Over the past couple of months we’ve been building some great websites together. We’ve set up a structure, chosen a theme and started redecorating. But the rooms are empty. Remember, your website is all about one thing – your content.
Today we are going to fill in a lot of the blanks we have created for ourselves so far. We are going to add content to that fancy new website of yours.
Content is King
This is a saying I’ve heard a thousand times in the web design world. Half the time I’m the one saying it. But it holds true. Oftentimes we just want our website to look or feel a certain way. That’s a great hook. But if there’s nothing for users to experience, they’ll depart, en masse, as fast as they came.
A website without strong content is like an IKEA showroom. Everything looks great until you realize the TV is just a cardboard box. The laptop is flat. Plastic. Empty.
Assuming you’ve done your homework and built a site that attracts visitors (we’ll get to how you can know this later), you now have an audience that actually wants to learn more about you and your work. They want to hear about your process. They want to get to know you as an artist. Maybe even as a person. They want to share your work. They want to buy your work.
I know. Exciting, right?
Content Is the Hardest Part
Almost every time I have build a website for a person or organization, the project has jammed up right about here. Producing content is tough work. You often have to sit and stew and think and create. You may or may not be a great writer. You may or may not rely on other people for your content (a photographer to capture your work, for instance).
Let me encourage you that this part is hard because it is important. And most important things are hard. Let me encourage you not to give up. Let me encourage you that less is more. Let me share some tools and tips.
The Art of Great Content
Less, More Often, Is More
Your website doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t need to do everything. But what it does, please make sure it does that well. Once you’ve got that one thing down, you’ll have stretched your competency. Your capacity may be ready for the next bit. But start small.
This is the part where I encourage you to get off your butt and put something on your website. And not next week. Today. In fact, you’d likely be better off doing that than finishing this article right now.
Think about what you already have to offer, right now. Think about the type and amount of content that is managable for you. Be realistic.
Maybe all your website needs is a headshot and contact information. Then book that photo shoot and register that email. Maybe you need a bio. Then write down why I should care about you and your work, in as few words as possible. Maybe your website is here to show me your latest photos. Then upload some photos, tell me how I can get ahold of you to take some for my next project, and hit ‘Publish’. Go live. Launch with a little.
You can always grow this thing, and you don’t need a lot of content for a great site.
You do need some fresh content though, if you want return visitors. Often a website is nothing more than a digital brochure. I read brochures, capture the pertinent info, then toss them. Same goes for a stale little website. Give me a reason to return if you want me back.
Writing new content all the time can be daunting, so I have good news. Only a tiny part of your site needs to be fresh. You don’t need to revise your blog or your bio pic or your press kit. Keep the same great samples of your writing up for a year. But distract me from that stale smell with something fresh - just a little something.
A blog works really well this way, and this is likely the best reason to keep one. Your posts can be small. Share one inspiring quote a week. Write a little log of when and where you’ve worked on your art this week. Post a photo of your messy studio. Or even more astonishing - your clean studio. Tell us what you are reading. But write something new at least once a week.
SquareSpace makes it really easy to pull blog posts, or your latest tweets, right onto your homepage. Even that could be enough to keep things fresh.
Just be sure you give us a reason to return, or we won’t.
And why does that matter? Because some time down the road you’re going to do something great, and you want to make sure I’m there to find out about it.
Readers are Leaders
What a beatiful, true little cliché. If you want to write well you need to read. And if you want to write good content about your art, read good content about art. Follow other artists’ blogs. Read the arts section of the paper. Subscribe to Image Journal and immerse yourself in fabulous writing. Read across genres. Read poetry. Read slowly. Take it in.
Figure out what you like to read and why. Figure out what kind of content you appreciate and try to make some of your own. If you are struggling with your artist bio, or your CV, or your headshot, or anything, hit up the Google and find examples that draw you. Find what makes your heart beat faster and ask yourself why. Then try and do something kind of like that.
What’s In It For Me?
Every bit of content you post, imagine me – or your dream audience - reading or viewing or listening to that. Imagine them asking what they are going to get out of your content. Take that question seriously, then give a good answer.
When your website is about more than just selling your own artwork, you will gain an audience. Find a way to add value to your readers’ lives. What do you know that I don’t know? What can you teach me? What are you afraid of, that I might be too? What struggle can I share with you?
I’ve found that the more real – the more truly me – I am, the more my work has resonated with people. Maybe I should learn something from that.
Think of every bit of content as a mission. You are here today to do one thing, then get out.
Your bio should tell me about you as an artist. What do you make and why do you make it. Once you tell me that, stop. We’re good.
Even every blog post your write should have a clear goal. A sharpened point. If I take just one thing away from your content, what do you want that to be? Write to that end, and cut away anything that gets in the way.
Focus will keep your pages tight, and often short, which plays nicely with smartphones.
Writing that last blurb has got me thinking about the focus of this here post. I do have one, and I hope you are getting it;
You’ve got some blanks. Go fill them now.
Ask a friend to read your content and ask what they got from it. If it’s not what you hoped they would get, you need to fix that. I think style deviations are OK, but do your best to have good grammar, spelling and the like. Believe it or not, I do try. Spell check helps.
The goal for editing is not to make it perfect, however. You won’t get to perfect anyways, and as I said first off, less, more often, is more. So set a timeline to mess with something, but if you love that content, let it go.
Tools of the Trade
The good news in all of this is you don’t have to go it alone. There are a lot of tools out there to help you create great content for your website. Many of them are even free. Here are some that I have tried, and would recommend.
This simple website, and app, helps you write with the terse clarity of Hemmingway. Or, at least, it lets you know how many run on sentences you are using.
I used this for a couple of months to write everthing, and while I’m not using it now, it trained me to write tight, clear copy. Which is what you want for a website. You’ll get told how many complicated words and phrases you have, as well as what ‘grade level’ you are writing for, and what you should aim for. A great workout to get your prose in shape.
Just keep Hemmingway away from your poetry.
A solid, free online wordprocessor that automagically saves as you type. Never lose a draft again! This is a great tool for working collaboratively, too.
Desk is a Mac-only app, but it works well for writing copy for a blog. Formatting happens right in the place you are typing, and you can hook it up to your blog to post things as soon as you write them, without having to work with sometimes-clunky web editors.
With Desk, you keep local drafts of everything, and can write in a simplified full-screen ‘distraction-free’ mode. Wordpress comes with a ‘distraction free’ mode built in, and other tools like WriteRoom allow full-screen writing without any distracting toolbars, too. I recommend a tool like this if you get distracted by all the bells and whistles. And internets.
This free tool is pretty much a god-send for those who know little to nothing about graphic design, but still want great looking graphics for their website. With Canva, you just choose a size, start with a template (or not) and use their drag and drop tools to build a graphic. Headers for your blog posts? Yep. Social media images to share? Yep. A fancy treatment of your bio pic? Sure thing.
Oh. And it’s free.
Death to The Stock Photo & Unsplash
Sometimes you cannot take all the beautiful photos you need or imagine to fill in the gaps of your website content. This is where stock photos can save you.
Death to the Stock Photo is a subscription service that sends beautiful images to your inbox every month. A paid plan gives you access to all of the past images, while the free version just gives you the current batch of beauties.
Unsplash throws up 10 new images every single week. You can now search those images too. Heavy of ‘hipster-nature’ images, which may or may not be your thing, this site is definitely worth a look.
There are dozens more sites out there for free, quality images. But these are my current favourites.
Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo
Not for the faint-of-heart, and Mac-only, these brand new programs are giving Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop a serious run for their (obscene amounts of) money. Affinity Designer replaces most of Adobe Illustrator’s functionality. Affinity Photo is in beta right now and a contender to take down Photoshop.
Photo is free while in beta, while Designer is just about $50. That is an insanely good deal for what you are getting and if you want to create some seriously good graphics (and aren’t afraid to learn a bit about design software along the way), I cannot recommend these enough.
If you’ve been using Squarespace to build your website, you have a lot of great image tools at your fingertips right in your website builder. With Squarespace’s built in tools, you can actually;
- Edit images you’ve uploaded. This includes cropping, changing colours, adding filters and even adding text and a lot more.
- Buy images from the excellent library Getty Images. $10 will get you a high quality image that should fill your needs for whatever situation. When you add an image to a page, you’ll get an opportunity to upload your own, or to search for one from Getty.
- Make a logo with Squarespace’s built in logo tool. If you like what you make, and you have a Squarespace website, you can keep it at no extra charge.
Evernote uses a Elephant as their logo for good reason. They don’t want you to forget anything. Evernote let’s you grab information from websites, type up your own notes, record audio, take pictures, scan paper, save PDFs … so many things! Think of Evernote as a collection of easy to make, easy to search sticky notes.
I use Evernote to save quotes, articles, facts, memorable sections from books, and more. When I need to write about something related to those notes, they are right at my fingertips. On every device I use. This has saved me from ‘forgotten song lyric syndrome’ at many an open mic.
Evernote is available free.
This is a time management technique that is about focussed bursts of work, with breaks in between. In its most basic form, you focus for 25 minutes, then break for 5.
The key here is that you give yourself permission to give in to distraction later, so you can work confidently now.
There is a whole system around this, complete with awesome little tomato-timers. There are also many apps you can use to keep track of yoru work time in this way, for computers and for phones.
Trello uses a visual system of ‘cards’ pinned to ‘boards’ to manage a big flow of ideas. I know many people use Trello to plan out their content, chunk by chunk. It’s a helpful tool to keep visual people organized, and it’s free.
For me, the biggest strength of Trello is allowing me to break a large project (like writing the content for a whole website) into small, manageable chunks (like choosing my bio photo).
The Big Idea: Fill In Your Blanks
You’ve built that structure, now don’t get hung up. Get writing. Fill in your blanks, one by one by one. Set a goal to get one small piece of content done each day. In a week or two you’ll have all that you need to get started.
You got this.
If you need some ideas or help, just ask.
See you next Wednesday at our website workshop!