A lot of web sites talk about making the most of your official band web site, but here is a list of 14 Sins of Band Website Design in no particular order.
Is your favorite artist guilty?
1) Using a Splash Page
Remember in the early days of the web when you typed in a “.com” address and you were shown a slick page with a “Click Here to Enter” button before you actually got to the real site? This is a splash page, and they went out of fashion in web design nearly a decade ago. In a world of information overload, it’s inconvenient at best and obnoxious at worst to add this click-hurdle between your user and what they came to see on your site.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still some occasions where a splash screen is useful (e.g., to temporarily promote a new release, to relay urgent news about the artist, or to notify users of an important site change), but if you have a permanent splash screen incorporated into your site design, you’re committing this design sin. You’re also diluting the impact of using a splash screen during those situations when it may be a useful communication tool.
This is when a band uses BandName.com for their official URL, but then uses BandNameMessageBoard.com for their forum, and BandNameStore.com and BandNameFanClub.com for other areas of the site.
To search engines, this looks like completely different sites, and so your aggregated site traffic does not even count towards your overall link popularity. It complicates the marketing message, may appear unofficial to users and site-indexing robots, and it prevents a user session from being maintained across these different domains of a single site. Often, the band isn’t even the official owner of these “extension” domains, so if they ever change service providers, they won’t necessarily be able to change where that traffic goes.
This strategy is short-sighted, and completely unnecessary. Sub-domains can provide the same functionality (e.g., to distribute a site across different vendors or service providers), without the drawbacks mentioned above. Additionally, using sub-domains requires no additional annual registration fees, and the band can easily retain full control and ownership of all areas of their official site. messageboard.bandname.com: Good. bandnamemessageboard.com: Bad.
3) Building an All Flash Site
All Flash sites were particularly popular in early 2000s, because they allowed for cool animation effects and other media tricks that were difficult or impossible with other programming technologies. That’s rarely the case anymore.
Flash sites may not be indexed as well by search engines, don’t perform well on mobile (if at all), and can make it difficult or impossible to link directly to pages within a site. This severely limits opportunities for expanding social aspects of a band site too. Since page-views are not the same on a Flash site, it can also be very difficult to know much about what users are doing within your site.
Most Flash-like effects can be done with fewer drawbacks by using CSS and scripting. Flash can be great for video embeds and audio players, but keep it to a minimum for anything else.
4) Redirecting the Official Domain to a Social Network Page
Social networks have opened the door to many new opportunities for bands to gain exposure, and they’ve become a necessary component of an overall web strategy for any band. You can’t afford to NOT take advantage of these free tools.
By the same token, if you’ve posted something to your Facebook or MySpace page, don’t advertise for them by telling your users to go there. Tell users to go to your site for details, and then guide them from your site. Condition your fans to look to your official site first for all things related to your band. Make this your protocol. It’s a much simpler and more effective marketing message.
Your goal should be to use these sites to drive users back to your official site, where YOU control the experience, YOU own the information collected, and YOU have the ability to better serve that visitor and deepen the fan relationship. You should certainly list all the places where fans can interact with your content outside of your official site, but don’t give away the entire fan experience to them with your tacit stamp of approval. Let these sites help you give more to your fans, but don’t let them represent you to your fans.
5) No Dynamic Content or else Out-of-Date Content on Home Page
Okay, you’ve got me to your home page… now give me a reason to remember it and come back. Can you name any popular sites you visit regularly that always have the same content on their home page?
Show me some upcoming tour dates, and don’t let me see shows from last week under the same heading. Show me some news, new pictures, recent forum posts, or a fresh blog teaser. Train your visitors to come back regularly by showing them that you do. Keep the artist-fan conversation going. You need to commit to it if you want your fans to.
If your home page looks like it did last week, you’ve committed this sin. If your site looks like it did last month, you really need to reconsider your web strategy.
6) Requiring Separate Logins Throughout the Site
Don’t make visitors sign in one place for your fan club, another for your message board, another to comment on your blog, and another to edit their mailing list preferences. It’s hard enough to keep track of a hundred logins for a hundred other sites your fans visit, so don’t make it even more complicated within your single site. This problem becomes more of an issue when you have a large or deeply-involved fan community, and it also becomes that much more important to solve.
Build site-wide login functionality, and be sure to own that member database. If some members of the band have side-project sites, consider using the sub-domain method mentioned in #9 above to extend the community to those sites as well. Your fans probably want to be involved there too, so make it easier for them to do so.
7) Providing an Unfulfilled or Partial Experience
Your official site should be the definitive destination for all things related to your band, especially when those things are online. Provide the most comprehensive index of all sorts of relevant content throughout the web that pertains to the band.
Listing tour history and set lists are low-hanging fruit and so easy to post. Wow, it says a lot about a band that takes the initiative to keep up-to-date their entire tour history and set lists from every show they’ve ever played on their site!
You may even want to engage your fans to help build up that master index, but don’t let your official site have gaps. As more and more activity builds up online about your band, gaps on your site can become more and more apparent.
If your fans have created sites that do a better job of sharing more internet content about your band than your official site does, then a) you have amazing fans, and b) you’re not serving them well enough with your official site.
8) Not Using Your Own Affiliate Links
Linking to your music and albums on Amazon and iTunes is a GREAT idea. Make sure to do this! Did you know that you can be your own affiliate and earn an additional kick-back on every sale you generate through a third-party store?
Depending on how much traffic you get to your site, it may not amount to a lot of money, but it’s easy money that you may be leaving on the table right now. Isn’t it worth it for even just a few extra dollars to cover your web hosting costs? You may also be able to get an afffiliate kickback on CD orders, ringtone sales, and other merch too, so look into this.
9) Giving without Getting
Offering free downloads are a great way to attract visitors to your site and to keep them coming back to really engage with the band. However, when you give, you should get.
Require that visitors register on your site before they can download your giveaway goodies. If they’re already a member, terrific! Login, get the goods, and you’ve just deepened that fan relationship. If they’re not yet a member, ask visitors to join and provide some basic contact and demographic information in exchange for the free content. Perhaps you can require them to join your mailing list or follow you on Twitter. As mobile becomes even more important, how about asking users for their cell phone numbers before letting them get the download?
Simple and painless, and you’ve just built another relationship channel to another fan.
10) Complicated Navigation and Buried Content
We love creativity in site design for creative bands, but don’t get creative to the point that your site becomes difficult to use (and even more difficult for search engines to interpret).
When navigating your site, give it the “first-timer” test. Forget that you know how it works already and try to look at it with fresh eyes as a first-time visitor to your site. Better yet, invite a few friends that ARE first-time visitors to check out your site, and watch them. Ask them to think out loud as they navigate and take notes of where they get hung up. Ask them to try and purchase your new album… to comment on your latest news… to share your latest music video… to sign up for your mailing list… to tell you what they get for joining your street team… to find a tour date nearest to them. Watch them and see if they have any trouble performing those tasks.
A web site is a critical tool in any artist’s career, but function can never take a back seat to showcasing creativity or else it becomes self-defeating.
11) Using a Link Instead of a Form
Don’t put a link or button up for visitors to sign up on your mailing list. Put the form fields right in the page. It’s small and far more effective.
You want a way to reach back out to site visitors again with relevant information in the future. Don’t put an extra click in the way of making that happen and hope they click through. You lose traffic with every click.
If you were an e-commerce store, your goal would be to convert visitors into buyers. As an artist, your goal should be to elicit some action that allows you to continue the conversation with visitors. Make it easy to do this with as few clicks as possible.
12) Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water
When a new album drops, this is a great time to refresh the look and feel of your site, but don’t throw away all the good stuff you have built for a whole new site each time.
Your web strategy should evolve with active learning. Understand what works, what doesn’t, and don’t rebuild your palace from scratch every time. You’ll end up confusing your visitors and spending so much on rebuilding the old that you have little or nothing to spend on expanding on the most important features you already have. By starting from scratch with every new site design, you may keep ending up with something basic and potentially generic.
Look at how Amazon.com has evolved with new features over the years. They keep what works and refine. Rinse, lather, and repeat. If you were to try and build a new Amazon.com from scratch, it would take forever, and you’d be playing catch up for a very long time. Your fans continue to increase their expectations for the experience you provide as technology marches forward, and you may be falling behind.
Go ahead and change up the presentation, but don’t scrap the foundation each time. With a smart web strategist, you should be able to keep presentation completely separate from implementation. Keep building out rather than building over, so that your continued investment in the site builds additional interest and value for you rather than continually rebuilding the same stuff again and again.
13) Poorly Implemented Music Player
A music player on your site is a great idea for a band. What could be more fitting? While there may be some debate over whether or not you should automatically start playing music when the page loads, one definite sin of band website design is to build a player that reloads every time a visitor clicks on a different page.
There are a lot of technical ways to get around this, but generally, make sure your music plays unbroken as the user browses your site. For me, nothing wears out a song more than hearing the first 10 seconds of it over and over and over and over again.
Also, if you do have a music player, make sure there is a mute or stop button that is obvious. Don’t out me at work for checking out your site by blasting your latest single with no clear way for me to shut it off.
14) 101 Forums
Band message boards are a great feature. They provide a forum that entice your most valuable fans to self-identify and interact in a place where you can easily observe or even participate in the conversation.
You want to enable this tool in a way that makes it very easy for users to find something of interest to them and hopefully join in. When you have a forum for band announcement, another for road journal entries, another for tour conversation, another about your new album, and another for miscellaneous talk, you have fences that your fans have to jump over.
In most cases, a single forum works best. They’re here to talk about one topic: the band. Let them figure out the rest on their own rather than having to click a dozen extra times to browse each sub-forum to see what’s new. Announcements and road journals have better homes elsewhere on on artist site, and in time, new album talk becomes old album talk without a home. Conversations in each sub-forum always stray towards more general discussion anyway, and then there’s always a few users that will simply copy and paste their posts to multiple sub-forums just in case. These things make the forum more disorganized, harder to navigate, and very intimidating for a first-time visitor thinking about participating.
(thanks to Lisa at Virtually Ready for some helpful early feedback on this post)