Essentials of an Effective Arts Website

Norman L. Lawrence, Jr. of Arts eVentures
2013 Creative Chicago Expo

Do's and don'ts of an effective arts website - including a discussion of several live sites. The presentation will use the demo sites to show features that work well and how to fix things that are not effective.  

Remember that an "arts" website is no different from any other website. The same principles apply whether you are selling shoes, plumbing supplies, concert tickets or theater subscriptions

When considering your site, think about whether visitors will be impressed. Does the site have the information they need? Will it engage them? Does it tell your story? Are they doing what you want them to do? Are you getting data about site activity?

6 Essentials of an "effective" website:

  1. Instantly communicate what you do
  2. Relevant, current, fresh, up-to-date content
  3. Simple, friendly, un-cluttered user experience
  4. Prominent "calls-to-action"
  5. Get found by your target audience
  6. Provide data about what visitors are doing

Few things create a worse impression than a website with stale, out-of-date information. Visitors are turned off by old news, info on events that are months past, out-of-date descriptions of products, programs, etc., people no longer with the organization, old address.

There are many possible options for new content:

  1. News
  2. Press releases
  3. Press reports
  4. Event information
  5. Interviews & profiles (eg. performers, patrons, staff, donors, volunteers)
  6. Performance reviews
  7. Blog posts
  8. Photos
  9. Video clips
  10. Success stories
  11. Competitions, contests, polls

Consider displaying user-generated content. The positives are, it's free, it creates activity on the website, it gets shared on social media pages, and engages your most ardent supporters.

There is nothing more essential to an effective website than the quantity, freshness and relevance of its content. Researchers found that the brain makes decisions in just a 20th of a second of viewing webpages.

Don't force users to read too much. People don't read the internet, they scan. 


  • Use short paragraphs
  • Lots of headings
  • Images and diagrams
  • Simple, clear navigation


  • Use small text
  • Use dense text
  • Pages that scroll down forever
  • Text that is too similar in color to the background

Don't obsess about looks. Pretty is great but effective is better. Spend your time and energy on content. Don't prioritize style over substance.

Give "stuff" away. On the internet, people are reluctant to give up their email addresses without the promise of something in return. You can offer newsletters, program updates, special offers and discounts, special invitations to openings, open houses, exhibitions, or downloads.

Make your site searchable on the web. There are millions of sites like yours on the Internet. Nobody is going to find yours without an effort to make it visible in the major search. Configuring a website so as to make it optimally visible to the major search engines for keywords relevant to what you do.

Track and measure your site activity. Note who is coming, where do they come from, what pages are they visiting, where do they spend the most and least time, from which pages do they exit or "bounce", and how long they spend looking.

Use prominent 'calls to action'. Eg.: Join our mailing list, become a member, donate here, get info about our new season, buy tickets, register for classes, sign our petition, download a video, etc.

Make it easy for users to share information by adding social media links. 

Pay attention to how your site looks on mobile devises. 20% of US web traffic occurs on a mobile device. 38% of emails are opened on a mobile device, 40% of Americans access social media sites from a mobile device, and iPhone users spend only 45% of their on-device time making voice calls.

Video is the #1 driver of online traffic. They have high open rates, high click-through rates, are shared more than any other content, 69% of mobile data traffic and Google loves it. Examples of types of videos you could offer: performance and rehearsal clips, event videos, patron interviews, artist interviews, video testimonials. You should have a YouTube channel. Showcase your work by showing performance clips, instructional videos, testimonials, artist/student/parent interviews. Promote your organization by adding relevant key words, add marketing message, link back to your website and improve your SEO ranking. YouTube channels are great for visual artists because you can use the videos to talk about your work, give a tour of your studio, or offer clips from an open house or exhibition.

Is commerce an effective measurement of your website's success? Think about how you are supporting the sales activity. Are you driving traffic to the website?Are you giving incentives to purchase online? Are you integrating social media?

Do not assume that the value of your art is self-evident. Provide lots of event info like concert details, artist info, dates and times, ticket prices and subscription discounts. No strong marketing message. "Sell" me on the idea of coming to their concerts, highlight the personal and psychic rewards, appeal to my snobbish instincts, use emotional hooks.

Collect leads. Engage people who have an interest in what you do. Use "calls to action" to get sign-ups and be explicit about what they'll get for signing up. 

Nurture your leads. Share information about your activities, invite them to events, get to know them and their needs and develop a relationship. 

The donation page of your site should be one of the most exciting pages on your website. Tell visitors why they should donate. Offer success stories of the past year, testimonials from other donors, what will their $100 contribution do, offer photos related to your programs and profiles of donors and volunteers.



Series Assignment: 
Series Year: 
2 013

Recordings produced by Audio Arts + Acoustics students, Columbia College Chicago, and EARS, the Engineering And Recording Society of Chicago, for the Chicago Creative Expo 2013.

Thank you AA+A students: Adam Chismark, Ryan Greenburg, Trevor Roberts, Eric Somogyi, and Ming Yu.

Thank you EARS pro-members: James Wood Autwarter, Blaise Barton, Daniel Christmas, Danny Christy, John Christy, Rob Gillis, Reid Hyams, Danny Leake, Fran Allen-Leake, Eric Roth and Stacey Simcik.

Edited & Assembled by Ryan Greenburg (AA+A / Columbia College Chicago).

Executive Producer Reid Hyams (X-Art Entertainment) for EARS, AA+A / Columbia College Chicago & the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Published by CAR_Editor on Fri, 03/15/2013 - 4:04pm
Updated on Thu, 04/25/2013 - 8:42pm