by Michael Budd, Blacksmith & Sculptor
I hear people working in the creative sector saying: “I have a website. Been no use at all to me, big waste of time”. If you’re not gaining anything from your website, it is usually down to one or all three, of the following:
1. You have a bad website that does not showcase your work to its full potential.
2. You have spent no time promoting your site and its listing on search engines is very poor.
3. You’re not looking at your site in the correct way for your type of work and the audience your trying to reach .
Here is my guide to help you achieve results from your website if you’re making bespoke art/craft. This is not a definitive guide but simply things I have found useful over the past six years working on my own site.
• Firstly, find a website designer/engineer who will work with you and your particular style of work. You need your work to stand out, so a generic one-size-fits-all site will not cut it. Shop around for the right person to work with. Make sure they are willing to either carry out regular updates to your site or teach you how to do it yourself, as updating your site is key to its success. (I’ll explain way later.) It helped me to make a shortlist of sites I liked the look of before I sat down with my website designer (David Danels Danelsdavid.email@example.com – a shameless plug for someone who has become a good friend over the years). This allows them an insight into where you want to go with your site and affords you both the opportunity to rationalise ideas.
For instance, I couldn’t afford a big expensive website so David advised keeping it simple and as clean as possible. This led us to the final design as much as anything else. I chose the simple look as much for the idea that it would not become dated.
• Next, take an objective look at your work and evaluate it: how it sells, who it sells to and the main reasons why. If, like me, you’re mostly working on commissions or creating one-off sculptures, expecting your site to work like a big retail one is unrealistic and acts as a barrier to it working effectively for you. I realised that I needed my site to work as an online portfolio, giving people an insight into how I work, showcasing my style and method of working. I can direct people to my site to get an idea of what I can do for them. It works for me as people can see whether my style of work suits them and I don’t waste time trying to sell to people who really want something else.
Lastly, this frees me up to concentrate on those clients who do like my style. It also means that I don’t get disillusioned that people aren’t emailing me constantly to buy the work shown on my site. It’s not designed to do that, so the pressure is off and I’m clear to correctly evaluate its true effectiveness.
• Good photography is a must, your website is a visual medium and must present your work to its full potential. Not everyone can afford a professional photographer but you can learn to take better photos. All you have to do is take the time to research photography online. There are thousands of “how to” videos on sites like YouTube. It’s just a case of taking the time to learn. Even cheap cameras take great photos these days.
On the whole, a good photo of bad work will be more effective than a bad photo of good work. I won’t go into details here as I’m not a photographer but in general I follow a few simple tricks. For none installation work I use a clean background so the work stands out. I use a plain white sheet (make sure you iron it beforehand). Make sure not to use the date stamp function on your camera and take photos in good natural light where possible. The built-in flash on most cameras tend to flatten work which is not the best option for most. Also, take plenty of photos from different angles. You can always delete those that don’t work later and you might stumble upon a style that suits your work.
• Next is what website developers call “click appeal”. You want people to explore your website so the homepage should have the wow factor. Don’t bombard people with a long stream of text. All too often websites are designed like glossy magazines, with loads of competing images and text, supposedly to attract the reader’s attention. But websites are not competing for attention in the same way as the glossies. Try looking at your website as a short novel. The front page should be clean and striking. It should intrigue the viewer to explore further into your site. In this way visitors to your site are more likely to be interested in finding out more about you and your work. This gives you more opportunities to dazzle them.
• The text content of your website should be relevant to your work and, again, try to include as little as you can on the homepage. Let people decide for themselves how much or what they want to learn about you and your work. The main thing to keep in mind when writing the text for your site is to re-affirm the keywords that describe your work and your location.
For instance, as a blacksmith working in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland, my keywords will be anything to do with forge work and my location. Therefore, I work these keywords into my text. This will help dramatically with boosting your site’s presence on search engines like Google, as these cross-reference your text content to help correctly categorise it. There is a school of thought for websites that it is essential to drag any and all traffic to your site. This does not work for such specialised areas as art and craft. Also, search engines must ensure they provide relevant information to the search topic requested and have long acted to combat this practice. In the end it will harm your ranking.
• Getting your site higher on the search rankings. As I have already mentioned, making sure your text is relevant and reaffirming keywords is a start in pushing your site up those rankings. But it’s only a start. You will need to continually update your site as search engines see this as a sure-fire sign that your site is current and relevant to their search categories. The more often you update your site the more frequently they check that they have the most current version. This is a key factor in boosting your site’s ranking.
Two easy ways to generate updates are:
Photos of new work, keep putting photos up as you finish new work. Don’t wait to only do it once a year.
Creating a news page where you regularly post current events is another helpful way. A note here is that you must take down news that is no longer relevant or this may give readers the feeling that your site is not current.
Another big help in gaining a higher ranking is linking your site, but there is a pitfall here too. Any links included should be relevant to your work. So, don’t create links on your site to your fiend’s if they work in a field that is not related to your own. Search engines look at links as a way of verifying that your site is genuinely connected to the stated subject, so linking to unrelated sites will harm your ranking. Do, however, create links to sites that reaffirm your own subject area such as associations, galleries and so on. Push for these sites to link you back as, again, it boosts your ranking.
Don’t be afraid that by linking to one which lists competitors you risk losing clients. In my experience people either like your work, in that they are attracted by your style, or they do not. We are not in competition with each other on this level. In fact, by showing you are part of a diverse community of creative’s you’re more likely to increase the amount of clients who are interested in your work. People are attracted to movements or groups much more readily than something that is seen as being just an individual or part of a dying trade. As a friend once said: “People buy into movements, not weirdoes in the corner.”
Those who are attracted to my work wouldn’t necessarily be interested in another blacksmith’s work and vice versa. By linking to these sites, and they in return linking back, you’re creating networks that validate all members. This will help to push the irrelevant junk sites further down the rankings, which helps everyone.
One of the biggest frustrations when searching on the web is the amount of irrelevant sites you have to sieve through and it is a key factor in people just giving up on finding artists and crafts people.
• A lot of us now have social media pages and these are a great tool. Make sure you put links to your social media accounts on your website and vice versa. Use your Twitter and Facebook accounts to publicise your website. I put photos of work-in-progress on my social media accounts and it generates lots of interest, pushing viewers to my website. In return the more interest my website generates, the more people explore my work-in-progress shots on Twitter and Facebook.
It’s amazing how many people don’t think anything is made by hand anymore and social media is the perfect way to let them see that you actually make your work, you don’t just design it and have it made on the other side of the world. People want to buy into things that are made by hand, on a human level, so help them as much as you can to see that’s how you work. Social media is perfect for this.
• Promoting your site is another key factor, and you need to take every opportunity to do so. The more people search for you on sites like Google, the more those engines will take notice. It should go without saying but make sure you have your web address on business cards, headed notepaper and so on.
Don’t be shy in asking friends to share your website on their social media accounts. It all helps to direct traffic to you and that in turn can boost your online presence.
To sum up, I’d guess in the way of everything else we do, the more work you put into your site, the more you’ll get out of it. I always think of my website as a work-in-progress. Like my forge work it will continue to change and grow hand in hand with me and my work. I don’t think my site answers all my needs but it’s the best I can do with my current knowledge, money and time.
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