Who needs a website anymore, amiright?
Anyone who wants to build an online presence should start with a website. Yes, there’s a lot that you can do just on social media or YouTube and a lot of personalities have gathered millions of followers without a website. A website allows you to control the narrative and tell your story your way. It’s your channel, you own that content (it’s not YouTube’s or Facebook’s or TikTok’s, it’s yours).
A website also allows you to have an evergreen presence in a way no content platform ever will.
Even if your strategy is to focus the majority of your efforts on your podcast, YouTube channel, TikTok or Instagram, at the centre of it, have your website.
You’ll be happy five years down the line.
So what do you need it to make a great website what do you need to make a professional-looking website that’s going to help you stand out instead of impede?
When you have a website, there are a few functional checkboxes you wanna mark off. They’re kind of the basic functions that somebody that a visitor would expect to find when they land on your site.
1. Home page
Your homepage needs to give people who visit your site a good idea of who you are but as well give them next steps for engaging with you.
You want to have some like a clear action step that somebody who visits your homepage can take, whether that is reading your blog, buying your course, contacting you, whatever that is.
What’s wrong with a lot of homepages is that they become summary pages or another version of your menu where are you go through it the main parts of your website. So you’ll have your services and then bit of an about overview and then an about section and a contact. So what’s the difference between that and the main menu?
Try and tell a different story on your homepage. Start with your why: why do you do what you’re doing. Why are you passionate about it? Then support that by explaining what it is you do and wrap it up with a call to action for your audience to take.
If you’re in the performance arts, your reel is another essential component that you can’t get around. It’s your showcase page, your portfolio. You don’t want a visitor to your website to have to dig around to find your reel. So put it in your main menu and make it easy for people to navigate to it.
On your about page, you get to provide a little bit more details on how you got started and the different productions you’ve been involved in.
Your about page is a great place to upload your current resume as well as shots and in fact take a look at your about page as a digital version of your resume.
Make sure and make sure you also include any kind of press and media that you have appeared in it as well as links to reviews about your work
How does somebody get in touch with you? What are your preferred channels? Make it easy for people who want to get a hold of you to do so. I’m not a fan of copping out and just putting your agent’s details, but if that’s what you’re going to do, put a form on there too.
I mean is there a reason why you can’t have one public-facing social media channel? Hopefully you at least have a professional Facebook page that’s separate from your personal one. Play traffic controller on your Contact page.
What are some of the technical checkmarks you need to check off from a technical perspective? Doing the following will make sure your website is following current best practices but it also has bran implications.
Look, if you’re going to have a website you really need to have a domain. That’s the starting point. Your domain is the web address. If you have a free website like Tumblr or Blogger or a free version of Wix where you get a domain, that is not yours.
If you’re going to start with the website, then go all the way and get yourself a domain.
HTTPS provides a connection between the browser (Google Chrome, Firefox…) and your website. I don’t think you care that much at this point about how the protocol between a browser and a server works, and frankly that’s good because it’s above my head.
What’s important to know is the S stands for “secure”. So when you have HTTPS, you’re providing a secure connection, the data is getting encrypted as opposed to on HTTP where that connection is not secure. You’ll find some browsers won’t navigate to HTTP sites unless you force them to, displaying scary messages like this:
This obviously is not a good look.
If you’re building a website today, I’d be surprised if you could still choose HTTP but in case it is an option, DON’T DO IT.
In the last 6-7 years, how we navigate the Internet has completely changed. Nowadays the majority of users browse websites from their phones.
This means that when you’re designing a website, you really want to make sure you’re designing for a smaller vertical screen size and the best practice is to design for mobile first. There are a couple of reasons.
First of all, it has search implications as search engines have recently switched to index the mobile version of a site first and if they have issues with your in with your mobile site then that will ultimately penalize you.
But second, from a design perspective, it is also easier to start with a smaller screen size and then expand that rather than to start with a large screen size and then try to fit the content on a smaller screen.
If you’re using a CMS like Squarespace, this is mostly not a concern though you should still constantly make sure that what you’re creating works both on mobile and on desktop.
8. On-Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to the different strategies you can implement to help pages on your site rank better on Google (and other search engine) searches. I’ve written an entire article on the topic of how to do keyword optimization, so if you want to know more, check it out.
But basically, at this point, what you really need to consider is how your website will show up in searches. There are three elements that get shown: a page title, a URL and a page description. A lot of people leave those blank, just thinking they’re not that important.
This is often the first impression you get to make. So think about somebody doing a search, your website showing up and how you can pique their interest so you get the click.
Just like when you’re writing a play, you need to grab somebody’s attention early and quickly to make them lean in and pay attention: optimizing your page for search is doing the exact same thing. No false promises, just teasing the value that you will deliver through your site.
Sometimes that is very functional. It doesn’t have to be exciting. Your homepage should be your name (or brand name if that’s what you’re going with), your location and your art form.
The other important component of optimizing your title, meta description and URL for search engines is to make sure they’re not too long. Your title should fit within 50-60 characters. Your meta description should be between 130 and 160 characters long.
Your URL should be as short and descriptive as it can be.
Okay, all the boring, technical stuff is out-of-the-way. Kidding, it’s super important and hopefully it makes sense.
Now for the fun part: the design. Here are some design considerations to take into account that will make your website go from shabby to shazam-y.
Yeah, I regretted that too.
One of the things that immediately betrays an amateur website is fonts. Generally, y’all only need at the most two different fonts, maybe three: you got your headline fonts and your paragraph fonts. That’s all.
There are a lot of places you can express your individuality and your choice of fonts is a great place to do that. But here are two rules to guide you: never sacrifice readability and less is always more. If somebody notices your font choice, it’s probably the wrong choice.
In general, you’ve got two font styles: headlines and paragraphs.
With headlines, you have a bit more space to be big, bold, eye-catching. You can try that cursive or 8-bit font. As long as people don’t struggle to read your content, fine. Go crazy.
Your paragraph font, not so much. This is where you get to find your favourite boring font and use the crap out of it. Paragraph copy is not just featured at smaller text sizes, but also in blocks of text. That means that if your font is too visually busy, it’s going to wear your readers’ eyes out.
Helvetica has carved a reputation for itself for thriving as a boring font, working wonders in headlines and paragraphs alike and earning itself a fascinating documentary.
Nothing pairs better with fonts than colours. That’s another easy way you can spot an amateur site.
For a website, you don’t need a crazy colour palette. Simple is often better. Especially nowadays. Visual minimalism is very trendy. You’ll find a lot of sites with a colour palette of white with rich blacks. And that is very effective.
You can obviously use more colours than that, and if your art is in visual design, then you have the tools to be able to do that well (because it’s equally trendy to have very bold colours, but you have to be able to do that well).
Remember, the principles of design are to draw your viewer’s attention to the important elements. If everything is screaming on your page, it’s just a bunch of noise and your viewer will be overwhelmed. At best.
I personally like to keep things neutral with one accent colour that I keep for my buttons and hyperlinks, and honestly, I recommend that approach. It’s easy and it’s very effective.
The other consideration for both your fonts and your colours is meeting accessibility standards, which are a set of standards to make sure that the content on websites can be easily accessible to people with disabilities. One important component of those standards is how easy to read your content is for people who are sight-impaired, so it’s important to make fonts and colours have sufficient contrast.
Hold on, I can hear you say, I’m not an organization, I’m a person, why the devil do I need a flipping logo?
Relax, you don’t. Not really. If you’re an organization, yeah you need one. If you’re just yourself, it’s a different story. What you do need is some form of consistent wordmark that you’re going to be able to use consistently on all your channels.
Just a quick visual representation.
It can be your name, your signature, your initials, just one letter or a full icon that represents what you do. It doesn’t have to be a crazy treatment or anything like that. It’s just important that you are intentional about the way that you present yourself.
Websites have come a long way. One of the ways to improve your user experience is to make your site a visual experience. If there’s a way to represent information visually to complement your text, you should do it. We see pictures, videos, graphics, icons, screenshots, GIFs and memes taking more and more real estate on websites.
Being in the visual arts, you kind of have an additional charge to provide an exceptional visual experience. Bring visitors into your work through beautiful, high-res photos.
13. Site speed
One of the biggest culprits for a site that has a bad user experience (UX) is site speed. If your site loads slowly, in this day and age, you’re going to lose users. One of the biggest culprits for a slow loading site is images. Large images.
Now I just told you that, as a visual artist, you need to make sure you represent yourself visually. Which will likely involve images. Large images, creating that stunning effect.
For most sites, the solution is simple: compress your images.
The maximum recommended size is 500 KB per image, which is enough that it shouldn’t be an issue but you’re going to have to be very intentional about compressing your images as much as possible while keeping the quality you’re looking for.
Your favicon is that little icon that shows up in the web browser tabs and is one of the most overlooked components when people put up their own websites. Like pretty much everything else on this list, it matters because it shows that you mean business. It’s about dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s to make your brand strong, right out of the gate. If you navigate to a site that doesn’t have a favicon (or uses Squarespace’s very recognizable default grey cube), you’re just going to send the wrong message.
So what do you use? If you have a logo that has an icon, that’ll make a good favicon. If you don’t, just like with your logo, even just your initials or the first letter of your name typeset in your main brand colour will go a long way.
Your website’s not an archive. Nor is it an avatar of yourself in the digital world. It is a tool and its primary function is promotional: to connect with prospects and compel them to engage with you more and more.
To have a successful website, you need to think about from your user’s perspective. You also want to leverage other tools so you can build a journey for your visitors.
I’m always a little taken aback when I hear people dismiss blogs.
“No one reads blogs anymore.” What?
There’s a tangled mess of assumptions in there, like if you’d five sets of Apple earphones in your pocket and pulled them out five minutes later.
I think some people get hung up on the word. They imagine a Tumblr or Blogger account where you journal about your thoughts of the day or something like that. But a blog has become synonymous with a place where experts share their expertise.
The other assumption that gets thrown in there is that people don’t read long-form anymore. And that’s just not true. People don’t read what they’re not interested in. The more interested you are in a subject and the more you need the information, the more you’ll read.
So it’s on the writer to understand who they’re talking to and what that reader wants to know.
If you think, “Nobody reads blogs anymore” and you’re reading these words, what do you think you’re reading…? It’s very meta isn’t it?
So start a blog. You don’t have to know where you’re going right away. If you’re spending most of your time building an audience on YouTube or your podcast or Instagram or wherever, that’s okay. You can start by repurposing that content on your blog.
16. Newsletter signup
Email’s another one of those things people like to poo-poo.
The reality is that email is one of the best channels to engage meaningfully with your audience and bring them to the next step. Yes, some people send way too many emails. And yes, too many emails out there provide very little value.
To you. But to somebody else, it’s exactly what they were looking for at the exact right time. And that’s who the email was for. And I know that to be the truth because email keeps working. It’s not a secret. Your analytics will tell you exactly how successful your email is.
So the trick to email is:
- know you’re talking to
- what journey you’re taking them on
- and always provide value, especially if you’re asking your reader to do something.
Again you don’t have to start with email but if you’re not sure which channels you should investing your time on, you could do a lot worse than a powerful email-blog combo.
17. Social icons and shares
I feel like I’ve been hard on social media here. Social media is great at what it does. People have just turned it into a silver bullet and it’s not that. Success on social media is very public. You can see how many followers an Instagram or YouTube account have. You can’t see how big someone’s email list is or how many visits they get to their blog. Because of that visibility of social, it inflates its effectiveness relative to other channels, creating a kind of American Dream-type narrative where what you’re desperately trying to do is catch your big break, become something, or in today’s terms, go viral.
But social media is a fantastic way to connect with your audience, generate brand awareness and build a loyal following.
So put your social media icons on your site and when you write a blog post or share pictures of your work, make it easy for people to amplify you with social share icons.
18. Confirmation pages
First, your website has to have a primary goal. A purpose.
A lot of artists turn to teaching because they have tools and experience they can share, usually with less experienced artists. If you offer a class, that’s a good primary goal for your site.
Others start a coaching business. They’ve found a natural fit with what they do. Generating client leads is another great primary goal in this example.
Some just want prospective employers to contact their representation. Others are trying to get donors to support their work. Others have regular performances they’re trying to sell tickets for. And others just want to grow their email list.
Whatever your goal, make it possible for your audience to achieve it on your website through a form. A contact form, a donation form, a subscribe form…
And as the last step of your forms, always have a confirmation page. This will help with your analytics (find out how with my guide) but more importantly, it allows you to be intentional with your messaging once someone has crossed that gate.
Do yourself a favour (and anybody who might one day do your analytics or God willing, run some ads for you): set up confirmation pages.
Final Consideration: Site Structure
A site is like a play: the structure of play matters because it makes sense of the narrative. A messy structure makes your audience do all the work in figuring out what the heck your play is about. And if they can’t figure it out, they’ll mentally detach.
In a theatre, our pride catches a break: people can’t just close their browser windows or click back to leave when they don’t feel like doing the mental work of piecing together our mess.
We’re not so lucky on websites (though I think it’s more of an opportunity). And it’s not just users: search engines too. If a search engine can’t make sense of your website, good luck ranking. And if you don’t care about having your content found by the people it’s meant for, then why are you online?
19. Site hierarchy
A good site is a well-structured site.
The thing about a good structure, structure done properly is that it doesn’t impose order on things: it makes sense of them. There’s an elegance to a proper structure, like flow. And when you hit it, things fall to place.
This page makes sense now and it makes sense here.
Embrace trial and error
So there you go: 19 ways to make your website look more professional. These tips are meant to empower you. This is the internet. You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row before you launch. Some of these you’ll be glad to know (like choosing HTTPS and getting a domain).
Embrace a mindset of continuous improvement. It’ll serve you well as you grow your digital presence.