I’ll be the first to admit it – building blog posts for your photography site is a real pain in the ass. From selecting the images, uploading, rearranging, writing, optimizing, publishing… it’s something that most photographers would rather avoid.
In the age of Instagram and Facebook, it’s easy to forget about the importance of a blog (or rather, ignore it completely).
However, I believe that we should still concentrate on maintaining our websites, and blog as much as possible. Google is still a wonderful source of free, continual traffic if you know a little about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Tools such as Narrative make the process of blogging and optimization for search a lot more manageable… and dare I say it, fun.
What is Narrative?
Narrative is a MacOS app that helps you to build more engaging blog posts for your website. (Apparently the Windows app is in the works.)
Using an intuitive drag and drop interface, you can arrange your images into unique layouts, optimize for SEO, then publish directly to your website or export your post as JPGs with all meta-data intact.
Without downloading the free trial, I have to admit that it’s not all that clear how Narrative would be beneficial to you over using just the default functionality of your current website + theme on its own.
However, after playing around with Narrative for a few weeks now, I can honestly say that it’s worth checking out – no matter how comfortable you are with your current website theme.
Benefits of Narrative over (just) WordPress
Let’s be clear here – Narrative is not a competitor to other website themes, nor should it be concerned with the release of WordPress Gutenberg… despite apparent initial similarities
Narrative is designed to work in conjunction with your WordPress or Squarespace theme, giving you a flexible, efficient, fast and fun way of creating posts in an offline environment.
I managed to create a blog post for the purposes of this review in under 10 minutes (check it out here),
After playing around for a few weeks with Narrative on my Macbook Pro (13″ Retina 2013) , here are the benefits I found.
#1 | Offline Editing
This is my favourite feature of Narrative by far. Over the years I’ve experimented with various offline WordPress editors, from the default WordPress app to all manner of paid apps, and they’ve all been… crap.
Your mileage may vary, but in general I found that I was always trying to hack my workflow in order to suit whatever app I was using, and never really truly achieving a 100% offline blog post build.
Narrative is the first offline desktop app that I can confidently use to build an entire blog post, and do so in minutes.
This means that whenever I’m on a plane flying some place to shoot a destination wedding, I can be building and queuing up a load of new blog posts, ready to be published as soon as I get back to WiFi.
#2 | Speed (offline)
Uploading images, rearranging them and adding ALT text to make them search engine friendly inside the WordPress editor is at best… clunky.
I’ve used several WordPress photography themes, most recently a Flothemes one, but no matter what the theme, post building has always been a painful experience. This is usually no fault of the theme itself, but rather the limited standard functionality of WordPress itself.
Narrative brings refreshing speed to the post building experience – simply import your photos to the editor, then drag and drop them into your post.
If you’re like me and never shoot portrait orientation images, you can grab all your landscape orientation photos at the same time, and simply drag them over to the post window for them to be placed in the usual ‘one above the other’ post layout most of us use anyway.
If you want to align 2 photos next to each other, choose a different aspect ratio, or get creative with a whacky layout, it’s a piece of cake.
Anyone who’s used album building software such as SmartAlbums (reviewed here) will be familiar with the ‘hot edges’ concept of dragging an image until an adjacent edge is highlighted, then dropping the image to position it at that edge, with sizes/positions instantly ‘snapping’ into place to accommodate the new design.
Not only is Narrative ridiculously fast compared to the clunky WordPress editor, but it’s actually a lot of fun too.
One thing you need to be aware of when using the Narrative desktop app, is that like Lightroom, the software is merely referencing files, not actually duplicating them from their original location into another folder.
This means that if you move or delete the blog image folder that’s being referenced, Narrative won’t be able to locate them.
#3 | Speed (online)
A huge benefit of using Narrative to display your blog posts is how quickly it makes them load.
Behind the scenes, a few things happen to achieve the fast load speeds – the images are delivered via Narrative’s CDN, which caches your blog in over 180 servers worldwide ensuring that no matter where your website viewers are located, image-heavy blogs will still load lightening fast.
Narrative resizes images to 5 different sizes, and delivers them according to the size of the viewer’s browser. This means that if your website visitor is on a phone, a phablet, ipad, a 13″ laptop or a retina display, they’ll always get the fastest viewing experience, and your images will be shown at the quality you intended.
In addition, Narrative blog posts have the latest lazy-loading tech installed in their HTML, meaning that as a user scrolls down your blog, Narrative is already loading images that are soon to enter the screen (before they hit the screen).
This means that as a user scrolls through a post, unnecessary content won’t be loaded until it’s required. This all happens in the background, without interrupting the viewer.
I conducted a Google PageSpeed test, building one post entirely with Narrative, and another identical one using my normal method of uploading images to WordPress. As you can see in the image above, even with my speedy Webster Park hosting, the Narrative built post wins! This is a real eye-opener…
Narrative is clearly paying big bucks for some speedy-ass server solution to make sure they’re never the bottleneck of getting your images in front of your viewer as fast as possible.
This actually gives you the opportunity to opt for some dirt-cheap website hosting like this, safe in the knowledge that Narrative and its super-servers will be doing most of the heavy lifting.
#4 | Optimizing for Search
SEO for photographers in its most basic form is comprised of two things – optimizing text and images on your site, then getting other sites to link to you.
I talk more about tricks to acquire back-links in More Brides, but for on-page SEO, optimizing the words in your blog post and the images you upload is something we should all be doing.
If you’re familiar with Yoast or any of the other basic WordPress SEO plugins, you’ll know how text optimization works. Basically you choose a keyword (or phrase) to target, then Yoast gives you an idea of how much chance you’ve given your post to rank for that keyword.
It’s a rather arbitrary measurement, but does offer some basic guidance for those unfamiliar with SEO.
With Narrative, things are made even easier. A traffic light system alerts you to potential issues with your post, with a green light signalling various elements of your post have been well optimized, at least at the most basic on-page level.
This might not be anything new for those of us used to Yoast and the like, but the interface is definitely more user friendly. There’s even helpful feedback as to why your light hasn’t turned green yet.
As for images, adding ALT text in WordPress is a rather annoying experience, which requires multiple clicks on each individual image.
In Narrative, you’re able to add Image Keywords simply by highlighting an image, then with the ‘tab’ key, you can advance to the next to add more keywords.
I look forward to an update where frequently used keywords are stored, and when you can copy/paste the keywords from one field to the next.
#5 | Variety
Various existing website themes may already offer some variety with image layouts, but I’ve yet to find one as intuitive and easy to use as Narrative – it simply offers all the layout variety that most people would ever need.
I’m pretty standard (boring?) with my blog post layouts – just one full width landscape orientation photo on top of another.
For the sake of this review, I experimented with two smaller landscape photos side by side, but that’s as adventurous as I want to get…
Take a look at the video above (from where it loads) for some crazier layout examples. I have to say it can look a bit disjointed if you start messing with random spacing, but nevertheless, it’s nice to know that a refreshing and original blog post layout is only a few clicks away.
#6 | Simplicity
Narrative reminds me a lot of SmartAlbums come to think of it. The software doesn’t feature all that much in terms of bells and whistles, but for most users, it’s more than enough.
By concentrating on just a few key elements, the user interface is logical and uncluttered, and each feature works well.
The more you use the software the more intuitive it becomes, but for the most part, it shouldn’t take you more than half a few minutes to get to grips with it.
I’d recommend clicking the various guides under ‘Help’ in the menubar, which will link you to the helpful (and simple) Narrative support site.
There’s not a whole lot to read as there aren’t that many features to explain, but it’s still worth giving it all the once over so you understand what’s going on with your precious blog content.
#7 | Flexibility
Once you’ve created your blog posts in Narrative, you’ve got the freedom and ability to move your content to another website builder.
In other words, if you choose to jump ship from WordPress to Squarespace or Squarespace to Wix etc., Narrative makes that process much more simple because you can quickly re-publish all your blog posts to the new platform with a few clicks.
[Related: check out our WordPress vs Squarespace comparison]
#8 | Support
The thing that I love about these small SAAS companies for photographers is that support is always top-notch. I mean, it has to be – this is the one key area that they can compete with the big guns.
Whilst there’s dedicated Narrative support, most people will head over to their Facebook page, which is basically a searchable database of all the queries you’re likely to have.
Thanks to the limited functionality of the Narrative software at the present time, it’s a fair bet that someone else will have already asked the question you have. Even if you ask it again, James is quick to offer advice, a solution, or a date for a forthcoming update.
It’s nice to see that James has published a roadmap of forthcoming features, including most exciting of all, a dedicated Narrative Lightroom plugin.
[Related: the best way to buy Lightroom CC]
In the few weeks that I’ve been using Narrative, I’ve admittedly come across a couple of small bugs, but they’ve been stomped out by the most recent update.
Narrative starts from only $6/month, paid annually. I know that this will be a sticking point for some photographers out there – after all, as cheap as this is, who wants another subscription service, right?
Well if you consider that Narrative makes it a lot easier for you to blog your work, and arguably a lot easier for you to rank for your keywords (or at least, it makes the process of good on-page optimization a lot simpler), paying each month isn’t actually all that bad.
As mentioned before, it can also actually help your blog posts load even faster, depending on your existing server/website setup.
If you ever do decide to leave Narrative there are two options – 1) you can pay just $10/year to keep your existing posts live; or 2) you can export your posts row-by-row as jpgs and upload them yourself.
Having these options really does make it a no-brainer to download a free trial of Narrative and have a play around, if only to see how much faster your existing blog posts could load.
Narrative Review | Final Words
I’m betting there will be some photographers that don’t want to sign up for another subscription software service but if working quickly and efficiently is important to your workflow then Narrative will become a key piece of software.
Despite the fact that a) I’ve been blogging for almost 15 years, and b) I’m well-versed in SEO, particularly basic page level optimization, I’m happy to be using the Narrative platform to build and optimize my blog posts.
Being able to blog a few weddings when I’m on a plane or somewhere abroad with crappy Internet connection is worth the price alone to me, with the other benefits mentioned above being the icing on the cake.
I’d recommend you download a free trial version of Narrative, and kick the tires yourself for a few days and let me know in the comments what you think.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.