So I do have some blog posts here already, but they are some of the ones that I wrote on my business blog in my previous life as a retailer (grouped here under the category What Else Is Swell?); the few that particularly meant something to me so I included them here when I shut down that business and, coincidentally around the same time, set up this web site. But this post, that I'm writing now, is my first real post on my new blog/website, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about the process of setting up the site; it is, after all, what I've spent much of the last three weeks doing.
I've been wanting a website for my art for a couple of years now but work, life, friends, dogs, etc. kept happening and I never got to it. It seemed kind of daunting and just one of those things I'll do another time. Well, now is another time - I'm between jobs having just closed down the retail store my husband and I have had in Provincetown, Cape Cod for what feels like a gazillion years but is actually 15, and my new job doesn't start until next week so, essentially, I had four weeks off and I put them to good use. I could probably spend four weeks telling you about it all but, well that would be dull to say the least, so here is the Why, When, What, Where, How nutshell version of my experience of setting up an artist website.
I consider myself a wannabe artist; someone who has reached the stage of producing art on a reasonably regular basis, but who isn't in an art gallery (yet!). I want somewhere to showcase my work, somewhere beyond Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (all of which have their place) that I can send people to. Somewhere that makes me look professional and serious and a lot more important than I am. I want somewhere to write about my art, other people's art, and what inspires me. I want to sell my work. And I want feedback, support, constructive criticism in order to develop and progress and move forward. It seemed like a website was a great way to get all those things. And frankly, why not? Everyone has a website these days.
Right now. Like I said, between jobs, perfect time to do it.
These, in no particular order, were my requirements:
- Must have a clean, simple style that will showcase the images and make them really pop,
- Must have my own domain name (otherwise you just don't look professional and you get no search engine optimization when you are a subset of someone else's domain),
- Must be able to sell stuff,
- Must have a blog attached,
- Must be free, as I didn't want to be locked into something that I'd have to pay for forever or the whole site would disappear,
- Must be simple and easy to use.
Turns out 2. and 5. are mutually exclusive these days (even WordPress, long the bastion of all things free now charges for own domain sites) so I changed 5. to Must be affordable, which in my wallet is less than $5 a week.
Well, duh, on the internet. Of course the internet is a big thing but I just needed a little corner of it, which kind of leads to...
How, indeed? How to achieve this lofty goal of my own professional and creative looking corner of the world wide web?
And so I entered Phase 1: Research.
This took a while, partly because there are a lot of options, partly because there's a lot of stuff written about those options, and partly because I'm the kind of person that has to feel that I've looked at all the options. I looked closely at Wix, WordPress, Weebly and Squarespace, which I ultimately chose because it didn't begin with W - kidding! I quickly ruled out Wix and Weebly for reasons I can't even remember now. And that left WordPress (with which I have some pretty happy experience) and Squarespace, which I did eventually choose.
I chose it because it was the only one that had all 6 of my requirements plus things I hadn't even thought of like :
- the commerce part has integrated credit card processing with very average fees,
- Squarespace sites are on Squarespace's server (which I know some very techy types don't consider a good thing but I'm not that techy and I did my research and decided it wasn't that much of an issue and simplicity way overrode it),
- the cost included a free domain name,
- they have loads of guides, videos, tutorials, etc. all very step-by-step and very easy to follow,
- there's an actual customer service department who promised to respond within an hour and usually got back to me much much quicker,
- they let me set up a free account to play on for two weeks to see if I liked it (I played for less than two days before deciding I loved it),
- they don't have a ton of choices (that might seem like a bad thing but actually when there are 25 templates to choose from there will be one that works for you and the thousands to choose from with WordPress is just far far too many. I mean I spent maybe a whole day looking at WordPress templates and was more confused than inspired by the end of it; and they aren't even written by WordPress so if something doesn't work you are dealing with someone else, who you perhaps only paid 20 bucks to for the template and who may or may not be responsive to your issue, and they may or may not have updated the template to the newest version of WordPress, and they may or may not still be writing stuff for WordPress, etc.),
- Squarespace offered simple one click migration to and from other sites, including WordPress where the aforementioned blog posts that I wanted to save were,
- other reasons I can't remember now, but basically there didn't really seem to be a downside; it was possibly a few more dollars than WordPress but not much once you factor in domain name, template purchase, hosting, third party processing for a commerce site, never mind the bother of keeping track of all those different things. I was all for one stop shopping, and at $173 for the year I say I got my money's worth. And in reality once I had seen both home pages I knew that Squarespace was the one for me, I mean WordPress' is so dull.
I did find Website Builder Expert very helpful in choosing the platform and figuring out what I wanted and how to achieve it. Many good articles, comparisons between platforms (I especially used this Squarespace Vs WordPress one), cost analysis, etc. Really doesn't bash or promote any particular platform just gives pros, cons and analysis.
And Phase 2: Setting Up The Site Having Finally Chosen Which Platform To Use?
Well Squarespace is indeed very simple to use and I got the hang of it quickly. Setting up the commerce part and getting authorized to accept credit cards took literally half an hour and there are no fees unless you sell something (a very different situation all around from the site I used to have for my retail store). And their customer service is amazing - responsive, fast, knowledgable, never made me feel like I was being dumb (even when I was), friendly; even too friendly at times as they always email back after the issue is resolved to tell you that they are there 24/7 to answer questions/you can ask anything/get help with whatever/etc.; but really if your biggest complaint is that the customer service is too friendly then the phrase 'clutching at straws' comes to mind.
I do have a couple of small issues: The captions for images double as alt tags so you have to choose between writing something that makes sense to the reader or writing something that google will go for and of course you have to choose the later in the hope that google will bring you readers and you can't turn the captions off if you have a lightbox turned on so you end up having to write something halfway intelligible yet not quite what you wanted for SEO purposes. That was frustrating and honestly alt tags and captions shouldn't be the same thing, even if you are going for simplicity. And the other aspect I don't like is that on the commerce part if someone clicks the Continue Shopping button it takes them back to the home page of the whole website, not the home page for the shopping part - that is really annoying, and if I was a customer I'd think the person setting up the site didn't know how to put links in properly; there absolutely should be a place where I can change the link url rather than have it automatically default to the wrong page. And while they have tons of helpful videos and guides some of them are in their older system that they just upgraded from so my screen sometimes looked a little different, although honestly not different enough that I couldn't figure it out. Plus I noticed that some of the things that customers asked for in the videos that the person hosting the tutorial said were not available actually are now available which gives me hope that my little complaints are being taken seriously and may get changed in the near future. The worst thing was that the migration of the blog posts from WordPress was spotty to say the least; a lot of the images didn't transfer and had to be re-uploaded - it was tedious and boring getting them all reformatted and looking decent (though, on the upside, and it's a very big upside, when you have images and text in a blog post on Squarespace what you see on the back end is exactly how it shows up on the front end, unlike with WordPress where WYSIWYG absolutely isn't).
And please don't think that the technical jargon in that last paragraph means I'm some sort of techy expert; I'm not. I've had some limited experience with a blog and an ecommerce site, and because of that I know a bit about search engine optimization, and I do read the occasional article about how to format things or get people to see you on Facebook, or some such specialized sounding side of the web, but otherwise I'm relatively green about all these things which is why I like the one stop shopping aspect of Squarespace. They have videos and guides for every single aspect of the site and I promise you can learn a ton by watching them and end up with a very professional looking site that you built all by yourself.
Like I did.
Two thumbs up I say. Or maybe 4 1/2 stars out of 5 (just because of those couple of things I mentioned).
...which I guess would be Phase 3.
Well I'm pretty happy with the whole thing. The place where you buy my art is functional and clear, the rest of the site looks and works just how I wanted it and I really enjoyed setting it all up and choosing which artwork to include; it felt very creative and not a horrible thing that sapped my time, energy and enthusiasm.
Please let me know if you like the site, and I guess let me know if you don't like it, but be nice; I'm a sensitive artistic type and I'd prefer that Phase 4 be Basking In The Glory Of Adoring Fans rather than Taking Down The Site Because Everyone Agrees It's Awful. Thanks a million!