This is a complete guide covering everything you need to know to set up and create your branded website.
Being a professional SEO consultant, these are the same steps I followed to build my own photography site, and has allowed me to drive new clients, and rank on the first page of Google for important keywords:
Creating a well-optimized website for your brand is the foundation of your business.
Your website can hold your portfolio, pricing, about page, and contact info.
It can be hard and cost time and money to reverse changes to a poorly designed and built site. So it is important to build a solid one from the beginning.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a topic to jump to that section):
Table of Contents
7 Steps to Create a Branded Website
1. Web Hosting
Every website needs a host. Your web hosting provider will host and store your website files on a secure server.
Without web hosting, users will not be able to access, read, or browse your site.
There are many web hosting providers you can choose from, some of the most popular ones include:
- WP Engine
- A2 Hosting
The one I use and recommend is SiteGround (not sponsored).
SiteGround is one of the most popular and highest-rated hosting providers. I especially love them because they offer unique WordPress speed and security options to make sure your site is as fast and secure as possible (we’ll be diving into WordPress later in this guide).
What to Look for in a Web Hosting Provider?
Some of the main features you want to be aware of when choosing your web hosting provider is if they offer free SSL, free CDN, daily backup, strong customer support, custom email accounts, and managed WordPress.
SiteGround offers all of these which is why I recommend them.
If you are not familiar with the terminology I’ll provide a simple breakdown of what each one means.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer.”
To put it simply, if you have ever seen URLs start with https:// while others start with https://, that extra “s” means users’ connections to that website will be secure and encrypted.
If you want to dive more into the history of SSL and what it means, I recommend checking out this guide that Hubspot put together.
In a nutshell, you want to have an SSL certificate for security reasons and because it helps boost your website’s SEO efforts because Google prefers sites to have an SSL certificate. It’s a win-win situation.
How to Get SSL?
If you decide to use Siteground (which I recommend for beginners), here is how to get the SSL certificate.
You will want to do this immediately after you get your domain name which is Step 2.
In order to obtain the SSL certificate, log in to your Siteground account, then navigate to Site Tools → Security → SSL Manager:
Mine is set to “Let’s Encrypt Wildcard”
Once that is set up, you’ll also want to turn on HTTPS enforce:
For more detailed instruction, I highly recommend checking out Siteground’s guide on this as they explain it more in-depth
What is a CDN?
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) helps speed up your site’s load time for visitors from different geographical locations.
Siteground partners with Cloudflare, the most popular CDN provider.
I’ll be explaining Cloudflare and diving deeper into that in step 5.
A faster website is always better not only for sales but for your SEO.
If you have a slow site, users can get frustrated by your site’s load times and your overall site could have a low average session duration and high bounce rate.
This is an indicator to Google that your site is not of high quality and you will not rank as optimally for your keywords.
A fast website = happy visitors and happy Google.
What is Daily Backup?
Daily backup just means SiteGround will save backups of your site which comes in handy if you ever need to restore your site.
The plus is that the restores are free with SiteGround.
What is Customer Support?
You will always want a web hosting provider with strong customer support to answer any questions you have when you can’t figure something out.
According to top reputation management companies, strong customer support is crucial for any service you have.
What is a Custom Email Account?
Custom email accounts let you create professional email addresses using your company name as opposed to Gmail or Yahoo.
You will want to create a professional custom email address for your business not only for professional appearance and branding but because it will also be beneficial if you engage in email marketing in the future.
If you send emails to your email list using a Gmail account, there is a strong chance you could get marked as spam to the recipient’s email inbox. If you use a custom email address, there is a lower chance.
What is Managed WordPress?
You will want a web hosting provider such as SiteGround that offers managed WordPress services so it is easy to install WordPress, have WordPress support, and get it up and running fairly quickly.
WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS). I will be touching on WordPress later in this guide but it is what I will be recommending to use as your CMS. We will be using WordPress to create the pages on our site and post blogs, etc.
How Much Does Web Hosting Cost?
Web hosting costs between $5 and $10 a month and is an important investment for your website’s success.
SiteGround’s lowest plan starts at $7 a month (at the time of this post), the cost of a cup of coffee and an important investment for your website and brand:
After planning out which web hosting provider you will use, it’s time to start thinking about your domain name.
2. Domain Name
In order to build your website, you’ll also need to know what your domain name will be.
If you have seen any other website creation guides, some people list getting a domain name as the first step.
Figuring out which web hosting provider you are going to use and determining your domain name happen at the same time for the most part.
If you decide to use SiteGround, you can register your domain name with them while also acquiring web hosting.
Before diving into the steps for acquiring your domain name, it’s important to figure out what your domain name will be.
What Should My Website Name Be?
Should it be your name? Should it be your business name? Should you include your service in the domain name?
You will want to ensure your website domain name aligns with your overall brand and business objectives.
You can decide to change your domain name later on if you don’t like what you chose, however, the process of doing this requires you 301 redirect your whole domain to another one and it is a hassle (trust me I’ve done it twice).
And if done incorrectly, you can create a lot of error pages and lose the SEO value your existing domain had.
So in summary, take some time to brainstorm what your domain name will be.
Think it over for a week or so. Make sure it aligns with your overall marketing strategy and if it aligns with your brand image.
Overall, I’ve seen personal brands take three different routes when choosing their domain name and each has its pros and cons.
1. The first route is using their name + their niche.
For example, if you are a photographer, then something like johndoephotography.com.
The pros include that this domain name option is simple and clean and I recommend this option if that is also your business name.
This domain naming option is also beneficial because it includes the keyword “photography” within the URL which will help with your SEO and let Google know that your site is photography related.
Another plus side is that this domain name option should also be available unless there is another person in this world with your same exact first and last name that is also a photographer.
If that is the case then that domain name might already be taken (and I’m sorry because you are an unlucky person :)).
When I first created my photography website, I went this route and chose natejoaquinphotography.com. Nate Joaquin Torres is my full name so I chose to go with my middle name for aesthetics.
The problem that I ran into, which I’ll be diving into next, is that I didn’t want to narrow my business to just photography.
I wanted my website and blog to eventually inspire all personal brands.
As my marketing strategy for my business evolved, I needed to change my domain name as well. And that’s when I changed it to imaginated.com and redirected my old domain (natejoaquinphotography.com) and all the contents on it to this new one.
Luckily, I am a professional SEO consultant, and redirecting websites is a part of my job so I knew exactly what to do. But it was still a hassle and I lost a tiny bit of SEO value from it.
If I had just waited a bit and really solidified my business and marketing plan, I could have avoided this mistake.
It’s important to note as well that I may be a rare case and I am going against my own advice of including the keyword “photography” within the URL, however, I made this decision to accommodate the vision and plans I have for my site years down the road.
With all that being said, that ties into the second route I often see for a brand website domain name.
2. The second route is business name + niche
If you have already chosen a business name for your brand that is not your name, then this should be your domain name.
For example, lastingmemoriesphotography.com, goodtimesphotography.com, cleanlinedesigns.com. Something along those lines.
This has the pros of the first route and you want to ensure that this is the business name you are going to be sticking with for a while.
For example, let’s say you are a wedding photographer right now and your business name is “Lasting Memories Wedding Photography” and you choose lastingmemoriesweddingphotography.com as your domain name.
If a couple of years from now, you choose to not just brand yourself as just a wedding photographer but also portraits and event photography, then having this domain name will no longer align with your brand.
I hope you can now see what I mean by making sure to take some time to think about your brand and marketing strategy before picking a domain name.
3. The third route is the brand name
The third route is just including your brand name or just your name without the niche keyword in there.
For example, just a name, such as natetorres.com or johndoe.com.
And at the end of the day, it comes down to your choice when picking a domain name, these three routes to go are only suggestions based on best practices and what I’ve seen in the current online landscape.
How to Get the Domain Name?
Here are what the steps look like for acquiring your domain name with SiteGround:
- Pick your web hosting plan (Check the above section)
- Once in the SiteGround dashboard, go to the websites section. In the below screenshot you can see I am on Hosting Plan 2 which is their GrowBig plan which allows me to add an unlimited amount of domains to this plan:
3. Once here, you will want to select “Add New Site” and you will be prompted with the following options – Add New Domain, Existing Domain, or Temporary Domain. Since you are creating a new website, you will select “New Domain”:
4. You will then be prompted to enter and search to see if your desired domain name is available:
If your domain name is available, go ahead and hit add then you are all set.
You will then want to select “Start New Website” and choose WordPress as your application. As mentioned, I will be diving into what WordPress is used for later in the guide:
Once you add your login details and setup your WordPress credentials, you will be all good to go!
The cost of having your domain name should be around $1.50 a month, nothing too crazy.
So in total, with SiteGround web hosting and your domain name, you should be around $12 a month for both.
Now that we’ve covered web hosting and getting your domain name, it’s time to dive into WordPress.
WordPress is a free Content Management System (CMS) and is the most popular among bloggers and website creators.
Some other Content Management Systems you might be familiar with are Squarespace and Wix.
I highly recommend using WordPress because it is the most customizable with the thousands of plugins and themes that they offer.
If you have spent any time on Youtube, you may have seen many photographers’ videos sponsored by Squarespace.
Being an SEO consultant, there is talk among the community that Squarespace and Wix are not the best options when it comes to long-term SEO growth, however, I have personally used neither so I do not want to personally make this claim.
AHREFs conducted a study on both Squarespace and Wix to determine whether WordPress is truly better than these two when it comes to SEO potential.
When it comes to any CMS, it depends on the individual’s ability to grow their site no matter what CMS they choose to use, however, certain CMSs hinder an SEO’s ability to implement their optimizations.
So why do most SEOs dislike Squarespace and Wix? In summary, these were their findings.
- When it comes to basic on-page SEO optimizations such as changing meta titles, meta descriptions, and URLs, Squarespace works fine.
- Squarespace only has a limited amount of things you can do to optimize for page speed, which is a major ranking factor for Google.
- Squarespace automatically generates a robots.txt file and XML sitemap for your site and it is not possible to make edits to either of them. For bigger sites, this might be an issue, but for smaller ones, not so much.
- Squarespace does not make it easy to add alt text to images which help the keyword targeting of a specific page.
Overall, if you are planning to have a smaller, simple site just for your photography work and a couple of blogs with some technical optimizations here and there, then Squarespace is not a bad option.
I believe, however, that if SEO will matter to you so you can drive more traffic, customize your site, and increase scale, WordPress is still the better option to begin with.
- When it comes to basic on-page SEO optimizations such as changing meta titles, meta descriptions, and URLs, Wix is fine.
- Wix does not support an hreflang tag which helps with multilingual SEO. If you have a small site and are catering to a US market, this is not a major issue.
Overall, if you are planning to have a smaller, simple site to just hold your photography portfolio and you aren’t planning to “optimize” it for organic traffic and keywords then Wix is fine.
If you plan to optimize your site in the future for keywords, however, then I would recommend just starting out with WordPress since it offers everything Wix would offer plus more.
How to Use WordPress for Your Website?
The main areas you will be focusing at the beginning of your photography website are the:
- Post sections are the same as blog pages.
- Pages section which are the core/main pages of your site. You will create your service/product pages here as well as your portfolio.
- Plugins section where you will add all the necessary plugins for your photography website.
- Themes section where you will choose your website theme.
I will explain all of them in detail in my step-by-step WordPress for guide (coming soon).
After installing WordPress onto your photography website, this ties us into our next section which is regarding Generatepress, a popular WordPress plugin that is ideal for new website creators and the one that I recommend (not sponsored).
GeneratePress is one of the most popular WordPress themes and website builders (not sponsored).
It’s perfect for brands because it’s lightweight (good for SEO), easy to learn, and has all you need to control every aspect of your website design.
I highly recommend starting out with GeneratePress because it’s the one I personally use, it is FREE, and has a great forum if you need help.
WordPress + GeneratePress is a good combo in this day and age in terms of website creation for beginners
How to Download Generatepress
In order to download GeneratePress (or any theme for that matter), it is really simple.
Now that we have WordPress installed based on the previous step, just navigate to your WordPress backend which you can often find at insertwebsitename.com/wp-admin.
Click on Appearances then Add New and search for GeneratePress
Then download the GeneratePress theme
After that, you’re good to go!
Since there are a ton of features and downloading your theme is the beginning of your website creation/design journey, I highly recommend checking out GeneratePress’ Youtube channel and visiting their website as they have great informational videos.
Once you have GeneratePress installed, it’s time to obtain a CDN which many website owners often overlook which is crucial for improved SEO performance.
5. Cloudflare CDN
Now that we have our web hosting, our domain name installed WordPress, and installed our WordPress theme (GeneratePress), it’s time to obtain a CDN.
What is Cloudflare CDN?
Cloudflare is a content delivery network (CDN).
Cloudflare helps improve your page load speeds and reduces CPU usage and bandwidth usage.
Essentially, all the things you will want in order to improve your overall site’s page speed.
Why Use Cloudflare CDN?
Your site’s page speed will be a direct Google ranking factor with the Core Web Vitals update.
SEOs all around the world are scrambling to look for ways to improve their page load speed so they can rank higher on Google.
So it’s important that being a photographer, you have the best page load speed for the user experience, as well as the ranking boost so you can rank higher for your target keywords, beat the competition, and get more clients.
Is Cloudflare Free?
The best part is that Cloudflare is FREE.
Now, Cloudflare offers other features as well, but we are acquiring Cloudflare for our photography website purely for the CDN at the moment.
They have different plans, but if you have a small site, all you need is the free plan. I currently have the Pro plan which is $20 a month but my site is growing and I wanted extra features that comes along with the pro plan such as extra security against DDoS attacks.
How to Get Cloudflare CDN?
In order to obtain Cloudflare CDN, simply navigate to their plans page, sign up for an account and select the free plan:
What to Do After Signing Up?
Once you sign up for your Cloudflare account, you will be taken to a dashboard that looks like this:
There are a lot of tabs to explore here so I recommend taking the time to see all the features within Cloudflare.
For the sake of this guide, I will be focusing on the “Page Rules” section where we will be redirecting each https/http and www/non-www version to one URL.
As discussed earlier in this guide, there is a difference between the http and https versions of a site with https being the preferred and secured version.
Each site has 4 different versions of it, they include:
- Https www version (https://www.examplesite.com) recommended version
- Https non-www version (https://examplesite.com)
- Http www version (https://www.examplesite.com)
- Http non-www version (https://examplesite.com)
Google sees each of these versions as different sites so it’s important to set up a 301 redirect to one URL so Google does not see them as duplicate content which will hurt your rankings and SEO.
The preferred version you will want to redirect them all to is the https www version.
In other words, if a user were to type in the https non-www version, they would be redirected to the https www version. You can see an example of this with my site (https://imaginated.com/), it will redirect you to the https www version.
In order to set this up, navigate to the “Page Rules” tab, create a new page rule and enter the following 3-page rules, replacing my domain name with yours:
If you are a visual learner, I recommend watching this YouTube video by Simon Hayter where he walks you through how to create them:
Once you set up these page rules, then navigate over to your WordPress backend by typing in your domain name followed by /wp-admin.
Go to Settings → General → and set your WordPress Address and Site Address as the https www version like this:
Now all your URLs should redirect to one version of the site.
I recommend testing everything out to make sure the redirects work. To do this just type in the different variations of your site into the URL bar and make sure it redirects to the https www version.
At this point in the guide, you should have your web hosting and domain name set up with Siteground, you should have WordPress setup, you have Elementor installed as your theme, you have Cloudflare CDN and you have the different versions of your site redirected to one version.
If you have all of these completed, it’s time to dive into the fun stuff, and that’s the content/pages that should go on your photography website.
6. Main Pages on Website
Looking at an empty website is intimidating.
Knowing where to write content or even what to write about can be daunting.
At the core, your website should include your home page, product/service pages, an about page, a portfolio page (optional), a blog, and a contact page.
Your homepage is the first page users will see when they land on your website.
Elements you should have on your homepage include a headline, sub-headline, a call to action. You could also include a form of social proof such as a testimonial and an image as well.
If you want to see an example, check out our old homepage:
I include a headline, supporting sentences for the headline, and a call to action to sign up for my email newsletter.
You want to keep your homepage as simple as possible. Less is more here.
2. Product/Service Pages
If your brand revolves around offering services for others, then your product/service pages will be the most important pages on your site.
We’ll use the example of a photographer.
This is where you will describe your niche, and your location, and these pages should target your money-making keywords such as “wedding photographer in [location]” or “[location] portrait photography.”
If you don’t know what keywords are yet, I’ll create a guide.
For example, on my old photography domain, since I’m located in Los Angeles and I offered portrait photography as one of my services, I had a service page dedicated to targeting that keyword.
It is my Los Angeles Portrait Photographer page and I’m targeting the keyword “los angeles portrait photography” which allows me to rank on Google for that keyword and drive traffic/new clients to my site:
You want a page dedicated to each keyword you are trying to target.
So for example, if you are a wedding photographer in Ontario, Canada, you will want a page titled “Ontario Wedding Photographer” and you will want to optimize that page for that keyword so you can show up organically in Google for that keyword and get more clients.
3. About Page
Your About Page is crucial because this is where you can offer visitors to your website an inside look into your personal story.
Your About Page plays an important role in your brand image.
In your About Page, you will want to include elements such as how you started your journey, what makes you and your brand and business unique, what you and your business’s values and beliefs are, and why customers should choose you.
About Pages are very popular with new visitors. If someone is looking to potentially hire you for your service, they will want to know who you are first.
People are naturally curious and if you can tell your story while also conveying why you are perfect for them, then you will see an increase in close rates for your products or services.
If you want to see an example of my old About Page:
You will want to also check out the About Pages of other personal brands in your niche especially those in your niche to get an idea of how they are structuring their about pages.
4. Portfolio Page
The portfolio page is pretty straightforward.
If you offer services, this is where you will want to showcase your best work to those visiting your website.
You can also send, attach, or link your portfolio page in emails, direct messages, or text messages to people if they ask to see your portfolio. It’s very convenient.
For example, if you are a designer, photographer, etc. you will want to only include your best work and don’t just showcase everything you have done.
It’s important to remember that the worst project in your portfolio is how people will see you as a brand. You are only as good as the worst project in your portfolio.
Since this is the case, it’s important to only highlight what you feel are your best projects, if you don’t think a project was your best work, don’t include it in your portfolio.
5. Blog Pages
If you are only interested in creating a website to showcase your portfolio and list your about and contact page, then blog pages are optional.
Though they are optional, I highly recommend creating blogs if you decide to invest more into your SEO and effort into your keyword rankings.
Your blog/article pages can serve as thought leadership pieces to help boost your brand image and overall brand perception.
For example, this guide you are reading right now titled “Creating a Website” is a blog I am writing to help other personal brands create their own branded website.
Content marketing is a whole other topic in itself that requires practice and strategy to develop.
But if you are serious about growing your brand, content marketing will only get more important each year. This is apparent with “70% of marketing actively investing in content marketing (HubSpot, 2020).
If these big businesses are doing it in other industries, think of the powers it can do for you and your brand especially if your competitors have not caught onto the trend yet.
I will create an in-depth guide on this topic in the future.
6. Contact Page/Landing Page
Your Contact/Landing Page is also one of the most important pages on your website.
This is the page where users will fill out their information to get a hold of you to begin the sales process.
If you have a poorly optimized Contact/Landing Page that has a low conversion rate, then you could be missing out on thousands of dollars of lost revenue.
If you haven’t heard of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), it is the science and practice of increasing the percentage of users who take the desired action on your website.
I will create a guide on optimizing your website for CRO in the future.
The basics of a solid Contact Page include a contact form, social proof in the form of testimonials, and a header.
Where the conversion rate optimization part comes into play is when you think of how many form fields to include in your form, what the header should read to entice users to fill out the form, what type of social proof to include on your page, and more.
With these questions, I hope you can start to see the nuances and science between CRO and the psychological triggers you can employ in users to get more visitors to fill out your contact form.
Now that we’ve covered what pages should be on your website, let’s dive into how to maintain your website.
7. Maintaining A Website
Let’s dive into best practices when it comes to maintaining your website.
Now that your website is set up, there are some items you will need to monitor once in a while to ensure your photography website is still running smoothly
I’ve listed all the platforms that you should check up on every once in a while.
They are listed in the hierarchical order of how often I check them.
1. WordPress/Plugin Updates
WordPress is the platform you will/should be checked most often, about once a week.
You will be monitoring WordPress often because this is the platform you will be posting your content (pages and blogs).
You will also want to check for any plugin updates every time you log in to your WordPress dashboard so your plugins can stay up to date and avoid any errors.
2. Google Analytics
You will want to be monitoring Google Analytics at least once a month.
Google Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that helps track and report website traffic.
I will write a separate guide on why you need Google Analytics for your website, how to set it up, and what metrics to focus on.
3. Google Search Console
You will also want to be monitoring Google Search Console at least once a month.
Google Search Console is a web service that allows webmasters to check the indexing status and errors on their websites.
I will write a separate guide on why you need Google Search Console for your website, how to set it up, and what metrics to focus on.
4. Keyword Monitoring
You will want to monitor the keywords your website is ranking for.
This will let you know which blogs/pages are performing well and if your SEO strategy is working.
I check my keyword rankings at least once a week to see how I am performing and which pages need optimization.
I recommend using SEMrush for your keyword monitoring and research as it is one of the most popular keyword research and monitoring tools in the industry.
I will create a keyword research guide in the future.
Siteground is the web hosting provider I recommended in the beginning.
If you did decide to go with Siteground, I log in every month or so to make sure that my payment is still on the option I picked and there are no major updates.
Other than that, you don’t have to check Siteground that often unless there is a deliberate change you want to make in your settings.
Cloudflare is the CDN I recommended using.
If you did decide to use Cloudflare, I log in to this platform about every month as well just to make sure my payment options are still correct and there are no major updates.
This was an in-depth guide looking at how to create a website that every photographer and artist should know when it comes to growing and scaling an optimized website.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a brand website?
A brand website is a dedicated online platform that represents a company or organization and serves as a central hub for its digital presence. It showcases the brand’s identity, provides information about its products or services, and offers a range of functionalities to engage with visitors, such as e-commerce capabilities, content marketing, customer support, and more.
Why do you need a brand website?
A brand website is essential because it serves as a digital storefront and a central hub for your brand’s online presence. It provides a platform to showcase your brand’s identity, offerings, and values, while also enabling you to engage with your target audience, establish credibility, drive conversions, and build lasting relationships with customers.
Nate Torres is a seasoned photographer and marketing consultant, providing educational photography content while also teaching photographers how to grow their business and brand through SEO. Beyond the lens, he’s an authoritative voice in the photography industry, serving as a speaker and photography author for renowned photography publications such as Photofocus, SLR Lounge, and Fstoppers. An entrepreneur and lifelong learner at heart, Nate is also the co-founder of Imaginated, an educational platform. Nate shares his insights on his YouTube channel, “Nate Torres,” and on his personal photography blog, Nate Torres Photography. But his expertise doesn’t stop at photography. Whether it’s elucidating the nuances of marketing within the realm of photography or sharing broader marketing insights, Nate Torres brings to the table a wealth of expertise, ensuring readers and audiences benefit from both his photographic acumen and marketing knowledge.