These days, whether you show with a gallery or not, it’s essential you have a proper functioning website that visitors can go to and browse through.
Remember it’s your shop window and will reflect the time and effort you put into it. None of it is complicated if you allow yourself time to learn, time to build it and time to make it better. This may be my own Top 10 things an artist needs for a great website but is in no way an exhaustive list – it’s a guide on where to start if you’ve thought about it but never done anything about it. These are my own opinions on what to think about before you get going so hopefully it will give you a few pointers to get yourself started.
DON’T PANIC – if you have an internet connection and the desire to do something to help yourself you’re already half way there.
Download the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide PDF
An absolute essential. Here you can learn all the technical stuff in plain English. How to optimise your images, how to use titles and descriptions and all manner of other useful things that will help you get a better ranking.
Much of this is applicable to the other search engines too. Sure you can drive visitors through social media (like Twitter and Facebook) and other means but letting your site appear organically for people looking for what you do can never be overlooked or over emphasized. Get the Google Starter SEO PDF here
Buy a decent domain name.
Buy something with the word ‘art’ in it if you are an artist or ‘sculpture’ if you sculpt. Simple really. If you are a fine artist then go for www.xxxxxxfineart.com or similar. Brownie points from Google for that.
Get a decent host.
Your site needs to be put somewhere so you’ll need a host to serve all the files to your visitors. I recommend Dreamhost as they are one of the best I have found. Shared hosting will be fine for now (standard with most companies) so get the basics. Don’t get pulled into signing up for extras just yet.
Get a Platform or CMS.
Eh? What? Don’t panic. Take WordPress as an example. This is a Content Management System (CMS) where you get a Dashboard that you can write posts and pages and manage comments. You can buy a cool theme (visual skin) to go over the core framework and make it look exactly how you want it. All the Admin stuff is pre-programmed into a Dashboard so you get access to everything. Best of all are the Plugins. A bit like the App Store with Apple. Lots of different things that ‘plugin’ to your site to allow you to do almost anything. Hosts like Dreamhost even do the install for you with a single click – how easy is that? Takes time tho – be prepared.
Decide how you want your site to look and behave
The most important consideration for your site is how your visitors will interact with it and what you want them to get from it. Make everything fit around the quality of the experience you want to give when someone clicks a link.
Themeforest has one of the best repositories for themes anywhere. Essentially you pick the front end styling to go with your backed functionality. If it’s art you want to show then consider the type of art you create and buy a theme as close as you can to your ideals. If it’s minimal abstract work then pick a clean white template with simple functionality; if it’s whimsical animals then maybe you want to jazz things up a little with bright colours and alternative fonts etc… There are thousands to choose from. Make sure you pick a responsive theme (one that adapts itself to mobile devices) with clean coding and a good support forum. Google are planning changes to their algorithms in Autumn 2013/early 2014 that heavily favour sites with a mobile ready layout.
Do your SEO (+15 key words that best describe what you do).
Search Engine Optimisation is one of the most important things you can do. It can be a complicated business but it’s not impossible to do it right. Grab the PDF at the top of the page and start reading; it will all make sense. Start with 15 or so words that describe your business. If you’re a figurative artist specializing in watercolour landscapes then you’ve already got some key describing words already: figurative, watercolour, artist, painter, landscapes. Simple really. These key words will from the backbone of your online strategy, choose them carefully. If you want to research the words you choose to see who else is doing the same then that’s a great idea – always check out what’s being done at the moment and decide how you will fit in or stand out.
Write great content and add Calls-To-Action
This is at the very heart of your online presence and is the building block that engages visitors. It’s your opportunity to tell the world about what you do and why so don’t hold back. Make your pages rich with interest and personality, factual and concise where required and simply laid out with headings, paragraphs and images to help support what you talk about.
If you’ve created your best work then shout about it.
Give visitors a reason to take action. For example. if you are planning an open event then offer a discount voucher for anyone who walks though the door or tempt anyone who signs up to a newsletter that they will get a car sticker for free. Random examples but it’s just to outline the need to make someone do something extra that can give you data or an email address or something more tangible than a few clicks to a few pages. People land on your pages for a reason so give them something to interact with; it helps build a rapport and trust.
Add Analytics and WMT
A stat code or tracking cookie is essential for you to be able to tell where your visitors come from, what they looked at and why they left.
This will help you determine what pages and posts are working and which ones are less popular. Google Webmaster Tools is a must. Access all the key metrics that tell you about the health of your site – what pages have been indexed, your errors and a host of other important information directly reported by Google. I use Statcounter and Google Analytics
Whilst sites like Facebook and Twitter may not be a direct link to selling your work the social feeds are very good at getting a reactions and traffic referrals at the very least. Retweets and shares are key to spreading the word and gaining momentum. If you’ve not already registered your name so both then do so as soon as you can.
Use them to engage with others whilst doing the same with your own. Share your art journey, we all want to see it.
Consistency and time
Keep writing content (adding new paintings, adding new blog posts), keep checking the competition, check WMT and stats at least once per week, keep adding wherever you can, don’t make any rush decisions. Really it’s a common sense thing.
Building a site, populating it with the things you want to say and learning how your visitors can be grown is time consuming and, at times, frustrating. Stick with it and use the internet to help you find answers to your problems as they occur. I started with no knowledge of anything and I learned by spending time on it after day after day until I solved a problem then I moved onto the next. It is your shop window to the world so dress it with lots of lovely things for people to look at. Comments welcome.