Many artists don’t have the time or the inclination to put together a decent Web site, but a well-organized site is perhaps one of the best marketing tools you can have. The following comment is representative of many artists’ feelings:
If my frustration (read hysteria LOL) is showing…sorry…I thought I
was close to getting a site up by registering, then hosting my domain,
but am CLUELESS as to what comes next. In desperation for a place to
point people, I put a “shop” up on eBay, but would like a site where
people can pick an image, choose size, mounting, finishes,
etc..probably asking too much at this point. As a starving artist
trying to get a million things together for my first art fair I
already feel frazzled but it seems counterproductive NOT to be able to
point people to a website at the same time….it should look decent tho’.
Has anyone got an opinion on adding PayPal to a site?? So many
questions, so little time :o)
Your best solution is to break it down into manageable parts.You probably won’t get to the point where you have a site where folks can choose as many variables as you suggest and add to a cart, without much learning and experimentation. Most hosting companies offer simple site builders, but they aren’t great, for a number of reasons. Design flexibility in the templates, number of pages you can reasonably build and manage, features like a gallery or shopping cart — these are all limited by site building engines, by design.
So, break the project down into phases.
Start with a basic, “this is who I am” site. The key elements might be your artist’s statement, a little about how you got to where you are, how to get in contact with you and a few static images of your work.
GoDaddy’s “Website Tonight” will get you there quickly as will most template style web builders, but its main limitation is that you pay a lot for a few pages. This isn’t a very sustainable model, but it will teach you a little about site building, and it will get some content online quickly. You could also use this to link to photo albums on Flickr!, Photobucket or an eBay store, although you are then really building 2 sites, using two different interfaces on two different hosts. It’s usually better to keep your visitors on one site if you can.
Both of these methods will get you online quickly and allow you put some information online without knowing a lot of code. Keep it simple, keep it consistent.
Shopping carts are tougher. The easiest way to add commerce for a few items is with a PayPal shopping cart. You don’t need a merchant account or a gateway — PayPal handles all the heavy lifting. And the best thing is that it’s free. You do need to sign up for a business account to use the shopping cart feature. The downside to this is that you do need to know a little code, but not much. Paypal has button generators on their site which will let you paste the code into any site’s HTML. WebAssist also offers a free button building plug-in that works well with Dreamweaver to generate the basic code, which you can then customize. Bigger commerce sections may require a full-on shopping cart. I’ve done a lot of research on carts, and finally came to the conclusion that most of them don’t work well for artists — they are designed for mass merchandising, not one-offs. You may find that it’s simpler not to add buying functions at all, but feature your studio phone number prominently. That lets your customers call you to discuss their needs personally. Unless you’re selling many items a day, that may be more effective in the long run.
Galleries are another thing that can be tough to build from scratch. You can use an online service such as smugmug or photobucket to host them, you can use Lightroom or Aperture to build them and upload them to your site, or you can use any number of open-source applications to build them, such as JAlbum or Slideshow Pro (uses Flash).
But, before you start building anything…
There are several things that are important to consider in building sites, none of which are directly related to the software you use to build it. You can start on paper, and then figure out exactly how to go about making it.
First, and most important, is a list of software requirements — what you want the site to DO and SAY. Start by making a list of everything you can think of that you want on the site, now, and in the future. Then categorize each item in the list as important, nice to have or unimportant. Go back again and prioritize the list — are the important items the ones that you and your audience simply must have? If so, that gives you a starting point for the next step, the user interface.
Take your list and break it down into groups, by content — examples of your work and the artist statement might go together in a “who” section, your show schedule and gallery openings might be in a section on “when”, and so forth. Organize it so that it will make sense to someone who doesn’t know you. Again, you can use paper — an outline (called a site map) or post-it notes that you can push around on a table work well. Write each page name and the content the page contains, on a separate post-it (summarize!), put the category headings at the top, and the less important pages below, as if you were clicking through to each page. Modeling a site in this way can help you visualize it more easily.
Once armed with your list and a diagram of how you want the site organized, you will have a better idea of what you want and what you need. The key thing is to try to plan ahead for those things that are nice to have, but you don’t have the time or patience to implement now. Planning for them now will help later when you do get around to building those features into the site. The requirements will also help you to determine what software you may need to add to the site — there are scripts and applications to do just about anything you might want to do.
No matter what you decide to build, it will involve a learning curve. If you’ve never done it before, it is daunting. Books or online resources can help. Here are a few:
http://www.csszengarden.com — Free, and highly recommended if you want to learn CSS. Buy the book, too
https://www.wpbeginner — An excellent guide to Word Press
http://www.wpdfd.com — Web Page Design for Designers
http://www.veen.com/jeff — Jeffrey Veen’s site
Project Seven — widgets, and menu-driven interface plug-ins for Dreamweaver.
Jakob Neilsen — Mr. Usability, simple, yet effective. Some say too simple.
http://lynda.com — Subscription based, but still one of the best teaching tools. $25 monthly.