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Building WordPress.com Website Success: Photo Blogs With Paul Zizka

How are successful photography blogs created? There’s a lot to learn from artists who run photoblogs of their own. In part three of our spotlight series, we’re featuring Paul Zizka of Paul Zizka Photography, a WordPress.com site owner and photographer who built a phenomenal site that’s home to his services, blog posts, and advice for fellow photographers.

Taken during his adventures to the most remote places on the planet, Paul Zizka’s photography captures the magnificence of the natural world through crisp, vivid imagery. Paul is the recipient of awards in photography and film, and his images have been featured in major publications, including National Geographic Adventure, Alpinist, The Huffington Post, and PhotoLife. His website initially served as a home for his business, but evolved into a thriving blog and go-to resource for new photographers. Paul’s successful venture into the world of photoblogs is one that we believe every blogger and business owner can learn from. In our conversation, Paul reveals the secrets behind his site’s success and discusses best practices for building an online community.

When did you begin your website?

I started with WordPress.com in 2012.

Why did you start it?

I started it as the platform for my photography business in the Canadian Rockies.

How did you grow your site?

I suppose people love photography, and photography is what I do! But over time, I committed more time to providing people with educational tools for photography, trip reports after my journeys abroad or at home in the Rockies, and resources to help people take photos they’ll love.

Was there a particular event that jump-started the growth of your site?

The first time one of my posts was featured on (what was then) Freshly Pressed, back in 2012, my stats got a serious boost. It was a post about a mountaineering trip called Columbia in a Day. As my social media feeds grow, my stats on the website naturally grow alongside them.

Was your site’s growth strategic or organic?

My wife assists with my site. She runs a blog and has a lot of digital content and marketing experience. My blog’s growth is definitely strategic in many regards; however, from a content standpoint it’s a fairly organic process. We don’t have a set content calendar — we just publish what’s current or what’s in-demand. For example, we recently consolidated the answers from our FAQ Page about photographing the Canadian Rockies into a single blog post. It’s a very popular post, and one that we’ll return to when we get related questions from readers.

How does social media impact your site’s growth?

Social media is the biggest factor in terms of the site’s growth. The website is the “hub” for my photo activity, print sales, event updates, workshop information, and the books that I frequently link to. The blog serves a multitude of purposes: photo galleries, company updates, resources for my followers, and tips for photographers. I can post a whole gallery of images on the website, while I only post one or two at a given time on Facebook or Instagram.

Is there a post that received especially positive feedback? What impact did it have on you as a blogger, your site, and your community?

One post that comes to mind is The Stories Behind the Images: Top 10 of 2014. It was a simple round-up post, but I think people appreciated reading about how these images were created and what went into them. 2014 was a big breakthrough year for me in terms of my own creativity, and this collection of images is definitely one of my favorites. The kindness and feedback posted in the comments section on that post just blew me away. Sometimes you don’t know who is reading, and when people take the time to leave a comment it means a lot.

Were you familiar with WordPress.com before starting your site?

My wife was very familiar with WordPress.com, and encouraged me to build my site there.

Are you actively involved in the WordPress.com blogging community?

I’m not hugely active in the WordPress.com community apart from working to build a large community on the platform and feeding it great content.

Take us through the evolution of how your website came to be what it is today.

Interestingly, the site served the same purpose all along, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. I’ve got some ideas that may start to move it in somewhat new directions, but for the most part it has been a fun, creative outlet that allows me to share my photography with the world and with a community I might not reach through social media. The support of the WordPress.com community has been outstanding, and I hope that I can give back by helping other photographers along the way.

Did you experience any blips along the way?

As I mentioned, my wife is the WordPress.com guru. I create the images, but she does most of the formatting. It’s been a real team effort. The biggest challenge is time, but as I free up more of that I hope to do more with the site.

How did you choose your template?

I needed a photography template that would allow me to showcase my images. There weren’t as many to choose from back when I started, but I have been happy with the Photography theme thus far.

What’s your process in selecting graphics to feature on your site?

I curate the best from my own collection, but some posts revolve around sharing the work of other people.

What decision-making process did you use to create a really impactful site with an extensive reach?

Again, I never intended to create an impactful site apart from having a home for my photography. Seeing it get good reach is amazing. I suppose the process is to always feature the most high-quality material I can muster. That seems to have spoken to people and made them want to engage.

How much content do you share, and how often?

I generally post once every month or two. It’s not a ton, but I focus on posting quality material. Quality over quantity.

Have you had any epiphanies during the evolution of your site?

I started to have fun building my “work” website, and that was a nice thing to discover. These tools can make work fun, especially for entrepreneurs growing their own businesses. It’s important to have these creative, community-building outlets.

What advice would you give to those starting a WordPress.com blog or website?

Only commit to a pace that you can keep up with. We all see blogs or creative initiatives start, run for maybe six months, and then fall off the face of the earth altogether. I think our followers would rather us blog less if it meant that we keep doing it. Again, I’m only on there once a month apart from web updates, but I think that’s okay.

What is the best way to connect with your audience?

Leverage your social media accounts and learn about who is following you. Create content that will help them in their own journeys through life, no matter what that is. For me, it’s photography, the outdoor/adventure life, and the Canadian Rockies. I connect best with my readership and audience if I stay focused on that.

What positive results have you seen from building your website?

My business has benefited greatly from my website. It provides me with links that I can send to prospective shoppers. It allows me to announce new products, build my newsletter, sell prints — everything I need to do from a logistical standpoint for the business. To have the blog built in on top of that is amazing! I’m thrilled to have my website hosted through WordPress.com and to be able to benefit from the greater WordPress.com community when it comes to my photography.

Feature image courtesy of Paul Zizka Photography.