The Art of the Business, Part 5: Staking out your Spot on the Web

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring, through the column, ways to market yourself in more detail. This month’s column focuses on what is probably the most essential, the most indispensable marketing tool: the website.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you: if you are trying to sell a product or a service, you need a website. It’s that simple. This month, I go in a slightly different direction and enlist the help of an expert, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I will also provide a list of resource URLs at the end of the article.

First of all, getting a URL (Uniform Resource Locater), which is your address on the web (ie: www.titaniaproductions.com) is easy enough to do. There are tons of companies on the web who can sell you one. Probably your best bet for a URL is to use your name, if you can, or your companies’ name, or some abbreviation of either of those. Keep it simple. URLs have to be entered exactly right, there’s no margin for error, so the simpler it is to spell, the better results you will have with people finding your site. Also, if possible, ALWAYS go for the .com extension. Get a .ca as a second choice, but try to avoid, at all costs, .biz, .net, etc if you can. Most people are so used to typing .com, it is almost a default.

Quite honestly, I get over my head pretty quickly with this technical stuff, so I enlisted the help of an expert.

David Rankin is a Usability Consultant and an instructor in the Interactive Design Program at Capilano College, and also an (amazing) Jazz singer and guitarist, so I asked him a bunch of questions about building an artist’s website.

David Rankin as his alter-ego, jazz singer Artie Devlin

TAotB: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when designing a website?

DR: Design to meet the needs of your audience. In order to be successful, your site needs to be driven by your audience’s needs and not by your own preconceptions of their needs. This approach, called User-Centred Design, will help users find the information they are looking for on your site more easily, enjoy the experience of browsing your site and (if you keep your content current) will keep them coming back for more.

You can start by observing individuals who represent your target audience, using your site. Take notes. Ask questions. Encourage them to give you feedback as to what works or doesn’t work for them. Let them know the intention of this exercise is to make the site better and your feelings won’t be hurt if there are aspects of your site they don’t like or think could be improved.

Videotape the session if need be. Ideally, this process would begin even before building your website, using early hand-drawn prototypes and/or testing your competitors sites. Focus groups work really well too. Bring in a few representative users and have a discussion as to what they require from your website. Often people are more than willing to do this for a small stipend or for that magical combination – free beer and pizza. I assure you, you will learn a ton by going through this process and will come to understand the needs of your audience more completely. Once you have gathered their feedback, you can then go about the process of redesigning your site to better suit the needs of the people who really matter – your target audience.

TAotB: What kind of information would you include on a website intended to market an artist or arts organization?

Many artist websites would include some or all of the following:

• a short Biography of the artist
Photos of the artist’s work or performances, with thumbnails
• A Media page if there is audio/video content
• Reviews or Testimonials from clients
• A News section that highlights the most current information about the artist or organization that may be of interest to their audience (performances, openings, awards etc). Maximize the impact of a News section by having it on the homepage
• A Contact page so interested parties can get in touch via email, and optionally snail mail or phone. Organizations may also want to include a map of how to get to their actual physical location. Google Maps is great for that
• A Webmaster link to help users report any problems they may be experiencing with the site
• And a Homepage of course!

Some artists also include a Press Kit section containing downloadable high resolution photos, press releases, concert riders etc. You may also want to include a forum or blog on your site. These are good for keeping in touch with your fans and colleagues, but can be quite time-consuming to moderate and maintain.

If you are an organization, your site should always contain a Mission Statement that briefly describes to your visitors the purpose of your organization. Your mission statement should be short–a paragraph or two maximum. They provide context for the rest of the site, so I would recommend putting them on your homepage . By not having a Mission Statement or having it buried somewhere deep in your site you run the risk of confusing and alienating your audience.

TAotB: Do you know of any really successful artists’ website that you can recommend we look at?

Yes. I think Madeleine Peyroux’s website is rather well designed and elegant. Lot’s of negative space in terms of the visual design – yet tons of content that is very well organized.

TAotB: Should you get someone to build your site for you, or is it worth it to try doing it yourself?

DR: I would recommend hiring an experienced Web Designer to create your site. For most of you out there, your website will be your primary tool for marketing your services and as such, you should budget for it accordingly. If this isn’t an option for you, you could approach some of the local colleges and universities web design programs to see if their students may be interested in taking you on as a project. If you have the time and inclination to design your own website, I would suggest you do some research first. There are many excellent websites, free online tutorials and books on all aspects of web design. Whether you choose to hire an Web Designer or choose to build it yourself, always design to meet the needs of your audience and you will do just fine.

Thanks, Dave!

Click to find out more about the Interactive Design Program at Cap College.

So, until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

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Here are some URLs you might find useful to look at when thinking about designing your site:

ETSY: if you are selling a something you made yourself, ETSY is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade.

Doteasy: Sells URLs (just one of probably a million, but they are who I use, and I’ve been happy, so I thought I’d give them a plug).

Madeleine Wood: is a friend of mine, and an amazing painter. She is doing really well, and her excellent website has something to do with that.

Provost Pictures: is a company I have been working with for several years now, and we have just completed a complete overhaul of the site that I am quite proud of. This site also contains an example of a downloadable press kit. A big shout-out to Janet Baxter, who is our excellent webmaster, and also a photographer.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

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