Blog

Getting visitors and keeping them

Let’s assume for a moment, that you have a web site.  Now, you are asking yourself, how you get visitors to your site.

Believe me, that’s a question that people have been asking since the first web sites were built.  However, you’re not looking for thousands of visitors. You just want people who might give you work to find you
your web site.

The first step in making that happen, is to make sure you put your domain name on everything.
It should be on your resume. It should be on every cover letter you send.  It should be in your email signature.  And speaking of email: make sure that you are always sending mail from the email address at
your domain (you@yourname.com).   The reason for this is two-fold: 1) it looks more professional than actorguy8569@hawtmail.com and 2) it contains your domain name, which encourages people to visit your site.

As an actor, you’re probably thinking more about promoting yourself in the “professional” world: to agents, casting directors, artistic directors and the like.  And that is a big part of your web site.  You are promoting yourself to the people who can (and hopefully will) give you work.  By putting  your domain name on everything you send out, and by sending all your email with your you@yourname.com address, you’re increasing the chances that one of these people will come to look at your site.

But, if that’s all you want to do, you’re missing the chance for something else: some measure of fame.
I’m not talking about being photographed by paparazzi while you’re at the hairdresser kind of fame.  I’m just talking about having your name known outside of your circle of friends and family.  You can have “fans” or regular site visitors, from all over the world.  People who will come to see you in that small film role, watch you on that TV show you did an episode for, or even go a little out of their way to see you in that show that’s touring in Northen Manitoba (or wherever).  So, how do you get these loyal visitors?

Before you can get visitors, they have to be able to find you.  Which means that you have to get your site “out there” for them to find.  And that’s done with two words:  Goo.  Gle.

Back just a few years ago, there were many search engines on which to find web sites.  Everyone had their favourite, and if you wanted to reach the largest segment of people, you had to submit your site to all
of them.  Now, there’s pretty much one place that an internet user goes to search:  Google.  Yes, you can submit your site to Yahoo and MSN as well.  It can’t hurt.  But if you don’t submit to Google, you’re probably missing the largest opportunity for traffic.

Before you can submit your site to any search engine, you have to make sure that your site has the elements that it will need for the search to find them.  You need to make sure that your site has HTML tags for META KEYWORDS and META DESCRIPTION.  For the more technical minded, these tags look like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”A description on your site”>

<meta name=”keywords” content=”Keywords found in your site whereby each keyword is separated by a comma”>

If you are using Joomla or WordPress, don’t worry, I’ll teach you about how to get these in a future post.

A quick word about keywords:  don’t lie.  There are people who might suggest that you use words that don’t apply to your site in order to bring in more traffic.  There are two reasons why you shouldn’t listen to them: a) it doesn’t work and b) its dishonest.  If someone is looking for a web site about the new pokeman game, and you’re site comes up, they aren’t going to be happy about it.  Granted, this happens less and less these days, since most search engines have refined their search processes.  But its still a bad idea.  The
keywords are going to help the search engine to identify the search words that will return a result for your site.

Here’s how you submit your site to Google:

  1. Go to www.google.com/addurl
  2. Fill in the information requested.
  3. Click the Add URL button.

Once that’s done, Google will index your site.  Every so often, the search engine will return to see if you have added pages.  This keeps the listing updated.  The search engine will do this on its own.  You don’t need to do anything.

Both Yahoo and MSN have a similar process for adding your site.

Now that you’re getting some visitors, you want to make sure that they have a reason to keep coming back.  There are a few ways to do that:

  • Keep your web site up to date.  This may seem like a no brainer, but there are thousands of web sites that haven’t been updated in ages and are showing months old or even years old information.  This is an almost immediate turnoff for any visitor.
  • Keep a blog.  I’ve discussed blogging previously.  But it is a great way to keep people coming back to your site, as well as keeping them up to date on the latest news.
  • Have a photo gallery that you frequently update.  Make sure you get pictures from shows that you do, as well as any photo shoots you participate in.  And put them on your web site.
  • Multimedia.  Any chance you get, make sure that you have clips of any film or television you’ve done (you might want to ensure that you have permission to use them on the web, since there’s been a
    lot of to-do about that of late).  As well, you may also want to create audio clips.  Or you can go one step further and create a podcast (I’ll go into that more in another post).

All of the above are great ways to keep your visitors coming back to your site.

By submitting using your domain name at every opportunity, submitting your site to search engines, and giving your visitors a reason to come back to your site regularly, you will increase your chances for successful self-promotion, but may also find “fans” in places you never thought possible.

Uploading (easier than you think)

Right now, I’m going to talk about something that you will probably
have to do at least once, if you want to  make your own site. 

This particular post, is for the “newbies”.  Those of you who are
familiar with the whole uploading thing…go have a coffee.  I’ll cover
something for you another day.

When you upload files to your web host, you will use a program called an “FTP program”.  FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol.  There are hundreds (if not thousands) of programs you can choose from.  I’m going to suggest a free program called FileZilla.

Using FileZilla, I’m going to take you through the process of
connecting to your host, finding your files on your computer and
uploading to your site.

First, and overview of the Filezilla interface. 

If you click on the image to the right, it will open in a new window.

Don’t get scared. 

At the very top, you’ll see a series of icons, and to the right of
that, four entry fields for address, username, password and port.  This
is where you will enter the login information for your web hosting
account. 

On the left hand side of the program, is the “local site” section. 
This represents your computer and the files on it.  There are two
sections.  Let’s take a closer look:

 

The top section. is a series of folders, with plus signs beside
them.  This is what is known as the “folder tree” for your computer. 
This is for navigation through your computer.   You won’t use this
section for uploading.  This is a great way to get through several
folders to where you have your files stored.  Assuming that your hard
drive is called C: (and you are using a Windows Computer).  You’ll want to go to C:\Documents and Settings\your name
You might have your files stored in a folder on the Desktop, in which
case you’ll go to C:\Documents and Settings\your name\Desktop.  If you
put it in a folder in the My Documents folder you’ll go to C:\Documents
and Settings\your name\My Documents.  When you click on a folder in the
top section, you will see the contents of that folder in the bottom
section (both sections are pictured above).

Take a look to the right side of the screen (directly beside the
left side that we’ve just looked at.  This is where your files at your
host will be located.  Right now, since we aren’t connected, you
shouldn’t see anything here.  When you are connected, it will simply be
a matter of dragging your files from the left-hand side over to the
right hand side.  What could be easier than that?

These are the two most important sections.  You don’t really need to know much else.  However, for completeness, I’ll go over the other sections that matter.

Now, take a look below the two sections we’ve already talked about.  You’ll see the section I will refer to as the queue.

 This section should be blank right now.  But when you have
connected and dragged files to the right-hand side, the names of the
files will appear here, as well as an indication of the uploading
status. 

Directly above the “local site” (left-hand) and the “remote site”
(right-hand) sections, you’ll see a blank section. This will contain
the server responses.  For the most part, you will be able to ignore
these sections.  But watching this section will show you any problems
that might occur, and will help you know if you have been disconnected.

This will be easiser to under stand if we see it all in action,
so let’s login. You will need to know your address, username and
password.  Most hosts will provide this for you almost immediately
after you sign up.  In the address field, you will enter your FTP
address.   In the username field, you’ll enter your user name.  And in
the password field, you’ll enter your password.  Makes sense, right?  
If you don’t know any of these, you’ll really need to contact your host
to get it.  Once you’ve entered this information, click the “Quickconnect” button. 

Wait.  What about the port field?  You shouldn’t have to
enter anything here.  Unless your host is somewhat unusual, they will
use port number 21, which is standard for FTP.  In which case, the port
number will automatically fill itself in when you click the
Quickconnect button.

As you are connecting, you will see some text in the
Response are scroll by.  This may happen very quickly.  Don’t worry. 
Just pay attention to the colours.  If you see any red text, take a
look at what this says, because that is an error message.  If you don’t
see any red, that’s good!  Its working.  Once you are connected, you’ll
see quite a change in the Remote site section.

Here’s where you need more information from your host.  You need to
know where you will put your files.  With some hosts, you’ll see a
folder as soon as you login that has your domain name (yourname.com). 
With others you’ll see a folder called www or public_html.  Chances
are, this information is found in the email that your host sent to you
when you signed up.  Open whatever folder you are supposed to place
your files in, and then pay attention to the local site section (left
side).  Locate the folder with your files and open it on the left
side.  You want to see the files for your site in the lower portion of
the local site section.  
It should looks something like the image to the right.  I’d like to
draw your attention to the folder that doesn’t have a name.  Beside it,
you should see two periods (..).  This is not an actual folder.  If you
are inside a folder, you can click this to go up one level.  For
example, if you opened the images folder seen in the image above, and
then wanted to go back to the main folder (where you index file is),
you would just double-click the nameless folder.

Click once on one file to highlight it.  Then, on your keyboard,
hold down the CTRL + A keys.  This will highlight all of the files and
folders you see. 

Turn your attention to the remote site section, and make sure you
are in the location where your files are supposed to go (inside the
yourname.com folder, or the www folder or the public_html folder – once
again, if you aren’t sure contact your host).

With your mouse, drag the files from the local side to the remote
side and let them go.  You will see some action in the queue, showing
the upload progress.  Once a file is uploaded, it will remove itself
from the queue.  Once all the files are uploaded, the queue will be
empty and you are finished uploading. 

You’re done!  Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Blogging, how and why

Previously, I mentioned blogging as an option for your web site. Lets assume for a moment that you have no idea what a blog is, so I can make sure that we’re all on the same page.

Wikipedia describes a blog like this:

A blog is a user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order.
Blogs often provide commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of most early blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual although some focus on photographs (photoblog), sketchblog, videos (vlog), or audio (podcasting), and are part of a wider network of social media.

You’ve probably seen a blog or two. Livejournal, for example, is a blogging community. BoingBoing is a popular blog that features interesting objects, articles, images and videos. Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek: TNG fame) has a very popular blog, which is read by thousands of people every day.

So. A blog is your online journal. You can write anything you like, post as often as you like, and cover any topic that you like.

You might ask why you’d want to keep a public journal like this. There are several reasons: As a promotional tool, keeping a blog lets people find out what you are doing. It can save you the annoyance of having to send an e-mail to everyone you know each time you have a project you want to promote. Even more importantly, the blog lets people who aren’t on your email list find out about the project. Of course, as a performer or artist, you want people to find out about your work. You want people to see you perform. You can build interest, not only by talking about the project when its about to open. But also by talking about the process. You might want to talk about interesting things that happen in rehearsal, or things you come across in your research. Even when you are not promoting a project, your blog will let people follow what you are working on and planning on working on.

When you are writing the blog, you should ensure that you are writing in your voice. Don’t put on a character. Don’t try to sound cool. The blog is your journal, so it should sound like you. As well, don’t be afraid to have an opinion. By all means, talk outside of just your career and projects. Talk about politics, business, religion, thoughts you think about on the bus. Anything at all. That said (and trust me, you want to pay attention to this), don’t go slagging people. There’s a difference between talking about a difficult day at rehearsal, and slagging other actors or the director. One is completely understandable, the other will cost you friends and likely work in the future. There can be a fine line. So know when not to go into detail.

There are different ways to create your blog. You can use what’s called a hosted service like Livejournal or Blogger. These services are hosted at the service’s web site and publish and your postings are located there as well. With Blogger, it is possible to publish the blog to your site (external to blogger) or to host the blog at their ‘blogspot.com” service. If you decide to host with blogspot, your address will be something like yourname.blogspot.com. Likewise, if you use Livejournal’s free service, your address would be yourname.livejournal.com. If you pay for their service, you can point your domain name to them and have your blog be at joesmith.com.

If you bought your domain name, nad you want to get hosting for your site, look for something with MySQL and PHP and set up your own blog, using something like WordPress. For the last several years, WordPress has been the blogging application of choice for many people, for a few reasons:

  1. Its easy to use.
  2. Its reliable.
  3. Its highly configurable.
  4. Its free.

Instead of using a standard theme, there are thousands of free themes available for WordPress at themes.wordpress.net. Having so many themes available lets you find the look that’s right for you. There are also plugins that you can use to add features and functionality to your blog. I’ll go into details on using these in another post.

Another blogging application that you might choose to use is Moveable Type. Although its difficult to find on their site, there is a free version of Moveable Type, which you can find here. Though there are templates available for Moveable Type, there are far fewer than for WordPress. As well, MT doesn’t have a simple way to add plugins the way that WordPress does. However, once its installed, its relatively simple to use.

I’m not going to go into the specifics about installing these applications in this post. The installation process is well covered in the documentation for the applications and on their web sites. I may go into it in detail in a future post, however (if the need is there).

Now you know a little about Blogging. If you want to see more blogs in action, I’d recommend taking a look at these popular blogs:

www.wilwheaton.net
www.neilgaiman.com/journal/
www.boingboing.net

Finding the host with the most

Once you’ve decided what kind of site you want to have, you’ll need to find a host for your site.

Just like with domain registration, there are many thousands of options. Type “web host” into Google, and you will get about 210,000,000 results.  You’ll need to do some research to find the host that’s best for you.

Once thing I’m going to say here: you will need to pay for reliable hosting.  There are many services which will offer free hosting, but in all cases, a free host will place banner ads on your web site, which will interfere with the look of your site and and doesn’t look professional.

Most hosts charge on a yearly basis.  Some will charge on a monthly basis, but if you don’t want to worry about making a payment every month, paying for the year will really be in your best interest.  You can expect to pay about $100/year at a minimum.  This may seem a lot up front, but consider that you are paying for 12 months, and it seems a lot cheaper.

Now, on to things to consider:

If you want to create a static web site, almost any host will do.  Any web host can accomodate HTML pages and images (which is what a static site is composed of).

If you want to use a blogging application (like WordPress) or a CMS (like Joomla), you will need a host that supports and provides PHP and MySQL.  PHP is a programming language and MySQL is the database system that these applications use.  Remember, you don’t need to know the programming language.  This is just what these applications are made with.  All you need to know is whether your host can support them.  A couple of hosts that support these: Netfirms and Dreamhost.

Another thing you want to look at: reliability.  See what people are saying about the host you are looking at.  Type the name of the host into google and find out what people have written about them.  Check out hosting review sites and see how the host rates.  If you like what you see, then sign up for the host.  Remember, though: that you should probably look at more than one review.  At one time of another, every host gets a bad review from someone who had a bad experience.  Don’t take advice from the first place you find it.  Make sure you get a second or third opinion.

Don’t rush into your decision.  Don’t let anyone else rush you into your decision.  Once you’re comfortable with the host, sign up and pay for the hosting.  We can then look at setting up some different web sites and how you might go about it.

What to do Next

Did you buy your domain name?  If not, that’s ok, there’s still time.  You can do it now.  I’ll wait.

——————–

So.  Now you’ve got a name…what can you do with it?

The not very helpful (but very vague) answer is: whatever you want to do.  However, you probably want something more substantial.

I’m going to assume for a moment that you are a complete beginner, and have no idea about what your options are.

Let me take a moment to clarify some terminology that I will be using: what you are going to have is a web site.  That’s a given. There are several different kinds of web site that you can have:
static, dynamic, and a blog.

  • A static web site is a site built with an HTML editor such as Frontpage, Dreamweaver, HTML kit, Nvu
    or any one of many programs.  With a static web site, you will build the individual web pages on your computer and publish them to your webspace (provided by a host, which we’ll get to in a later post).  Any time you want to make a change to a page, you will need to edit the page on your computer and then publish the page to your webspace.
  • A dynamic web site is a site that is powered by a Content Management System (CMS).  There are several free Content Management Systems that are available to you, such as Joomla, Droopal, Xaraya, and others.
    A CMS is normally powered by a database, which allows the system to take content that you enter and place it in your site template, which saves you from having to recreate a new page whenever you want to add or edit a page.  This simplifies the process of adding to your web site.
  • A blog is a web site which acts as an online journal (a web log, shortened to blog in common internet language).  There are several different ways to have a blog.  You can use a service like Livejournal or Blogger, or you could install your own blog system such as Moveable Type, WordPress, or Greymatter.  A blog is another dynamic system (much like the Content Management Systems discussed above), but with slightly fewer options.

You can also have a combination.  You might have a static web site that incorporates a blog.  Or even a dynamic site that includes a blog.

I have my own personal preferences.  For blogging, I recommend WordPress, which is probably one of the most popular blogging systems available. Its popular because its easy to install and easy to use.  For Dynamic sites, I prefer Joomla, which I find has the most usability out of the box.  It is possible, with both
Wordpress and Joomla to have an attractive looking site without any knowledge of HTML or other programming language.  Both have many templates available that you can use for free (free is always good).

Next time,we’ll talk about choosing a host for your web site.