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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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