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On Board The MOTHERSHIP! (Websites for Actors Part 2)

October 18, 2010

On Board The Mothership!Hello and welcome to the second part of a series relating to your Mothership – your website or main online hub! Each week we’ll cover every element of your online home, from setting it up, to updates, design and SEO. (That’s Search Engine Optimization, not to be confused with Sneaky Enigmatic Ostrich.) Last week we looked at what constitutes a ‘Mother Ship’, and some of the options available to you. (Check it out here)  Today we’re going to look at the options available to you, from naming your ship, to docking it and more!

Naming The Ship (Choosing a Domain Name):

Your first step should be securing your unique domain name. A domain is the URL or web address people will use to find your site. As discussed in the branding section of this book, your name should be consistent in every element of your outreach campaign. Your domain name should be your name or your stage name, spelt correctly and in full. Nothing cute. If you shorten or abbreviate your name or choose .org or .biz (or anything but good ol’ .com) you run the risk of people being unable to remember the URL or entering it incorrectly.

Domain registration costs between $8-$20 per domain name, per year, dependent on the popularity of the name and the registrar (site you buy it from).  If you can get a good deal and secure the .org or .info extensions for your domain at a nominal price, then do so and redirect all to your .com site or keep them dormant.  When you do make it big, this will prevent people from blackmailing you to buy these from them. Each domain name is unique, so you will need to search to confirm that your first choice of domain name is available to purchase.

Here are some reasonably priced domain name providers:

Docking the Ship (Site Hosting):

With your domain name secured, you’ll need somewhere to host your site. Hosting simply means a dedicated space on a server where your site files will live. Some site builders (covered in detail a little later in this chapter) host your site for you.  Site Builders can be an easy, quick option, just make sure you can publish to your own domain name, that your site won’t feature advertisements, and that there is no bandwidth restrictions.

If you are building your site independently you’ll need to pay for hosting. The following are companies that offer low cost shared-hosting.  Shared hosting means that your site will live with other sites on one big server, so the hosting costs are shared too. Hosting ranges in price and you’ll usually pay annually, although some companies charge per month. There are some things to make note of when deciding on a hosting service. Check out their excess bandwidth charges, as streaming video and audio files can eat into this quickly, look for unlimited plans.  Also look for hosting sites that offer tools and easy integration for: audio and video players, event calendars, mailing list programs, and that are blog/forum friendly. Some popular options include:

Building the Mothership (Creating Your Site):

Flying Solo:

If you have some technical know-how, artistic ability and a basic handle on programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver, then it is very feasible and cost effective to create your own site. Another pro is that you can have it built in a timeframe that suits you, and have full control of the initial design and subsequent updates.  The disadvantage is that this can be a time consuming project, time that could be spent honing your craft. If you decide to DIY, it is advisable to have a second pair of eyes (and third and fourth if possible) to offer their advice, feedback and spellchecking skills along the way.

DYI – Easy Mode

To build a site, you no longer need to be fluent in HTML

. There are many, easy to use, and free website builders available, sometimes referred to as WYSIWYG editors.  Don’t try and pronounce it – it stands for What You See Is What You Get.  All have slightly different features and control panel layouts, and are quick to set-up and use if you can manage any kind of text and image editing program.  In addition to using WordPress.com, here’s some of my current favorites:

Weebly (www.weebly.com): Very easy to use, designed to be very SEO (search Engine Optimization) friendly, no HTML knowledge required, ‘drag and drop’ functionality, a good variety of templates that can be customized and you can add your own HTML code snippets if you so desire.  Weebly hosts your site for you, so you needn’t buy separate hosting and can publish your creation and go live quickly, and use your own domain name.

iWeb: This is a program for Mac users, a part of the iLife software suite. The pros are that it’s very easy to use. You do not have to know one iota about HTML, CSS or JavaSript. Adding blogs, video, photos and html snippets are made simple using drag and drop widgets.  The cons are that the templates provided are for the most part, ugly and dated, so you’ll need to choose something plain and add your own finesse.  The other big con is that you cannot import your existing (html) site files into iweb.  So if you have a site already but want to modify it, you’ll need to recreate it in iweb. You can publish your site to your MobileMe account if you have one, or to a local folder or FTP.

WYSIWYG Web Builder (www.wysiwygwebbuilder.com): Another exceeding easy to use program.  Its features are similar to those of Weebly an iWeb, but also includes more than 100 templates, blogs with built in RSS feeds, and easy integration with Paypal Check-out for e-commerce (selling stuff via your site). The software is available for download only via their site, and at the time of publishing is $39.95.  Before you enter your credit card details – take advantage of their free 30-day trial and make sure it offers everything you need.

HostBaby (http://www.hostbaby.com/): This is a popular option for many musicians, but could work just as well for actors, or other artists.  For $20 per month Hostbaby will help you design (from 100’s of templates you can customize), build and host you site.  You are limited to 4GB storage space, but this should be enough for most.  Bandwidth and email addresses are unlimited and e-commerce options are available.  Another interesting feature is their HTML email editor, designed to help you create newsletter emails.  The other big plus for HostBaby is that if you are more than a beginner, you have full FTP/SFTP/SSH access and includes a PHP/MYSQL Database.

LA Casting Website Builder (www.lacasting.com): if you’re already registered with this site for casting, for an additional $5 per month you can build and host a personal website. There is a very basic selection of templates – but this is a very basic solution. The content you can add to your site is limited to what you already host with LA Casting, your photos (slideshow option), video clips and actors reels. If you have all your content hosted already, you may want to try their free 30-day trial.

Hiring the Big Guns:

If an experienced friend will build your site for you, or if you’re hiring a professional, you will obviously need to defer to whatever web-creation software they are accustomed to using.  Although this will save you time initially, you should consider future updates and who will manage these. Clarify this from the very start to avoid conflict later on.  Unlike other business’, sites for actors (as well as musicians) need to be updated frequently. Consider setting up a retainer for your designer (if it’s a buddy doing the work for you, this could be a weekly latte or a beer) to spend an hour each week making your requested updates. If you have your blog embedded in your site then you will be able to update this remotely with news and events as often as you like. If you provide a link to your acting resume (hosted on a site like IMDB or ActorsAccess) then this will also eliminate another common need for website updates.

Another solution to the frequent update dilemma is to ask for your site to include a CMS.  CMS stands for Content Management System.  This allows you to update specified areas of your site via a portal, not saved to your local computer, but available online, making changes and updates possible from anywhere. You don’t need to know any extensive coding to use a CMS, the interface is usually very simple, but a basic understanding is helpful. Joomla (www.joomla.org) is a popular choice for web developers, but be honest with yourself and only decide on this option if you are fairly confident on computers so that you can really utilize it’s CMS functionality.

I hope this has helped summarize your options if you’re creating a Mothership, or perhaps it’s highlighted some options for a re-design.  Next week we’ll look at pimping out your Mothership: website design, the do’s, the don’ts and the absolutely do-nots!

Until then – keep sharing!

“I’m very comfortable in having a strong team. I’m very comfortable in sharing the limelight with the team.”

(Sanjay Kumar)

Image by karen horton via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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