E-Selling for Artists: Web Design Rules

Americans spent more than $100 billion online in 2006 alone, with even the most pessimistic of forecasts suggesting sales are set to increase by 10 percent each year. So how can artists capture their share of those online sales? Certainly, a decade after the Internet’s rapid period of growth, it’s more difficult to be noticed in a sea of similar art sites.

Besides this, Web shoppers are notoriously impatient. A survey by Akamai (click here for the survey) suggests that if your Web site takes longer than four seconds to load, 75 percent of customers leave and don’t bother coming back. With such a small window of time to impress customers, this means your art Web site must be user-friendly enough for art lovers to find what they want, fast.

Keep It Simple

While art Web sites should be more than just virtual calling cards, a cluttered page crammed with product information is no use if your customers can’t easily find what they want. Keep your Web site design simple with the same, consistent navigation and phone, fax, e-mail and address details visible on every page along with your trading name and logo.

Flash introductions, animations and moving marquee text look nice but they tend to slow your customers down from getting to your art, or provide a distraction from the more important parts of your site.

Cross Browser Compatibility

  • Make sure you have a search engine within your site (free search engines are available from www.freefind.com and www.google.com), and test it regularly. Ask some of your family or friends to try and search for some of the art displayed on your site to check how efficiently your search facility is working.
  • Ensure that every page of your Web site prints out correctly, especially your homepage, order forms, pricing, terms and conditions and contact details.
  • Check your site regularly for broken links. There are plenty of free tools available from www.dead-links.com and www.siteowner.com/system/linkcheck.asp
  • Any time you invest in objectively analyzing your Web site is sure to be worthwhile. Giving your Web site a thorough health check should enable you to capitalize on that all-important initial four-second window of your customer’s attention.

In such a competitive market with so many art Web sites around, you need to be sure you’re not accidentally excluding any valuable customers. Make sure you check that everybody can see your Web site, regardless of what browser they’re using. As many as one in five visitors will be using browsers other than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to look at your Web site, so it’s important to check that your Web site looks great not just in Internet Explorer, but Firefox, Safari and Opera as well. You can download free versions from here: www.getfirefox.com, www.opera.com/download/, or www.apple.com/support/downloads/safari.html.

Download these other browsers on to your PC. Then use each program to check your Web site’s navigation isn’t obscured or difficult to read. Sometimes, Web sites can look great in Internet Explorer but awful in Firefox or vice versa — you want a Web site everyone can enjoy.

Monitor Sizes

Some artists make the mistake of designing their Web site on a 1152 x 864 pixel monitor only to find their neat design all squashed up on their customer’s 800 x 600 screen! In this way, navigation can become unreadable with links on top of links, or contact details lost off screen. Take a moment to check your Web site isn’t suffering from the same problems. Right click on your desktop to bring up Display Properties; then click on the Screen Resolution tab. Use the slide rule control to temporarily adjust your screen size to see how your Web site will look when viewed through a smaller monitor.

Work on your Image

You might have an excellent Web site full of beautiful art but unless it loads quickly, people won’t stick around to see it. Remember, not everybody has a broadband connection — there are still people out there using dial-up. Use a stopwatch to time how long your Web site takes to load. If it takes longer than four to five seconds, consider ways to improve it, from cropping backgrounds to resizing and adjusting image resolution. Image optimization is all about getting the right balance between filesize and picture quality. Programs like Adobe Photoshop and Elements have in-built optimization features to help you achieve this. If you don’t have any software you can use, try one of the free tools available on the web like GifBot or GIMP. AC

Petra Jones is a British freelance writer and artist who works with acrylics and watercolor pencils.

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