This system I’ll tell you about in a second is just one of a zillion ways to get a website up. But I’ve found it to the be very simple and extremely cheap. I’m not going to cover every single detail here, but it should be plenty to get you started. Tech support for the various companies can help you further. Or you can always hire a pro for extremely cheap at ODesk.com . And, of course, I’m always happy to answer questions. Feel free to leave comments on this post with your questions.
A couple thoughts on comedian websites before we begin…
This system does involve spending a little money. “But what about Tumblr? WordPress.com? Facebook? Weebly? Bandzoogle? Any of the other billion ‘build a site for free’ places?” There are advantages and disadvantages to every option. But there’s two big problems with the “build it free” places. First, they’re usually limited in what you can do to tweak them. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with a site that looks like a zillion other sites and doesn’t reflect you as an artist. Your site doesn’t have to have bunch of bells and whistles (in fact, it shoudn’t), but it should be “you”.
Second, you don’t have ultimate control of your site. If they all the sudden want to slap a bunch of ads on your site, they can. If they go out of business, you’re out of luck. If they want to capture user information in the background and sell it to 3rd parties, there’s nothing you can do about it. Having your own site on your own server space is the only really professional way to go. And you want to be professional, right?
Next thing… Think about who your website is for. It’s not for your fans. I know, some comics don’t like the word “fans”. Suck it up. If they come to see your shows and you don’t know them personally, they’re fans. You’ll need lots of them. Be thankful.
Anyway, your site isn’t for your fans. They’ve already seen your stuff. Your site is really for your fans’ friends. The new folks that catch wind of you by word of mouth and want to find out what your all about. So design your site with the object of capturing their attention (and hopefully their contact information) in mind.
Ok, let’s dig in. This is going to be a long post, so hang in there and follow the steps.
Disclaimer: Some of these are affiliate links. That means I get a little commission for referring you. It doesn’t change your cost at all and I only refer products that I use and believe in.
1. You need a web host.
This is the remote computer (server) that your site sits on. I use Bluehost and have for quite a few years now. No host is perfect, but I’ve been very happy with both their tech support and uptime. Prices range from $4.95-9.99 per month depending on how many months you pay for in advance. Buy as many months in advance as you can. Your site will be up for as long as you’re doing comedy and you’ll save quite a bit per month.
2. You need a domain name.
Most Bluehost accounts come with a free domain name for one year. You can get that set up at the same time you purchase your hosting and you’ll be good to go with very little setup for the domain to be done. Try to get yourname.com if you can. If you’re like me and have a somewhat common name, try for something like yournamecomedy.com or use a free domain name suggestion software to get some brainstormed available domains back for yourself and choose one. For instance, I couldn’t get PhilJohnson.com because some real estate agent has it. So I have PhilJohnsonComedy.com If your name is really hard to spell try getting a shorter version like PhilJComedy.com
3. If you need another domain name.
If you already have a domain, it’s easy to add it to your Bluehost account using the “Addon Domains” button in your control panel. Or need an additional one (like a potential misspelling of your name – always good to have), then GoDaddy.com is a good cheap place for domains.
4. You need a CMS aka “content management system”.
Don’t freak. This is what makes the whole thing easy. And they’re free. I suggest WordPress. There are others like Joomla, Drupal, etc. But WordPress has really grown up over the last few years and is becoming a standard for building sites. The site you’re looking at right now is built on the WordPress platform. My main site is built on Joomla because that was better at the time I was doing it. It will probably get switched over eventually.
5. How to install WordPress on your new server.
Log into your new Bluehost account. You’ll be taken to the control panel that has buttons for all the cool stuff your site has the potential of doing. You won’t use most of it, so don’t sweat it. Scroll down to “site builders” and click on WordPress. On the next page click install and follow the few instructions. Shouldn’t be many. And…. done! How easy was that?
6. Get a template.
At this point you’ll have a bland template site with no content on it. You’ll next want to get a template on there and make it look like you. The stock template in WordPress is ok. But I really like one called “Weaver”. I’m not using it on this site, but I do on other sites I’ve got. It does lots of stuff and is easy to use and modify without getting your hands dirty in any code at all.
To change your template, login to your WordPress admin area. You should have gotten that info when you installed WordPress through your Bluehost control panel. It should be at www.yourdomain.com/wp-login.php. On the left side, scroll down to the “Appearance” menu. Click it if it’s not already extended. Look for “themes” and click that. Click “install themes”. In the search box put Weaver and click search. There is actually a Weaver II now and that’s the one you want to use. The original one is not being updated anymore, so get Weaver II. Click install and…. done! Easy again!
Now go to the manage themes tab and scroll down. You’ll see a couple of other themes and your new Weaver II theme. Click activate on Weaver and you’re set. Now at the top of that page you’ll see a selection of Weaver options you can tweak to your heart’s delight. Change the header, background, tweak the menus, etc.
Don’t have Photoshop and need to design your headers and such? Go download Gimp. It’s a good and free Photoshop replacement.
Start clicking stuff and playing around. You can’t really do much harm. And you don’t have any traffic yet, so if it looks horrible, you can just reinstall WordPress and start all over again. Here’s a good overview of WordPress’s basic features.
Two tips I’ll give you:
– When you’re putting up content that’s permanent (ie. contact, tour dates, bio, etc) and you want it to appear in your site menu, use pages rather than posts. Posts are for more bloggy type stuff like photos from last night’s gig or your latest Kim Kardashian jabs.
– Don’t set your meta tags (site title and description) in the Weaver settings. Do that with the regular WordPress settings under “Settings”. I ran into some Google problems with that mistake recently and it’s taking forever to get cleared up.
7. Load up with content.
Try to avoid the temptation of tweaking your site forever. There’s so many things to do to make it look pretty that you’ll never get around to adding the meat. Get it looking basically good. You can always come back and tweak more later.
What kind of content do you need on your site? At the very least you should have your show dates, a contact page, and any materials that bookers may need (ie your demo video, some hi-res photos, your bio, references, etc). Remember that your site is there to educate newcomers as to what your comedy is about. So tell the story of your art. Put up videos, pictures, essays, audio clips. If you have merchandise to sell, set up a little webstore with your stuff and some PayPal buttons. As much as possible, try to not send people to other sites to buy your stuff. You lose control that way. Though I do use BandCamp.com right now to sell my downloads. It’s essentially free and combines well with your site.
Don’t make the mistake of putting up your site and then never changing or adding content. Your site is a living beast. Feed it new content regularly through blog posts, videos, etc. It’ll keep people coming back and make it known that your career is growing too. A site that looks the same forever makes it look like your career is stagnant too.
8. You need a mailing list management system.
Your fanbase is built in your mailing list. Don’t rely on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, only 20% of people subscribed to a fan page actually see the posts because of Facebook’s big secret formula. Of course you can magically get more people to see it if you pay for it. 🙄 And it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle on Twitter. Your mailing list is a direct link to your fanbase and you control every aspect of the message.
The big boys will always suggest Aweber for mailing list management. And it’s certainly good, but expensive. If you’re working on a small budget like me, check out MailChimp.com. They’ve got a free plan to get you going. There’s a little learning curve, but it’s not too bad. You’ll also be able to get an easy to install subscription widget for your new WordPress site.
One minor caveat with Mail Chimp… If you’re going to do any affiliate marketing to your list… Like say, suggesting a book from Amazon that you like and including your referral code… Mail Chimp doesn’t like affiliate marketing and it’s against their terms of service. I use another company called Your Mailing List Provider for that on other sites I own. If you’re only selling your own stuff to your list, Mail Chimp is the way to go.
In order to get people to register for your mailing list you’ll want to give them a freebie something. I do a lot of musical comedy, so I give them some free songs. If you’re doing standup, you might put together an audio recording of a good 15 minute set and give that away. All the settings to do that are found in your Mail Chimp account.
The world of WordPress plugins can be like following Alice down the rabbit hole. Tons of stuff to make your site do. However, you don’t want to overdo it with the plugins because they can slow your whole site down. These are the ones I suggest using. They’re all free and can be installed by going to “Add New” under “Plugins” in your WordPress admin area.
Akismet – This plugin protects your site from comment and trackback spammers.
All In One SEO Pack – This makes it easy to optimize your posts for search engines by including keywords and a search description.
Jetpack Lite – This is a small version of WP’s Jetpack that includes just the stats and link shortener modules. It runs lighter than the full size Jetpack plugin.
MailChimp – If you’re using MC for your mailing list, you’ll want this plugin to place the subscription forms on your site.
Sociable – Adds share links to popular social sites at the end of your posts.
SubscribeMe – Adds a box with RSS feed links for people that use RSS readers.
Tweet2Download – A cool little toy that lets people download whatever thing you’d like to offer them in exchange for them tweeting about it. All happens automatically.
WPTouch – Allows your site to be seen in mobile format when visited on a smartphone.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – Shows up at the bottom of your blog posts and gives links to other posts on your site about similar topics. Good for site stickiness.
Ok, that’s a huge buttload of stuff. But, believe it or not, you can build your new comedian site from scratch to done in a day by following these instructions. Don’t try to make it totally perfect all at once. You can go back and tweak later as you add more content.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of stuff to really maximize your site. After all, there are whole sites devoted to that topic. But this will get you up and running and you can add to and tweak your site as you go along. Like Seth Godin says, shipping is more important than perfection.
Leave your questions in the comments below and I’ll help as much as I can!