Website Design Tips

Finally! Someone else is saying what I’ve said all along. However, I don’t believe this should be limited to country artists. ~K*Chele

Website Design Tips for Country Artists, Labels – and You ~Nancy Moran

With so much fan interaction happening on Facebook and Twitter these days, you might think that regular websites are a thing of the past. In fact, artist and company websites are more essential than ever for establishing and developing a brand. Your website is your home base. It’s where you ultimately maintain control of what and how you communicate with your fans and/or customers. Remember: The goal of your social media sites is to drive traffic back to your website.

So what makes for a great website in 2012?

Usability
The most effective websites are created with the end user in mind. Your visitors are more interested in content than impressive visual design or bells and whistles. They want information. They want it instantly. Most visitors will decide in a matter of seconds whether to stay on your site or leave. So make sure your site is easy to use, easy to read and easy to understand.

For example, black text on a white background is generally easier to read than white text on a black background. Vertical scrolling is largely accepted, while horizontal scrolling is almost universally disliked by users. Moving, blinking or rotating graphics are distracting and will often drive a user to leave the page.

Also, remember to test your website. Click on every link, menu and button on every page. Check it out on different computers using different browsers. From a user’s standpoint, there’s nothing worse than a website that literally doesn’t work.

Simplicity
Photos and graphics might be worth a thousand words, but if you’re not careful you can overwhelm and confuse your visitors with a lot of unnecessary visual clutter. (Anyone remember MySpace?) The same goes for excessive text. You don’t want to crowd the page with more words just because you can.

The truth is that people don’t read entire websites; they scan them. Today’s best websites have a clean, simpler interface, giving them the advantage of faster page load times and making it easier to scan. But simple doesn’t have to mean sparse. With the generous use of white space, judicious use of well-placed headers and an organized, easy-to-follow layout, you can display a lot of content without making your website look chaotic.

Clear, Consistent Navigation
The best location for your main navigation menu is horizontally at the top of the page or vertically on the left-hand side. But what’s more important than the menu’s location is that it’s in the same location and in the same order on every single page of the website. Yes, it may seem and boring to you and your designer. But a clear, easy-to-understand and consistent navigational structure will make your users very happy.

Also, don’t get too cutesy with your button text or icons. If your fans have to guess which menu provides them with Tour Dates, they’ll get frustrated. Standard labels such as “About,” “Tour,” “Music,” “News” and “Blog” are immediately recognizable and allow visitors to click without thinking.

In his “7 Essential Do’s and Don’ts of Website Navigation,” usability guru Jakob Nielsen, Co-Founder of the consulting and research firm Nielsen Norman Group, suggests that you “tell your users where they can go, where they are and where they’ve been.” So if they’re currently viewing the Tour page, highlight that button in the navigation menu or place a page title at the top that says “Tour.” And any links that they’ve already visited should change color to indicate that they have been there.

No Auto-Play
Yes, your site is about music. And yes, you want your visitors to hear your music. But for Pete’s sake, leave the auto-play off! Without a doubt, the single most annoying website feature that fans complain about a lot is music that starts blaring automatically as soon as they enter a site. By all means, display a music player prominently on your site. But let the user decide when they want to hit “Play.”

Little to No Flash
This topic can be somewhat controversial. Artists and designers, particularly in the entertainment field, love Flash. It looks cool. It’s got good “ooh and ahh” factor. But it has many downsides.

First, it slows down your page loads. Users hate to wait while “loading” appears on their screen. Some won’t wait. They’ll just click to another site.

Second, search engines — and Google in particular — are not fond of Flash sites. They’ve made improvements over the past few years, but search engine web crawlers still have difficulty reading Flash, so they will bump your site lower in the search rankings. That means your site will be harder to find.

But perhaps the biggest reason of all is that Flash doesn’t work on iPhones, iPods or iPads. With the world going mobile so quickly, you are limiting who can view your site by using Flash. Besides, with new technologies such as HTML5 and JQuery, you can get the snazzy, “flashy” features you want without using Flash.

No Splash Pages
A splash page is an introductory page to a website that shows off a self-promoting graphic or animation (often in Flash) and then has a link to “Enter Site.” While they may be self-gratifying and allow you to advertise your newest release or upcoming tour, they are the ultimate in website dysfunction, as they literally create a barrier to your homepage. The user has already clicked a link or typed in your URL to go to your site. They don’t want to ask twice.

If that’s not persuasive enough, consider that splash pages also lower your search engine ranking. Because there aren’t a lot of keywords or links on them, your real homepage is now a secondary level URL (e.g., http://www.artistname.com/home) and your top-level URL (www.artistname.com) is being redirected to your homepage. Make things simple for your users and the search engines. Skip the splash page entirely.

Two-Way Communications
Today’s websites are about engaging your visitors and fans. If you want to increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) rating, add a blog to your site. Better yet, make your entire site a blog. With a platform like WordPress, you can create a feature-rich website that looks good, is easy to update and gets bonus points from search engines. That’s because you have a constant stream of new content on your site — and search engines love new content.

The best sites know how to get their fans involved and give them several ways to interact. Sure, you can allow your fans to comment on your blog posts. But why not encourage them to upload live photos as well and feature them in your online gallery? Or hold a contest for the best mashup of your latest song.

Also, make sure to really interact with your fans. If they post a comment, comment back. If they ask a question, answer it. Don’t just spit out sound bites or press releases. Your fans want to know and interact with you.

Two-way communication and engagement is the surest way to keep your friends coming back to your website over and over again.

A Sign-Up Form
Regardless of what part of the music industry you’re in or what type of website you are constructing, your email list (e.g., fan list or customer database) is generally considered to be your most valuable asset. It’s good to put some thought into how you capture and collect those precious email addresses.

The best location for a sign-up form is in the upper right-hand corner of your website. This is where the visitor’s eyes will naturally go first. Even so, don’t be shy with the form. Make it large enough to be noticed. Put it on every page of your site. This may seem like overkill, but you never know how visitors will enter your site. If they’ve done a Google search, they may stumble upon an old news or blog entry from last year. If that’s the only page they see, you still want them to see your sign-up form.

Savvy website owners also know that people are reluctant to hand over their email addresses to just anyone. One very successful way to address this is to offer a free incentive in exchange for the email address. An exclusive song or video download is often a good choice. But be creative. Think about what your fans would especially want.

Social Sharing
A survey conducted recently by Pew Internet & American Life Project revealed that 50 percent of all U.S. adults now use social networking sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Among Internet users, young women ages 18-29 are the main “power users,” with 69 percent of them using social networks daily. While many companies have links to their Facebook and Twitter accounts on their website and vice versa, they still miss the point and the power that those social networks provide. The true power is in the ability of fans to share what they love with their friends. It’s like word-of-mouth marketing on steroids.

Social sharing buttons are little icons that allow users to “like” or share content wherever they want — in a tweet, on their Facebook profile, via email or any number of other locations. The best websites today make sharing anything on their site as easy as clicking a button. Get your fans talking about you with all of their Internet pals. Use social sharing buttons.

About Kimberly Michele Durham

ONE ME * MANY TITLES * A THOUSAND TASKS

Posted on March 14, 2012, in K*Chele Magazine, Music and Entertainment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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