Having a central online presence is not only useful for your audience, it’s an important way to legitimize your company or your work as an artist. Websites play a huge role in the visibility of you and your company within the performing arts, and also give potential audiences an insight to what you do. Websites have become more necessary than ever for every type of business, and this holds true for even the smallest of theatre companies. The good news is, it’s never been easier to get a website of your own.
Why have a website?
The benefits of having a website are varied, and the more you put into it the more you can get out of it. A website is about more than having a fancy contact page. It can be a place to showcase fun content and engage with your audience. People will easily be able to find you and your work without having to sift through Google searches to find your social media or reviews. You’ll be able to host images, videos, press kits, and more, which all come together to tell your story in one easily navigable online location. You can also create your own online content (interviews, videos, blog posts) to to deepen or broaden the relationship between you and your audience. (see: Social Design)
What is your website for?
There are two types of websites you can choose from, depending on who you are and what you do. Under each category, we have put together a list of things to include on your site.
Personal websites are used to promote an individual artist. Think of them as an accessible resume that is online for potential employers, mentees, or just other people within the industry to know who you are and what you are up to.
Important sections to include on a personal website:
Although the following are suggested, they may not be necessary for your website. You know yourself and your artistic practice best! Consider what you do as a professional artist and who you want to drive to your website, then decide what is important to include, and what you can stay away from.
- About: The about section will explain who you are. You can be as thorough or brief as you are comfortable with, talking as much as you want about your history, how you got to where you are, what you do, and/or your future projects. If you are unsure where to start or how to talk about yourself and your artistic practice, creating an Artist Statement may be a great place to start.
- Résumé: People are arriving to your website to know what you’ve done, so including a full resume (CV) is important. Only include relevant experience that pertains to your artistic practice. If you feel that it is too much info to include, perhaps scale it down and only include a few recent credits (but having your full CV available to download could be an option).
- Contact: This is also important information to include, but only include contact information that you are comfortable sharing online. Many sites have options to include a contact form, so that you get messages directly to your email from the website, without giving out your email address. Think about your personal security and what you feel comfortable with. Industry folks may want to get in touch with you and work with you, so figure out how you want them to contact you.
- External Links: Are you a full-time person working with a company? Or maybe work permanently at a few different places? Or even own your own company? It can be helpful to link to the external sites of the companies you work with so that someone coming to your site can go and see what you do.
- Documentation: This includes demo reels, headshots, production photos and video footage. Your personal website can include past works that you have done. For a potential employer, this can help you stand out and get the gig if they can see your past work right then and there. This is especially great for artists working in a creative-based role (actors, dancers, directors, choreographers, designers). Remember to include photo/video credits when necessary!
- Social Media handles: Link your audience to other platforms so they can see and follow your work. This ensures that you are continuing to be part of your audience's network via social media.
Company websites are an online space where an arts company to share who they are as an organization. Company websites are important for visibility within the industry. They can also be used for a variety of other things as well, besides just information.
Important sections to include on a company website:
- About: This about section can be broken down into a few different parts. In here, your viewers will likely want to know: who your organization is, what you do (your mission and vision, perhaps some history behind it, and bios of the key team members involved, including their name, role at the company, and contact information
- Contact: Contact information is key. As an arts organization, it is important to have people engaging with you and your company. Similar to personal websites, you have to be comfortable with what contact info is on your site. Generally, the contacts’ names and company email are appropriate, along with the company's social media channels.
- Your Season/Current Projects: As a company, you may have a year-long season that you present (and if you don’t, you are likely running shows throughout the year). People want to be able to access what you are up to, so include information about what you are working on and what is upcoming.
- Past Productions/Events: People also want to know the work you have done before this point. So, perhaps a list of past productions shown in a creative way (photo albums, descriptions of the shows, etc.).
- Community Engagements/Non-Artistic Programming: This can include any community initiatives that you run, education programs, or other types of programming that you offer. Within that section, include details about the program, if there are applications (and if they are open), as well as how to get in touch with someone about the programs.
- Ticket sales: Does your company sell tickets? Your company site is an excellent place to do so. People who come to your site should be aware that you have an upcoming production and should then be able to buy tickets then and there, or at the very least, link off to the ticket page. (Explore ticket sale options by visiting our page on box office systems.)
- Opportunities: If you are hiring for any positions, you can also include the application guidelines on your website, and perhaps even have people apply through your site.
- Donation Page: Having a donation page available on your website is a great way for people to be able to extend their appreciation for your work.
- Social Media handles: You can continue to build a relationship with your audience via social media by linking your audience to other platforms where they can see and follow your work.
Designing your site
The way your website looks and sounds tells users a lot about you, your audience, and your art! It's important that your website reflect how you see yourself and your work. Some questions to ask yourself when designing or re-designing your website include:
- What does your website look like?
- What colours are you associating yourself with?
- How navigable is the site?
- What accessibility features are available?
- What do you want your site users to see?
- What would you like them to be able to do on the site?
These are all great questions to ask yourself when thinking about your web design. Whether you design your site yourself, or you have a web designer do it for you, definitely put some thought into both the aesthetic and the features. If you are stuck with how your site should look, check out your favourite and/or similar sites. There are billions of websites out there, so pick a few that you like and use them to inspire yours.
Accessibility is a major factor in modern web development. Websites, like buildings, should be places that are navigable by everyone, regardless of ability. Learn more about Accessible Websites and Documents and make sure you aren’t leaving any of your audience behind.
Responsive design refers to the fact that people access websites from multiple devices, all with different screen sizes and resolutions. To have your website stand out, it has to look good on any screen, whether it’s a smartphone, a laptop, or a widescreen monitor.
Speak to your web designer about the responsiveness of your site. Responsive design increases the cost of development because it essentially means building multiple versions of your website for different screen sizes, so take that into consideration. Modern website builders will offer responsive design options as well.
Building your site
Option 1: Hire a professional
Web design and development is one of the fastest-growing tech industries, and from the freelance world to established firms it’s very easy to find a developer that can build you a robust, eye-catching website.
However, hiring a web developer can be very expensive. For a multi-page site, you’re looking at at least $3,000-$5,000 for design and build, possibly more. Contracting out the creation of your website will require you to convey a clear vision to your designer, it will require coordination, planning, and meetings. The building of a website does not happen overnight, but when you hire someone, you can have peace of mind that the task is being handled by a professional and that you won’t need to take time out of your own day to learn to do it yourself.
A great way to find a web designer, outside of a Google search, is to think of your favourite websites from companies based in your city and see if they list the web design company at the bottom of the page. To keep costs down, you can look for a developer at the beginning of their career. Training companies like Toronto’s Juno College of Design train hundreds of new developers every year. Find their graduates on their site, or contact them for referrals.
Option 2: Doing it yourself.
If cost is a primary concern, you can always consider making your website yourself. Having a basic understanding of HTML and CSS can certainly help, especially if you want to go beyond templates, but is no longer necessary for making a great site. Many people have built excellent websites using online services that specialize in making the process as simple as possible. All of these website builders have their own individual pros and cons, costs, and options, so make sure to do your research, have a look at their examples, and find one that suits your needs.
Popular website builders:
Getting your site online
A website is simply a set of files that are hosted on the internet. Beyond the actual content of your website (the words, the images, the links, etc.) you need two more things before you are finished: a Web Address and Hosting Server. If you decide to build your website using a website builder, they will often include domain name registration and web hosting in their packages).
A web address (also known as URL or domain name), like www.artistproducerresource.com, is like a mailing address. When you type it into your browser, your computer knows that you are trying to get to a specific location. That specific URL, like a mailing address, goes to one place and one place only. However, we can all think of examples of times we tried to type in one URL and ended up at another website altogether. Maybe there was a difference between .com and .ca, or maybe we made a typo. These are things to consider when choosing a domain name. Will you pay for both a .ca and .com address, and have them both link to your site? Will you alter the name of your company, perhaps shortening it, so it is easier to type into the browser? Consider the branding of your company. You want a consistent name across social media and your website, so if you are just starting out and thinking of a company name, picture yourself typing it into your browser. If it’s too long, consider shortening it. And always, always, always check to see if it has already been taken.
You can buy a domain name from sites like Hover. To find more, try a search for ‘Domain Name Registration.’ Domain names are typically registered for one year or longer, so if you are planning on having your website indefinitely, make sure you don’t let your registration lapse and lose access to your catchy URL.
When you build a website, what you are actually doing is uploading files to another computer that is connected to the internet. To host your website yourself would be cost-prohibitive and plain overkill, so instead you will be paying for a web hosting service. This is essentially a computer or group of computers that are connected to the internet that the content will live on and be accessed from.
Popular web hosting services:
As you continue to work and develop new work, you want to make sure that your site is up to date. Again, think about who is viewing your site: potential employers, audience, patrons, or producers looking to hire you. If your site isn’t up to date, they may think that you aren't actively producing work, have left the industry, etc. People only return to a website when there’s something new to see, so maintaining and updating your website has to become a part of your regular routine.
Now that you are online, you want to make your website findable. That's where SEO comes in. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is a set of techniques to help make a website rank higher in search engine results pages. We are not experts on this, but there are lots of resources out there that can help you show up when people search you, your company name, or show, like this video from aftrART "Ranking in Google: Search Engine Optimization for Art Portfolio Websites", and this Discoverability for Creative Content Guide from IMAA. You can also watch a YouTube recording of workshop "Making Content Findable: An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)" with ASL interpretation where they take you through the steps outlined in the guide.
Video above: Ranking in Google: Search Engine Optimization for Art Portfolio Websites
Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of web data. Specifically, Analytics track and report website traffic.
Analytics are a tool to help you understand who is visiting your website, how they get there, and what they are engaging with. Analytics can give you the insight to make informed decisions on how to achieve your communications goals — whether that is increase engagement time, expanding your audience, or just getting folks to click through to your website!
Google analytic data is a very powerful tool, if you have the time, interest, and capacity to invest in using it. If you do, Google Academy offers a free online course "Google Analytics for Beginners". This Google Analytics Beginners YouTube video offers a basic overview of how to read and understand Google Analytics.
Basic analytic terms
We will be breaking down some key terms for analytics; specifically, for navigating Google Analytics:. These terms can be applied to any and all analytic data:
- Audience: Who is on your site.
AKA, your users. This is where you'll find information like the number of new users vs. returning users. You may also have data on user location, age range, gender, and what type of device they are visiting your site on, depending on the platform and data permissions. This type of data can inform how you talk about yourself, your brand aesthetic, and even your website format! For example, if 90% of your users are viewing your website on an iPhone, it may be worth your time to design your website to look best on an iPhone.
- Acquisition: How are they getting there?
How did you get to this page, right now, today? Did you click through a link on Generator's newsletter (referral)? Maybe a facebook post (social)? Or, did you type in ArtistProducerResource.com into your web browser and use the drop-down menus to get to this page (organic search)? In analytic terms, the way you got here is called Acquisition, and the terms in brackets are how they categorize, or "clump together" those different pathways.
Acquisition is really important, because it can help you understand what is working and what isn't. If 90% of your acquisitions are through social, then you know that your audience is really active and engaged with you on social media, and that could be the best way for you to share big announcements or important links with your audience.
- Behaviour: What did they do?
Behaviour analytics can tell you how long your users are spending on a page, what page they "exit" on (where they decide to close their browser or tab), and the number of pages they viewed in one session. This is really useful in understanding your user's behaviour (hence, the name). Some behavioural metrics include:
- Session Duration: measured from click in and clicking out of the page. Time spent on the final page is actually not included.
- Page Views: how many pages have been loaded
- Bounce Rate: number of times someone gets to a page and leaves it without interacting (bouncing off). Can be applied to the website or to individual pages.
Here are some theatre company websites that we love the look of, all with different design philosophies. In some cases these are one or two person operations. Remember, you don’t have to be a big company to have a nice looking and functional website.
- Pencil Kit Productions
- The Howland Company Theatre
- PARADIGM productions - The Empire
- Shakespeare in the Ruff
- The Red Light District
- Small Wooden Shoe
- Why Not Theatre
- The AMY Project
- Pandemic Theatre