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BLOGGING FOR ACTORS: Good blogs travel fast!

November 22, 2010

“Either write something worth reading about, or do something worth writing about” – Ben Franklin.

 

WTF is Blogging?

Basically, a blog is a website or webpage dedicated to the periodic publishing of your writing.  It’s like a digital diary, or journal, or book, or newspaper, or column that people can read online.  Entries are made on a regular basis and are usually listed in reverse-chronological order and are usually dedicated to one subject.  Most commonly, readers of a blog can add a comment and give feedback. Like a traditional publication (newspaper, magazine, etc), readers can also subscribe to read blogs regularly via RSS  (Really Simple Syndication) either within their chosen email account, or via a Blog Feed Reader such as GoogleReader, FeedReader, or FeedBurner.

 

Do I need it?

Yes!

 

*Blogs are the equivalent of outdated print media – this is how you’ll tell the world of your news and events.

*Blogs are an opportunity for you to communicate your brand in a personal voice.

*Blogs are an effective tool to find your fans, qualify yourself as an expert, and drive people to your mother ship (website).

*Blogs enable you to have an open dialogue with your existing fans and find new ones.

*Blogs provide you with a tool to deliver the most up-to-date news and events to your audience and showcase your product.

*Blogs increase your web presence and help with SEO; they help people find you online.

 

Convinced?  Good!  We’ve defined why blogging is a critical part of your social networking efforts, let’s explore the most popular blog hosting solutions.  I intentionally won’t include a step-by-step, technical set-up guide, as each each of the following options involves a different process, and there is already a jolly good ‘Get Started’ instructional section provided on each site. Instead, here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the most widely used blog hosting sites, that are easiest to incorporate into your Mothership (site).

 

WORDPRESS.COM: This version of WordPress hosts your blog on their server, so no installation required!  It’s easy to set-up, free, and allows a moderate degree of customization and decent variety of templates.  Most hosting services support WordPress and offer 1-click installation so it’s easy to integrate.  Large blogging community and good customer support.  You can customize your domain name, ie: mynewblog.com instead of mynewblog.wordpress.com.

 

WORDPRESS.ORG: Is different to the .com version. The .org version provides you with the software to set-up your blog on a separate hosting server.  The .org version provides you with almost unlimited customization, but you do need a moderate level of technical skill to set it up and have to pay for separate hosting server. If you decide to use this option, I suggest hosting with a company that provides one-click set-up for Wrodpress.org (such as bluehost.com)

 

BLOGGER: Similar to the .com version of WordPress, Blogger is a free, hosted service.  Customization is easy and you have more control than WordPress.com.  Blogger is more popular than WordPress.com, but does have the public perception of being the choice of beginner bloggers.  It does not support the addition of static pages as WordPress.com does – pages such as About Me, Contact Us, etc.

 

 

TRADITIONAL BLOG ALTERNATIVES:

 

VLOGS/WEBCASTS:

If you’re not a strong writer, then there are alternatives.  Vlogging (Video Blogging) involves recording yourself on a video camera, phone, or webcam, basically covering what you would in a traditional blog, but chatting to camera.  Video content can be used with the support of images and text or to replace those elements of a traditional blog completely. Most blog hosting sites (including Bloggers and WordPress.com) support uploading video content, or host your videos on YouTube (still the leading site for video sharing) and embed in your blog or personal site.  Just make sure you tag your video files within you vlogs thoroughly for SEO.

 

PODCASTS:

If vlogging is online television, then podcasts are online radio.  If you don’t have the available equipment to vlog, or are camera shy (not uncommon for performers), then podcasts could be for you.  Podcasts are audio recordings, saved as MP3s and shared via the internet.  Topics covered in podcasts are as limitless as blogs, and range from 30 seconds to 3 hours (or longer).  You (or your website administrator) can embed (add) podcasts to your main website or blog site, either as a player (using Flash or HTML coding) or as an download for your audience to listen to on their iPod or MP3 player.

 

If you decide to produce vlogs or podcasts instead of, or in addition to your blog, remember that same do and don’t rules apply!

 

What are those ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ you ask?  Well, tune in next Monday to find out, I’ll also cover what you should write about, how often and incorporating your brand into your blog.

 

Until then, enjoy your week – and keep sharing!

 

 

“In today’s environment, hoarding knowledge ultimately erodes your power. If you know something very important, the way to get power is by actually sharing it.”

Joseph Badaracco

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Maria Reyes-McDavis via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

 

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Sneaky Enigmatic Ostrich (SEO), a note about Content and a Checklist of 9 Website Do’s

November 15, 2010

This is it – article number 6, and the final in my 6-part series relating to your Mothership – your website or main online hub! This series is all about creating, designing and maintaining a professional online home, from setting it up, to updates, design and SEO. Here are quick links to the other articles, just in case you missed them.

Week 1 we looked at what constitutes a ‘Mother Ship’ (here), Week 2 we researched naming and hosting options available to you (here), Week 3 we checked out what your Mothership looks like (here), Week 4 was all about what to include (here), and last week was ‘Best Practices’ for saving and storing your web content as well as streaming video (and other multimedia) and adding e-commerce (here).

SEO:
You’ll hear this term thrown around, often in a sales pitch from a website developer.  It stands for Search Engine Optimization, or as I think of it: The art of making Google (and other search engines) love you (your site). Lets take a look at the different elements of your Mothership that you can update to make it a beacon for your audience.

Meta Tags:
As technology advances, Meta Tags are no longer the primary method that search engines use to source relevant content. However, they do still add to your search-ability and also influence accurate classification of your site.  There are three areas that need your attention: page titles, site description and key-word tags.

Page Titles: Each page of your site should have a different title and it should relate to the content on that page.  Another tip is not to start the page title with your name.  Instead label it with a related, popular search term.  For example: http://www.tweetmyfaceonline.com/social_networking_branding_and_marketing_for_artists.

Description: Your site description is the text that appears under your URL in a search engine results page. It should also include all your keywords and tags.  If you understand HTML, you can add this yourself, if not ask your developer nicely.

Keyword Tags: Keyword tags are words and phrases that are relevant to your site – they must be directly relevant to the site content to satisfy SEO guidelines for getting more traffic.  If you don’t know HTML well enough to add these yourself, there are plugins and software downloads that will help you add Meta Tags to your site, or ask your developer.

Keywords / Search Terms:
Set some time aside to create a really strong list of keywords. You’ll use these words not only for site SEO, but also in your site content, press releases, and bios. They are incredibly important. To get started, answer the following questions, your answers should be structured preferably in 2-4 word phrases.

What is the purpose of your website, including your product and/or service (if you have more than one, do this for each)
Words and phrases you think people will use to find your product/service
Local and geographic phrases people might use when searching for you (city, county, state or other references such as city districts or zip codes)
Information people might search for that pertains to your industry (for example, search phrases that begin with “how to..”) that you can provide on your website (if you provide valuable content, visitors are likely to bookmark and/or share your website.)

Next, use a keyword research tool such as Google Adwords Keywords Tool to find:
Suggestions of related keywords to add to your list
Search volume (how often a keyword/keyword phrase is searched daily, monthly, or yearly. More often is best!)

Site Content:
Your site should be mostly HTML, as search engines scan HTML text, limit any Flash. Any text on your site should also be heavily littered with your keywords.  This may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people fail to take advantage of this as an SEO tool. Also, be sure to utilize image descriptions and tags within the HTML of your site. These are referred to in code as ‘Tag Alt’.

Inbound Links:
An inbound link is a link pointing to your site on another webpage.  These are becoming more and more important in SEO optimization as Google (and other search engines) consider inbound links a great indicator of the quality of a website. It makes sense; it’s the equivalent of getting a great referral from a valued member of the public. The larger and more professional the site your link is listed on, the more gravitas search engines give it.

Inbound links are very desirable, so lets look at how you get other people to link to your site:

1. Engaging, remarkable, and relevant stories are still the best way to get people to link to your site.  Writing blogs or news updates, or producing video that goes viral can encourage thousands of people to add your link.  Sharing your stories via social networking sites can encourage this. Write a provocative blog title and use your profile updates to drive traffic to it.

2. Link exchanging is becoming more common.  You might even receive emails from companies in similar fields to yours offering to link to your site in exchange for you linking to their site.  It should be noted that such exchanges are not looked on kindly by search engine software as it’s kind of cheating!  One-way links are best.

3. Another way to add inbound links to your site is listings on industry-specific sites.  Actors can add their URL to their listings on IMDB, Actors Access and Backstage profiles. You can use website.grader.com or Google Analytics to find out the number of links to your site.

TRACKING:
There are different tools available to you (some free, some not) that allow you to see a traffic report for your site. You can find out how many visitors overall, as well as how many are ‘unique’ (first time) viewers and at what times of the day, days of the week your site is most popular. Tracking allows you an insight into your audience and their behavior and to adjust your site design and your content to best meet your audience’s needs. You can move the most important elements of your site (for example your newsletter sign-up) to the most clicked on areas of your page. You can analyze which blog posts or news updates got the most attention. You can even find out what keywords (search terms) were used by people who visited your site. This is important information as it allows you to constantly add and update your list of keywords and in turn your SEO Meta tags, as well as the copy on your site and blog.

BLVDStatus.com provides keyword, traffic and inbound link statistics in an easy to navigate interface, and offer an affordable basic plan.

CrazyEgg.com provides heat mapping of your site. Areas on your site that get the most interest or receive the most clicks are graphically displayed as hot. The view is similar to heat-sensor goggles you see in movies. CrazyEgg offer an affordable basic plan, and offer a 30-day money back guarantee.

Google Analytics is a free service and offers all of the trafficking services mentioned above. You can compare your site to a competitor site, and find out how long visitors spent on each of your pages. http://www.google.com/analytics/

Run your site through website.grader.com to find out all your site’s SEO flaws, then follow the advice provided to correct them.

A Note About Content:

“It’s what inside that counts my friend, it’s not the skin it’s the nana.”
(Bollo, The Mighty Boosh)

We’ve covered the esthetic and technical elements of your site, but you need to think of the Mothership as more than an online resume or showcase. Your site is not a ‘destination’, but an interactive factory consistently producing interesting, viral content. You are not a broadcaster, shouting your sales message at people who dare to get close enough to hear it! To get people to your site, to get them to interact and communicate, to get them to keep coming back as regulars, and to get seen, you must provide an incentive. Content is the bait! Don’t let the quality and frequency of your site content ever wain.

Content can be your blog entries, your videos and photos, your reviews, comments on other people’s blogs, re-tweets of industry-related news stories – everything that you create. Constantly think about what you can give and contribute to the people within your online community. You gotta give to get, this is the one of the most important rules of social media marketing. In the coming chapters we’ll explore this concept in much more detail as well as look at all the different platforms available to you to accomplish this.

Website Do’s:
Use Flash sparingly, as it is becoming increasingly common for people to surf the net via mobile devices and not all smart phones support it.

  • Create regular back-ups of your site and all it’s associated content.
  • Create a community, don’t be a foghorn selling your brand, instead engage and entertain visitors!
  • Encourage ‘regulars’ by continually offering up to date and engaging content.
  • Create a magnetic hub for your industry that draws people in!
  • Make it easy for visitors – give them what they want in a glance and let them take it home (RSS, newsletters, etc).
  • Links: get your site linked to as many high-value, industry-related sites as possible.
  • Not just a pretty face – make sure your site functions properly ALL the time.
  • Remarkable content makes other people mention you and pass on your stories. These create echoes in the online universe that never go away. They are paths back to your site that, unlike paid advertising, don’t have an end date.

And that rounds up the basics of smart, effective websites – I hope you enjoyed it!
Next Monday, I am starting a new series – an actor’s guide to blogging!

Until then, enjoy your week – and keep sharing!

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people – and that social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”
Mark Zuckerberg

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

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The Mothership Part 5 (Adding Photos, Video & E-Commerce to your Website)

November 8, 2010

Mothership 5 - Toolbox and MultimediaHello, and welcome to the second last article in a 6 part series I’ve written relating to your Mothership – your website or main online hub! In this series I aim to 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 – this joke just ain’t getting old! Well, to me anyway…).

Week 1 we looked at what constitutes a ‘Mother Ship’ (here), Week 2 we researched naming and hosting options available to you (here), Week 3 we checked out what your Mothership looks like (here), Week 4 was all about your content – what to include (here) and on this happy Monday morning, I want to give you some ‘Best Practices’ for saving and storing your content as well as streaming video (and other multimedia) and adding e-commerce.

Website Toolbox:
Along with your branding and social networking toolboxes (check out my older posts for these), you should keep a web toolbox of web-friendly content. This includes your logo, images, short and long bios, brand one-liner, and audio and video files – all optimized for use online. I’m also going to cover below the specs and key web technologies that you will need to host your various types of content.

Is your brain already drifting away at the thought of all that….technology!? If you are an absolute novice and need further information, there are any number of books, blogs and websites dedicated to web design and web development. Don’t let fear stop your progress, do some further research to expand your knowledge!

Storage: It’s smart to store your web assets (and all print assets too) on a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or cloud server. You will then have access anytime and anywhere as long as you have net access. When you are developing your personal website, including an FTP section where you can store files that are password protected and the public can’t see. You can create a folder on your hosting server, and can add files using the hosting providers interface or FTP programs such as ‘Fetch’ or ‘Cyber Duck’.

A portable pen/USB drive is another option. Always, always, always make sure all of your information is saved in multiple locations; take the advice of someone who has lost the contents of two laptops within the last 12 months, neither of which were backed up!

File Naming Protocol: Naming your files with care and accuracy is important as you never know where they’ll end up and in who’s hands. Always name files (images, audio, video) with your (stage) name and then a short description of what the file is. If someone finds your amazing reel movie file or a impressive headshot online, it will be easier to track it back to you. Keep file names free of punctuation and short as this helps to avoid file corruption issues. Don’t use spaces in file names or dots instead substitute with underscores.
Here’s a bad example: Look At Me, Damn you!. logojpeg
Here’s a good example: LookAtMe_logo.jpeg

Images For Web:
Images for use online need to be formatted in a different way than those used in print. You should have both versions on hand for each of your images. The most common file formats for web are JPEG and PNG (PNG allows a translucent background). You can save versions of your images and logo using Photoshop to convert to web specs. You can adjust these settings manually, or utilize the Photoshop ‘Save For Web & Devices’ feature in the File drop-down menu.

Color: There are two types of color indexes for images. CMYK is for printing, and RGB is for use online.

Resolution: There are also two types of standard resolution for images. Images are made up of lots of tiny colored dots and the resolution refers to how many of those dots appear per inch. 300dpi (dots per inch) is the standard for print, and 72dpi is standard for online or digital. The smaller the dpi, the lighter the file weight and the lower quality an image is.

Royalty-Free Images: Pay a one-time fee to use photos, illustrations, videos, audio tracks and Flash animation files on your site. iStockPhoto is the largest library of royalty free content on the web. Getty Images is more expensive than iStock but arguably has a better range, it’s commonly what the professionals use.

Audio For Web:
Just like you should compress images for web, you also need to compress your audio files. Large, heavy files don’t stream without interruption or take an eon to load. The most popular audio file format is the MP3, most people will be able to play these files on their computers or portable devices. You can adjust the level of compression when creating your MP3 files, and you can also add information such as song title, artist name, an image, URLs, and copyright information. These are called ID3 tags, and both iTunes and Window’s media player allow you to add these easily.

For more information regarding the best specs for encoding music for websites, I recommend the book and website: The Indie Band Survival Guide. The site has lots of great reference material too, including this article:
http://www.indieguide.com/howto/view/462451/How_To_Encode_MP3s_For_Maximum_Playability

Audio Players:
There are many audio player options to add to your site. You can add full play lists, or just short demos. Players can be a single button, an audio bar or a full MP3 jukebox.

You can add a ‘player’ with HTML or Flash code. Good free-code HTML player options are Google Reader MP3 player, and Yahoo! MP3 player. Wimpy is a good Flash player alternative: http://wimpyplayer.com/.

Some CMS and WYSIWYG site builders have drag and drop widgets to add audio, which is even easier. Be aware that many free web host providers offers limited storage space for users’ files and you may find that you’re running out of room on your account very quickly, so this might not be the best option for comedians who host large number of live stand-up recordings or if you host a regular podcast (more on podcasts in the Blogging chapter).

Streaming: Streaming is when the music files live on a server and is feed through your site as the file plays. The advantage of streaming your audio files is that you do not need to wait for them to download to listen. You should be aware that slow bandwidth can result in a stuttering playback. Streaming also makes it more difficult for people to download and steal your tracks however it does not completely protect everyone from downloading your files – some tech-savy and persistent folk can find a way.

Downloads: Downloading is allowing people to take a copy of your file from your site to play on their computer or portable device. You can offer a download for a fee either via your own site, or through an online retailer via a link to their store (iTunes, Amazon, etc). You can also give away your audio content for free by offering a link on your site to download.

Video For Web:
You guessed it – you need to compress video for web too. You have probably experienced the brain-numbing boredom associated with waiting for video content to load. Compressing your video helps prevent this. Free programs such as QuickTime have standard settings to save copies of your video files in formats and file sizes (sometimes referred to as file weight) friendly for web and mobile devices. Experiment until you find a size that it small and quick, yet at a quality that you are happy with. Check your content on as many different computers, operating systems (Mac Vs PC) and Internet connection speeds as you have access to, so that you can test quality and appearance.

Quicktime and WMV (Windows) file formats are the most popular, but both require their associated player to be installed on the viewer’s computer to be able to play them, you shouldn’t assume that everyone has either or both You can solve this problem by uploading your video files in both formats.

If you wish to host your videos on your site server, you’ll need to add a video player. You can find free and paid player codes online on both HTML and Flash formats. If you’re using a CMS or WYSIWYG builder there are widgets that make adding a player, a very simple process.

A great alternative to hosting your videos on your site server, is to create a profile and/or channel on a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo. Once your files are hosted and tagged on either of these sites, you can add the embed code and voila, the video will embed into your site. The advantage of this option is that you have you video content available on two online locations simultaneously (your site and the video sharing site) providing more exposure.

E-Commerce, Forms and More…
There are also many resources online to easily add contact forms, mailing list sign-ups, surveys and invitations and even basic e-commerce (check-out functionality to allow visitors to purchase from your site), and you don’t have to be able to write a single line of code.  These sites generate the code for you and you (or your developer) add this to your site. Some are free (like FormSite.com) or have free trial periods and low ongoing fees (such as FormLogix.com and Wufoo.com).

If you’re selling your music or merchandise via your site, there are two main options:
1. You can link to external sites that you make your product available on and the transaction will take place on their site. (Amazon, iTunes, cdbaby.com, etc). Great ‘on-demand’ sites (i.e.: they only produce the items as they’re ordered, limiting upfront costs as no inventory is required) include: Cafepress.com, etsy.com and Zazzle.com.

2. Alternatively if you would like to produce, sell and ship yourself directly, then these are the three most popular, simple payment-processing systems to accept orders via your site:

PayPal Cart: Can accept credit card and PayPal payments, no monthly fees, instead they charge per transaction ($0.30 plus a percentage of sale, 1.9-2.9%)

Google Checkout: Accepts credit card payments, you are required to have a Google ID (a gmail account). If you use AdWords (pay per click advertising from Google), you can receive credit towards their checkout system.

Authorize.net: The transaction fees are lower than Paypal or Google, and you can accept credit card and electronic check payment. The best option if you already have a merchant account in operation as this is a requirement for set-up, if you don’t, be aware that the process of setting one up can be a tricky and time-consuming process.

Phew – that was a whole lotta info! Go rest your brain now…but be back next week when we finally take a look at that Sneaky Enigmatic Ostrich (or SEO). Until then, keep sharing!

“Everybody can stand on his or her own feet. The ideal of helping is to make others independent of you. You help them to become more independent rather than making them addicted to you.”
(Chogyam Trungpa)

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

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The MOTHERSHIP: Cargo! (Part 4, Websites for Actors)

November 1, 2010

Hello, welcome back!  If you’re new to The Digital Actor, this the fourth installment in a 6 part  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.) Week 1 we looked at what constitutes a ‘Mother Ship’ (here), Week 2 we researched naming and hosting options available to you (here), and last Monday we checked out what your Mothership looks like (here).  Today we’re going to look at the most important part of your Mothership – it’s contents!

The All Important Cargo…

Last week we analyzed the lay-out of your site design and where to put the things you value most on your pages, but what are the things we should include?

Here’s a list of site essentials, these should be included either directly on your home page or available via a clearly labeled link in your main navigation.  You’ll notice that for each Element I’ve noted the intended audience.  Bookers are your potential employers (Casting Directors, Directors, EPs, Producers, etc), Buyers are those that will invest in your career such as Managers and Agents, and finally your Fans, current and potential people who love what you do and want to see more.  It’s important to define which elements of your site are for which parts of your audience as this may effect your placement and design.  Your goals will be your guidance regarding this, the most immediate career goals should mirror you site design.  For example, if you’re looking for representation, the elements Agents and Managers are most interested in should take top priority.

That’s a lot of information huh?  Your site needn’t be a 15-page monster. You can combine some of the above on single pages depending on the amount of content you have. For example, your could use your blog to report your ‘news’ and include the information about upcoming events on this page too.

Homepage: It’s the first impression of you that all visitors will see, make it good! Include the following, most important elements on your home page:

  • Name/Logo (obviously)
  • 1-liner (briefest bio)
  • Primary Image (headshot)
  • Newsletter/email sign-up*
  • Links to Social Networking*
  • News (anything you want to showcase, this could be a theatre review, or poster for a show you’re currently in, or a screen-grab of your recent onscreen triumph.)

*Denotes the elements that should be featured on every page.


That’s all for today – but next Monday I we’ll take a look at all the multi-media elements of your site, the best storage, general best-practices and formatting for web, including displaying video and adding e-commerce (purchasing).

Until then my friends, enjoy your week – and keep sharing!


“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

(Philip Seymour Hoffman)



Image by Bernard Garon via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Pimping The MOTHERSHIP! (Website Tips for Actors Part 3)

October 25, 2010

Pimping The MothershipHello, welcome back!  If you’re new to The Digital Actor, this is part 3 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.) Week 1 we looked at what constitutes a ‘Mother Ship’ (here), Week 2 we researched naming and hosting options available to you (here), and today we’ll look at what your Mothership looks like – clever site design!

Designing The Mothership:

Your Mothership may not be the first place people will find you online (we’ll cover making it as search engine friendly as possible a little later), but all of the other outreach efforts you will deploy as part of your social networking are to catch the attention of those people and bring them back to base. And as we’re pointing all the incoming traffic to our site, it must meet all of the following criteria:

– Suitably named (your band name, company name or stage name)

– Look like your brand (not just the content, but the color palette, the font, etc)

– Sound like your brand (not just audio files, but the tone and language you use)

– Be easily navigated (assume all visitors have an IQ below 70 and are legally blind)

– Quick and easy access to all information, no broken links, no slow loading!

Whether you are designing your site yourself, or have a friend, a freelancer or company doing it for you, there are some basic website design rules that should always be followed. You’ve completed (hopefully) all the work suggested in my posts on personal branding (here) and now it’s time to implement your carefully developed ‘Branding Toolbox’ to design your site.

Use your logo, chosen fonts, color palette, primary and secondary images and chosen style and tone and don’t waver from these even the tiniest pixel. Branding is all about sending a consistent, recognizable message (if you haven’t read the posts called Branding – please do it now, really), so be consistent! Resist the urge to rebel against these guidelines that are developed to make everything you do easier and quicker.

Don’t forget your audience. You defined them in the post about setting goals and writing a plan (here). You have to think like the various types of people who will visit your site and decide what each is looking for. Consider what your fans want to see to get them excited and keep them engaged as returning visitors. Think about what information potential employers (Bookers: directors, producers, show runners, writers, casting agents, Talent Buyers: managers and agents, Fans: your colleagues, classmates, fans) are trying to find. Your site is not for you, it’s for your audience!

It is important to point out that you should not be passive in your intentions behind the design of your site, as through it you have power to influence what you want people to see, hear and read.  If, for example, you have a new theater production opening, or showreel, ‘calling this out’ (a designer term for making it irresistibly eye-catching) on your home page and all pages of your site will get these new features much more attention.

Stop Splashing:

In general, in the US, the average web user spends less than 2 minutes on any site.  And that’s the average, so some spend less! Why waste even a second of that valuable time on a loading icon or blank landing page?  They’re frustrating, outdated and a crime when it comes to making your site searchable.  Your site should open directly to your home page.

The Home Page: Layout

The human eye tracks a webpage in a common pattern, much like we train our eyes to decipher a page of text from left to right, top to bottom. Studies of the most common eye tracking patterns for websites have found that we tend to look at sites in the shape of the letter F.  From left to right across the top, a second left to right sweep mid-page, and then top to bottom in a column on the left hand side of screen. (Observe how you eyes track web pages next time you’re browsing online, you’ll find you follow this path too.) These types of studies are important as they will help you decide where to put the most important stuff on your site.  Before we move on to what that stuff should be, here are some other worthwhile observations of how people generally look at sites.

  1. Headlines draw eyes before pictures. Studies suggest that people will scan the main headline, specifically the top, left hand corner, before they look at images on a page. Don’t delete your images – they are still very important for attracting readers.
  1. People scan the first couple words of a headline. This would suggest that it’s a good idea to use active, powerful, attention-grabbing words at the start of your headings.
  1. Your headline must grab attention in less than 1 second. Make you point…instantly!  Keep headlines direct and short.
  1. Smaller type promotes closer reading. I almost didn’t include this as I fear websites will begin to spring up using a size 6 font. I think there is some wisdom to take from this however.  Don’t make all your text the one size, and size paragraphs of text no larger than 14 point.
  1. Navigation at the top of the page works best. It’s where we’ve been trained to look for navigation.  If you absolutely have to, and taking into account the ‘F’ reading pattern theory, I think left side navigation works too.
  1. Short paragraphs encourage reading. Same rule applies to printed text, YouTube videos and elephants – easier to digest in small chunks.
  1. Introductory paragraphs enjoy high readership. Take advantage of this by adding a ‘sub-heading’ under your main heading but before the body of text that summarizes what this page is about.  If a reader isn’t taken by your exciting headline, this is your second chance to reel them in.
  1. People read text ads more than graphic ads. I included this in reference to ‘call-outs’ within your site, not traditional online banner ads. I think a combination of both works even better than either.  If you’re calling out a new release on your home page, some excited copy and an image of the release combined are the most effective.

Footnote: Dean Rieck on Copywriting & Direct Marketing, Direct Creative Blog, http://www.directcreative.com/blog/eye-tracking-websites).

So you know how to lay-out your site design and where to put the things we value most on your pages, but what are the things we should include?  Next week I’ll give you a list of elements that are most-wanted on your site!

Until then – keep sharing!

“It’s about sharing. You just give what you have to give wherever you go, and you let God handle the rest.”

Lindsay Wagner

Image by sean dreilinger via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Need to find all your actor-related tips and news in one spot?

October 20, 2010

ActorRated - Yelp for Actors!

Well, that’s ‘spot’ is ActorRated.

If you’re not familiar with the site, it’s like Yelp for actors. You can read reviews of classes and services by your fellow actors, and write your own reviews as well.  For the (acting) people, by the (acting) people!  The site also features (for a small annual fee) a ‘VIP’ Star Card which saves you money with over 70 vendors, including headshot photographers, workshops, acting classes and more!

They also have an amazing collection of some of the most influential actor-related bloggers, a wonderful resource for you to subscribe to so that’s you’re always up to date.  The Digital Actor is honored to be a contributor too – check out this recent post covering the Do’s and Don’ts of Social Networking. (Yes, yes – shameless plug alert!)

If you can recommend other great online resources for actors – share via the Comments section below.

Until next time – Keep sharing!

 

 

 

 

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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