A couple of the questions that came up in the Q & A were about making websites. I have also had a couple e-mails lately wanting info, seen some artists ask in general and I even offered my (probably unwanted) advice to yet another artist about their website who mentioned it on their blog. So I thought I would just make a separate post about it. I have been working on the Q & A post for a few days, and it will be along soon. Some topics need their own post due to length.
First of all, I want to impress upon you that I am certainly no expert at this. But I try and I seem to get a lot of compliments on my layouts...so I am going to plunge on in!
If you do not have a website, it can be pretty intimidating to start from scratch. Lets face it, we are artists, not programmers. But in this day and age we have to wear many hats if we want to have a web presence.
Lets start with the basics. There are many WYSIWYG programs out there. For those who don't speak geek, WYSIWYG means What You See Is What You Get. These are basically "drag and drop" programs. They do not require much, if any coding skills. It's a great thing to know how to code, but you do NOT need to have this ability any more in order to create a nice site.
When I was going to set up my site, I did a comparison search. I wanted the most user friendly program out there that gave me the freedom to set it up any way I wanted to. I looked at several sites that review programs and they all pretty much said the same thing. The #1 rated program cost several thousand dollars. I couldn't afford that, but it had flash with it. Most of us don't need flash. (Motion images.) The #2 recommended program cost $26.00 at that time. I thought hey I can afford that! It's a program called SiteSpinner and it's available from Amazon.com. It's up to about $33.00 now. Still completely affordable.
When it arrived, it came in a small padded envelope and the cover of the disc case is pretty unassuming. I thought oh no, what have I gotten myself into. Something about it seemed intimidating. But I popped it in and downloaded it and was truly amazed. When you download it, it comes with a tutorial that is written in plain, understandable language. It is truly the MOST user friendly program I have ever encountered. If you have your graphics ready, you could have your site up in about 2 hours.
After you get a program to create your site, you will need a domain. There are so many to choose from it's hard to know what to use. For this step I went to a friend who had been creating websites for years. She suggested http://www.nomonthlyfees.com/
I have used it right from the beginning. I have never hit a bandwidth wall, it never goes down. They do maintenance about twice a year for maybe an hour or so, and they do it late at night when traffic is low. It costs $120.00 a year. So ten bucks a month is pretty good.
Ok so you have your program, you have your domain...now what? I certainly don't want to offend anyone...but I have noticed that a lot of bear artist's sites are somewhat lacking or tend to look dated. Websites are like anything else we make. They go through trends, and while you want to be true to yourself and what you make, you also need to stay current. That can mean incorporating a little of the latest thing into what you do. Lets face it, that's how people stay in business.
There are a lot of sites out there who use that main solid color square in the middle with the floral (or whatever) repeating background. Sadly that makes your site look so ten years ago. Again I am really sorry, I don't want to offend anyone, but I am honestly trying to help you here because the goal is to sell things and I can't sugar coat it. If you and your customers are comfortable with that look...by all means keep it! Keep in mind though, most of us would not always return to our favorite real life specialty stores if they never changed the displays or store window. Your site is your store and you have to keep it fresh and interesting.
My first rule is always continuity. Your site needs to reflect your style of bears. Mine are traditional with a little whimsy...so is my site. You can go really fancy, you can go pared down...but whatever it is you choose, it has to make sense with what you do.
The second rule is keep it simple. Make sure it's easy to navigate and easy to read. When we surf the net we don't want to spend a lot of time figuring things out. When people have to do that, they just get frustrated and click the X. Who can blame them?
Keep your personal stuff off of your site. Don't include pictures of your pets, your husband, your kids, personal stories about your life, etc. Put that stuff on your blog and/or your facebook page. People go to your site to buy stuff. If they want to know you more, they will click the link you have provided, to your blog or your facebook page. The only text walls you should have in your site, are about yourself as an artist, possibly where you create, and your latest news about your work. Also make sure those links aren't the first ones on the list. Put the work you have for sale as your first links. This is why people come to your site.
The next thing of course is pictures. I am always striving to take better pics, and I am not that great at it. But every photo editing program has tools that will brighten, clarify and sharpen your images. So many sites I visit had dark or blurry images. If you don't know how to use these tools, just bring up an image, copy it and start pushing buttons to see what they do. It's not hard to learn and if you ruin the copy...so what...it's just a practice copy.
Also I have noticed that a lot of bear artists save their images as png images. That's great because they are clear, but png images can be bandwidth hogs. I save mine all as jpg images, BUT there is a trick to that. When you save your images before you hit that save button there is a tab that will say advanced or options...depending on what program you use. When you click that it gives you an optimizer button. It will make your image better and you can save a jpg that is about 98% as clear as a png image and won't use nearly as much bandwidth. Some domain's offer more bandwidth than others. If you hit your bandwidth limit for the month your images go bye bye and are replaced by hideous signs that say bandwidth exceeded. Your only choices are to pay more money or wait until the next month. That is not something we ever want to happen.
Now for me personally when I am shopping, I don't need to look at 47 images of your product to know if I want to buy it or not. In fact I personally don't care for image overload, especially if you have provided nice decent sized pics that are clear. I use one image and a different image for the thumbnail on my site and five on my blog/etsy/bearpile. People like images, but they like diversity. If they have to spend too much time looking at one piece, they will get bored and not move on to the next piece. Also image overload can cause customers with slower computers or smart phones to have lag on the page loading. Think about it, when we go shopping in the real world most of us don't pick up a piece and turn it over and over and over in our hands before we buy it. We pick it up, look at it from a couple angles and say yes I want this or no I don't.
You have your program, your domain, and your pictures...but what about all those extra graphics? Where do those come from? For me, I make a lot of them. But sometimes I can't make what I want so I go to http://www.dreamstime.com/ Stock images can be purchased from this site for a fee. Most of them are very inexpensive and royalty free for things like decorating your site or your blog, etc. Just make sure you read the royalty info before you buy an image.
If you aren't the sort of person who likes to play with images or you simply don't have that ability in your repertoire, there are lots of places and/or people you can buy graphics from. You simply have to start searching on the internet. Or you can ask a friend to help if you know someone who can do that kind of thing. But as someone who used to sell Etsy banners...it's good to have an idea in your head of what you want before you ask someone to make something for you. Remember though, they can't see what's in your head. They can only go on what you tell them. So be clear and specific about what you want. Also be forewarned that some people charge hundreds of dollars for design, you do not ever have to pay that much to get good graphics. Do a search, you will find someone who charges reasonable fees.
Once you have everything else in place, it's time set your paypal buttons. I know a lot of people have trouble with this. Setting paypal buttons is so easy, just follow the instructions or find a tutorial. You do not have to use their ugly yellow buy now image either. You can make your own image and upload it to an image host like http://www.photobucket.com/ which is free and put the code into the special box. You only have to do it once and you can change the image if you change your site design.
At this point you should hit your publish button and voila...you have your own website.
Some other important tips to remember...
* Learn to tag in order to get better hits from Google
* Mark things as sold when they are, and don't leave sold items on your available pages for months on end. People get frustrated when they want to buy something and can't have it. Move it to a gallery page or remove it all together in a timely fashion
* Use Google analytics
* Do a mailing list
* Don't forget to clearly state your policies and include an e-mail link in case people have questions
*Don't do a website and then send people to your Etsy shop to buy things, people don't want to chase you all over the internet, and if you're only going to sell on Etsy, why do a website?
* Have fun with it
* There are set no rules, it's your business, your site and the sky is the limit!
* Keep it interesting and creative so it holds people's attention and they want to come back
Good luck with it, and if you need help or have any questions...don't hesitate to ask! I am happy to help!
Hugs, K. <3