This article recommends the best website builder for artists, photographers, writers and creative entrepreneurs who wish to create a website that is visited by a lot of people. It references several blogging and website platforms, such as Wix, Blogger, Squarespace, Weebly and WordPress and is written by an experienced high school teacher, with a beginner audience in mind. It concludes with a step-by-step tutorial, showing the exact process used to set up a successful, high-traffic 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 web design experience) can do with ease.
Websites for artists and other creative people: why they are important
It used to be that great art was discovered by galleries; written manuscripts chosen by publishers. These days, great content is discovered first-hand by ordinary individuals. 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 or blog post 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 creative entrepreneur) 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 and other content is encouraged. These may be helpful for promoting your work, meeting others with similar interests, gaining feedback and (if you are lucky) selling work via word of mouth or automated systems (such as print-on-demand). Being an active member upon community-based websites can be a great idea (and may indeed 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
Many people search on Google looking for the ‘best free website builder for artists’ or a ‘free artist website’. Others look for more specific information, comparing various website builders, such as Wix vs Weebly vs Blogger vs Squarespace and so on. These platforms, along with many others, offer customizable websites for users, targeting those who are looking for an easy way to display their work online (these allow you to set up basic photography portfolio websites or graphic design portfolio websites, for example, usually with higher priced premium plans marketed alongside). Website builders of this type are typically slick and aesthetically pleasing, with drag and drop templates that are appealing for beginners. Indeed, these can be a suitable options for those who wish to create an artist website to share with family or friends or a temporary online portfolio, but they should never be used by someone who is serious about getting their website ranked highly in Google and seen by thousands of people every day.
For the best chance of success, you need to create your own original website.
1. You need total control over the appearance and design. Aesthetics is important. Websites should showcase your creative 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. With your own website, you can select a great website design theme and customize 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 on your own website. Without the ability to optimise your content for search engines, your website is left floating alone in cyber space, relying on endless social media promotion and kind visits from your friends. This is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to create your own website.
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 countless other items showing up in a social feed. You want buyers to be channeled towards your fantastic creations, without others competing for attention. On most social websites, buyers are easily enticed away.
5. You need to control how you make money from your website. If you have your own website, earning opportunities are controlled entirely by you. You can sell artwork, products or services directly from the site, add advertising, seek sponsors, recommend affiliate products, embed print-on-demand items or simply concentrate on building your brand, popularity and fame. Social platforms and free website builders often place inappropriate advertising directly alongside your work, or have strict policies governing the way you operate business upon their platform. It is very common for free platforms to plaster their own branding all over the website, attempting to direct your visitors back to them. Generating income from your own website is much easier. If you want to sell artwork online, for example, this can be achieved in a matter of minutes, by adding a ‘buy now’ button beside the work (this is shown in the video tutorial below). Alternatively, you can add professional shopping carts or any other commercial feature.
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 are 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 your site. For example, 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 prior to arriving at your site. This information is invaluable. It helps to shape and direct your creative work and improve your content 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 realization that you should create your own website (as most who are serious about marketing their work online eventually do) moving your content from a free site to your own website is very difficult (it may require manually cutting and pasting every item – recreating the website all over again). Moving, downloading or backing up material from your own website, however, is very simple – you have access to every single one of your files and can export these with a few clicks. In addition, if you decide to switch from a free platform to your own website later, any search engine authority that you have built up with Google will be lost, so you have to work your way up the 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 more likely to be a genuine, authority site. The sooner you start, the sooner you can begin to build your website’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’. Creating a website sounds daunting, but it is far easier than you imagine. Many great websites are built by young people, 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 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 while creating a website can help your employment prospects immensely at graduation. (The best thing is that the whole process is fun. It is exciting – almost addictive! – to have your work celebrated and viewed, day after day, online).
What is the best way to build your own website?
Those who wish to create their own website (or a ‘blog’ – which is a more informal, conversational website) need three things:
- 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 website creation tool to build the site, such as WordPress, which is free (more on WordPress below).
I explain how to set this up in three simple steps (the video tutorial at the bottom of the page also shows this entire process):
Step 1. Brainstorm a catchy, memorable website name (your ‘domain’ name)
If you are looking for name ideas for a visual artist website, common formats include: www.yourname.com, www.yournameartist.com, www.yournamephotographer.com and so on. Sometimes website names include keywords related to the particular genre of artwork (such as www.yournameportraits.com etc) however you should be careful to select a name that doesn’t limit you unnecessarily.
Tips are as follows:
- Communicate the intention of your website, without being spammy
- Aim for a short and memorable name
- Ensure that it is easy to spell, with no uninentional meanings when words are merged
- Avoid numbers and dashes, so that it is easy to say aloud
- Choose .com extension or a country-specific extension (such as .co.uk or .co.nz) if targeting a local audience only
- Avoid similarities with existing sites or infringing upon trademarks
These tips are communicated in the infographic below.
2. Buy the domain name and hosting package from a reputable hosting provider, such as SiteGround
The role of a web hosting company is to provide 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 the convenience of purchasing both from the same place.
After testing a large number of hosts over the past six years, I recommend SiteGround completely. I use them for all of my websites, including the one you are reading now. Tellingly, SiteGround are the only hosting provider that is officially recommended by all three of the leading website creation tools (WordPress, Drupal and Joomla). They are also voted by members of the WordPress Hosting Facebook Group in 2017 as the number 1 website host as shown in the screenshot below.
For those who would like more information about hosting, I have outlined the important factors to consider:
- Uptime (how often your website remains live on the internet). All hosts go down occasionally, for scheduled maintenance and so on, but this should occur rarely. SiteGround has an uptime of 99.99%.
- Security. When creating a website, you trust a hosting provider with your content, data and other confidential information. The cheapest, low quality hosts often have poorly maintained servers, with out-of-date software that loads slowly and is vulnerable to security breaches. SiteGround are proactive about keeping their servers up-to-date and their client information safe.
- Server speed. There are many factors that influence how quickly a website loads; one of these is the speed of the hosting server. A slow website irritates users and reduces the time they spend on your site. Speed is also one of the factors that Google uses to rank a website in search engines. SiteGround uses the latest technology and has a caching plugin to speed things up further. In addition, they enable ‘Cloudflare’ for free. Cloudflare is a series of servers, positioned all around the world, storing temporary copies of your content, so that your website loads quickly, even if a visitor is located far away. For those with image-based websites, like artists, this is a huge benefit, as images typically load more slowly.
- Customer Support. The most outstanding aspect of SiteGround is the quality of their support staff. They are knowledgeable, helpful and communicate things in a clear way, so that a beginner can understand. This aspect of a hosting provider cannot be underrated, as having knowledgeable assistance on-hand instantly, 24-7, ready to answer any question, is highly valuable. Many companies cut corners on this aspect and it is an area where SiteGround stand head and shoulders above the rest.
- Price. SiteGround’s StartUp package is discounted to $3.95 a month. This price is within the reach of even many high school students and comes with a 30 day money back guarantee. SiteGround also has a GrowBig package, which allows you to create an infinite number of websites for the single price, instead of just one (there are a few other differences, for example it is slightly faster, however, for most beginners, the StartUp package is all you need). Compare SiteGround packages here.
3. Install WordPress via your hosting platform
WordPress is a free web software that is used by over 60 million people (it is estimated to power over a quarter of all websites in the world). It is hands-down the best website builder for artists or for anyone else who wishes to create their own 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 market their services or sell original products, such as unique paintings or prints, or those who wish to create any other kind of content-based website or blog, WordPress is the best solution. It can be used to create a stunning online art portfolio, or to present work in any other way that you desire (written text, illustrated articles, embedded video clips and so on). Just as you can add an app to your phone to add extra functionality, you can add ‘plugins’ to your WordPress website, enabling your site to do almost anything you like (there are over 52,000 plugins available). For example, there are free plugins to add email forms, social share buttons, buy now buttons, shopping carts, pop-up buttons, search engine optimization and so on. WordPress is easy to use 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. There are thousands of free themes available, which can all be customised so you can create a website that is original in appearance. It is highly flexible and quick to set up. You do this with a few clicks of a button, as shown in the video below. You don’t install WordPress on your own computer – you install it at your hosting provider, i.e. SiteGround, using a few simple clicks of a button.
NOTE: Due to the popularity of this article, I have created a new video tutorial below (May 2017) showing the entire process of setting up a new WordPress website. The video shows footage of my art portfolio website www.amiriagale.com, and shows me creating a new site, Website Dreaming, both of which are 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 customize the appearance of a WordPress website. An index has been included beneath the video, in case you wish to jump ahead to a certain section at a later stage.
Here is the link to SiteGround to create your own website!
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!