Many moons ago, when the concept of websites was still fairly fresh and only the most cutting edge people had websites, I owned a Web Design company. Eight years later, when websites began to be more Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and the field became less lucrative, I sold it for a pretty penny and moved on. On a personal level, I was really excited about the possibilities that were becoming available with templates and WordPress and the various companies who had enabled people to design their own websites.
Here we are almost 20 years later, and even though the landscape, technology and viewer’s experience has changed tremendously, the same basic concepts about web design have not changed. Not a week goes by that I am not working with my Artist client’s on their websites and bringing them back to those basics.
I see beautiful sites and not-so-beautiful sites. I also see sites that, regardless of how beautiful they may be, are not fulfilling on the intention of the Artist they are suppose to be representing. So, I thought it might be time for me to hand out a few hints that would benefit Artists in designing their websites to serve them and their purpose. It doesn’t matter if you go DIY or if you outsource it … it is YOUR website and it needs to serve and honor you.
Here are my top tips to have a website that DOES serve you and serve you well:
- Your website is your showcase for your Art it is not your Artwork. Make sure your Artwork is the main feature.
- First decide on your intentions. Will you sell your work on-line? Is it a portfolio site for Galleries, jobs, etc.?
- Organize your site simply. Draw it out for yourself on paper so you can see how all the pieces fit together. Keep it straightforward. Answer the questions the viewers will have. Who are you? How do you create? What does your Art look like? Think it out … really put some thinking work into this. Take a look at other sites if you need to get ideas.
- Figure out the look and feel of your site. If you have an established brand then you want to make sure your site will synch up with it. If you don’t then it is time to select layouts, colors and themes. This is another place where viewing other sites can provide you with a world of information. Ultimately your site needs to represent YOU, however, so don’t clone another site … bring your uniqueness to it.
- Focus on your viewer and what they want. Is your website for the purpose of selling your art, to find collectors, to entice gallery owners, to get a gig? Then speak to them. You need to get over there in the shoes of your intended audience. The website represent you but it is not for you … it is for them. This is your uniqueness speaking to them.
- Build your site in WordPress or some platform that you can easily maintain and that provides you with maximum customization capability. I strongly suggest that even if you are having someone maintain it for you that you learn the basics about maintaining it yourself so you can make quick changes and not have to depend on someone else (my just-in-case rule).
I am a Big WordPress fan myself … it has been around for years, is not disappearing tomorrow (which you may face into with other platforms) and is very flexible, expandable, easy to maintain and there are lots of resources, tutorials, web designers, etc. available to you to learn from and to help you along the way when you need it.
In addition WordPress is easy to use, there is a visual interface that allows you to see what you are creating as you go, search engines and social media love WordPress and it is built to connect with them and last, but by no means least, you have complete control.
There are template companies such as Heavybubble.com, otherpeoplepixels.com and faso.com that are geared specifically to artists and others such as wix.com, squarespace.com and weebly.com that are more general but have a lot more options in terms of look and feel and SM connections, etc.
I personally just prefer complete control and having my own domain (vs. having someone else’s name embedded in my URL (i.e. http://faso.com/artists/yourname.html) If you decide to go down this path then get feedback from other artists who have used them so you can find out any pitfalls and avoid them up front.
- Avoid, if possible, free webhosting. It screams unprofessional and is usually loaded with really annoying ads that have people fly away from your site. Not only that but YOU want to have control over your site. Get your own domain name and have it hosted.
The cost of these things have come down to very affordable levels (i.e a domain can be purchased for $15 a year or lower and hosting is available for $5.95 US a month or lower) and it is worth it.Make sure you find a hosting company that supports the website platform you choose like WordPress and it should have instruction on how to get started. WordPress makes hosting recommendations on their website also.
I can personally vouch for Dreamhost and Bluehost for WordPress sites.I suggest that for your domain you choose a .com as it is still easier for people to remember. Using your own name is an easy way to go and, after all, your name is your brand … you want people to be able to find it! If you name is taken then just use your creativity to modify it like JohnSmithStudio.com.
- Have an exciting and visual home page. This page is the page that will both draw people in and have them want to see more OR have them click on to another website that will provide them with what they want. We are Artists … people want to see our Art … not read a bunch of endless text (Notice I did not say no text … there are appropriate places like in blogs, etc. … just not endless text). Put your best images on your home page.
- Keep all of your pages consistent looking. Keep the look and feel and the elements of the pages consistent throughout the site. Balance photos throughout all your pages so your viewers get their visual instant gratification.
- Pay attention to text formatting. Formatting is important. Break up text with short paragraphs, bold words, utilize different fonts (avoid too many fonts however and do not underline as it is usually an indication of a link to another page so it will confuse people)… this will keep people’s eyes from from glassing over (people have a short attention span in general).
Keep text on high traffic pages to blocks of 300 – 400 words and give your viewers the ability to see more with a Read More link to another page vs. streaming everything on one page.
- Provide compelling content. Don’t just include text for the sake of filling space. Think it out and provide something of value to your viewers every time you include text.
- Have a clean, simple navigation bar. Keep it down to 5 – 6 items … have it fit on one line if you place it at the top. If you need to have subcategories then create drop down menus off the main menu items vs. trying to fit it all on the main menu. Create easy to understand item names on your menu.
Although the temptation is to be esoteric and clever if people have to play guessing games to find things then they will move on.Keep your navigation consistent on every page so your viewers don’t have to look for it. Always provide a way back to the Home page from every page (yes, it goes on the menu). If you have a logo or your name is your logo then also have that go to the Home page.
- Use great images. You are an Artist … I bet your work is fabulous … make sure it looks that way on your website. There is nothing worse than blurred, out of focus or amateur looking photos on your website. It downgrades you immediately. Do whatever it takes to get clean, crisp images of your work.
- Do not put too many images on your Gallery or Portfolio pages. Split them up. Too many images on a page makes the page slow to download and not everyone has lightening fast internet even today.
- Do not put enormous photos on your main pages. Here again we are talking about having your pages load fast. On the Gallery/Portfolio pages use thumbnails that are large enough to actually see (use the whole image not cropped pieces of an image). Keep them 72 dpi and try not to have images over 540 pixels in any direction, and between 100 – 250K if you can.
Provide people with a way to enlarge them if they want to see bigger images or more details. That way those who want more to see more can easily do that also. When they get to an enlarged image have the ability for them to go to “Next” or “Previous” so they can keep looking at that size vs. having to go back to the thumbnail page each time.
- If you want to sell your work on-line then SELL IT. If you do not have consistent long-standing gallery representation or an exclusively contract and you want to sell your art then price every piece on your site or groups them into pricing groups or provide a link to a price sheet at least. No one will come chasing you down to find out details or a price. Put descriptions (size, medium, etc.) and prices on the work you have for sale. Take the guesswork out of it.
If your work is in a price range that can sell on-line (judge for yourself, but work above a couple thousand dollars probably doesn’t fit in this category and therefore you need to consider selling prints if you want to sell on-line) then make sure you have a shopping cart where it is FAST and EASY for them to purchase at the moment they want to (2 AM as the impulse strikes them). Give clear buying instructions. Give clear shipping information. Make it EASY.
Obviously if you have consistent gallery representation then you need to state that in lieu of having prices (and then make sure you list the gallery or galleries you have contracts with so they can go there to purchase your work).
- Do not mix your sold work with your work for sale. Contrary to popular belief this does not inspire people to buy. It makes people feel like they missed the best works and that all is left is the crumbs. If you choose to display sold work then put in in a separate category like “Work in Collections”. There you can also note any prizes in exhibits, etc.
- Make sure your Art is organized. Can a first time visitor find what they want fast and easily? Can people find your work by sorting in different ways (size, price, medium, predominate colors, themes, etc.)? If you have different groups of work display them separately. Here again you need to think like someone who just happened on your site and has no idea what you have to offer. If you throw everything onto an endless gallery page they will become overwhelmed and bounce out of it very fast vs. continue to look for what they want.
- Keep your Art current. No one needs to see every piece you ever made like experimental work or old student work, etc. If work from your past has become irrelevant to what you are currently producing then consider putting it in another category like “Earlier Work” but do not display it with your current work. Add new work often. Keep the work fresh. You might even want to have a category for Latest Work. Bottom line: Curate your work.
- Keep the background plain and simple, particularly on your Gallery or Portfolio pages. Galleries normally have white walls for a reason. You don’t want anything that will distract from the main feature … YOUR ART. I suggest a muted light background and dark text for best visibility to the largest amount of people with various visual conditions. I also suggest a fairly limited pallet of colors for headers, sub-headers and links … you can be creative but don’t let you go too far … it has people swirl around and get de-focused.
- Make sure people can contact you. This is in addition to a contact form. Clearly put your email address, geographical location, and phone number at least (if you really want them to contact you then give them options) … and make sure it is easy to find from the header and/or the footer. Be accessible.
Also have a simple contact form for those who prefer to go that route. Having a contact form alone is not enough however – people sometimes get suspicious of them (who does this go to, anyhow?).
- Add an FAQ page to address commonly asked questions. This allows people to find information they want to know about things such as approval process (allowing people to return on viewing if it doesn’t look like they thought it would), shipping, delivery times, special requests, framing, doing commissions, returns, refunds, insurance, etc. If you answer their questions they will be more likely to buy what you are selling.
- Make sure you site looks great everywhere. Test it on various browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Also make sure it is Mobile Friendly (Responsive). It is just a fact that people will be looking at your site from their phones and their tablets as well as large screens and small screens on desktops and laptops.
- Find a way to build an email list from your website. Does this include you doing something a little extra? You bet it does. Offer something: updates on your work and exhibits, a newsletter, etc. Give a little something of value and you will receive a list of interested people who you can stay in communication with. You don’t have to go crazy here … people don’t want a ton of extra email … keep it simple, i.e. a once a month update.
An opt-in form will do this for you. Make sure it stands out – do not bury it on some back page.I recommend that you have an opt-in form on your home page and any other key pages. You can even put it on a side menu that appears on all pages.
For very little money a month you can sign up for AWeber or Mailchimp or some service that collects the emails and names, sends out email verification emails for you and that you can even utilize for newsletters or update emails. Remember your list is the key to communicating with your future clients so it is worth it.
- Link Your Website to Social Media. Make it easy for people to find you on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, BeBee or any social media platforms you utilize. These icons and links usually appear on headers, footers or sidebars. This enables people to easily click and find you, like you, connect with you and follow you.
As a side note: Also make sure you provide easy to find links from all of your SM back to your website because your Website is the only thing you can fully control and ultimately you want to drive traffic there.
- Do the work to make sure your site is searchable. Yes, this is the dreaded Search Engine Optimization (SEO) topic. There are lots of great articles written on this and you can always find someone else to do it for you but learn at least the basics (like having page titles that have keywords in them) so that people can find your website vs. it being an oasis in the desert.
- Don’t annoy people. The fastest way to get people to leave your site is to force them to join something to see your work or to have pop-up windows that they cannot obviously and/or immediately close. Also avoid lots of clutter with animations and tons of moving visuals that may slow down your site and look great the first time then become annoying if the viewer comes back again. Do not disable your back button (it is like holding people hostage and they will bail off the site fast). Please, no involuntary audio.
- Please avoid “under construction” pages. Wait until you have the site done before you link to your website. WordPress, and some other platforms, will provide you with a way to publish things in Draft mode so you can work on it while it is invisible to the public. It is really a waste time clicking to a website that isn’t there.
- Make sure your links work. It is not only frustrating to the viewer but your risk losing search engine attention. Open all your external links in a new window. This keeps your site on the viewer’s desktop so they don’t lose you and go wandering off somewhere else.
Here are my recommended sections for your website (of course you can name them whatever you want but remember to make them easy to understand):
- About Me (You can include a dropdown Menu with Biography/Resume/CV & Artist Statement if you want to have separate pages for those or include them on the same page or as a link from the About me page).
For the About Me page really talk about you. Take the time to get a great photo of you for this page. People DO want to see you and “know” you. Artists are mysterious to most people. They want to know you are human.
Your Resume/Biography/CV is your Summary of experience, education, awards and honors. I would make sure that I also have a PDF version of this available so that people can download it if they need it (Galleries, etc.). This is really important if you are using your site strictly as a portfolio site.
Your Artist Statement should be clean, clear and (what does your work mean for you and why do you create).
- Gallery or Portfolio – This would have photos of your art, descriptions, etc. and, if you are selling your art from your website, prices and ability to buy (hook your images up to a shopping cart).
You can include images, videos (if you are a performance artist, etc.) or audios (if you are a musician, etc.). For images utilize .JPG (most acceptable), .GIF or .PNG. For Videos use a 3rd party server (like YouTube or Vimeo) so that you can get more visibility. For audios these should be MP3 or MP4ss.
- Representation, Media & Press – Detail any Galleries, individuals and firms that represent your work + any news of interest (Any upcoming Gallery openings, Exhibits, Art shows, etc.) and/or media coverage about your work. Make sure any you place any upcoming events/places they can find your art at the top so they can find it quickly.
You can also, from this page put a link to your electronic press kit (EPK), which is the online package you send to agents, press and other influencers in order to obtain interviews, showings and be shared in the industry.
- Blog – Blogs are great to help drive traffic to your website. They also provide a way to connect you to your viewers. Speak in first person here. Share about you, your process and answer what people what to know about you. People are really interested in you as an artist … What you think, how you work, etc. There are some great articles you can Google on topics for artist’s blogs.
- FAQ – Answer all of those commonly asked questions. This saves you a lot of time and gives your viewers and potential clients answers on the spot. See above for suggestions about things to include here.
- Contact Me – Make this an actual page vs. having the Contact Me menu item just open up an email.
There is a lot that I cannot begin to cover in this blog article like details about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Social Media Integration or site tracking (such as Google Analytics). However, there are really informative articles written on these specific topics that you can search for and find and if you have the money you can find a pro to do it for you.
If you have a Fabulous site then all of these things will be valuable next steps. Without a great website none of these will make that much of a difference to you, as no matter how many people you get there you risk losing them when they arrive.
We are no longer locked into having to be represented in a Gallery or by an agent. We have the ability to connect with the masses. It is like your studio on-line available to millions of people (only it is open 24 hours a day and no one ever has to see your mess 🙂 ). Your website, if designed well and used well, can have your work discovered, shared, “pinned”, “followed” and “liked” by lots of people in a very short amount of time. Any of those people may be you next client, collector and/or fan.
Your website is an investment in yourself as an Artist and in your Art. There is amazing power in a well done website. I encourage you to take at look at yours for any upgrades you may need or if you don’t have one to get busy creating one ASAP.
I want you to shine out in the world!!
I welcome, as always, any feedback you may have and any suggestions you may have for me/us about websites. There is always something new to learn and we all are in this together so please feel free to share with me/us!