Web Site Basics for the Fused Glass Artist

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I've seen several questions on-line lately asking about options for personal web sites. Stumbling across a question multiple times is often motivation for me to write down my thoughts in a blog post. What follows is a summary of what I have researched and what I have implemented. I hope you'll find the information at least gets you started in asking some of the right questions. But first...

The Disclaimer

I am not a web designer, nor do I play one on TV. I am a glass artist with a day job (or am I a working geek with a glass hobby?) I work as a software product manager at a scientific instrumentation company, and I know how to program our equipment in our Basic-like language. However, when it comes to the World Wide Web, I am just someone who has figured out how to hack a little HTML code and who Googles a lot to find answers to my questions. This means I know just enough to be dangerous. The information you'll find here is based on my knowledge and experience. There are tools similar to the ones listed below that I'm sure will work equally well. This is not an all-inclusive list, it's the tools I have worked with.

Consider Your Needs

The first step is to consider what you are hoping to accomplish with your web site. Do you want to provide an on-line gallery of your work and information on how you can be contacted? Do you want to set up an on-line store? Are you interested in sharing what you know with others by maintaining a blog? Is your goal to advertise studio instruction or your gallery events? Having a clear purpose in mind will help you determine which tools you will need going forward.

What is your budget? What you are willing/able to pay could be a big factor in which options you choose. (If your budget is unlimited, you can skip the rest of this post and contact your local web designer. Otherwise, keep reading!)

What are your skills? Can you hack your way through HTML code or are you more comfortable with a word processor? 

Answering these questions will help you determine which tool options to consider.

Tool Options

Payments: First things first. If your goal is to sell art, then you need a way for people to pay. PayPal is an excellent option. It's secure, reliable, it's integrated into many shopping cart apps, and most customers are comfortable paying through PayPal. PayPal takes a small percentage of the overall sale (2.9% at the time of writing). If you already have a Square account, that is another good option. Square is also compatible with with many shopping cart options.

On-line Market Places: If you want a place where people can search for the type of product you offer and buy directly, but you don't want the hassles and costs of a full-blown web site, you might consider an on-line market place such as Etsy or Artfire. These sites provide an on-line storefront that is easy to set up. Products are added to the store by uploading pictures, writing a description, and entering a price. A market place has a low barrier to entry and is relatively inexpensive. As an example, on Etsy you pay a small fee -- 20 cents -- to list an item for three months. If an item sells, Etsy takes a percentage of the selling price. (Just don't forget to also add fees assessed by your payment option; e.g., PayPal). The disadvantage to these on-line market places is because they are easy to use and maintain, many people use them and it is very hard for your product to stand out from other offerings. Sales often go to the lowest price regardless of quality of craftmanship, and they are not the best tool for building a brand around your work and helping people get to know you as an artist. On the other hand, they are one of the easiest options to set up and use, if your only objective is to make your work available for sale. 

Blog Publishing Services: Do you have passion and knowledge about a subject and want to share that with the world? Blog publishing services are typically as easy to use as a basic word processor (e.g., Microsoft Word or Google Docs). Many blog services these days are all-in-one tools for website building, ecommerce (shopping carts), and blogging, and they typically offer a variety of plans ranging from "free" (which usually gives you the ability to blog, but no ecommerce/store front) to paid-for services that can offer ecommerce, sophisticated statistical analysis of web-site traffic, and unlimited product listings. If your goal is to blog, I suggest looking at Blogspot, Wordpress, or Weebly. If you are looking for the ability to blog as well as have a web site from which you sell products, consider Weebly, or a Blogspot or Wordpress site coupled with a third party shopping cart plug-in. 

Third Party Ecommerce (shopping cart) options: For my money, one word - Ecwid. These guys have it aced when it comes to ease-of-use, functionality, and a reasonable price. When I was searching for a shopping cart option to integrate into my web site, I stumbled upon Ecwid. Within an hour, I had set up an account, added a few products, entered payment and shipping options, and Ecwid generated a line of code that I copied into my web site. Viola, a shopping cart automagically appeared on my web site. Five minutes later I was giving them my credit card for a year's worth of shopping cart bliss, all for the low price of $150 annually and no additional fees (just don't forget your PayPal fees if that is how you plan to accept payment). Ecwid also has plug-ins for Weebly, Blogger, Wordpress, and others. Yes, this is an unabashedly biased review of what I think is a great tool.

Hosted Web-Site: If you are looking for more flexibility than what is offered by a Blog Publishing Service, you may want to consider a hosted web site. To accomplish this, you typically need at least intermediate web design skills, or you will want to hire someone to do the development for you. The advantage to this approach is that your web site design is limited only by your skills and imagination (or your wallet, if you are paying someone for the design). There are some web-page development tools that offer low-cost hosting options. For instance, Coffee Cup Software offers a suite of web site design tools, including Coffee Cup HTML (an HTML Editor) and Coffee Cup RSD (Responsive Site Designer). Both offer you the ability to easily publish the web site you create to a site that they host for you at a very reasonable cost (~$5/month). There are many web-hosting companies, including local businesses if you would rather go that route (do an Internet search for web hosting and you'll find many options as well as reviews).

Custom Domain Name: A domain name is the "address" of your web site. It's what you see in the top bar of your browser when you visit a particular site. In many instances, when you set up a blog or a hosted web site, the entity with whom you are working will assign to you a domain name. For instance, I currently host my web site with Coffee Cup, and the name of my web site on their servers is danaworley.coffeecup.com. However, I wanted a unique name so I purchased two custom names from GoDaddy, who is a domain name registrar: danaworley.com and jestersbaubles.com. Both of these are linked to my site on the CoffeeCup domain server. (CoffeeCup had clear instructions on which settings to change to link the domain names to their server. Blogger has similar instructions.)

There are many domain name registrars. They are required to be certified and follow certain rules, so they all offer essentially the same product. When considering a custom domain name, pricing is one factor. However, many of those entities who manage domain names also offer services such as web site hosting, so you may be able to get a package that offers you a domain name and a web site. For example, danaworley.coffeecup.com is a domain name that comes free of charge with the web site I have hosted on CoffeeCup.

My Implementation

I've peppered the information above with several, "here's what I've done" comments. To summarize, this is currently what I have set up.

  • A web site hosted by CoffeeCup, danaworley.coffeecup.com. I started creating my web site using CoffeeCup HTML Editor. Publishing a web site to their servers is basically a click of a button so it did not require me to worry about the details of getting the web site files from my PC to their servers. The process was easy and the hosting fee was reasonable. I now use their Responsive Site Designer program rather than the HTML Editor, but it's still an easy one-click process to publish to their servers.
  • Two custom domain names, purchased through GoDaddy. (danaworley.com and jestersbaubles.com). These are both linked to my web site on CoffeeCup.
  • Ecwid shopping cart so that people can purchase my products on-line. 
  • I enjoy sharing what I know about glass, so I wanted a blog. My blog is set up on Blogpot: jestersbaubles.blogspot.com. Of course, if you're reading this on line right now, you know that!

Keep in mind that web sites are always a work in progress! I still have a lot of changes I would like to make to my web site, including getting more items in my on-line store and setting up a separate gallery of work. But, it's a good start and it's my own, unique web presence. 

As I mentioned above, this is not all-inclusive. It's based on what I understand, and it's what I've done. I hope it helps you in some small way start down the road to providing a great web presence for your art!

Best, Dana

Note: I made some changes recently, which may require a few days to populate across DNS servers. If you have visited my web site in the past and now try to visit danaworley.com or jestersbaubles.com, you may get a message about the site "no longer being parked". If so, visit my CoffeeCup site directly: danaworley.coffeecup.com


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