Today more than ever, having a website is as essential as having a good press
kit. Think of it as one of your key venues -- a place where people go to check
you out, get the details on upcoming shows, buy stuff and hear your latest
material. It's a place for you to communicate directly with fans and industry
people worldwide. In short, it's one of the best tools for getting yourself
out there and conducting business. Well, that is if you do it properly and
equip yourself with the tools to effectively run your site once it is up.
Many factors make the difference between a site that is useless and ineffective and one that is successful. In fact, putting up a poor website, one that is out of date and looks like it was created as a third grade school project, is WORSE than having no site at all. Remember, people are experiencing YOU, and your site will affect what they think of you and your level of achievement.
It boils down to three key areas: design, features and maintenance. Here I'll focus on design and maintenance, those two being the most critical. The reason this is true is simple: it doesn't matter what features you have if your design makes the site unusable or if you never keep the thing up to date.
Different people will visit your site for different reasons at different times. Some may want to be entertained by your new video or song, but some may want to get the proper show time for the show that night and others may want to pick up your new CD. Others still may not have a high speed connection or a fast enough machine or the proper browser plug-in to view the animation and I guarantee those people will be annoyed rather than amused at flashy intros and heavy graphics. Some basic rules of thumb when producing a website, whether it's the first time or the tenth:
- Simple, clean designs always work best. You'd be amazed how effective a single photo, a few lines of text and white background can be. Also, be aware of something called 'page weight', which is the total file size of all your graphics and code for a given page. Heavy pages will give users problems and they'll leave if it takes too long to download. If your budget allows, hirer a professional designer. If not, you can still create a professional looking website using ASCAP Web Tools.
- Place the most important information upfront and center. Don't make people dig. Put your next show on the homepage, along with a link to buy your CD and sign up to your mailing list.*
- Straightforward navigation. Make buttons and labels very clear. 'Show calendar' works better than 'the spectacle'.
- Resist the 'black' temptation. We all know that black is many musicians' favorite color, but as a background it makes a site hard to read, so be careful when using this scheme.
- Resist the 'Flash' temptation. Sure it's sexy, sure it makes a site, well, 'flashy,' but improper use of Macromedia's Flash technology can make a site not only thin in terms of content, but unmanageable for updates and unuseable for users without plugins and high speed connections. Don't build the entire site with it, rather, use it sparingly for one or two key features and you'll get the sizzle you want without the headache.
- Be brief. As a rule, avoid long, scrolling sections of
content and text. Get to the point and be aware of what may end up being hidden
below the viewable area of the user's browser.
Maintenance Plan: Once you build it, you must manage it!
This is easily the most important logistical aspect of a successful site.
Unfortunately it's the most overlooked and leads to the demise of 95% of the
sites that fail. You must have a workable plan for who is going to update what
content, how often and by what means. A site that constantly has new information
and content going up not only keeps people coming back more often, it indicates
that your act is 'happening' and there's a buzz that a good website can create
all on its own. Conversely, if you're site has poor design, poor content and
doesn't ever change, it tells people you're “not happening.”
Make sure that you have direct login access to all the services that run your
website. This means your hosting provider, the domain registrar (where you
bought your domain), and any add-on services that tie in to your site, such
as third party services that sell your CD online or serve your MP3 files. If
you have a webmaster that helps you manage all these things, great, but be
sure that they hand you all the access codes. If your situation changes or
relations with your 'web dude' go south, you will very quickly want to change
those passwords and secure your online assets from any attack. Also, be sure
that you have access to all your digital content –-- photos, web pages,
scripts, video, audio or anything else that was used to create your site. You
should maintain copies of all files. If a webmaster refuses you access to any
of these things, fire them and get a new one, period.
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Your website is your business portal –-- a critical vehicle for your
career –-- and your hosting service is like the engine. Make sure your
host is a pro, not some part time hack and not your buddy. A good host provides
reasonable rates on all the basics such as bandwidth, file storage, email boxes,
etc. You should be able to get a good service for $20 or less per month.
However, what's more important is to know what kind of support package is
included and how good their support is. There are cheap hosts out there, but
just try to get someone to help you at 10pm on a Sunday night when you can't
get your site posted to the server. Ancillary to this, be sure to know that
the service is well established and not just a flash in the pan. There are
thousands of hosting businesses popping up all over the place and there will
be a great deal of shakeout and consolidation in the next two years because
of it, with the cheapest providers getting eaten up the quickest, so make
sure you know who you're hosting with.
The same applies for other service partners such as MP3 serving, web merchandising, online press kits, promotion and distribution services. Choose them wisely, remembering that they all will require upkeep to be truly valuable. When using additional services such as these, pay special attention to how they
will integrate with your existing website. This is important since you'll want to always draw users in through and back to your website, constantly concentrating eyeballs on you rather than sending users off your site to other places where service vendors may have other agendas for them.
If you will be the primary maintainer of the site, make sure you can do it while you're on the road as well as at home. For example, if you're on tour and something changes in the show schedule (I can't think of a time when that doesn't happen), how are you going to post that update to the tour schedule on your website so that your fans know? Better yet you might want to send an email out to people about it.
If there are others helping out, such as people taking photos or if your manager wants to post news and shows, you'll need to coordinate how they access the Web pages to update them as well as how they will submit the content. Many times people use a central resource (ie: webmaster, designer or service) to coordinate submission and posting. Ideally, there can only be one "keeper of the files," so that things like version control, file compatibility and quality assurance are properly managed. You may even want to use some form of automated system that will allow different people to post items securely to a central server which then updates only pertinent pieces of the site (more on this later).
If you have features such as a message board or online mailing list, you'll need someone to manage and moderate those features. The same follows for putting up an online store. Who will post new products, process orders and handle the inevitable customer support issues that come along with selling merchandise? Bottom line here is whether you're one person or a small army, there needs to be a workflow plan.
About the Author
Patrick Faucher is president and founder of Nimbit Web Services, which provides an entire suite of online tools & services for the independent artist. Hundreds of professionals use Nimbit to create and maintain websites, promote their careers and conduct business. You can find out more at www.nimbit.com.
Click her for Part Two of this article from the next issue of Playback.