my site, is to at least give them some general price ranges, so they know what they’re dealing with, but with everything else talking about how it all depends on the scope of each project: https://www.foregroundweb.com/web-design/costs/ The more you specify public prices, the harder it is to price your work based on the value you provide to your clients. But you need some sense of costs to just filter out low-paying leads.

So, to recap, I see no reason to change domain names in your case. You’re staying in the same niche, basically, just targeting a different type of client. Resetting things to zero (by moving to a new domain) might not be worth it.

 


 

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.

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