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  • Successful Art and Artist Websites

    Do's and Don'ts

    How to Build a Website that Works

    Related article: How to Increase Your Website Traffic
    Related article: Website Tips for Artists

    The mantra for a successful art or artist website has been and continues to be "Keep it fast, simple, easy, and organized." Navigation and content must be straightforward in order to attract visitors in the first place and keep them on the site once they get there. First-time visitors to any artist website should know as quickly as possible where they are, who the artist is, what his or her art looks like, what that art is about, why the art is worth seeing (and hopefully worth buying), and how to move around in order to get wherever they want to go. Sites that lack these basics or make other common errors won't be able to attract and hold visitors, and will likely end up lost in the vast morass of nonfunctional and confusing art websites that overpopulate the Internet. So in the interest of better artist websites everywhere, here's a list of what to do and what to avoid in order to assure yourself maximum visibility and an effective web presence online:

    Get your own domain and avoid free web hosting services. Free web hosting is never free and it's always lame. "Free" websites torture visitors with all kinds of distracting advertisements and other obtrusive graphics. At worst, maybe half of the screen shows your art while the other half, controlled by the host site, looks like a circus. Your art is in direct competition with all kinds of commercial crap and hardly any art looks good under those circumstances. Furthermore, free sites give the impression that either you can't afford your own website or domain name or worse yet, that you don't care enough about your art to bother making it look good online. The good news is that basic websites with good functionality hardly cost anything these days.

    Don't use third-party advertising on your sites, especially for goods or services unrelated to your art. Sure, you may make a little pocket change from click-throughs, but any advertising is distracting and your art will suffer for it.

    Be sure your website looks the same on Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. The same website can look great on one browser and terrible on another, or worse yet, work on one browser but be completely nonfunctional on another. Test yours on all major browsers before going public.

    Link your website to all of your social networking pages (and vice versa) so that visitors can move between them with as little effort as possible. Social networking websites have evolved into one of the best ways for driving traffic to your website, and they're only getting better. Your website is all about your art; social networking sites are more about you as a person. The two work exceptionally well together.

    Present yourself and your art so that anyone can understand what you're up to. People who already know you or who are familiar with your art will navigate your pages to get to wherever they want to go. So they're all taken care of. It's the complete strangers who you should be most concerned about-- those who land on your site by chance, accident or happenstance. The Internet is all about broadening your fan base, so when someone lands on your website who knows absolutely nothing about you or your art, you want to do your absolute best to keep them there.

    Make your site easy to navigate. Some website formats are far too confusing, have dead-end pages, or have gallery sections that seem more like medieval mazes. Visitors get lost, and lost visitors mean lost sales. Make sure every page on your site is linked back to major pages like your homepage, bio, resume, contact information page, purchasing information and your image gallery main page or pages.

    Keep texts to a minimum. This includes your statement, bio, explanations of mediums or techniques, and so on. Use too many words to inform visitors about yourself or your art and you'll bore them right off your site. Quick concise introductions and descriptions are best; anything over 300-400 words gets tedious (unless there's a strong cognitive component to your art). If you want to provide detailed information about either yourself or your art, link to pages where people can read more rather than placing boatloads of text on high-traffic areas like your homepage. People who want to know more will click over to the text pages; those who don't won't get slowed down by oceans of verbiage. Remember-- people visit your website to see your art, not to read your life story.

    Think seriously about accompanying each series or body of your work with its own explanation or introduction. Again, keep the content brief-- perhaps two or three paragraphs at the most. Briefly explaining or elaborating on your art deepens people's understanding and experience of the work. Keep in mind that Google and other search engines cannot search images, but they can search text. Providing textual explanations of your art, either accompanying groups of similar works or even of individual pieces, increases the chances that they'll come up in searches and may be clicked over to.

    Keep image sizes reasonable. Large detailed images of your art may look great as they download over high-speed connections, but remember that many people still have slower connections. Long downloads frustrate visitors and force them off your site, so use images no larger than 100K-200K, preferably smaller. Photoshop and similar digital imaging programs have formatting options to reduce image sizes for websites or emails without significantly compromising quality. Learn how to use them.

    NEVER require visitors to join, register, get passwords, or fill out any forms of any kind in order to see your website. Forcing people to identify themselves before they can see your art is a horrible idea. Imagine if people had to show their driver's licenses or other types of personal identification in order to visit bricks-and-mortar galleries or artist studios. If it doesn't happen in real life, it shouldn't happen online.

    Don't overuse "cookies" (small files that attach to visitors' computer hard drives, track their movements around your site, and collect personal data). The worst offenders are websites that refuse to let you in unless you allow them to set cookies in your computer (I have my cookie options set to notify me when this happens, and rarely stay on these sites). Certain types of cookies are intrusive at least and an invasion of privacy at most. However, cookies are occasionally necessary when filling out certain forms, when buying art using "shopping cart" services, or for purposes like tracking visitors around your website to see which pages they visit the most. Again, when people want to contact you, they will. Don't overdo efforts to extract information out of them.

    Avoid plug-ins, special effects, audio, complex visuals, and other gimmicks that have nothing to do with your art. These often take a long time to load, require special software or, at worst, crash visitors' computers. Unless your website is designed to be a work of art or a performance piece in and of itself, and exists primarily for entertainment purposes, avoid the fancy stuff. Web designers may push for special effects, but when you get right down to it, they're totally unnecessary, counterproductive to your ends, and mainly about those designers showing off their technical skills rather than you effectively presenting your art. Remember-- people visit your website to see your art and see it fast, not to sit through your web designer's masturbatory fantasies.

    Provide adequate contact information. The more you tell people about yourself such as your studio address, cell phone number, email address, or other details, the more accessible you appear. Don't give potential buyers the impression that you're hard to communicate with by showing nothing or just your email address, and not even telling them where you live. Some artist websites provide absolutely no contact information whatsoever, but rather have these awful feedback or comments forms that you fill out and submit. People who fill them out have no idea where they go, who gets them, if they even go anywhere or whether they'll ever get replies. The questions that always go through my mind on these sites are, "What is this artist trying to hide?" or "Why are they making themselves so inaccessible?" The overwhelming majority of people who buy contemporary art appreciate a sense of who they're buying it from, so don't be a stranger; anonymity is not a selling point.

    If you have no consistent long-term gallery representation, price every piece of art on your website for sale assuming you have no conflicts with galleries or others who periodically represent or sell your art. If you have representation, discuss options and preferences with them regarding wether or not to put prices on your website; if they don't want prices, don't price. For the rest of you, not pricing your art on-site, but rather asking people to email or otherwise contact you for prices, is always a big mistake. You'll lose potential sales if you do this. As in real life, many people prefer to shop for art quietly by themselves, decide whether they can afford it, and then make contact. People are reluctant to ask prices for a number of reasons-- they think that doing so will obligate them in some way, that they'll get a hard sell, that they'll get a barrage of emails, that they'll be embarrassed if they find out the art costs more than they can afford, that artists will quote as high a price as possible just to see how much they can sell it for, and so on. When you're out shopping, do you like having to ask how much something costs or do you prefer to see the price in advance? Do unto others...

    Be able to justify or explain your selling prices when someone asks. Everyone likes to feel that they're spending their money wisely-- especially these days-- so either provide basic information about your price structure on site, or be prepared to field questions about value when people call or email you. People who don't understand how you set your prices or why they're as high or as low as they are far more reluctant to buy than people who do understand.

    Offer approval, return, and refund policies. Online art shoppers may want to see art on approval first and be able to return it for complete refunds (less shipping costs) if it doesn't look like they thought it did when they saw it online. No approval, return, and refund policies mean fewer, if any, sales. The more willing you are to work with buyers, the greater your chances of selling art.

    Provide clear concise instructions on how to buy. Tell people what payment options you accept (accept as many as possible), how you pack, how you ship, how long they have to view the art on approval, and so on. The more professional you appear, the more comfortable people feel about buying from you.

    Offer art in a variety of price ranges. Online shoppers tend to be conservative, tend to start out by buying less expensive pieces from artists they're not already familiar with or who they don't already know, and will likely get discouraged if every piece they see costs thousands of dollars or more. This is especially true of people who happen upon your site for the first time-- and impressing first-timers is critical to your online success as an artist. So make sure that pretty much anyone who likes your art enough has a chance to buy something regardless of his or her budget.

    Don't show too much sold art. Some artists think that showing numerous sold works of art will make them look good, incite some kind of buying frenzy, or give people the impression that they better buy now "before it's too late"-- but the effect is often the opposite. Potential buyers instead think that the best pieces are already sold and all that's left are the crumbs. They get frustrated when a selection is too limited or when all the "good stuff" is gone. It's kind of like going to a garage sale at the end of the day.

    Show sold works in a section titled "Select Past Works" or something similar. Here you show the best of the best-- art that's won prizes or been exhibited in prestigious shows, art that's in respected private or institutional collections, art that's been covered in reviews or pictured on websites or in hard-copy publications, and so on. Discreetly using past works in this way speaks to your credibility as an artist.

    Don't show every work of art you've ever created. We do not need to see experimental pieces, one-offs that you don't intend to follow up on with additional related works, older pieces that have little or no bearing on what you're doing now, or the first drawing you ever made for Mommy. Too much art and too much variety is confusing to visitors because they can't get a sense of who you are or what your art represents or is intended to signify or communicate. Remember-- people rarely buy from artists who they can't get a sense of, or buy art that they can't understand.

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