Websites and my DIY philosophy

I’m sort of a “web evangelist”.  Whenever I talk to actors and other performing artists, I almost always ask if they have a website.  Most don’t.  When I ask them why, I tend to get varying responses, which can be boiled down to the following:

  1. I don’t think it will be of any use to me.
  2. Its too hard/I’m not a technical person.

Naturally, I have responses to these.

I don’t think it will be of any use to me: When someone searches for your name on Google, what comes up?  Is it a collection of sites that you have little to no real affiliation with?  Is it your facebook page?  The first thing that your website will do for you is help to ensure that you are in control of the content that comes up first in a google search for your name (unless your name is John Smith).  In addition to just helping you control your google search results, a website can do something more: it gives potential engagers a way to find out a little about your past work. I have gone into auditions, and been welcomed so warmly that I thought they must have met me in the past, only to discover that they had simply been to my website.  Having a website allowed the potential engager to see my past work, which made them predisposed to being friendly to me, which made the audition a lot smoother.  If that’s not a good reason to have a website, I don’t know what is.

Its too hard/I’m not a technical person: A few years ago, I used to work at a website hosting company, and during my time speaking to our clients, I encountered more than a few who had been taken advantage of by someone.  In most cases, they had hired someone to build/maintain a website for them and that person had taken advantage of their ignorance about websites, and was over charging them.  Once, several years ago, it was necessary to be able to write HTML to be able to create a functional website.  Now, however, with tools such as Joomla or WordPress, you don’t need to be able to write HTML.  In fact, most hosting companies offer both as one-click installs, which makes setting them up almost effortless.  Then, its just a matter of changing the template (using one of thousands of available free templates), and writing your content.  You don’t need to be technical.  You just need to spend a little time on setup.  Its also worth pointing out that I never received any training in web stuff.  I never took a course in web design or HTML or anything else.  Everything I know about web sites, I taught myself.  And believe me, if I can learn how to do this stuff, so can you.

I firmly believe that the tools have advanced to the point where anyone can create a website.  Its easy, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to do. Some of the best tools are free, and simple to use.  I firmly believe that its easy enough, that anyone can do it.  Why pay someone to do it for you, when you can do it yourself?

I’ve sometimes considered doing a seminar on creating your own website.  If this is something you might be interested in, let me know.

EDIT: Its been pointed out that this post might be interpreted as saying that you can either a)Do it yourself or b) get ripped off.  This is absolutely not what I was trying to say.  If you can afford a professional, then you should get one. There are plenty of honest designers out there who will charge a reasonable price and won’t rip anyone off.  A good WordPress template creator (or website designer or Joomla themer) can build you something truly spectacular.  However, I know a lot of performing artists who can’t afford to pay someone.  For these people, DIY is totally the way to go. They’ll get a site they can use, that looks good, and is easy to update.  All most people really need for DIY, is a little hand to point them in the right direction.

Social Media: yes you should tweet

Warning: I’m going to talk twitter.  Not about things that happened on twitter, but about twitter in general.

Let’s face a sad truth: most actors don’t have a publicist.  Heck, most actors don’t even have enough of a following to need one.  Most actors don’t have a following at all.  Using social media can help.  Oh sure, chances are that you won’t be the next Wil Wheaton, but you can gain a bit of a following.  And even more importantly, you can use social media to network with other actors and other industry types.

I’m going to skip over Facebook, since it seems that practically everyone on the planet is on Facebook, and those that aren’t have decided not to be for some very good reasons.  On the topic of Facebook, I will say this:  since “practically everyone on the planet” (if you’ll excuse the gross exaggeration) is on Facebook, refusing to make use of this social medium may limit your ability to connect with both other people in the business, and with people who might want to follow you.  Maybe I’ll cover this in another post.

But for the moment, I’ll cover Twitter.  To get the basics out of the way, wikipedia describes twitter as: a social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers.

So why would you want to use a “microblogging” service that limits you to 140 characters? Isn’t there a massive signal to noise ratio problem?  Well, the honest truth is, yes.  But you control who you follow, and if someone annoys you, simply stop following them.  The benefits of the medium far outweigh the detriments.  A social medium like Twitter works best when it is considered a two-way communication.  That should be your goal: communication.  People who follow you will do so because they find you interesting.  The best way to keep them around is to be interesting (I know, no pressure).  So, how do you do that?

Well, first off, I’m not an expert.  I’m not a “Social Media Guru” (a phrase thrown around quite a bit these days), but I have been on twitter for three years, so I know what I like.  And more importantly, I know what I don’t like.  Here’s what I don’t like:

  1. Over-sharing. Don’t share things that you wouldn’t share with acquaintances.  Or things that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to know.
  2. Staying “on message”. There are a lot of politicians who try to use twitter, but fail because they don’t consider it a two-way communication.  Check out Jack Layton or Michael Ignatieff.  These two politicians use twitter as a broadcast, just sending words out into the ether, all of them words that stay on their political message.  There is no insight into the individuals behind them.  That makes for bad tweeting.
  3. Infrequent updates. Just like a blog*, you need to update often.  If you only update every week or so, I’ll forget about you.  Worse, there are many users who will purge tweeters that don’t update very often.  You need to make sure that you update regularly to keep you followers engaged.
  4. Flooding. While it is important to update regularly, it is possible to over-tweet and essentially spam your followers.  Nothing is more annoying than a flood of tweets, especially if those tweets don’t present anything new.  Much as I love the Ontario Arts Council, their twitter feed tends to flood its followers.

As you can see, there’s a fine balance.  Tweet regularly, but not too much.  Don’t just broadcast but engage with your followers.  Retweet when you find something interesting that you want to share (its a way of saying “this is cool” about the person you’re re-tweeting).

So, why is this important?  I stated earlier that you could use twitter to build a following.  That’s true.  You can also use it to network with other actors/directors/people interested in theatre.  As a Canadian actor, you know that we don’t really have stars here. We don’t have a machine that makes people “famous”.  If you want to put the word out about the work you do, maybe get a bit of a following, you should use every tool you can.  And twitter is one such tool.

On its own, it won’t make you famous, but it could help.  And it definitely can’t hurt.

* This is me, throwing stones at my glass house. Yes, I know I don’t update my blog as often as I should.

Blogging: you are the product

The other day, I was talking with Siobhan Richardson about her blog, and she mentioned that sometimes she wonders how much to talk about in her posts.  Specifically, how to deal with ideas.

I think it depends on the idea.  Or rather, it depends on the product.  If you are a writer, the your product is your story, so you are not going to post the details of that story in your blog.  But if you happen to be an actor then you are the product.  Describing how you went about researching a character or perhaps a specific technique that you’ve found working for you doesn’t diminish your product.  Its something that leads back to you.  Someone might find your insight helpful, and when they next encounter a similar situation, they might think “I remember when I read about this on [your name]’s blog.”  The I remember reading this statement becomes even more important if you are a director, or like Siobhan, a fight director (or any of the many theatre-related professions where a particular expertise is needed).   Sharing an insight or an idea directly related to what you do does not diminish your product.  Speaking of a technique you’ve developed for, say, bringing out the acting in stage combat simply puts the idea out there.  No one else will be able to take your idea and implement it in quite the same way you do, because its yours.

Keeping your ideas to yourself doesn’t help you get the word out about what you do and who you are.  It helps you build your personal brand by letting others know of your expertise and what makes you unique.  The shared idea isn’t really something anyone can steal from you, but even though you’ve spoken of it, its your idea, and only you have the experience that brings the idea to life.  A reader might be able to take insight or inspiration from your blog post, but in the end, their interpretation will be their idea.  All you will have done is plant the seed.

Sharing is what makes the internet world work.  And its something that you can use to help people notice you.  Take the risk and share your ideas.  All you have to lose is the opportunity to have a reader remember you.

Take Control of your Online Identity

Chances are, that someone out there is Googling your name. Maybe they are a potential employer (casting director, agent, director, Artistic director, etc). Maybe its somone who saw you in a recent production and is curious about your past work.

What do they find? What comes up at Google when your name is searched?

If you’re not sure, go now and try it.


What did you find? Did you get the results that you would like to see when someone searches for your name? Are you happy with the information that appears?

If you are like most actors, there are a couple of news articles that come up that mention your name, or your name appears on the web site of a theatre company that you worked with.

Take a look at the first item that appears in your google search results. Does that result represent how you want to be portrayed?

For about 99% of people online, it doesn’t.

Let’s see what you can do about that, shall we? Here are some steps on how to take control of your online identity:

1. Get your domain name. This isn’t expensive. In fact, its pretty cheap. You can get a domain name for as low as $9.95/year from There are other registrars that will sell you a domain for a similarly
low price. Truthfully, there is no better investment in creating your online identity than, or even .net, .ca or…whatever is available. If the .com is available, grab that. I covered more about this in this article.

2. Be selective about what goes on your site. Carefully decide what information to put on the site. Do not put your phone number, your address, or social insurance info. Since you are a performer, make sure you do
put your acting credits, upcoming events, biography and photos online. Obviously (presumably this is obvious, anyway), you don’t want to put anything embarrassing online. You want to be in control, so before you put that picture of that one time you did that nude scene, ask yourself: Would I want my mother to see this?

3. Link to your site, using your name. Having the domain name with your name (eg: helps a lot, but that’s not all you need to do. Make sure that those linking to your site link with your name. For example, the author is at, however, the more effective way to link would be to link with the author’s name: Phil Rickaby. This helps a search engine like Google associate your name with your address. If other actors link to your web site, ask them to link your name rather than your address. If you work with a theatre company, ask them to link your name to your address. This will help to increase the likelyhood that a search for your name will return your web site.

If the first site that appears in a Google Search is your site, the site that displays the content that you want
it to display, then you are in control of your online identity. After all, remember that the majority of people who perform a search online don’t look past the first page, let alone the first returned item.

By following the steps above, you have a better chance of controlling what the first impression of you is (speaking from an online point of view, that is).

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 (   The reason for this is two-fold: 1) it looks more professional than 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 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
  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.