Every website needs a domain name and site host. The domain name is the address of your website. A site host or provider is where the files of your website reside on the Internet. You must search for, register and pay for the rights to use your domain name. Start with a list of several options as many domain names are already taken. Keep it simple. You want your contacts to remember your web address. Most companies offer you the option of paying for your domain name by the month, year or in multi-year payment packages. Many companies can provide you with both a domain name and web hosting for one fee. Generally, the fee for web hosting is based on the space or file size that your website will take up on the company's server as well as other services that are included or can be added to your website such as email accounts, password protected pages, etc. A lot of people have hosting space already that they don't even know about - it came with their email account. Most Internet Service Providers (Earthlink, Drizzle, MSN, etc.) offer their customers limited website space as part of their email service package. Usually this space is adequate for a basic artist website, although often the website addresses are complicated. One way to get around this is to go ahead and purchase a domain name and then have the company that is providing the domain name re-route visitors to the address where your site is hosted. www.register.com, www.readyhosting.com or www.godaddy.com offer domain name registration and provide hosting.
It is always advisable to get a plan for your website down on paper before the real work begins. Start by doing some initial research of other artist sites. List the features that you like about certain sites, and make note of what you don't like too. Consider the intended audience for your site. Do you have an objective for your website - exposure, sales, etc.? How would you like the site to be structured? Will it have separate categories such as paintings, works on paper? An interesting and dynamic website should balance usability and good design. In achieving this goal consider: the navigation of the website, download times, the overall structure of the site, the individual page structure, and the accessibility of your site regardless of plug-ins, browser, platform and operating system.
A few resources for the planning stage include:
www.jessett.com offers information on the basics of creating a website.
http://webstyleguide.com is an online instructional manual that gives guidance to those interested in creating their own website.
www.entheosweb.com offers free web design tutorials - from website design tips and ideas to CSS Styles, Fireworks and Dreamweaver.
www.tizag.com offers a quick tutorial that walks the beginner Web designer through the process of creating their first website.
Designing a website goes beyond creative text layout and color choices. Artists need to ask themselves if they possess the technical skills and the experience in electronic design necessary to create a professional website. It may be very worthwhile in terms of time and energy for you to hire a professional web designer to develop your site with your input. Since most artists’ websites are basic in relation to those created for a business or company, costs for the initial design can start as low as $300. After you find someone in your price range, take the time to look at sites the web designer has created. This will help you get a sense of the caliber of design and the level of experience offered by the web designer. Since every website needs to be updated from time to time, find out how they bill for updates, and ask them how you can best streamline your updates to save yourself money.
Individuals with general computer skills and a good how-to book can construct a website given the appropriate web editing software. Adobe's GoLive (www.adobe.com/products/golive/), Microsoft's FrontPage (http://microsoft.com/frontpage/) and Adobe’s (Macromedia) Dreamweaver (http://adobe.com/products/dreamweaver/) are the top three, and all programs enable you to create and manage your website with little HTML knowledge. Most artists, especially those wishing to include images of their artwork, will also need a good image editing program. Adobe's Photoshop Elements (http://adobe.com/products/photoshopelwin/) is pretty good for the cost. Mac users might also want to look for the shareware program GraphicConverter (http://www.lemkesoft.com/), which converts pictures to different formats and it also contains many useful features for picture manipulation.
The two most common image file formats for the web are JPEG and GIF. Use JPEGs for images of artwork, and GIFs for buttons and other graphic elements. The resolution of these image files should be no larger than 72 dpi. Any files with a larger dpi will increase the download time for your images.
Once your site has been created it needs to be uploaded or published. This will be an ongoing process in the life of your site. Every time you update pages and make other changes to your site you will need to publish the edited version of your site. The main method of publishing a website is to use a FTP (file transfer protocol) program. This type of program enables you to transfer files from your development site to a live server. There are plenty of good FTP programs that are freeware (Freeware and Shareware: www.versiontracker.com or www.webattack.com). Most will meet the needs and size of an artist's website. CuteFTP (www.cuteftp.com/cuteftp/) is a Windows-based FTP application that allows you to utilize the capabilities of FTP without having to know all the details of the protocol itself.
Another aspect of creating a website is making sure that web users searching for you or your artwork will be able to find your site easily. You or your web designer are responsible for making this happen. In a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, the user browses the search engine's database of indexed sites by entering keywords or phrases into a search box. While your site may be found by search engine software, in the case of crawler-based services such as Google, or by individuals, in the case of human powered directory based services like Yahoo, you still need to submit your site to these search engines. For more information on how search engines work and tips for submitting to search engines spend some time on www.SearchEngineWatch.com.