Having an Internet presence is expected these days. People have to be able to find you – and reach you – online, or you‘ll miss out on opportunities and never know it. If you’ve never created a website, it might seem like a daunting task. But instead of thinking of it as a one-time project that you never have quite enough time for, break it into a series of smaller projects and build the website over time.
Phase 1 – Start creating content you want to post. Many people, both businesses and individuals, perhaps even one of your friends, can help you create a website, but only you can decide what content to post on it. You don’t have to do this all at once. At the beginning, you need:
• A good photo of yourself, preferably in action, cropped and enhanced in your photo editing software, then saved to your computer as a high resolution .jpg.
• A description of what you do – as long or as short as you care to make it – you can do this in any text editing software, like Word.
• Contact information – again, you can type this into Word or whatever you use for documents.
Save all this in a computer folder labeled Website. That’s all! An hour’s worth of work, including a coffee break!
Over time, you can develop more content, at your convenience:
• Concert schedule
• More photos
• Information on your performing partners, or members of your group
• Press kit
• YouTube videos
• Training offered
• Venues where you’ve performed
• Repertoire list
• Fee schedule
You can look at other people’s websites for ideas. I created my website over the course of 2 years, and it’s still evolving. Many other people are in the second or third generation of their websites. They can serve as models, but don’t let the fact that you can’t possibly do everything they’ve done stop you from accomplishing what you can do.
Consider your need (current or future) for the following features, then check whether the hosting service and/or website software you’re considering supports it:
• Multiple pages (at least as many as you envision for your site)
• Sub-menu pages
• Templates or themes, including designs you like
• Drag and drop for photos and text
• Intuitive editing features, like the ability to change fonts or mask photos with different framing effects
• Widgets for YouTube videos, Google maps, hit counter, etc. These allow you to imbed files so that, for example, someone can view a video you’ve loaded to YouTube through your website (examples on my Video pages), see a map to your performance venue, or see how many people have visited your site.
• Podcasts, so you can insert an audio file with controls, and visitors can play it from the site.
• Dynamic photo galleries
• Chat forum
• RSS feed, so someone can subscribe to your site and have updates appear automatically on their computer
• Self-service email signup (so people can add themselves to your mailing list)
• Store/shopping cart, if you plan to sell anything, like self-published scores or recordings
• Ability to accept donations via PayPal
• Search function
• Password protection (e.g. for a members-only page)
Phase 2 – Line up support services. To launch a website you need:
• A domain name, which you obtain through a registrar
• A hosting company, which keeps your website on its server and makes it available to the public via the Internet (this can be the same as the domain registrar, but it doesn’t have to be)
• Software to format the website (or a web designer to do it for you)
• A high speed Internet connection.
You can get started with just the first two, and choose your software later. I’m assuming you already have a high-speed Internet connection. If not, you can shop for one, or you may be able to use a computer at your public library to maintain your website. Internet service providers, or ISPs, vary by area, so ask your neighbors about vendors they like and connection speeds they recommend.
Some hosting companies have a simple template you can load with your photo, description, contact information, and perhaps the label “under construction,” and upload in just a few minutes. Once you do that, you can add the website address to your business cards, because there’s something there. Later, you can build out the content you really want.
Domain name – This is the address of your website. It’s also called a URL, what you would type into your web browser to go to the site. Examples: Mine is handbells.com; Jeffers Handbell Supply has handbellworld.com. Though you can host a website on another site, like WordPress.com, it looks more professional to have your own domain name. Authorized registrars administer domain names to ensure that every website has a unique address. Pretty much any registrar in your country can sell you the right to use an available domain name for a given period of time, so the choice comes down to price and service. I use GoDaddy.com, which I’ll discuss more in a moment. Many other services are available, and you might ask around about what your friends use, or do Google searches to see what people in chat forums have to say.
Through the domain name registrar, you can check whether the domain name you want is available, and reserve it if it is. If not, you’ll need to choose some variation of it, or start from scratch. That’s why the national handbell guild has Handbellmusicians.org and not handbell.com, handbells.com, handbells.org, or the like – other organizations already owned those domain names. The registrar’s program may suggest alternatives, if the one you want is in use. Someone can own a domain name without having an active website on it. That’s why you may not be allowed to register a domain name you want, even though you can’t find a website under that name. Once you have a domain name, you can keep it as long as you pay the registration fees every year (some registrars have longer contract periods). Be sure the registrar registers the domain name as owned by you, not by the registrar or anyone helping you, so you retain control of it and can transfer it if you need to.
Things to think about in choosing a domain name:
• Make it as short as possible, since people will have to type it in. The longer or more complicated it is, the easier it is to misspell.
• Include terms that people looking for a site like yours would include in their search criteria.
• All else being equal, choose a dot com (.com) extension.
• Avoid handbell jargon. For example, “bronze” is a term only handbell people associate with the instrument. “Bell” is better.
• Avoid terms that are too broad. Handbells aren’t the only instrument using music vocabulary. Calling your group and website Mezzo Forte may be honest, but it doesn’t really distinguish you.
• Avoid terms that encroach on other groups’ names or website names. Do lots of Google searches of the names you have in mind. One Christmas, I led a 12 bell group that formed specifically to do a couple of Christmas gigs. We didn’t envision it as a permanent group, but we had to call it something. We met in Shoreline, Washington, and wanted to call it the Shoreline Ringers. However, a well-established group in Connecticut was already using the name. Even though confusion between the groups was unlikely, given the geographical distance and our temporary nature, we chose another name out of consideration for them.
• Avoid names related not just to active groups, but also groups that may have disbanded, but still live on in people’s memories. You may need to ask around about this. For example, you could probably register campanilebells.com, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The name is associated with a handbell group that disbanded in 2006 but is still talked about.
Check whether your preferred name is available as a gmail account, YouTube channel name, Twitter account, and Facebook Page web address. Reserve those names immediately, so someone else doesn’t claim them. It’s much easier for people to find you if the names are consistent across platforms. When you establish your website, you’ll be able to set up an email address that uses your domain name (example: Nancy@handbells.com). As new media services become available, reserve “your” name on them so someone else doesn’t, even if you don’t plan to use them regularly.
Some people reserve not only the .com name, but .org, .net, .mob, etc. That way, you can cross-reference them so someone typing in the wrong extension will still find your site. I haven’t found it necessary to do this, and additional domain names cost more. If you’re going to do it, the most important one is arguably .mob, as mobile devices become increasingly significant portals to the Internet.
Hosting service – The hosting service will load your website onto their server, which is connected to the Internet, so everyone can find it. If you have your own server, you can host your own website. However, if you have that degree of technical sophistication, you probably aren’t reading handbells.com for advice about websites! It’s something to be aware of, though, since technology evolves so rapidly. If you’re a community group, someone in the group may be willing to host the site on their personal or company server. You would then need to think through the ramifications of that person’s eventual departure from the group.
Like registrars, there are numerous hosting services to choose from based on service and price. Many of the domain name registrars also provide hosting services. In doing the research for this article, I heard from people using Dreamhost, which offers free hosting to 501(c)(3) groups, as well as from someone using Bluehost for a sophisticated handbell website. I signed up with GoDaddy.com, based on a friend’s suggestion when I started. Here are some of the pros and cons of that service, to alert you to points to consider in choosing your own hosting service.
• It’s large and not likely to go belly-up, taking my website offline with it.
• If a server fails, the company has the resources to move my website to another server and get it back up quickly.
• It has reasonable prices for the level of service I need. I pay about $100/year for my domain name and hosting. If I need a higher level of service in the future, I can upgrade. I’m highly unlikely to develop a website too complex for them to host.
• It offers phone tech support at no additional charge, especially valuable for a novice.
• You can set up your account on auto-renewal, so your website doesn’t go offline for lack of payment. Even worse, someone else can take your domain name if you don’t renew it on time.
• It comes with free email accounts.
• You can add WordPress, a popular website construction tool, at no additional charge.
• The GoDaddy website is unnecessarily complicated and confusing. I often find myself going around in circles. In particular, there’s no separation between the sales side and the current customer side. It’s all just one big jumble of information, and I have to go back to my written notes to figure out how to get anywhere. As a result, once I set everything up, I avoided going to the GoDaddy website.
• They email me too frequently, for renewals and the like, even though I’m on auto-renewal. I don’t want to be pals with them; I just want them to host my site.
• It took much longer than I expected to set up the site hosting, mostly because I wasn’t aware of how many elements were involved. In particular, some of the steps involved in setting up WordPress required waiting overnight for something to load on their server, before I could move on to the next step. This happened several times.
• GoDaddy is very aggressive about upselling. It is the Costco of website services – you had no idea you needed all that stuff until they suggested it. And do you really need it? I suggest you say no, and add it later if you find you do need it. One additional service you may want to consider is privacy protection. When you register a website, your contact information is public. Anyone can view your name, address, phone number, and email online by looking up your website name under Whois, which reveals who owns domain names. With privacy protection, that information is masked. You may also want to consider search engine optimization (SEO), which can help your website appear higher in search results.
During setup, it seemed like GoDaddy kept asking me to come up with passwords for this, that, and the other thing. I tried to use the same password for everything, but some of the areas required stronger passwords than others. A rep explained to me later that they assume different people will manage different aspects of the account – billing, technical administration, various mail accounts, etc. If it’s just you, I suggest starting out with a bulletproof password (combination of lower case and upper case letters, numbers, and punctuation, at least 8 characters long) that you can use as the password for everything. Then write it down and keep it in your website file, or, like so many passwords, on a note posted on your monitor!
Allow plenty of time for the setup process, as you walk through the steps of choosing a domain name and other services, providing payment information, establishing usernames and passwords for various functions, and setting up email accounts. It would be worth keeping a Word document open and recording key information, or taking screen shots at various points in the process. For example, you‘ll be given a server address, and you’ll create your FTP username and password (hopefully that one strong password you made up earlier). Write all these down, as you’ll need them to publish your website.
Another time, I’ll talk about website software and designing your site.
Copyright © 2013 Nancy Kirkner, handbells.com