Thursday, February 9, 2012

Building a better website

Making jewelry is my part-time hobby and sanity-saver. Last year, it became even more part-time because my cyberpunk romantic thriller Stellarnet Rebel was published by Carina Press, a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises, and I'm currently working on the sequel.

What's this have to do with selling jewelry? Well, my publisher provides professional webinars to assist its authors, and I noticed that some of this information would be useful to jewelry makers, too!

So with the permission of Jenny Bullough, manager of digital content at Harlequin, here are some tips for creating a better website -- taken from my webinar notes and modified to apply to jewelry selling. Additional information is from my personal experience and the input of the Triangle Jewelry Makers.

First of all, YES YOU NEED A WEBSITE, regardless of where else you might appear or where your work is sold. It doesn't need to be an online store, but it needs to be the nexus of all of your shops, blog, upcoming events, promotions, social media, etc.

A website of your very own is under your control. An Etsy shop is subject to Etsy. A Facebook page is subject to Facebook. Your website is yours.

And it needs to look presentable. Which should be obvious, but in a nutshell, PROFESSIONAL LOOKING WEBSITE = TRUST

Not sure what makes a good web design? Check out: WEB PAGES THAT SUCK for some guidelines.

But before you sit down to build a website, MAKE A PLAN. List everything that would need to be there -- theme, logo, navigation, social media, jewelry categories, points of purchase, etc. Ask yourself what your customers are going to be looking for. The main thing, of course, is they'll need to know what you make and how to buy it.

Part of the value added to what you sell is that it was handmade by a real person. So don't forget to include a BIO, artist statement, photo of yourself, or other personal info. 

REGISTER A URL. For jewelry sellers, this will probably be your name, your name and the word "jewelry," or your FBN/DBA. As I've mentioned before, try to keep it simple.

REGISTER YOUR EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA to match the url as much as possible, to eliminate customer confusion. If someone hears about you from a friend, or meets you at an event, or stops by your booth at an art show, and they search for you on the internet, they need to be able to find you. Being consistent ensures you are not only easy to find, but that you will be at the top of search engines and it will be obvious to customers that they've got the right person.

Now, onto the specifics about the website itself...

Your HOME PAGE should readily identify who you are, what you do, your logo, tagline, style, site navigation, and your newest pieces for sale.

The screen they see before they have to scroll or click for any reason should contain the header, site navigation, and links to social media -- at the very least. New material and the latest information should also be front and center, so that return visitors will know right away that there's something new to explore.

The HEADER GRAPHIC is the image at the top of your website. It should not dominate the page, forcing visitors to scroll down before they see anything else. The header should reflect your style and overall theme. Don't have a theme? Then it's time to make some decisions. See my next post about branding...

The website should be EASY TO NAVIGATE. If visitors have to go searching for the cart button or the contact link, or if they can't find the information they're looking for, you've lost their trust and you're going to lose them.

Your site should be CLEAN AND UNCLUTTERED. This aids in navigation, but it also allows for faster download. Some of your customers might be on a dial up connection, a slower computer, or a smartphone. No auto-play music, sounds, animations, flash, etc., that might slow the download time or crash someone's browser.

NOT an example of "clean and uncluttered."
Always use DARK TEXT ON LIGHT BACKGROUND. It doesn't have to be B&W, but use dark colors on lighter colors. It's called contrast, and is easier on the eyes.

Use a READABLE FONT. There's a temptation to make it small (to squeeze in more information), but not all of your customers have great vision. And you might be tempted to use fancy swirly pretty fonts. Go right ahead and use them... in your logo or header. But the rest of your text should be simple. When's the last time you read a book or magazine article in Medieval Uncial or Gothic Calligraphy?

NO 3RD PARTY ADS. It might sound like a good idea to put Google ads or something on your site to generate revenue, or use a "free" web service that puts ads on your site... but this can backfire. Ads like this are often targeted to users based on keywords within your site. So, you could end up with several jewelry websites luring your customers away. Or customers might incorrectly associate you with other businesses. Or you could end up with ads that your customers find offensive.

TEST THE WEBSITE in different browsers. Don't assume that if it looks ok in Internet Explorer it will also look fine in Firefox. Also, check the website's functionality. Do the shopping carts work properly? Is the shipping being calculated correctly? Do the links work? Enlist the help of friends, or go down to the local library to try it from their browser. (Notice I didn't say try it from work. Your workplace might not mind, but I don't want to get you in trouble!)

Finally, KEEP THE SITE UPDATED. If your last post was three months ago, the public will assume you've lost interest and they will too. Stay fresh. If you're not adding new items, rotate the items you have so new ones appear on the home page. If you don't have time to write new content, consider adding a widget that will automatically show your latest tweets or Etsy listings.

Good luck!

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

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