Starting a photography blog can be a daunting project. There is so much to consider, and every decision you make in the beginning may have to be undone later. It's totally understandable to feel lost and a bit overwhelmed.
When buiding a photography blog that you want to grow, it is important to know how to get started, how to produce great content, and how to make sure you have a presence on the internet. This article will get you going in all three of these areas. It will provide for you a way to get moving with a plan, so that you build good habits that will grow your blog from the beginning.
Here are some things that you should consider as you are getting your blog started.
Know why you are starting a blog. The internet does not need another blog that lacks purpose. If you really want readers, you need a purpose for your blog to exist that is more specific than wanting to write about your photos or about photography. Are you going to teach? Could you offer critiques of work? Will your blog be about news? Would your blog work as a source of information on travel? All these ideas could be specific enough, and you may think of others as well. The point is that you need a purpose before you begin. You may end up taking things in a different direction as you develop your site, but the point is to be intentional from the beginning.
If you want to grow, start with a hosted WordPress installation. Free sites like Blogger may be tempting because they get you started fast, but those sites do not offer the tools that you will need to manage a large blog. WordPress is an open source software that runs on web servers. It has become the industry standard for blogs, and many other types of websites, so it'll do whatever you need it to do. One of the biggest strengths of WordPress is its ability to use plugins. Plugins are software modules you can add to your WordPress install to allow you to do all sorts of things. No other platform is as flexible or as robust. To use a hosted WordPress installation, check out any of the main web hosting providers, and they will have a package to get you going.
Use your own domain name from the very beginning. You will need your own domain name to stand out. It's a lot easier for people to remember yourname.com than to remember yourname.blogspot.com/iwontpay10dollarsforadomain. You get the idea! Spend some time thinking about what your domain name should be, as you really won't want to change it later unless you absolutely have to. There are tools online to check keywords and to search domain name and social media handle availability. Keep in mind that you do not have to purchase your domain where you keep your site hosted. I always look around for the best deal when purchasing a domain, which means I have several domains registered under different providers. It's kind of a pain, but I like the savings. I also like domain registration services that will allow you a private registration for free. Some charge for this service, but some offer it at no cost.
Choose an aesthetically pleasing theme. Being a photography blog, visual aesthetics will be very important to establishing the credibility of your brand. It's going to be hard for people to follow the photographer with the dumpy website. There is no need to make this complicated at this point. Free should be fine, and its doubtful that you need any custom work done. All that can come later. Just make sure that your theme looks sharp and fits your voice and purpose well.
Familiarize yourself with SEO, Google Analytics, and other web and WordPress tools. My advice is to find yourself a website or a couple of websites that you trust to help guide you through the process of building your blog. If anyone tells you they have a secret recipe to game Google's algorithm, run fast in the other direction. The best thing you can do to rank in search is to consistently produce quality content that is in demand (much more on that below). You will want some WordPress tools to help manage your site's search engine optimization, to provide sitemaps to the major search engines, and to check on your site's traffic. There is no silver bullet for this stuff, but spend a little time every day getting to know more about how all of these things work together, and you should be able to start making decisions based on the information that you see.
Make a plan for the way you will embed photos in your post. If you want a lot of readers, the speed with which your pages load is a big deal. Being that your a photo blog, you need to optimize those photos so that they don't take too long to load, but are still high quality enough for people to appreciate. Find out the width of your blog in your WordPress theme and export photos with that width (something like 900 px for example) on the longest edge. If you are exporting from most tools, you can also set the maximum filesize of the image. Find the right number that still gives you quality but keeps the file as small as possible. There are also WordPress plugins that can help keep your photos optimized. Try these out, but as a photo blog you should always be wary of sacrifices to photo quality.
Producing Quality Content
Now that you've got your blog up and running, here are some tips on producing quality content for your readers. Publishing quality content on a consistent basis is the best way to show up in search results.
Write with your audience in mind. When you were getting started, you figured out the purpose of your blog, or at least had an idea of what that purpose should be. Chances are that your purpose makes your blog for someone, and for some group of people. Now that you are producing content, keep those people in front of you. Don't be tempted to start making your blog into a journal, unless that is your purpose and you have a compelling way of doing it. Serve your audience with every sentence.
Write long articles. If your blog reads like an extended Facebook status update, there will not be a compelling reason to read it. You'll want lots of helpful text in every post so that you establish yourself as an authority, a source of information, and keep readers coming back. Since your posts will be long, try to help out your skimmers by bolding your important points, and breaking posts up into small paragraphs. Not everyone will read every word you write in a post, and you want to help those readers also.
Write few opinions. Unless you are already a known and trusted personality, your opinions won't mean much to people. Your time will be far better spend helping people learn things they are Googling. That is how you can establish yourself as a helpful authority, and how people will be more disposed to value your opinions. There are a lot of tools to help you find out what people are looking for on Google. One of the best ways to do it is to start typing a question on Google and see how Google tries to finish the question. When I ask Google, “What camera do I need to photograph…” it finishes my question with “the northern lights?” Now I know that if I write about that topic, there will be search demand for it.
Be a storyteller. I don't mean that you should relate personal stories with no context like you would in a journal. What I mean is that most things that you write should have a story arc, or a purpose. You should have answers to the questions “who, what, when, where, why, and how,” when you write. Additionally, you should embrace the use of story as example when you write. Stories are relatable and memorable. If you can use stories to illustrate the points you are making, readers will remember you and the things that you are saying. If you talk at your readers only with dry facts, your writing won't have the same stickiness factor.
Spend time on your headlines. The headline is almost always the thing that will draw people to the post, so make it attractive. The first rule is to not make it about yourself. Instead of the headline “My trip to Iceland,” how about the headline “How to take a self-guided photo tour of Iceland.” The second headline puts the reader into the narrative, and demonstrates how the article could serve the reader. You want the headline to draw clicks, but without sounding like click bait. The way to avoid the click bait trap is to be sure that if you are asking a question in your headline, that the answer to the question isn't totally obvious. An example of click bait to be avoided would be a headline, “Do you know the most common type of memory card photographers use? You will be shocked.” You may get clicks on this, but when the answer turns out to be SD cards, guess whose blog isn't getting followed. A way to draw clicks without being obnoxious would be to have the headline “5 unexpected ways to save money on travel photography,” and then to provide unique and unexpected advice. Lastly, keep your headlines under 65 characters so that the whole thing shows up in search.
Write in a tool that helps you with spelling, grammar, and readability. I, for one, am a naturally verbose writer. Others have issues with spelling, or grammar, or passive voice. All of these problems can get in the way of the readability and the professionalism of your blog. There are lots of tools that can help you keep a handle on the way that your article reads. Some can run right inside WordPress, and others are separate. I like to write in the Hemingway editor and paste into WordPress, but that's just one option and there are many for you to try. If grammar is a challenge for you, do not fear. It will not need to be perfect. If you do feel that you still struggle even after using a tool designed to help, there are lots of resources online to help you. In general, keep things simple and easy to read. Vary your sentence structure, and if you find yourself using the same adjectives over and over, consider using a thesaurus.
Being Present on the Internet
Once you've been publishing for a little while, you'll want to work on your presence, both on your site and in social media, if you really want to grow. In all of these things, consistency is the key.
Be consistent in your publishing. Establish a publishing schedule, and stick to it. If you are going to make changes, make them intentionally because of something you see in the analytics, or because of another reason you might have, but make the deliberate change. Don't allow yourself to simply post whenever you feel like it. Don't over commit, either. If you can only manage once a week, don't tell yourself you're going to publish every day. If you want to grow, frequency is important, and once a week probably won't be enough, but know what you are able to do and make your plan based on that. If you are able to write a lot in one sitting, consider batching your work and writing a few articles at once. Have a session where you do all your pre-writing, then have a session where you write several posts. WordPress allows you to schedule these posts to go live in the future. Batching and scheduling can be a way to make sure you stay ahead should life events come your way.X
Reply to comments. Be sure there is a way for readers to comment on your blog, and interact with them. If you are getting a lot of comments, you don't need to reply to everything, but you should be present in the comment sections of your posts. Also, be prepared for criticism. It will come. Accept it graciously, with an open mind, and be ready to put the best construction on everything that comes your way. Block people and delete their comments only when it becomes clear that they are trying to stir controversy, if they are only interested in ad hominem attacks, or if they are truly ruining the experience of other commenters.
Make use of an email list. It's great when people subscribe to your blog, or follow you on social media, but it's even better when people subscribe to your email list. Email allows for more personal interaction, and it allows you to stand out more. Your blog will be more front of mind for your readers if they see you in their email inboxes than if your blog is one of many in their rss reader of choice. Email lists also allow you to keep and manage the subscribers, whereas the other subscribtion types are far more passive. You can send emails just to new readers, or to long time readers, or readers only in certain parts of the world, etc. The ability to segment your list can be used to help grow your blog.
Maintain a social media presence. It may be possible that the days of drawing a large amount of organic traffic from organic social media posts are behind us. Despite this, you should still maintain a social media presence. First of all, people expect you to be there, so you should fulfill that expectation. Secondly, while organic social media may not draw a lot of new people to you, it can help strengthen the bond in the community that you establish. Having a community where your community members talk to one another is great for establishing a follower base and growing your blog. I wouldn't advocate spending a ton of time on social media, but be sure that you are there.
Understand paid traffic, and know if it's for you. In the beginning, you should focus on producing quality content. Once you have a base of quality, evergreen posts, you can consider if part of your strategy will be to drive traffic to those posts using paid ads. Facebook advertising is complex and ever-changing, but what you should know is that when you see good engagement on a post, that is when you could consider backing it up with paid advertising. Putting money behind a post that is flopping will not help. With any type of advertising, know what your goals are, how much you are willing to spend, and what you expect to see from that in terms of return on investment. Don't let advertising be something that you dump cash into and expect it to work. You will need to be more strategic than that. In the end, you may decide that you want your blog to work purely based on organic traffic, and that can be a fine choice. Don't think that you have to spend money on ads.
Take action, don't wait!
I've presented a comprehensive approach for you to consider when starting your photography blog. It is important to be intentional and deliberate, but don't let those be excuses to get started. Yesterday was the best day to get started, and today is the next best option, so get moving! I hope to hear about your hugely successful blogs very soon!