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 compares 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 in less than an hour.
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 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 vs Google Sites vs Adobe Spark Page 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 option 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 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 sixteen 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 optimize your website so that it ranks highly in Google. Without the ability to optimize your content for search engines, your website is left floating alone in cyberspace, relying on endless social media promotion and kind visits from your friends or followers. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is impossible on most free websites and social media. This can be done with ease on your own website. This is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to create your own website.
4. You need your work to 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. Schools and universities need to be able to view your content. Many schools and universities block all access to social media and free blogging platforms, as these are taken advantage of by those who publish inappropriate material. Some teachers spend months creating a website using a free platform, only for the platform to be later blocked by their school. There are huge advantages to having your work discoverable from educational institutions, even for those whose websites are unrelated to education. For example, students in the UK often find my artist website and study my artwork. Schools then link to my website. As authentic links from relevant websites provide a signal that my website is high-quality (with links from educational institutions considered extra valuable), this makes Google trust my site and rank it higher. Sites that are ranked more highly in Google gain more visitors. In summary, if you hope to gain traffic to your website, you should ensure that it is accessible to everyone.
6. 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 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 your 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.
7. You need to measure the number of visitors to your website and other important statistics. Google Analytics and Search Console are free tools built by Google that are easily integrated with your own website. Most free blogging or social media 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.
8. You need to give your followers the ability to provide their email address. A few years ago, Facebook changed their newsfeed algorithm so that each ‘status update’ made from a Facebook business page was shown only to a small percentage of their followers. To have your updates shown to more fans, you now have to pay money to ‘promote’ these – even to those who have chosen to follow your page. As such, the value of having a large Facebook following diminished overnight, crippling many small businesses who relied on Facebook to reach their audience. Similarly, YouTube recently made significant changes to their algorithm, affecting which videos are shown in the subscription feed, making it more difficult for certain content creators to get their videos seen.
Originally, the YouTube subscription feed was a chronological list of videos from all the channels that a person had chosen to “subscribe” to. ……However, many video-makers have previously complained that some of their videos have not appeared in the subscription feed, and have questioned whether YouTube manipulates the list to boost viewer retention and advertising revenue. – BBC News (2018)
Social media platforms are businesses who will always prioritize their own interests. If you have the option for your audience to safely share their email address with you, you don’t need to be at the mercy of third parties: you can contact your followers whenever you like. An email list is an asset that you can backup and keep, giving you direct contact with your audience, no matter what happens. Almost all online entrepreneurs regret not starting an email list sooner. An email sign-up box can be added in a couple of minutes to your own website.
9. 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 platform to your own website is very difficult (it may require manually cutting and pasting every item – recreating the website all over again). In addition, if you decide to switch from a free website name (such as yourname.freeservice.com) to another name, 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. Whatever method you choose to create an online presence, it needs to be portable. Moving, downloading or backing up material from your own website is very simple – you have access to every single one of your files and can export these with a few clicks.
10. 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, taking your content and followers with them. Those who offer free services are particularly vulnerable to collapse. For example, Wikispaces has the following message on their website:
As stated in our communication in January 2018 and subsequent site banners; as of July 31st, 2018 all Free and Classroom Wikis were disabled and are no longer accessible.
In addition, platforms 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. They can be sold to another company, who may run things totally differently, such as when Flickr was bought out by SmugMug. 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.
Most people begin to create their own website without understanding all of the above. I used Weebly for a year before I created my own website. The Weebly site looked amazing, but it gained very little traffic. Social networking websites, image-sharing websites, and free blogging/website platforms are appealing because they are easy, however, what makes them easy is also their downfall.
Why you need to make a website soon
If you are serious about growing an audience online, 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 website names (known as ‘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. You can search to see which ones are still available here.
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 takes only an hour to get up and running. 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!
What is the best way to build an artist website?
There are two basic ways to create an original website. The first is to start with a prebuilt ‘content management system’. A content management system can be thought of as something like Microsoft Word. It is a program that makes the process of creating a digital document MUCH easier. Content management systems are designed for the ordinary user, so that coding is not necessary. They save time and money while allowing for creative one-of-a-kind outputs to be achieved.
The second way to create an original website is to hire developers (or learn to code yourself) and build the entire thing from scratch. Even if you have sufficient funds to hire a developer, or know how to code, in almost all cases, it is wise to use an existing content management system. Not only does this save you time and money, but a site that is built from scratch is much harder to maintain, as only the person who understands how it works is the one who built it. When you use a popular content management system, on the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of people who use the same system and who have written tutorials sharing advice. If at any point you get stuck, there are answers to just about every question you could imagine online. Additionally, there are thousands of developers who specialize in each popular content management system. This means you are not reliant on a single expert who knows your website well nor vulnerable if this expert leaves.
The upshot: Unless you have a team of specialist developers and are trying to create something like the next Facebook, using a content management system is far-and-above your best option.
Which content management system should I choose?
Many of the free website platforms described above (such as Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace) are in fact a kind of content management system, however, these are simplified and are tied to a single company, leaving them with several weaknesses as described above.
The leading content management systems are ‘open source’ and are maintained by a huge collection of expert developers around the world (rather than connected to a single company). This means that they follow best coding practice and are kept up-to-date.
According to 2018 data, the leading content management system is WordPress (used by 60% of the market), followed by Joomla (6%), and Drupal (4%). Not only is WordPress the most popular content management system, but nearly 30% of all websites in the world run on it. I have used WordPress since 2013 and recommend it above all else. It is hands-down the best website builder for artists or for anyone else who wishes to create their own website or blog (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 you may wish to consider Shopify). 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 way that you desire (written text, illustrated articles, embedded video clips and so on).
WordPress allows you to create websites that can be customized to look like anything – from an informal blog to a professional business website. WordPress is excellent for blogging (a blog is an informal, comment-driven website); however, it is also excellent for any other kind of content-driven website. Just as you can add an ‘app’ to your phone to add extra functionality, you can add ‘plugins’ to a WordPress website, enabling your site to do almost anything you like (there are over 52,000 plugins available). As an example, there are free plugins to add email forms, social share buttons, buy now buttons, shopping carts, email sign-up boxes, search engine optimization and so on.
There are thousands of free WordPress themes available, suiting any kind of topic or niche. Some WordPress themes are simple and minimalist; others are complex. All can be customized, depending on your needs. The image below shows how my personal artist website www.amiriagale.com has morphed and changed over the years: beginning with a very simple WordPress theme (in 2011). All of these images show the same WordPress website, with different themes and customization options selected.
How hard is WordPress to use?
Once you are familiar with WordPress, it is a similar difficulty level to using Microsoft Word. WordPress is quick to get up and running, as shown in the tutorial at the bottom of this page. The screenshot below shows me editing a page on my artist website (the published page can be viewed here).
As with anything new, the first few days can be frustrating. A beginner hasn’t learned where all the buttons are, so every task requires consciously thinking through the steps. To complicate matters, the sign-up process uses terminology you may not have heard before, making the whole thing seem daunting.
WordPress is harder than sharing something on Facebook or slapping together a free drag-and-drop website. But it is not nearly as hard as you imagine. Once you get through the learning period, it is very straight-forward. In a way, it is almost good that it appears daunting, as it cuts out many of the competitors, and gives you an advantage.
If you hope to build an online presence, learning WordPress is one of the best investments you can make.
What you need to create to your own website
To create your own website you 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 content management system to build the site, such as WordPress, which is free.
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).
DISCLOSURE: The Student Art Guide provides content free of charge, so that all students and teachers can access our resources. We make money through advertising and affiliate links. In this article, we link to hosting providers that we recommend completely: our reputation and success depends upon this. Purchasing hosting via these links allows us to continue to deliver quality resources to you, for free.
Step 1. Brainstorm a catchy, memorable website name (your ‘domain’ name)
The first step is to come up with a website name, such as www.studentartguide.com.
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 unintentional 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.
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.
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 is the only hosting provider that is officially recommended by all three of the leading content management systems (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.
Even the famous Joost de Valk, founder of Yoast SEO (whose whole business revolves around helping people drive traffic to their website from Google) recently moved his business to SiteGround.
We love it. No other words for it. The SiteGround team that assists us and our team basically operate as one team. – Yoost de Valk
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 is 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.
Tweets from customers:
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
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.
To help you get started, I’ve put together a free tutorial. Following this tutorial allows you to have your own website, live on the internet, in about 20-60 minutes.
NOTE: The video tutorial below shows the entire process of setting up a new WordPress website. As technology changes very fast, there are some steps that are slightly outdated (the video was completed in May 2017). I am very close to publishing a new version of this video. In the meantime, you may wish to view our newly published text-based SiteGround WordPress tutorial (this is a complete guide for beginners, and was created as part of a course I am designing for high school students). This text-based tutorial contains step-by-step screenshots and clear instructions and can be downloaded as a PDF. This was published in August 2018 and provides a more up-to-date guide than the video below. The video below remains useful for a broad introduction to WordPress and shows footage of my art portfolio website www.amiriagale.com.
Visit SiteGround to create your own website!
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!
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.