Website Redesign in Process

I’ve been wanting to re-do my website for over a year now, but have been putting it off until getting closer to the release of my album, “Portraits” at the end of this year.

However, lately, I’ve been feeling like my site is incredibly outdated.  Just a year ago, I did not feel this way. But now I do.  It’s amazing how fast technology advances within that time.  Social networking has come so far within a short amount of time too and it has completely changed the way that people design their websites as well.  You hardly ever visit someone’s site without seeing all of their networking site links on the home page (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). 

There are so many things that I want to do to improve my website, but it’s all very time consuming. 

I actually designed my current website myself. I certainly do not claim to be any expert on web design at all, but with some knowledge of html (thanks to a previous job I had working for eBay many years ago), a family member who is a web designer and who has given me many tips and tutorials…my website was created by my own hands.  Granted, it took me many countless hours in doing so. 

I also admit that my process of creating my website was not very, uh, efficient either.  All of the tricks that pro web builders know and do, well, I don’t know how to do and didn’t do them.  Things like making a general template so that each time you want to do any sort of change you can just make the change to the template and not have to go through every page of your site to do so.  Eh – hem. Guilty as charged on that one.  But I don’t know how to go back and fix it now – the damage is done. 🙂  What can I say? I’m a musician, not a web designer!

So now here I am, starting to toss ideas around about my website redesign.

My current website has basically had the same format for about 4 years.  I have tried my best to keep it looking fresh and updated over those years.  I have twice switched out my fonts and tags so that they looked cleaner and better.  I have changed my header several times.  I’ve changed my navigation tabs, and added some as well.  I’ve always strived to keep my homepage up to date so that when people visit my site, they are hopefully seeing something new at least once a month or so (however, I’m currently guilty of not posting anything new in a while).  I’ve tried to make sure that I’m up to date on my social networking links. I’ve also consolidated how many pages you have to click through in order to get to my store.  I’ve simplified my contact page, twice.  And I consolidated all of my myspace, and facebook posts into a blog, which is now my centralized location for news/updates.

Even with all of these changes that I’ve continually made to my site, I feel like I’m just not able to keep up.  And the more time that goes by, the more websites advance and the more my very limited knowledge of site-building decreases. 

So right now, I’m in the research phase.  What are my options?

1.  I can hire someone to build a site for me, and it would completely eliminate any time/effort that I would need to spend on building one myself.  It would most likely look incredible, and professional.  But it would also cost me several thousands of dollars, and after it’s finished what would be my level of ability to keep it updated myself without having to call someone each time I want to add something or make a change, I wonder?

2.  I can build an entirely new website, myself, from scratch.  But again, like I said earlier, my website building knowledge is limited and so what I would end up with would be a very similar site to what I already currently have.  And what would be the point of that?

3. Since I use Yahoo as my webhost/domain/small business, I could use one of their ready-made templates.  However…I’m just not really a template girl.  I tend to think most templates are cheesy and unoriginal.  I also tend to have a specific idea in my head of what I’m going for, and it’s rare that I find it just ready and waiting for me. 

4.  I can build a website on WordPress.com.  I already use WordPress for my blog, and I know that you add tabs and everything else to make it a website and not just a blog.  I have to say though, that it’s rare that I’ve come across a WordPress site that doesn’t look like it’s a blog.  What is the point of having a website if it’s going to look like a blog? That is what a blog is for.  A website tells the world that you are legit and that you are a professional.  Your blog is not your website.  There is a big difference.  With that being said though, I HAVE come across a few wordpress websites that have done an outstanding job of disguising the fact that it’s a WordPress site.  www.johnalbertthomas.com is one, for example.  I honestly had no idea he used WordPress and was pleasantly surprised.  His site looks amazing, in my opinion.  It’s professional, it’s user friendly, it’s clean, it’s minimal (I’m a website minimalist).  It looks fantastic.  So then I thought, well, maybe I can do a WordPress site.  But then upon further research though,  I found that converting a wordpress blog into a site is more steps than I was hoping it would be and one also needs to have a good knowledge of design in order to accomplish what John did with his site (he is a web designer, by the way).  Things like Javascript, and CSS.  Both of those are jibberish to me.  Otherwise, the inevitable happens and you get exactly what you don’t want – which is a website that looks just like a blog.

5.  I can use Wix.com, which is a website builder for Flash websites.  Secretly I’ve always envied Flash websites.  They look incredible, they do cool animated things, and look so professional.  However, typically Flash sites have a difficult time showing up on the Google radar because there isn’t a lot of text within these types of sites.  For example, if you try to right-click within a flash site, you can’t copy/paste.  But instead you get a little box that says something along the lines of “Learn more about Flash” or whatnot.  That is a good way for you to know you are dealing with Flash, not html/text.  However, Flash is coming along, and Wix has developed something that aimes specifically at Google crawlers, thus making their websites easily picked up by search engines.  Sounds good, yes?  Well the other big hangup with Flash websites though, are now that Smart phones are so widely popular, you want to have a website that works with these phones and guess what? Flash websites do not show up within mobile devices.  So all those people who are using their mobiles to view your website and going to be sorely disappointed.  BUT!  Again, Wix is going to be releasing a product in the 2nd quarter of 2011 that converts the Flash into HMTL 5 and therefore…makes your flash website (through Wix) accessible to smart phones.

So as of right now, I’m sort of leaning towards Option #5. Afterall the entire goal here is to spend LESS time on my website, and MORE time on my music.

I’m still running into the issue of not being able to find that perfect template that suits my needs, my taste, or my vision.  But I think I can manipulate the Wix templates enough to get something I will end up being happy with.

What do YOU look for in a music website?

So now you know that I’ve been looking into what my options are as far as BUILDING the site, I’m curious what your ideas and thoughts are as far as the CONTENT that goes on my new site.  This is a big deal as well – and the entire reason (aside from the design of the site) why I am overhauling my site.  My new objectives for my new website are as follows:

1.  Consolidate and clean house.  Right now I feel like I have so many navigation tabs on my homepage that I really could simplify those a lot.  For example, instead of having a tab for “Bio”, it would be a tab for “About”.  When you hover your mouse over the About tab, a drop-down menu appears and includes things like “Photos, Bio, Facts”, etc.  Whereas right now I have separate tabs for bio and photos. 

2.  Make it easier to get to my store.  This has been such a hard thing for me on my current website, because I use Yahoo small business for my store.  So right off the bat, once you click on “store” you are connecting to a URL outside my own website.  You leave the site.  And then once you are there, you have to click on which product you want, and then go through the entire shopping cart experience.  My sheet music is through a completely different site all together.  This is simply because my sheet music files are PDF downloads. They are not physical items for sale, but digital. Anyway – all in all – it can be confusing, and time consuming. I realize this.  A friend of mine, who is a business website analyst, told me that for each additional page that someone has to click through in order to complete the ordering process, I lose a lot of customers.  I’m an independent musician and I deeply depend on the sales from my website as they are the only source of income I make where I keep most of the profit for myself (aside from credit card merchant fees, shipping, etc.).  Thank goodness for sites like Amazon and iTunes that also sell my music (I truly mean that), but they do take upwards of 50-60% of my sales.  So getting the shopping experience consolidated and less confusing on my website is another goal.

3.  Minimize the photo gallery.  When I first created my website, I had just gotten all of my photos taken for my debut album and I had, oh, about 3,500 photos  total.  In my mind, putting about 50 of them up on my website gallery was nothing. However, now, 4 years later I look through my photo gallery and think WOW did I really need to post all these photos of myself?  That would be a big fat NOPE!  So on the new site, I will only post a few select photos that I feel are needed and let my fans know who I am as a musician and person through those photos.  This will be hard – I admit, because I do love to share photos.  But again, I’m trying to simplify.

4.  Add new features.  I want to utilize YouTube more. I’m thinking about creating some short videos to put on my site that will make for less reading, and more listening/watching (which I think a lot of people would love).  I want to tell stories about exeriences that I’ve had – whether they be random or professional.  So I’m thinking of adding a stories tab.  I want a licensing section, and a Press page for my EPK and Press pack.  I also want a section for free stuff, like free downloads and sheet music.  I’ve contemplated deleting my Education section entirely, but have decided to keep it but just redo it.

What sort of things would YOU like to see on my new website?  Please do tell. I’d love to hear the ideas.

Finally, I just want to quickly share what I’ve found makes a good or bad music website. I’ve cruised around the web quite a LOT these past few weeks as I’ve been checking out other musicians’ website and what they have to offer, to get ideas for my own, to see what is hip/new, etc.  This is what I’ve found:

Bad Ideas for Musician Websites:

1.  No Bio or About section.  I was surprised to visit some of the big name artist website and find that there was no bio or about section included.  Even though they might be famous, I still would like to know about them.  I think it’s a little prideful to just assume that everyone knows you, and therefore, you do not need to write an “about” section.

2.  No contact info.  Again, just because you are super famous, doesn’t mean you are above getting fanmail. And besides, who doesn’t love fanmail?  And even if you are too busy to answer emails, you could at least post some sort of contact info such as a business manager or something.

3.  Lots of clutter.  Run on sentences, too much text on the homepage, too many navigation tabs…all bad ideas.

4.  A bio without a hint of humility.  Yes, so you have won Grammy Awards, could you at least be a teeny bit humble and not have to give us your list of all the famous people you know but just concentrate on what YOU have accomplished?

5.  No Photos.  Even if it’s one photo, at least let us know who the person is behind the music. 🙂

Good Ideas for Musician Websites:

1.  Simple Navigational tabs with drop down menus.  This all equals a cleaner site with less clutter.

2.  A clean and organized store.  I’ve been to way too many musician websites where when you visit their store, all of the products are out of order and are a jumbled mess.  It would be nice to see all the CDs together, the sheet music together, and any other product together in a similar fashion.

3.  An upfront explanation of what you do.  Sure you’re name is John Smith, but what do you do John?  Are you a composer?  What type of music do you compose?  Are you a pianist?  Solo or orchestrated?  What genre?

4.  Links.  I don’t want to have to search the entire website to find your Facebook link, or your contact info link.  It’s great to have those on the homepage.

5.  Videos and Music.  It seems most musicians have at least one video on their site for their fans to view.  However, it’s not a good idea to post ALL of your youtube videos. Pick one or two and post it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What do you LIKE or DISLIKE about musician websites?

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5 responses to “Website Redesign in Process

  1. I have many of the same complaints as you do when it comes to websites. Particularly, I want to be able to do it all myself and not have to pay someone else to create it and maintain it for me. I also looked at templates and other various sites geared towards the independent musician…. such as Hostbaby.

    I finally settled on a Content Management System (CMS) and am almost done implementing it on my site. I still have a few things (bio) to get back up on my site.

    I looked into several of the most popular CMS’s and recently started using Drupal. It was easy to get up and running (using templates) and it is very customizable depending on how much you want to change. But, adding and updating content is quick and easy. I have chosen not to make many changes to the default template since I’m just looking for the basics and wanted to get up and running quickly. Over time I will make more changes.

    If you know just a little HTML this is an easy and painless way to go. However, you do need to make sure that your web host allows the use of CMS’s.

    I’m sure I will be making many changes to my site, but now I can do it over time. Also, you can collect as much or as little information about your customers as you wish.

    Of cours this is just another idea, but it does work well for me. There are many different CMS’s out there – I chose Drupal because it turns out to be the easiest. (for ma anyway) Hope that helps!

    Love your music by the way!

    Tim

  2. Tim – thanks so much for your thoughts and ideas on this. It’s great to know other musicians are going through what I am as well. Well, not that I am glad that you are….but you know what I’m trying to say. I will check out the CMS. I’ve never heard of it, although I did read about Drupal on site today when I was researching stuff. 🙂 Thank you!

  3. When I hear a song I like, I’ll either try to find it on iTunes or look for the musician’s site (which hopefully links me over to iTunes). I don’t often use anything besides iTunes because it is just so convenient to download the music I like, and not an entire album, but I will take the extra effort to try to find a musician if they are not on iTunes. When I land on their site, I want to find their music and either purchase it or listen to a sample to verify that I have the right site. I will also listen to their other tracks, and I usually find that everything sounds the same and isn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. (Note: your music is awesome and doesn’t have this problem)

    I would say that 90% of my personal internet time is now on my mobile devices and the thing I hate most is the big “no Flash Player Installed” sign on flash only sites. I don’t ever come back to that site and that person just lost a sale that I was intending to make – probably from a link off of rdio or Twitter, or some other recommendation from a friend.

    Their music needs to be foremost and very easy to find and listen to. I’ve been to a few sites that bury the link to the play button for sample music, even if the only obtrusive element is a splash page (so 90’s!).

    Remember people are scanning and looking for something, and probably aren’t there to read every post, so keep blog post brief and easy to scan for info. Jenny Riddish has a great book called “Letting Go of the Words,” that talks about creating good content. Following the AP style of writing news articles is a great model (most important information is first, and write as if an editor could chop your article off at any point).

    WordPress has a free version that you can install on your web host server and modify the php template files. PHP isn’t too much more difficult than HTML, but it does require some learning. This allows you to keep your URL “jenniferthomasmusic.com” and integrate your blog gracefully into your site. You can also place content and links to your Twitter feed, recent posts, and galleries, etc. wherever you like on your template pages.

    I’ve also heard that Drupal is great, but I’ve never worked with it.

    Good luck with the redesign.

  4. I’m definitely not a web-builder genius (I use Yahoo’s Pagebuilder and self-taught myself a few things over the past serveral years), so I am not sure on what to suggest. I would definitely vote against paying someone to do it, though – from what I hear, that can get quite expensive. And I know what you mean about templates…but I think CD Baby’s Hostbaby just added a bunch more in their current line-up, so maybe they’ve improved the look and functionality? I don’t know.

    I just saw this article from music think tank – http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/10-pieces-of-essential-content-for-your-bands-website.html – maybe they’ll have some tips in there. 🙂

    Have a great week!

    Kev

  5. Pingback: What can I do to make a job search more efficient and less time consuming? | Career Builder Central

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