This article was originally titled ‘Why Art students should have their own website’ and was written with creative individuals in mind. It recommends the best website builder for artists, photographers, students, teachers, writers and/or any other entrepreneurial bloggers. It introduces several blogging and website platforms, such as Wix, Blogger, Weebly and WordPress, and was written by an experienced high school teacher, with a beginner audience in mind. It contains everything you need to know in order to make your own website.
Should I build my own website?
In 2010, I created a website to showcase my artwork and help high school Art students gain good grades. One year later, this site was receiving over 1000 visits every day (this became the website that you are reading, the Student Art Guide). If I have learned one thing from this experience, it is that the internet holds enormous value for creative individuals. Making a website is the most effective way to market your work, build a brand and sell artwork, products or services. What’s more, creating a website is something that even a high school student (someone with little funds and no prior technical knowledge) can do with ease.
Websites for artists: why they are important
It used to be that great art was discovered by galleries. These days, great artwork is discovered by ordinary individuals, every day. There is no longer a barrier between the artist and the masses. If you have an online presence – and your work can be found, shared, ‘pinned’ or ‘liked’ – you can achieve a level of recognition that could once only be dreamed of. A single image can receive thousands of views in a very short time-frame; be seen by vast numbers of prospective clients, admirers and fans. If you are an artist, photographer, writer (or any other type of creative, entrepreneurial person) you need to harvest the power of the internet and create your own website as soon as possible.
Why Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr, DeviantArt, Behance, Saatchi Online, Fine Art America, Imagekind, RedBubble, Etsy and Tumblr are not enough…
There are many great social websites where sharing images is encouraged. These can be helpful for promoting and showcasing your work, meeting others with similar interests, gaining feedback or (if you are lucky) selling work via social sharing, word of mouth or automated systems. Being an active member upon some community-based websites can be a great idea (and may be a fundamental part of your online strategy) but these sites should complement, not replace, your own website. They should be used as a marketing outpost to drive traffic to your own website, not as a substitute for it.
* A warning about free website builders / free portfolio websites
A huge number of people search on Google for ‘how to create a website for free’. Others are looking for more specific information, comparing various website builders, such as ‘Wix vs WordPress’ or ‘Blogger vs WordPress’. If you are short on spare cash (as are most students) it is tempting to start a website using a free service, such as blogger.com, Weebly or Wix. There are also many free artist portfolio websites (which allow you to set up generic photography portfolio websites or graphic design portfolio websites, for example, directly targeting artists who are looking for a place to display their work online). A platform that offers free websites for artists may be a good option for those who wish to share their work with family or friends (or who want to create a personal artist website that is rarely seen) but they should never be used by someone who is serious about getting their website ranked highly in Google and found by thousands of people every day.
For the best chance of success, you need to create your own website or blog.
1. With your own website, you can control the appearance and tweak the design. Aesthetics is important. Artist websites need to showcase work professionally and communicate style and individuality, helping you to stand out from the crowd. This cannot be achieved with a standard page on a free site, using a template that looks like a million others. Get your own website, so that you can select a great website design theme and customise this however you like.
2. You need to have an awesome website name, NOT yourname.freeservice.com. A website name is the starting point for your brand. For as little as fifteen dollars a year you can create the illusion that you are a professional worth investing in. Take your work seriously. With domain names costing so little, there is no excuse for not having your own.
3. You need to optimise your website so that it ranks highly in Google. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is impossible on most free websites and social sites. This can be done with ease when you create your own website. This is one of the most important factors to consider when making your decision.
4. You need your work be celebrated, not lost in the crowd. When someone contemplates buying your artwork on a community website, they may be distracted by other artists or by countless items showing up in a social feed. You want buyers to be channelled towards your fantastic creations alone, without others competing for attention. On most social websites, buyers can be easily enticed away.
5. You need to be able to control how you make money from your website. In case you didn’t realise this, people make money from websites. If you have your own website, earning opportunities are controlled entirely by you. You can sell artwork, products or services directly from your site, add advertising, seek sponsors, recommend affiliate products, embed your own print-on-demand items or simply concentrate on building your brand, popularity and fame. Other websites may place inappropriate advertising directly alongside your work, or have strict policies governing the way you operate business upon their platform.
6. You need to be able to measure the number of visitors to your website and other important stats. Google Analytics and Search Console are free tools built by Google that can be easily integrated with your own website. Most free platforms do not allow you to use these and offer inferior statistics, if any at all. Google Analytics and Search Console provide in-depth information about those who visit the pages upon your site. You can see which countries visitors are from; how many minutes they spend on certain pages; which pages they leave immediately and what they typed into Google to arrive at your site. This information is invaluable. It helps to shape and direct your creative work and improve your website for the future.
7. You need to be able to easily move your website files from one location to another. If you start with a free blogging platform and then later come to the realisation that you need to create your own website (as most who are serious about marketing their work online eventually do) moving your content from a free website provider to your own site is difficult. (Moving, downloading or backing up material from your own website, however, is simple – you have access to every single one of your files and can export these with a couple of clicks). In addition, if you decide to switch from a free platform to your own website later, any authority that you have built up with Google search engine will be lost. You will have to work your way up Google’s rankings again from scratch.
8. 100% of the website must belong to you. When you create a website on a free platform, your website is really a subsection of someone else’s site. Website providers can shut down unexpectedly. They can ban you or delete your files and there is nothing you can do about it. They can suddenly be overtaken by a more successful platform, as happened when Facebook increased in popularity and MySpace dwindled. If you have the potential to create a beautiful, stunning website, it is too risky for this to be at the mercy of another company. It is too valuable of a resource. You need to own it, completely.
Why you need to make a website soon
If you are serious about succeeding in a creative field, you need to make a website as soon as possible. Here’s why:
1. Older websites rank higher in Google. There are many factors that influence where a website appears in search engines (the higher you rank, the more visitors your website receives). The age of the website is a one of these – a signal that your website is likely to be a genuine, authority site. The sooner you start, the sooner you can build your site’s authority with Google.
2. Website names are limited. As time goes by, fewer quality domain names are available. yourname.com may already be gone. Many great domain names have already been purchased and are being resold for thousands of dollars.
3. Your age and current circumstances are not a barrier to success. You do not need to wait until you are older, have more time or are more ‘successful’. Many great websites are built by young people; those with little funds or resources. Teenagers as young as 14 have seen huge online success. With parental permission, you can get started while in high school. Setting up a website, designing the graphics and customising the layout – can be an excellent project for a high school Art, Design or Technology student. With hard work, a website set up during high school can be earning money by the time you are in university or college. Furthermore, the skills you learn whilst creating a website (it is fun, by the way!) can help your employment prospects immensely at graduation.
What is the best way to build a quality website?
Those who wish to create their own website (or ‘blog’) need three things. These are explained in more detail below:
- A domain name: this is the website name, such as studentartguide.com.
- Website hosting: this is space on a large server where you store the website files so that your site can connect to the internet (we recommend SiteGround).
- A platform or website builder to create the site (we recommend WordPress, which is free).
I explain how to do this in three simple steps below.
How to create your own website in three simple steps
1. Select a catchy, memorable website name (your ‘domain’ name)
The tips in the infographic below sum up some important things to consider.
2. Buy the domain name and hosting package from a reputable hosting provider, such as SiteGround
A web hosting company provides you with space on their server to store your files, so that your website is accessible on the world wide web 24/7. Most hosting companies sell domain names also, allowing you to purchase both from the same place. There are many unreliable hosting providers, so please be careful which host you select. After testing a wide range of hosts over the past six years, we recommend SiteGround completely. They are one of the few hosting providers that are officially recommended by WordPress itself.
SiteGround offer faster load times and are proactive about keeping your website safe. Another benefit for artists, in particular, is that they enable a Content Delivery Network (CDN) called ‘Cloudflare’ for free. This is a series of servers, positioned all around the world, storing temporary copies of your images closer to your visitors, so that your website loads quickly, even if a visitor is located far away. For artists and designers, who typically have very image-based sites, this is an huge benefit, as slow-loading websites frustrate users and are less likely to be ranked highly in Google. Additionally, SiteGround provides superb live chat assistance and are available to answer any questions 24/7. Their primary role is help newcomers get set up, or to answer any other questions you have. SiteGround’s hosting packages currently start from only $3.95 a month.
3. Install WordPress with a single click.
WordPress is a free web software that is used by over 60 million people (it is estimated to power 25% of all websites on the net). It is hands-down the best website builder for artists or for anyone else who wishes to create a website or blog, without coding this from scratch (the only exception is if you wish to create a website that has a huge shopping cart and is connected to an accounting software, able to track a large inventory of product – for this I recommend Shopify – more on this soon). For entrepreneurs, bloggers, writers, or artists who wish to sell a small number of original products, such as unique paintings or prints, or those who wish to create any other kind of content-based website, WordPress is the best solution. WordPress is easy to use (a similar difficulty level to using Microsoft Word, as shown in the screenshot below) and no prior knowledge of web design is required.
WordPress allows you to create websites that can be customised to look like anything – from an informal blog to a professional business website. Many huge websites use WordPress, including BBC America and The New Yorker. There are thousands of free themes available, which can all be individually customised so you can create a website that is original in appearance. WordPress is extremely easy to set up. You do this through your hosting provider, with a few clicks of a button, as shown in the video below.
NOTE: Due to the popularity of this article, I have recently created the new video tutorial below (May 2017) showing the entire process of setting up a website using WordPress. The video shows footage of my art portfolio website www.amiriagale.com, and shows me setting up my new site, Website Dreaming, both hosted at SiteGround. The first seven minutes of the video explains how to set up your own website, with your own domain name (such as yourname.com); the remainder shows, step-by-step, how to add content and customise the appearance of your website. An index has been included beneath the video, in case you wish to jump ahead to certain section at a later stage.
The video above is divided into the following sections (to begin each section, please navigate to the time shown in brackets):
- Select hosting package and website name (1:21)
- Install WordPress using a few simple clicks (4:17)
- Add content (creating pages, posts, images and menus) (7:06)
- Customise the appearance and functionality (‘plugins’, themes) (15:41)
- Set up ‘illdy’ theme (21:54)
- Add content to the sidebar (31:58)
- Add social media buttons (33:50)
- Add a contact form (35:09)
- Add buy now buttons (36:25)
- Back up your site (38:22)
If you love creating beautiful, artistic things, building a website will be no different. In fact, it will probably be your most fun project yet. If you are a Graphic Design or Technology student, consider approaching your teacher to see if designing the layout and graphics can become your high school project brief. Get started now!