What a great track, Freddie Mercury and Queen were the sound for a whole generation, but that’s not what this blog post is about today… It may or may not have skipped your attention that I have finally broken free of Zenfolio as my photo and website host, switching instead to what you see right here which is a WordPress website (https://wordpress.com/) hosted on some cloud based servers, in this case my choice has been Tsohost (https://www.tsohost.com/).
I know there are a fair few of you out there use Zenfolio but don’t worry this piece isn’t going to be an assassination of their platform, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy with everything with them, far from it, otherwise I wouldn’t have even been contemplating a switch in the first place…
The arguments for picture hosting platforms
I’ve used Zenfolio for maybe four years I think in the end, but before that I bought hosting from Clikpic for a couple of years at least too. They’re not the only options of course, there are plenty more out there and they all claim more or less the same things which is you can access an easy to build templated site that you use to perhaps sell some prints on etc. That simplifies the proposition somewhat because there are much more to them than that these days, but the essence is that they provide some templates and you provide the photography. For many photographers that will be more than enough, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is plenty of customisation available within those platforms but if you’re looking to create something a little more unique then you are always going to be limited by what they serve up for you and when they want. You definitely don’t need any special coding skills though, but to get the best out of them having some knowledge of HTML might help around the edge.
Here are the key benefits why you might want to use a host like Zenfolio:
- Template driven with some customisation options
- A website within a few hours
- A ready made platform with facilities to meet most of your needs
- Access to support
- Someone else worries about the coding and compatibility
- Cost effective compared to getting a bespoke website designed for you by a pro, which might actually be around £1000 or so.
Simple, easy, quick. That’s more or less the offer for Zenfolio.
The advantages of building your own WordPress site
Despite what seems like a lot of customisation options I can usually spot a Clikpic or Zenfolio site at 1000 yards though because they both have their own inherent shape and look. To my mind standing out in landscape photography circles is all about being a little unique where you can. Yes, content is king and should be the deciding factor, but if you put your art on top of a design that everyone else is using, I’m not sure it’s so compelling in some way. Some might scowl at that last comment but it’s just the way I feel. Take the website by my friend Colin Bell for example: http://colinbell.photography/. He too has taken the time to develop something for himself on WordPress and it definitely shows – it has a quality that isn’t matched by those Zenfolio options for me and he’s created something very fresh and appealing to my eye. It’s worth the effort.
So, here’s what I think are the top reasons to develop your own WordPress site:
- A more unique approach, build something to show off your art as you really want it
- Save yourself a lump of money compared to Zenfolio (more of that below)
- Create something which is yours without relying on other developers
- Pay no commission on sales – oh yes, did you not know that about Zenfolio?
- Access to a whole world of support and experience, millions use WordPress
- The ability to change themes and develop the look of your site on an almost unlimited basis
But yes, it takes an investment of time and effort.
So why did I really switch?
First off, WordPress is not going to be for everyone, no question, but once you’re in and used it for a week or two it really does become second nature so that initial awkwardness is well worth persisting with. After all, millions can’t be wrong can they. I definitely became disenchanted from Zenfolio and here’s a list as to why:
- They are a U.S. host and that means everything is geared towards their time zone. Any outages and downtime are ALWAYS during the day U.K. time and that irritated me a lot, they have no desire to change that either.
- They hiked their prices by an eye-watering 40% at my last renewal. Not just me, they did it to everyone. Once you’re locked in, you’re a captive audience and you are totally at their mercy. That is no reward for loyalty.
- My images looked like crap on retina and higher resolution screens. You have no control over that and they have no plan to change that either. What’s the point of a photography host that limits your viewable image quality?
- Future changes to your site are whatever they think is important. To me they seem intent on building more of an affiliate platform to make money out of you rather than focussing on quality issues and developing new design options.
- Support is weak and I’ve had very disingenuous responses to issues too. Not everyone is as green as they are cabbage looking…
- My site had a look that was immediately recognisable as belonging to Zenfolio. No amount of colour changes could break that mould.
The financial incentives
As I said just above, Zenfolio hiked my renewal from £100 a year to £140 a year at last renewal. I see they’ve decided to hike their prices again to a greedy £192 a year now or £264 per year if you want to pay monthly. I guess they decided it was time to screw their user base. Outrageous. When I bought into the platform I paid only £60 allowing for initial discount too so those are quite some price hikes year on year. The thing is, they know they can more or less get away with that because once you’ve uploaded potentially hundreds of photographs and filled in with pages of text, who can be bothered to move all of that? It’s quite a hook, but anyone that abuses territory like that doesn’t deserve any loyalty for me so I paid what I had to this year and I’ve used the time to develop a new site elsewhere. I won’t be held to ransom again.
Here are my new costs: 12 months of web hosting on a WordPress optimised platform with Tsohost is wait for it, £14.99. That’s not £14.99 a month, that’s £14.99 for the whole year, that’s about 8% of what Zenfolio want to charge me at next renewal. If Tso try and kill me by hiking prices, there are thousands of other hosts out there with tools to import your website for free – it’s a cut-throat market and they know it most likely. Financial liberation. Here’s another – not only do Zenfolio want to charge you for the platform they want a cut of your sales in commission too. I’ve never liked that from outset either. More savings on any print sales…
To set up you either create your whole new site from scratch or you buy a premium WordPress ‘theme’ as your starter for ten. This gets my recommendation because building from something is better than building from nothing. I paid $50 U.S. for mine (about £30). That means in year one, my start-up costs were about £45 for the website. Next year they will be £15. I already owned my domain name of course, but if you were starting from scratch, add another whopping £5 a year for a co.uk name.
One month in I know I’ve definitely made the right decision. I’ve now got total control over my website and can develop it in any direction I want. Tsohost have been fantastic – I mean it, they’re support to get everything up and running has been exceptional and as a UK host, they’re focus is perfect for me. The platform is fast, responsive, secure and completely accessible and I feel in total control. I’m sure it will last – I took a personal recommendation to use them from Neil Mansfield (I think) and it was a very good choice indeed.
It’s only been a few weeks or so, but I really do love WordPress. The options out there are incredible so my website is totally future proofed without being held to ransom by anyone. Yes, it’s also been frustrating at times and small issues with coding adjustments can feel a challenge but I’ve not come up against anything yet I couldn’t work out for myself or find the answer on the internet. This is where the giant WordPress community comes into its own.
A recommended journey all in all, not entirely for the feint hearted or those lacking a bit of tenacity perhaps though. Just give yourself plenty of time to swap your platform away from anyone like Zenfolio or Clikpic before your renewal, otherwise your content will be at risk and you’ll be effectively held to ransom for another year.