While photo sharing websites like Flickr can be a fun way of putting photos online, I'm sure that most photographers would like to have their own personal website. But what if you don't know how to put a website together and get it online?
Well, the good news is that it's easier than you think. In this article I'm going to introduce you to WordPress – a popular and relatively easy way of building your own website. There isn't space in one article to cover WordPress in detail – so I'm going to give you an overview and direct you to websites where you can learn more (they are listed at the end).
What is WordPress?
The main function of WordPress is blogging software. Blogs have moved way beyond the online diaries they were originally intended to be. As well as blogs, WordPress is used as the platform for personal websites (such as Jake Garn's website), magazine style websites (including Phototuts+ itself) and photoblogs (such as the Fine Art Photoblog).
WordPress has developed beyond its original purpose of blogging software into an excellent content management system (CMS). What's a CMS? It lets you upload content to your website, where it's stored in a database. The CMS software, in this case WordPress, then displays that information in your browser according to the theme that you're using.
If you want to change the appearance or layout of your website, you just amend your theme or change to another one. A CMS separates the appearance of your website from it's content, so that you can change the appearance without altering the content.
The main advantage of WordPress for photographers is that it lets you make updates and publish new photos or new blog posts whenever you like. If you had someone build a website for you that wasn't a CMS, you would have to go back to them every time you needed something added. This is time consuming and expensive – especially as photographers, we always have new stuff that we want to add to our websites.
Best of all, WordPress is free (you download it from the WordPress.org website). The only costs to you are buying a domain name and a hosting package. Depending on where you live, the outlay for the cheapest hosting packages is only a few dollars, pounds or euros a month.
Do I Need a Blog?
If you're looking for a website rather than a blog, then maybe WordPress isn't for you. But WordPress is still worth considering because it's very flexible. For instance, you can use it to build a website and use the blogging part of the software as a 'news' section. Just because you use WordPress doesn't mean that you're committed to maintaining a blog or making regular updates.
Who Is WordPress For?
WordPress could be what you're looking for if you are one of the following:
- You have more time than money (WordPress isn't overly difficult to use but it still takes time to learn).
- You want to learn a new skill. If you work in media, publishing or for any employer who has a website, learning to use WordPress could be a very useful skill, especially if you are the only person in your organisation who knows how to use it.
- You know, or want to learn, how to use HTML (hypertext markup language – the building code of all websites) and CSS (cascading style sheets – the code that controls the appearance of web pages).
- You don't mind doing some of the work, but don't want to get involved in anything too complex. WordPress is easier to use than a lot of other content management systems.
However, WordPress is not for you if any of the following apply:
- You don't know how to use HTML or CSS and you have no desire to learn.
- You have money, but no time. If you have the money to pay for it, and need or want a professional website, then consider paying someone else to do it.
If either of these apply to you, there are alternatives. One is to use WordPress.com – it's a blogging service hosted by WordPress. You don't need any programming knowledge but it's more restricted and less flexible than using the WordPress software to build your own website.
The basic service is free, and may be all you need, and there are some extra features that incur a small charge. Steve McCurry's blog is a good example of what you can use WordPress.com for (Blogger and Typepad also offer similar services).
If you're looking for a photography website rather than a blog, then gallery websites like Clikpic are a good option. For an annual fee you can build your own website using their online website creator – no programming knowledge is required and full details are on their website.
Before you install WordPress you need to buy a domain name and a hosting package. There are lots of companies that offer both online – I use Web Hosting UK and they've done a good job for me so far. Whichever host you go with, there are a couple of terms you need to understand:
Shared hosting: This is where your website is stored on a server along with a lot of other websites. The least expensive hosting packages are always on shared servers. This is fine for most people.
Bandwidth: Your hosting package will come with a bandwidth restriction. Every time someone views your website they use bandwidth – and if you come to the end of your monthly allocation your website may go down until you buy more bandwidth. Only a concern if you start getting lots of traffic to your website.
Semi-dedicated server: Servers with only a limited number of websites stored on them. More expensive but will give you more storage space, bandwidth and a faster website.
Dedicated server: A server all to yourself. The most expensive hosting option, it's designed for high traffic commercial websites where website performance is a priority.
Whichever option you choose, you need to make sure that it has the features to support WordPress (most hosting packages do). You will need to be able to create a database, and it must support PHP version 4.3 or greater, and MySQL version 4.1.2 or greater.
That gives us a couple more terms to look at:
PHP: A scripting language used to create dynamic webpages. The PHP is embedded in the HTML code that makes up the webpage – every time that a PHP command is encountered the server accesses the database to check what content to display.
MySQL: The database management system. SQL stands for structured query language.
But don't worry, you don't need to know any PHP or MySQL to use WordPress.
How to Download and Install WordPress
Once your domain name and hosting package are in place, you can download WordPress and install it on your website. Start by going to the WordPress home page and clicking the orange Download tab in the top right corner.
Once you've downloaded the software you need to unzip it and upload it to your website. But first you need to create a database on your server and decide which FTP client you're going to use to do it.
Creating a Database
The database is where all the information for your website is stored. Check your host's instructions to find out how to set up a database on your web site.
It's normally quite easy to do, and at the end of it you will have a database name, a database username and a password. You'll need this information for the installation.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. An FTP client is the program you use to transfer files from your computer to your website's server space. You need an FTP client to upload the WordPress files to your server.
The installation process is too detailed to cover in this article – however, all the instructions, including troubleshooting tips, are on the WordPress website. For a quick explanation of the installation process, go to the Five Minute Installation Guide.
The WordPress Installation Guide has detailed information, including a troubleshooting guide.
Once you've got WordPress installed and running, log into it to access the dashboard – this is the screen where you get to make posts and control every aspect of your WordPress website.
One of the first things you'll want to do is to change the theme. WordPress comes with a basic theme – it works but it's not very exciting. But how do find a theme to suit you? One way is by looking at other websites built with WordPress – there is usually a link to the website from where they obtained the theme at the bottom. There are also a number of themes on the WordPress website.
Some themes are free, some you pay for. You may pay anything up to $100 for a premium theme. These are aimed at commercial websites and often look more polished and have more functionality than than free themes.
You'll find instructions on choosing and installing new themes in WordPress's support section.
Once you've chosen a theme, you may want to alter it. You will need to know some HTML and CSS to do so. You'll find the information you need to get started at these websites:
- Web Design From Scratch
has some of the easiest to understand articles on HTML and CSS that I've read.
- ThemeShaper has a series of articles explaining how to modify WordPress themes.
WordPress as you download it has plenty of functionality, but it doesn't do everything. Plugins, most of them created by independent developers, fill the gaps. You can find out more about plugins at the WordPress plugin page. Here are the some useful ones that I use:
- Askimet: Filters spam comments left on your blog. A big time saver as these can soon add up.
- WordPress.com Stats: Lets you see how many views your blog gets, where visitors come from and which pages they visit.
- WordPress Related Posts: Generates a list of posts related to the one that the viewer is reading. Encourages visitors to read more posts.
- SexyBookmarks: Places icons and links at the end of each post so that readers can share on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and StumbleUpon.
- WP Super Cache: Speeds up the performance of your WordPress website by saving cached versions of pages to serve up to visitors. Also saves bandwidth usage.
- TAC (Theme Authenticity Checker): Scans theme files for potentially malicious code (a possibility if you don't obtain your theme from a reputable website).
- WP Greet Box: Places a welcome message at the start of each post encouraging visitors to subscribe to your RSS feed or share the link on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Promoting Your New Website
Now that you're the proud owner of a WordPress website, you'll want to let the world know that it's there. Start by announcing it on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, so that your friends and contacts get to see what you've done.
When it comes to website promotion, it's important to have a website that's worth visiting. This is a long term strategy – it takes time to upload a decent selection of photos and blog posts. But if you post stuff that is interesting and useful you will get traffic from search engines and social networks.
I've found Networked Blogs to be a good way of promoting my blog. All you do is register and it will post an update on your Facebook page whenever you make a new post. It also brings in traffic from people browsing for interesting stuff to read.
Another option is to ask other photographers if you can write a guest post on their blog. This can bring traffic if they have a popular blog – it's also a good way of reaching a new audience.
Need more information? Here is a list of useful articles and websites: