Step Two: Building a digital audience
Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Step Two: Own your digital identity and select a platform to showcase your work.
Last week, in Step One, I gave some tips for articulating your identity and brand for an online presence. This week I want to talk about creating a place to professionally display your beautiful artwork so it can be easily discovered.
Own your digital identity
Before you begin displaying your work, take the time to select the right name for your website and social media platforms. Your name should be consistent in all places.
Buy a domain name that reflects what you do. There are tons of online businesses that will sell you a domain name. Many hosted websites, like the ones I mention below, will sell or include a domain name with your website hosting service. Sometimes I'll start browsing for names on GoDaddy.com. You can decide later if you want to purchase the name on GoDaddy or use the hosting service you end up selecting. (I do not recommend that artists use the web hosting services offered by GoDaddy.) Tips on picking a domain name. Try to buy your exact name. If your exact name, (or your business name), is not available or is really awkward to type into a browser you might want to consider buying an additional easier to use domain name that reflects what your work is about. (You can point more than one domain name to your website.) Make sure your domain name reflects what you do, is easy to say, spell and search. Some words in domain names perform better in searches than others. If you are trying to reach a local audience, for example, you may want to put your location in your domain name. (nameofyourcityart.com) You can use Google Trends to see how popular a word is when people are searching and determine if it is a good one for your domain name.
Decide what social media site(s) you want to start using first. You don't have to do everything at once. I'm an advocate of using one or two platforms really well rather than trying to put content on a bunch at once. I think I can reach the most art gallery customers on Facebook so that's where I started. Once I had a good handle on my Facebook Page I opened an Instagram account. (If I was doing a page as an individual artist I probably would have started with Instagram.) Once you know what platforms you are starting with you should create accounts and set them up with names that are closely related to your domain name, if not the same. (It's a good idea to sign up for other social media accounts you think you might use at a later date so you can claim your names all at the same time. Just set your user names and passwords aside and you can pick back up at a later date and no one else will scoop them up in the meantime.)
Use only the best possible photos of your work.
You are a professional and you need to always look the part! There are no social media and web development tips or tricks that will get you very far if you don't have beautiful and professional representations of your artwork. You can take nice photos using your own camera or phone. Here are a few links that will have you shooting and editing beautiful photos in no time. • Photographing your work with a camera • Photographing your work with a phone • Do you have smaller 3-dimensional pieces? Try making your own light box to shoot in.
Editing your photos. It's getting easier and easier to edit photos on your phone, but if you need more accurate resizing, retouching or you want to add a graphic element you may need to use a desktop editor. I use Adobe Photoshop which costs about $10.79 a month. A really good free alternative is GIMP. (A little side note: Do you want to make memes with your artwork? Canva.com is a great free platform to use!)
Selecting a platform to display your work and attract an audience.
There are TONS of options when building a digital presence. There are many low-cost, easy to use options that will work for an artist. I like to say that my website is my "home base" or centralized source for all of my digital information. If I am posting news, updates, or new work for sale out on social media, email or print, you will almost always be able to find the same information on my website.
Websites are always a work in progress. You can start with a site as small as one page and build it up over time. If you don't think you are ready to create a website it's alright to get started with a social media platform as your home base. (I recommend a Facebook Page) That gives you more time to build your website.
Before you dive into all of the website options out there, ask yourself two questions.
What do you want to accomplish with your website this year?
What do you want to accomplish with your website in the next 2-5 years?
Whatever platform and design you pick needs to satisfy your current needs and should also be able to scale up to meet possible future requirements. (Most platforms have different pricing tiers for added features - like a store, marketing capabilities or event signups.)
Here are a few low-cost, easy to use website services to explore:
Wix.com I'm using Wix for the art gallery site. Wix gives you a step-by-step guide when you are setting up a site and becomes intuitive really quickly. The drag and drop interface and free templates are pretty easy to use. They also have different price plans for different needs and offer SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and email services. (The store/shopping cart is easy to use too.)
Squarespace.com I've used SquareSpace for past versions of my personal art website. Squarespace has recently made some interface updates that are really nice. Many artists prefer the Squarespace templates and think they are easy to use. Here is a really good comparison of the Wix and SquareSpace platforms. https://www.sitebuilderreport.com/wix-vs-squarespace
Square.com + Weebly Many artists, including myself, use Square for all of their in-person sales. Square recently bought the Weebly web hosting service to give users one integrated space for all of their transactions. If you want to sell your work on your website and in person, (perhaps at art festivals), this option is worth checking out.
A few tips on picking a template
KEEP IT SIMPLE! Your website really only needs to be good at three things when you start out. a. Display your artwork. b. Tell people who you are and how to contact you. c. Give them a way to stay connected. Good ways to stay connected include an email sign-up, links to social media and a list of upcoming events where they can see you in person.
Find a clean and simple website template that will meet your needs without feeling like you have to make changes and completely redesign it. (Make sure it looks nice in a mobile version also.) Someone already spent a lot of time on that template for you! The less time you spend trying to redesign a template or create one from scratch, the more time you have to take beautiful photos and focus on great copy.
Your site should have a header that is the same on each page. It should include your name/logo and a menu that links to the other pages. Keep the menu simple and drop downs to a minimum. You shouldn't need too many website pages to get started. Common pages include a Home Page, an About Page with bio and CV information. A gallery Page. (You may need to make subsets of your gallery page if you have a large, diverse body of work) and a Shopping Page/Shopping Cart Link if you are selling. (Your gallery page and shopping page may also be one in the same - sometimes that's even more concise and easier for the visitor. ) The body of your website should have a nice photo or slideshow of your work and a call to action that clearly tells people what you want them to do once they arrive at your site. (Call to action might be "View Gallery" or "Browse new works". The footer of your site should be the same on each page and include contact information, email signup and social media links. Address and hours of operation should be included if that applies.
This should cover many of the basics for setting up your website and claiming your social media accounts.
I hope some of my fellow artists have found this information helpful. If anything above is still making your head spin you can send me a question at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to help you work through it.
In my next post I'll talk about some of the basics of search engine optimization (seo) to help your site rank higher in web searches.