If Google isn’t showing you the SEO love, no amount of freshly baked gluten-free chocolate chip cookies delivered straight to its headquarters will change that.
Being found online requires significant effort; a huge chunk of which is your website.
Think of your website as your digital house. Even your favorite aunt, persistent though she may be, won’t scoot her butt up your driveway if she can’t find your house hidden behind ivy walls an unmarked mailbox; she’ll likely whip out her flip phone (I said she was your favorite – not forward-thinking) and call to say she’s been circling the same street for an hour now.
The difference between having a poorly identified house and a scatterbrained website is that your aunt will call; the one-woman flower shop looking for a new logo design won’t. If she can’t find you, or worse, leaves your digital doorstep more confused than when she first arrived, you’ve lost her.
And not just her, but employers + clients + networking opportunities + guest post offers + advertising sponsors + affiliate sales.
You won’t capture everyone who wanders around your site but gosh, girl; you’ve sure as heck got to make it easy for them to know who you are, what you do, and how to contact you.
Let’s look at the five core components of a creative’s website. This list is highly distilled and doesn’t cover SEO, social integration, contact forms, etc.
Numero Uno: Content Management System (CMS)
A CMS makes your job as a creative so much easier. It means your website is templated, so when you make changes, you won’t have to modify things like header images, sidebar widgets or site navigation on every single page.
The good news is that they’re all open source, which means they’re free as birds. The bad news is they’re not all created equal; some are more difficult to operate than others.
From easiest-to-learn to most sophisticated: WordPress > Joomla > Drupal.
The White House website operates on Drupal. For RWL, I use WordPress (self-hosted – not the dot com version for bloggers). I’ve been told Joomla is a great alternative to WordPress.
One the CMS is installed on your website’s FTP account (see WordPress’ Famous 5-minute installation), you can say “Hasta la vista” to managing the site page-by-tedious-page.
Step two is to download, and install, a theme (either to customize that baby like your very own Christmas morning wrapping paper or to stick with the standard color scheme, layout, etc.). I’ll dive into look + feel later on.
Numero Dos: Cornerstone Content
In a nutshell, this is your blog. If you’re a photographer specializing in captivating landscapes, you best be writing about f-stops and neutral density filters.
Blogging should complement your business. Cornerstone content covers the basics of your industry in a way that positions you at the forefront.
Let’s go back to the photographer example. Miss DSLR might make a how-to video on how to create Photoshop actions. Or write posts on the process of setting up a shot or interfacing with clients (if she does portraits). She might answer FAQs sent via her contact form.
The content centers on educating other photographers and giving Google a thick trail of breadcrumbs when searching for those same terms so that future clients find her, too.
Numero Tres: Email Newsletter
There are two schools of thought on email marketing. The first is that you are crazy to think anybody will read YOUR message in a pile of unread inbox notes a mile high. The second is that if you produce content that people willingly subscribe to, they will fawn over your words each time you hit the send button.
I’m a fan of Option #2. When done right, email marketing is permission marketing. In short, it means somebody asked you to sit in their inbox. They opted in via a form on your website.
Because of that, it’s crucial your email signup form be visible and captivating. That list is your golden ticket to new clients, new projects, new horizons, really.
(This is a quick intro, and likely I’ll circle back to elaborate on how email marketing works for creative professionals, but suffice to say it’s similar to cornerstone content.)
My go-to email marketing tool: MailChimp
Numero Quatro: Portfolio
Newly-minted creatives tend to fall into two categories: they either complain they don’t have any work to show or say they have some, but certainly not a volume of work.
Let me tell you something: a few great, swoon-worthy projects trump a volume of mediocre-at-best projects any day. And if you’re not proud of what you’ve got, you better hike up your belt loops and step into the sunshine and snap something awe-inspiring or load InDesign and go to work on a magazine layout rebrand.
Give. Yourself. Projects.
Your clients want to know what you’ve done.
So, with that in mind, your portfolio section should include only the projects you feel excellent about. If you don’t like it, don’t show it.
Numero Cinco: Branded Look + Feel
You are a creative. Your cells are buzzing with aesthetic understanding. You are critical. You are hardworking. You want to present yourself well, right?
The average website visitor spends only 8 seconds on a page before deciding whether to leave. Part of that decision is a clear understanding of the page and its purpose. Another part, especially for people in the business of making things, is the consistency in the way the site looks and the emotional appeal it evokes.
If a visitor arrives at your site and it’s a hot mess – hard to navigate, a myriad of eye-throbbing choices, none of which seem to mesh together – they’re out in 3-4 seconds tops.
It’s not so much that your site has to be stellar, or that you have to invest in a 10k design project, but color choice, font selection, etc. should match the logo, header images, social media icons, email signup forms, link colors, etc.
Creating a site like that will make your potential colleagues and clients sigh with relief because they can entrust you to create something for them that’s equally cohesive, fully developed and in tune with their own mission.
Bonus: Freelance Information
This is for the people who are ready to hire you. They’ve sifted through your site, subscribed to your newsletter, read your latest blog posts and decided you are their cup of tea when it comes to their wedding photography.
But they don’t know how much you charge or whether you just take the photos or edit them, too. And is that included or separate? Do you offer packages?
Is your head spinning? Yep. If you don’t want all of this front and center on your freelance page, at least consider providing a form for them to submit the scope of work or contact you for pricing and package options.
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave ‘em in the comments section below.