After I finalized my decision for nature and landscape photography, the first thing I felt so necessary was to have a full blown e-Commerce website. Fortunately there are a lot of good image hosting companies like SmugMug or PhotoShelter (probably the most popular ones for professional photographers) who takes all the pain for you and have affordable pricing as well. Their subscription plans may go from $5 to $40 and all it depends on the functionalities or features you want to avail from them. If you are comfortable with what they are already offering you within your budget, then you should not worry about anything else like security, user friendliness and responsiveness (which are worth considering these days). Whatever they have is well executed. Register a domain and subscribe a plan that fits your need and you are all set to go. But you are often limited to how it looks and feels, and in its scalability. Moreover, often you want a feature which is bundled with a subscription plan that you do not have a budget for. So, if you would like to have full control on your site with a plan to scale it further in future as your business grows, then WordPress could be one of the greatest solutions for you and I have some helpful information about it.
What You Should Expect
My purpose of this article is to help you make a better choice and familiarize with a set of tools that you might consider worth having to operate your online business as a fine art artist. I make no attempt to cover installing WordPress on local machine, getting it ready to all the way uploading it to server via FTP. I assume that you understand this CMS well and have some working knowledge on it. If not, first, consider learning how to use WordPress. The best place to learn WordPress is its documentation, the Codex library. I’m not going to expect you to be an advance programmer. In fact WordPress doesn’t require any programming skill to publish any content on the web. If you have a little working knowledge on HTML, CSS, jQuery and PHP, you can customize it further and modify the code that comes out of the box. But remember, any structural modification you make in the core WordPress software, theme or plugin will vanish after it gets updated. No need to worry. There are a lot of themes and plugins specially designed and developed for the artists which do not require any structural modification to fit your needs. If you are a web developer, looking for a solution or combination of services for your client, this article might help you too.
Designing the WordPress Site
The ultimate purpose of a design is to make something better or more useful. The aesthetics of design comes next. Design is one of the most critical decisions for any web project. Every web project starts with mocking up its structural and functional design. A website having tons of functionalities with a messy user interface is really frustrating and a beautifully designed website that requires a lot of effort to navigate around it suffers with the same problem. You do not want your visitors to leave your website immediately after they visit it. You want them to stay and navigate around it and get the things they want as easily as possible.
Design is not just what it looks like or feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs
The worst mistake you will ever make if you ask a programmer to design and a designer to develop. It’s because each field requires different level of skills and specialization. Although there are many professionals who can design and code as well. But, even the world’s best programmer may choose some funny colors for your project and the best designer may leave your code vulnerable to hackers. So to deal with this problem they work together to get the best out of it. You must know this fact. But if you are going to use WordPress, then there is no need to worry. WordPress is developed and supported by thousands of experts. There is no security issue and design flaw with WordPress. They release patches immediately after they find any problem with. They have a very active community.
Now, what is a good design? Well, let me ask you, what is a good image? A good image never loses the focus of its main interest. It uses all the necessary visual elements that guide the viewer’s eyes to the subject of main interest or keep the viewer’s eyes engaging to the subject. So does a good design. A good web design will let you visitors know about everything you have to offer them at a glance.
So, you need to clarify your purpose. You need to know what you are going to feature on your website. Consider asking yourself questions like,
- Is it the portfolio that should have a greater attention, to get a contract from your client?
- Is it the services you offer at your local studio?
- Is it only the products that you want to sell online?
Each of these ideas has a very different approach to designing. Most importantly you must know your targeted audience.
For an instance, if it is only the products you want to sell online then you should go for a website that has a look and feel like an online store, because, it’s really a virtual store. So the home page should display the types of products you offer may be with a carousel then there may be thumbnail sliders for most popular, featured, best selling products and so on.
Choosing a WordPress Theme
Fortunately this is WordPress. There are thousand of great themes, free or premium both available out there. But I would always ask you to get a premium one for your business. The advantages of using a premium theme are,
- It’s often bundled with more features.
- It is designed and developed by experts.
- It’s more extensible.
- The quality of code is better than the free ones.
- It’s more secure and less vulnerable.
- It’s properly coded following the current web standards and the guidelines of codex as well.
- It’s compatible with most of the well coded plugins.
- You get a premium support.
- It offers security fixes and updates time to time.
- It looks more professional and so on.
Generally, you do not get any compatibility issue with the WordPress plugins that you are using with a well coded theme. So choose a theme that fits your need and compatible with the plugins you are already using. Incompatibility may crash your entire site. It’s recommended to test it locally rather than activating it on your live website. Always backup your site before making any functional changes.
Plugins for Photographers
Plugins are the real power of WordPress sites, which makes the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. It makes your WordPress site from a simple blog to almost anything you want. You can build your own community or you can even develop a social networking site like Facebook by just installing few plugins. I hope this proves the point of what I mean by the power of WordPress plugins.
Like WordPress Themes, WordPress Plugins are available in their plugin directory. They are all free to use. They are written by generous WordPress enthusiasts to help meet your purpose. It’s very rare, not to get a type of plugin that you are looking for. Many of these plugins also have a pro/premium version. These kinds of plugins are generally developed and supported by professional WordPress Plugins developers or WordPress Plugins development companies. You can even contact some of these companies to develop a unique plugin for your business. But that is going to cost you a lot. I would not recommend you do that unless it’s so necessary.
So, what are the must have plugins to make this simple Web Publishing Software to a full featured e-Commerce website for photographers or fine art artists? I’m going to explain some of the most popular plugins you might consider using and why you should use them.
It’s a plugin developed by Automattic, the same company who developed WordPress. You have it already installed with the fresh copy of your WordPress software. It’s an anti-spam service that checks your comments against the Akismet Web Service to provide you an extra layer of protection against spammers.
“Do I need it?” Well, it depends on whether you can figure out a spammer on your own. When your web site gains popularity, there is a high chance of getting comment or email spams. They use a messaging system to send unsolicited (often irrelevant) messages (often contain links) to advertise their own contents. It’s economically viable, because they do not have any operating cost involved in their advertisements.
I personally do not use the Akismet Web Service. I do not mean that I’m smart enough to detect every spammer on the web. A couple of things you may consider doing to avoid spammers on your website.
- You may disable comment or discussion and hide your email address using a contact form.
- You may only allow the subscribers to comment on your posts.
- When you find any irrelevant comment with two or more links in it except the commentator’s own web address, you should immediately block it.
- Never click on those links provided in the message if you find it irrelevant. Clicking those links often confirms their target.
- Do not expose your email address on the web.
If you want more information to defend yourself from spammers, check out Combatting Comment Spam by codex.
Akismet doesn’t come free for commercial sites. If you have a budget for using Akismet, check out their Plans and Pricing. They are going to monitor all the activities on your website and protect you from attackers.
If your website is all about images NextGEN Gallery is made for it. It is one of the featured and most popular plugins in the WordPress Plugins directory for years. NextGEN Gallery has been developed by Photocrati Media. I’m using this plugin not just because it’s so popular. There are a plenty of other things that got my attention to it. I would say it’s the best solution for me among all the available plugins on the web for managing images easily. I have also licensed for NextGEN Plus for some additional features they offer in their premium versions.
Some of the great features of this plugin are ZIP/FTP upload, EXIF Data extraction from images (if available), Image Backup, watermarking for theft prevention, image/gallery/album management and many lightbox effects to display your high resolution images on pop-up window.
I finalized the decision of developing this website on WordPress after I found Fotomoto. It doesn’t have to be just WordPress; Fotomoto can turn any website into an e-Commerce platform. It’s a Bay Photo company which acts between seller, printers, shippers and customers. It also allows you to self-fulfill your orders.
Fotomoto works as an widget. It’s very light-weight and flexible. After you have it installed in your WordPress site it looks for all the images on your website that match some pre-defined criteria and set the cart ready when your customers click on an image to order prints right from your website.
The reasons I choose Fotomoto are:
- Quality of print is the one of the primary concerns of all artists. Fotomoto has partnership with some most popular and quality printers.
- Your customers can order different kinds of products like Fine Art Print, Metal Print, Canvas, Poster, Wall Peel, Greeting Cards etc.
- Besides, it allows your image viewers to send e-Card to their friends via social sharing or e-mail. It doesn’t cost your viewers but it definitely helps you promote your artwork.
- You can also sell license for your digital photos or negotiate with your clients with their built-in communication system. If you have a stock photography business this feature might be helpful.
- Fotomoto allows you to create coupons to offer discount to your customers.
- Fotomoto ships prints internationally.
- You can automate your workflow with their Auto-pickup feature. It allows you to keep your print optimized files available residing either on your server in a secured folder or other services like Amazon S3. It saves you from the hassle of uploading the print optimized hi-res file to Fotomoto every time a customer orders a print from your website. But this feature is not available in their free plan.
- You can enable the self-fulfillment option on your dashboard, if you decide to print and ship on your own. Remember, Fotomoto will not be responsible for coordinating printing and shipping when you choose to self-fulfill your orders or a particular order. But they do offer a communication system to let the customer know the status of his order where you as a seller have to update the status all manually.
- Pro Plus user can also add multiple web stores and mange them from a single dashboard.
Sending newsletter is one of the great ways of letting your customers know about your new services, recent work, discounts on products, offers etc. There are a number of great services available online for this job, like MailChimp, Constant Contact etc; most of them also offer a free service for a certain number of subscriber. You should figure out your need before you decide to use one.
MailPoet Newsletters is one of the popular solutions for WordPress users. It comes in two varieties. You might want start with the free version as it has a free room for certain number of subscribers.
The Main Features of MailPoet Newsletters are:
- It’s exclusively designed for WordPress. So it seamlessly integrate with this platform without any functional conflict.
- It’s customizable. You can customize its appearance to match your website or branding.
- It offers a free service for certain number of subscribers and do not use their logo for branding as well.
- They also offer a premium plugin which is designed for unlimited number of subscribers and comes with more features.
- You get a lot of pre-designed newsletter templates or you can build your own from scratch.
- You can automate this plugin to send newsletter every time you post a blog article.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
This is the best, advance and complex plugin for search engine optimization (SEO) in the WordPress Plugins directory. WordPress SEO is developed by Joost de Valk one of the premier experts on SEO who has been working on this plugin exclusively since 2008. Unlike other SEO plugins one of the greatest features of this plugin is it directly integrates the most popular social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to your website and boosts your search engine ranking. This plugin also include XML Sitemaps where you don’t need to install a separate plugin for that. Other advance features include Focus Keyword, Page Analysis etc.
Internet is never 100% secure. It’s very imperative to keep multiple copies of all the files that you have on your server for security or any other troubles that you may face down the road. Backing up your site ensures the ultimate security for your published content.
BackWPup is a very advance and popular backup plugin which comes in two varieties; the free version is available in the WordPress Plugins directory. It’s completely upto you whether you want the free version or the pro version. It allows you schedule automatic backup to many web services like Dropbox, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, RackSpaceCloud, SugarSync and FTP Server as well.
It’s a bundle of plugins developed by the same people who developed WordPress. The sole purpose of developing Jetpack is to bring all the WordPress.com features for your self-hosted WordPress websites. It also connects your self-hosted WordPress websites with WordPress.com. You must want to check out this plugin.
Note: Jetpack comes with a lot of features; probably you are not going to activate them all. Because some features may conflict with your existing plugins. It’s worth checking whether your site is working properly after you activate any feature.
Hosting a WordPress Site
This topic deserves a separate article. Hosting website could be a bit complex for photographers. It requires some knowledge of configuring the webhost for WordPress and its Database, Mail Server, FTP Server etc. But there are a lot of places on the internet to know about them.
Besides all these technical configurations, there are other important things to consider while choosing a hosting company. There are many hosting company available on the internet and all of them are not reliable. There are uptime, bandwidth, security and other technical issues with them. You must check whether your hosting company has compatible hardwares and softwares for running a WordPress site before you choose one.
This website is hosted on BlueHost; the one also recommended by WordPress developers. BlueHost is one of the most popular web hosting company on the internet for their quality and customer services. BlueHost also provides a one click WordPress installation and auto update feature for the core WordPress software. It’s well documented and they will also walk you through everything you need to know about setting up a WordPress site. You might also want to subscribe BlueHost YouTube Channel to watch their video tutorials.
One of the greatest problems of modern life is we are left with a lot of choices; we are drowning in gigabytes of data. It distracts more than it helps. I had to spend months to figure out a solution for my own business. My goal was to familiarize you with a set of tools that work seamlessly. If you have a different need you might have to do a little research for the type of service you’re looking for. Again, you may be left with many choices. Your goal should be figuring out the best balance between your budget, security, responsiveness, scalability, accessibility, SEO and easy maintenance.