Case Study: Websites for Artists

Art has been on all our minds for the past few weeks. I’d like to walk you through the process we’ve gone through, because it shows some significant shifts in the way we make websites today.

The first big change is that our production expert, Dan Johnson, who has been helping me to craft outstanding websites for several years, is striking out on his own from the end of this month (September 2011).

Art is Dan’s passion. He’s a very skilled artist in his own right, doing brilliant celebrity caricatures as well as more classic drawing & painting.

I believe if you can do what you love, you’ll find life a lot easier. I love exploring, teaching and sharing, so my days don’t usually feel too much like work.

The Golden Triangle

One of the things I stress on to the Pro Web Design Alliance members is the importance of finding your niche in the world.

The tool I recommend for this is what I call the “Golden Triangle”. Imagine 3 interlocking circles, marked:

  • Love
  • Can do well
  • Money in it

Your task is to find something that’s within all 3 of those circles, in the golden triangle formed where all 3 circles overlap.

Everything we could do will fit into none, one, two, or three of these circles. What can you do well, that there’s a market for, and which inspires your passion?

So it’s great that Dan is following his passion. What he’s going to do will combine his love for art, use the skills he’s perfected over the years, and hopefully provide a much-needed service.

It’s provided by a specialist in the niche

There are lots of good reasons why it’s in your interest to get your website from someone who specialises in your business sector.

Let’s take Dan for example. He works with artists, so he understands what artists need, and what their main concerns and preferences are. They’re not just another sole trader or small business to him.

He has designed and built a theme just for artists, and it will be worthwhile to continue to develop his theme over time, adding features that will benefit the majority of his customers. If he had a hundred clients across dozens of different sectors, it would not be worthwhile to develop the service in this way.

A website also needs traffic to thrive. The key to getting traffic is getting inbound links from other websites. And the key to getting links is getting attention.

For us, link-building is marketing – specifically PR, in other words…

  1. Creating something that’s worth talking about
  2. And then getting people talking about it

It’s actually quite difficult to do this on behalf of a client in a sector you don’t understand. Because real impact is achieved through influence, and if you’re not part of a particular community of interest, you don’t have influence, so it’s an uphill struggle.

But when you’re part of the sector, you can build and exert influence through many channels:

  • Your website / blog
  • Your Mailing list
  • Social media: Following, and being followed by, others in the niche
  • Personal contacts within the sector
  • Clients within the sector
  • Suppliers within the sector

When you work within one sector all the time, you develop the insight and the relationships to be able to get any message seen by a significant audience. You don’t need to “build” links, you cause links to be created, simply through drawing the attention of other people who have influence.

Bloggers and journalists are always on the lookout for new stories. When you understand that, you can choose to pitch any piece of information as news, so that it will be snapped up.

The key is first to create content that can be interesting or noteworthy. If the only content you ever produce is straight-up selling material, it’s hard to get other voices to want to share it.

However, a bit of time spent creating really useful stuff (like “The Top 10 Ways for Visual Artists to Get Commissions”), people will link to it. Imagine how much easier it is to get links to a “giving” article like that than it is to get people to link to your “Buy My Stuff” page.

But you can still get the benefit of those inbound links, because those links will be pointing to your website, increasing its SEO value. Plus, you can link from those articles (whether they’re on your site or not), and pass link-juice to your marketing content.

So I encourage all the web designers in my Alliance to choose a niche position in the Golden Triangle, where they can more easily generate value for their clients.

It’s all based on WordPress

WordPress is the success story of website production from the past 7 years. It makes it much quicker and easier to publish content online than ever before.

The market share is significant, in many ways. Before we had this one clear leader, with an extensive community, many content management systems had to be built or customised by programmers for each new website. (I know, because I wrote my own CMS!)

Now, you can do pretty much what you want within the WordPress world, far more quickly and cheaply than ever before. I think the impact of this will be incredibly significant. It really should shake the way we think about creating websites.

It is taking the world a while to catch up to the significance, though. The major difference is that you can invest the same amount of money and effort to create a website today (or less), and get far more success.

The trick is to invest less in original graphics and custom production, and more in creative planning, content strategy, keyword strategy, and promotion.

It’s not fully bespoke

Too many web designers still think that visual design is the primary factor in a site’s success. It isn’t. It isn’t in the top 3.

These designers will try to persuade new clients to invest thousands in original design and layout. For the majority of websites, this is a mistake.

The fact is, with WordPress, you can get a website today that far outperforms a hand-rolled custom-designed site.

Check out my recent video for more about this: How to Build a Website.

You know why I think most designers will try to hold clients back in the medieval method? I think it’s because they don’t have the full set of skills to get a website to work!

It’s like a brave new world. The old skills (the ability to design a website in Photoshop and hand-craft it from scratch) are not as important as they used to be. In the near future, I think most web designers should either be WordPress theme designers/developers, or they’ll be professional marketers who use WordPress themes.

Most designers who’ve invested years in their ability to push pixels and produce standards-compliant code will be threatened by the new order that WordPress signifies. I’m not. I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the web.

It’s subscription-based, with low upfront costs

We no longer live in a world where you have to spend $5000-plus to get a website that works.

It’s so much cheaper and quicker to get a website that works today than ever before. A web designer may tell you you need a bespoke design. Don’t believe them. There are thousands of great WordPress themes out there, and several of them are likely to suit your needs perfectly.

Keeping a website populated with fresh content and promoting that content are two of the most important factors that will influence its success.

That’s why I believe that paying thousands up-front for a website that just sits there is a total waste. You should pay for a website from someone who understands your market, and knows how to market your site. Without that expertise behind you, your investment will go to waste. Sorry.

So I predict the subscription model is one we’ll see a lot more.