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A friend recently asked me to compile a shortlist of tips for a university workshop he was running on creating great musician websites on WordPress. This is a common situation for many musicians at the beginning of their career or when starting a new project, but without experience of building websites it can be difficult to know where to start and what to prioritise.
This is where you would normally discuss your needs with a web designer who can guide you through the process and take care of all of the nitty gritty on your behalf, but what if you have an extremely limited budget? If you’re desperate to get some sort of online presence together you’ve a couple of options – either use an online site builder or set about building your own. Assuming you choose the latter option, here are some tips…
1) Buy a professional theme rather than using a free one. These generally cost around £50 but offer numerous benefits not least in their feature set and design aesthetic (in most cases) – ThemeForest is great resource for finding professional themes. In a recent survey of freely available templates, it was found that many contained malware or vulnerabilities that could expose sites to being hacked, so be warned!
2) Envisage your home page as your shop window – it should contain all of the content that is most important for your visitors to see. It’s important to spent some time getting the layout of this page right as with all of the different content elements it’s easy for it to look cluttered, which brings us nicely on to…
3) Make your site easy to navigate and don’t clutter up your pages. If visitors are overloaded with content it can be confusing for them to know where to click next, so prioritise your content and make the most important aspects of your site clearly accessible (buying your music/merch, mailing list, etc). This extends to your navigation bar, too – if you have loads of pages, categorise these into drop down menus so the main options are clear.
4) Check how the site looks on mobile devices. This goes without saying now, but web traffic increasingly comes from mobile devices so check how all of the pages look at various screen widths. Hint: You can check how your site responds to different screen widths by resizing your browser window on a desktop computer.
5) If you’re including audio on your site, don’t set it to autoplay – just don’t!
6) Make sure your include links to your social media accounts – these can be icons in well chosen places or streams depending on exactly what you want.
7) If it’s relevant, make sure you include an easily downloadable EPK (electronic press kit) than contains your bio and web/print ready photos. Zip these files up and host them in a Dropbox folder if needs be. You can then link promoters/press to this rather than bloating their inboxes (they’ll thank you for this).
8) Don’t be afraid to get creative! If you happen to be a dab hand at illustration and that fits the aesthetic you’re looking for, why not try and incorporate that into the design? Hand drawn elements can add a unique touch to your site, so why not?
Domains & Hosting
9) If you can, buy the .co.uk and .com versions of your domain. The .com top-level domain (TLD) is probably the one you want, but the .co.uk TLD will help with search engine results from within the UK, and you can set them both to hook up to your site. If you’re not sure where to buy these from, I would highly recommend 123-reg.co.uk – they’re a great domain registrar with decent prices and lots of account flexibility.
10) Hosting doesn’t need to cost the earth – you can find good hosts for somewhere in the region of £20-£30 per year if you’re willing to tackle the setup and do any troubleshooting yourself. I recommend Guru* – the hosting is very affordable and the customer service is excellent (plus you get a free domain with their hosting!).
Security (don’t skip this!)
This is an often overlooked area, particularly by new users of WordPress but I cannot stress how important it is to spend some time setting this up. Clearing up a hacked WordPress website can be a real nightmare and in some cases requires a complete rebuild!
11) Make sure you secure your site with at least one security plugin. WordPress is designed to be as secure as possible out of the box, but it’s also the most popular CMS available so is therefore a big target for hackers. iThemes Security/Wordfence/Sucuri are all good free plugins – you can use one or a combination of these to secure different aspects of the site.
12) Keep on top of plugin/Wordpress updates – there are plugins that can take of this automatically. Without doing this you can unintentionally leave your site vulnerable to any security flaws that are discovered.
13) A really simple way to make your site more search engine friendly is to change the permalinks on your site to display the post name (www.yoursite.com/page) rather than the default setting (www.yoursite.com/?p=123). To do this, login to the dashboard and then navigate to Settings > Permalinks. Select ‘Post name’ and then ‘Save Changes’.
14) Take the time to post updates/articles to Facebook/Twitter individually rather than using a plugin to do this automatically. The auto-share plugins/social-media-apps often don’t format the content well across different platforms. Also, tweets and Facebook posts that use images are far more likely to get retweeted/shared than those that don’t, so use these to make your social content more engaging.
15) Don’t plaster the site with out-of-context quotes from famous musicians you happened to have been on stage with once or twice. Organise anything usable into a press page. Media are wise to aggrandised quotes – if you’re not sure whether to use it, ask yourself “if the person I’m quoting visited my website with me present, would I be embarrassed if they saw it was on there?”
16) Decide on the purpose and intended audience for your site before you build – this will help you whittle down the content you should/shouldn’t include. If it’s a site to advertise teaching, your focus will be different to a performer’s site. Similarly, performers need to decide on the purpose of their site – is it an outlet for your creative stuff or everything you do? This will impact on the content your upload and the gigs you list.
17) Use free software like MailChimp for your mailing lists – it’s easy to setup, lets you see open/read percentages and also allows subscribers to anonymously unsubscribe (respect your subscribers’ choices!).
Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive, but these tips should help you get started when creating your own WordPress website. If you’ve found this article useful, please share it with any musicians who you think may benefit from giving it a read! Get in touch if you need help with setting your site up or would like to discuss your options – I’m more than happy to help.
Got any of your own tips? Share them in the comments below!