As someone who is interested in helping Artists and Art Orgs manage their digital presence as a whole, and not just social media, websites are often at the forefront of my mind.
Whether it be helping a client build one; deciding what to put on one or advising them whether they even need one.
Websites are undoubtedly part of what makes us... oh so online.
But they can be tricky.
Especially if you're creating and managing one all alone. Which is of course the reality for many emerging visual artists, who perhaps don't have the means to hire a digital marketer, a designer or a content creator like me.
In this blog post, I'm going to assume two things:
1. You're an Artist who has already decided you want a website
2. You've decided you're going to build it yourself
Below I'll detail two routes into doing this.. because frankly I'd really only recommend these two.
disclaimer: (If you've come here, looking for a post outlining why you should or shouldn't have an Artist website, or advice about what should be on your website, then come back later - parts 2 and 3 are coming on that soon - so sign up to my newsletter in the meantime)
For now, I'll get into the logistics. Step One, so to say, of an Artist Website: How to build one.
There are two routes I'd go down when creating an Artist Website:
Creating a website with a content management system, specifically Wordpress.org (harder)
Using a Website Builder - such as Wix.com (easy peasy)
Let's get the hard part over with...
There's a reason why Wordpress is the most used content management system - in fact, it is estimated that 34% of all websites in the world run on it. It really is the best system for creating and maintaining a website, even if you were to higher a developer, I would still suggest they build it on Wordpress, because when it comes to handing over the site to you, having a popular content management system to rely on makes it a lot easier to edit and add to.
As an open source CMS, you can also guarantee that the system follows best coding practices because it will be maintained by lots of independent developers rather than being connected to a single company.
It is Free to build a website using Wordpress, but, you will still have to pay a yearly or monthly fee for website hosting and a domain in order for your website to be live.
To keep the details simple and concise here's a list of pros and cons for Wordpress:
Your website can really look however you'd like it to!
There are thousands (53k+) plugins available with Wordpress - these are like apps for your phone - they allow you to add new features to your site, such as commerce, product databases, interactive images, games etc
It is undoubtedly the best for SEO, which is really important for getting your website seen- most website builders (ahem...Squarespace) offer very little SEO integration
There are lots of themes you can use to guide your design
It will take longer to build a website, than with a drag and drop website builder like Wix
You'll probably have to watch a few tutorials to get the design that you want, and buy / download any specific fonts you want for your site
The Themes aren't always as attractive as those on website builders like Wix, Squarespace and Cargo
You'll also need to spend a bit of time researching hosting and domains providers - as it's important to get one that is a suitable price for you, but also offers the security you need to ward off hackers
If this is the path for you, I highly suggest reading this web page on Student Art Guide which offer a step by step for creating a Wordpress site, including setting up domain and hosting first. Their explanation also goes a long way in demystifying how hard it may be to design your site alone.
note: Wordpress.com is different to Wordpress.org , the former is more of a website builder allowing you to set up a free WordPress site, the latter is the one you need to customise a Wordpress website fully.
The easier path...
For many, designing and setting up a site using Wordpress can be a bit daunting, and you truly may not have the time or energy.
Which is why, website builders like Wix, Squarespace, Weebly etc. are so successful. They rely on making it as easy as possible to create an attractive looking website, and include hosting, and often domains, in their monthly or yearly pricing plans. Meaning you also don't have to research hosting and domain options.
Spoiler: I built my website using Wix
There are a lot of options out there but, its important not to think of these website builders too interchangeably, as they really do offer different features, different ways of working and have different limitations.
Having used Wix and Squarespace to design websites before, I can honestly say that Wix is the better of the two for Artists.
This is largely down to Wix's media library, which is a lot more intuitive and customisable than Squarespace's, allowing you to search, categorise and label all of the images and media files used throughout your site. Astonishingly, Squarespace severely lacks in offering a way to organise the content on your site, or move it to other pages without reuploading the files continuously.
It would seem to me, that having a database of the content on your website is very simple but can be super impactful for artists. Acting almost as a database or archive of their works. You can write in alt text, captions etc that can be carried or attached to these files wherever they appear on your site. Making it a lot easier for Search Engines like Google to determine the use and purpose of the images on your website, and rank them properly.
Equally, Wix is great at teaching you more about SEO and allowing you to take control of the tags and descriptions of your site pages. Much more so than Squarespace.
Not to mention, that like WordPress, Wix also lets you add plugins, by searching a huge database of apps, including premium SEO tools.
Finally, it is immensely easier to resize images and text with Wix - seriously, I don't know why Squarespace makes this unnecessarily awkward.
For conciseness and continutity, here is a list of Pros and Cons, for using a website builder and Wix specifically.
It will be a lot easier and quicker to create your website alone
Wix offers a great amount of Templates to get you started, but the design really is still as customisable as it gets
For a website builder, it offers an unprecedented amount of SEO tools
Easy payment plan that wraps up design, hosting and domain in a neat package (you can also get a Google Mailbox through Wix)
They even have a built in e-mail management system (like MailChimp) called Ascend
Great templates for artists, and customisable galleries, and image databases
You can design freely, the mobile view of your site (Squarespace pretty much automates mobile view)
If you're really serious about ranking high in google and getting thousands of direct or organic search traffic then the SEO tools may not be advanced enough
It can be more expensive than creating a free site with Wordpress, especially if you want to add on commerce features
Whilst they offer 'free plans', I don't recommend exploring this, as you do need your own domain, and Wix ads can be annoying
If you're thinking of using a website builder to make it easier and probably a more enjoyable process for yourself, then I highly recommend Wix as the way to go.
However, there are also a few GAME CHANGERS to keep in mind - as alternates to Wix...
Cargo is a site building platform that is specifically for designers and artists, and honestly, their websites are beautiful - arguably my favourite in terms of design. They easily have the best built-in fonts.
Like Wix, they offer templates to get you started, which you can customise as much or as little as you like. As a website builder, there is no obligation to have any previous technical knowledge, especially coding language.
You can begin building your site with Cargo for free, and only have to pay once you publish it - choosing one of their plans to do so. Their rates are simply put:
* Standard site upgrade: $99 per year or $13 per month.
*With Commerce: an additional $66 per year or $9 per month (with no transaction fees).
Cargo is definitely the next website builder on my list, and if I'd have known about it previously, I'd have probably explored building my own website there.
It's also worth considering Semplice - especially if you're not into paying a monthly subscription for your builder.
Semplice offers a 'pay once and its yours forever' pricing model. However, its important to note that the fee does not include website hosting, and much like building a website straight through Wordpress, you'd still have to pay for hosting and domains yearly/monthly.
Unfortunately there's no true 'pay once and its yours forever' in the world of websites.
What it does offer is a gateway to a Wordpress site, with a much friendly and intuitive user interface. Giving you all of the pros and features of a Wordpress website with a much easier approach to design and maintenance.
Packages are between $139 - $199 dollars for a single website.
Whatever you decide, if you have any questions about how to build a website alone, or perhaps you'd like to hire a consultant, like me, to guide you through the process - please reach out via my contact form or on my social media channels.
Good news.. this is merely Part 1 of a three-part series I'm writing on Artist Websites. Next time I'll be talking about why its important to have one.