I recently wrote about how webcomics are good for content marketing and why cartoonists should be doing them. But I’ve since been receiving questions about simply getting online with a professional cartoonist website. The cartoonists asking me these questions are usually posting a bit on Tumblr and that’s about it. If you were paying me money, this is what I would do. This is how I’d build your cartoonist website set you up. This is a simple checklist of everything you need to do to get a website set up.
Your cartoonist website is your digital hub.
Get that through your head right now. Your website is home base for everything that you do. It’s going to represent you and your work. It needs to be professional. It needs to work, and it needs to work for you.
In fact, this is all about you and your freedom. Some of the hosting services may offer to provide domain name registration. And whichever domain registrar you use may offer hosting. The temptation to have everything in one spot is high. Don’t do it. Sometimes, either one will hold the name or the hosting hostage. You want to have these pieces all separate from each other so you can easily move services.
Same goes for the content management system you use. I’m recommending WordPress. It’s open source. No one owns it. You are free to move it wherever you want. You don’t own Tumblr. I’m going to write that out again so you get it: you don’t own Tumblr. If Tumblr gets sold or goes down, where does all your content and site data go? Who actually owns it?
You are a professional. Act like it.
When you go to get your domain name and social accounts, get your damn name. Don’t get something cute like ToonNinja.biz or some crap like that. Get your name, or as close to it as you can. You are a professional. Act like it. This drives me nuts. Your comics can be as wacky/sexy/dirty/dark/bloody as you want. Your site should look professional. You should act professional. Want to be taken seriously? Act. Like. A. Professional. That goes double for the Tumblr folks out there that reblog animated sex gifs that are “hilarious.” If you need to do that, do it on a separate account, ding dong.
Set Up Accounts
- Get a domain name from NameCheap. GoDaddy tries to upsell you at every turn. If you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll end up spending more money than you want. Optional: set up privacy on your domain. You don’t have to, but you will be spammed to hell and back on domain services if you don’t.
- Get web hosting. Sign up with Dreamhost, HostGator, Bluehost, or Siteground. Shared hosting will be fine for you for now. Look for discounts or coupons. Expect to spend between $5-$10 a month for hosting.
- Set up social accounts with your name. For example, my Twitter handle is @maxriffner. My Facebook Page is facebook.com/MaxRiffnerComics. Here are the social accounts I’d sign up for:
- Facebook Page (you probably already have a personal account – set up a Page just for your site)
- Tumblr (I know I’ve been hard on it, but it’s a good social network)
- Google+ (just trust me on this one)
- Create a free account at MailChimp. You need to build an email list over time.
- Create a Google Webmasters account. We’ll verify that later.
- Create a Bing Webmasters account. Same as above, we’ll verify it later.
- Create a Google Analytics account. Create a profile for your site.
- Create a Dropbox account. The 2gb free option is fine for our purposes.
Set Up Your Website
- Log into your hosting provider and find your name server IP addresses.
- Log into your domain registrar and find your name server information.
- Enter your hosting providers name server information into your domains name server. You are pointing your domain name to your host.
- Most of these have hosting providers have something called a One-Click Install for WordPress. Do that. If you don’t, follow the instructions on the WordPress site. Takes about 5 minutes.
- Buy a theme. There are free themes out there to skin your website. Don’t use them. They are security risks for your site to get hacked. Most themes range around the $50-$100 price point. Spend the money.
Themes to consider
Set up WordPress
- Install your theme under Appearance.
- In Settings > Permalinks, change your setting to Post Name for easy, readable URLs.
- Go to Pages and delete your Sample Page.
- Create two new pages: Home and Blog. You can leave them blank.
- Go to Settings > Reading and set your Front page to Home and your Posts page to Blog.
- Also in Settings > Reading, check to make sure the box that hides your site from search engines is unchecked. We want search engines to find you.
Configure your plugins (Easy Version)
Install Jetpack. WordPress created it themselves. Jetpack will extend the functionality of your site. It can do backups, secure it, add a contact form, and in general help you out if you don’t know what you are doing. You will need to sign up for a WordPress.com account to use it. This is somewhat confusing: WordPress.org is the free version of the software. Which is what you are using. WordPress.com is the free-to-paid version of their software. You just want to sign up for an account, not a site. Don’t pay for anything. Follow the Jetpack instructions.
The issue with Jetpack, in my opinion, is that it slows down your site if you check off every option under the sun. But it’s easy.
I would still install the Yoast SEO plugin with Jetpack. Just read the following on Yoast on how to set it up.
Configure your plugins (Harder Version)
Plugins extend your website without you having to program anything. There are millions of plugins out there to extend WordPress, which is another reason why I suggest it. Want to sell comics or art off your site? There are plugins for that. Want to build a webcomic section? There are plugins for that too.
Install the following plugins:
This plugin will secure your site. Follow the instructions carefully. I would whitelist your IP for 24 hours immediately before you start messing around with it. If you don’t understand what something means, Google it. The plugin is self-explanatory. You don’t have to do all their suggestions. Just do the critical ones and you’ll be fine.
This plugin will help you with your search engine optimization (SEO). Just fill in the blanks. Watch the videos. It’s a cool plugin. You just need to fill in your information and forget about it. You can enter your Google and Bing Webmaster codes in here for verification. You can also enter your social profiles here. This will make it easy for people to share your site. It also creates a sitemap.xml for search engines to access, along with some basic Schema.org information.
Your WordPress website is made from PHP and MySQL. PHP is a server side programming language that makes a connection to your MySQL database. They then render your site as HTML. If you get a lot of traffic, it gets harder for your site to connect to the database. Which could cause your site to crash. WPSuperCache takes your pages and renders a copy in cache for quick access. This one is easy. Just turn it to “On.” Done.
Contact Form 7
Free contact form. It’s been kind of annoying with its latest update. There are other, less confusing options out there. The best I’ve found is Gravity Forms, but it has an annual subscription. Whatever you use, test it out yourself once a month and make sure it still works.
Connect your Dropbox account with this plugin. You’ll get daily backups of your site sent there.
“These plugins are too complicated for me.”
Fine. See above. Jetpack. Done.
Build your site
- Go to Pages. I would create the following pages: About, Contact, Comics, Portfolio.
- All content you write for these pages should be at least 300 words. That’s the minimum for it to be picked up by search engines.
- Go to Appearance and tweak your theme to your heart’s content. Everything you need to customize the look of your site should be there. Look at your theme provider’s Support section for more details on how to set it up. There should also be a place for you to enter your Google Analytics code in the theme.
- Write a couple blog posts. Again, should be at least 300 words.
- Put a MailChimp subscription form in your blog’s sidebar. There are free plugins that can help you with this. Or you can just take the HTML forms MailChimp provides and enter it somewhere on your site.
Blogging and Social Posting
- Pick a schedule to blog. I write about 1500 word posts once every two weeks. The longer your content, the more search engines like it.
- When I publish a post, I share it immediately on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. I post in the evenings. I get better traction at that time. Then I share it again on Twitter the next day, and then a week after that. On Facebook, I might share previously published content a month later, or 6 months later. Depends on whether it’s relevant or not.
- Remember when I told you to set up a Google+ account? This is for Google to recognize your site and you as an author. Post there when you feel like it.
- WordPress offers plugins that will automatically share your posts to your social channels. I use one for my Tumblr. I use Buffer for my other social accounts. I like crafting a more customized message and scheduling my posts with Buffer. The plugins are a little more strict in what they share. Whatever you want.
- Your About page should be personal! Make it about you, and why someone should care about your site. What’s in it for them? Also include a picture of yourself (or a drawing of yourself – we are cartoonists). Once you start getting press or reviews, post them here. This is a good place for your media kit to live also if you go that route.
- Your Portfolio page should only include your latest and greatest work samples. Keep it under 10 pieces with the sort of work you would like to get. If you want to get comic work, post comic pages. If you want more illustration work, post illustrations you’ve done.
- Your Contact page should have your contact form along with your email address. This is just in case the form doesn’t work. Or, some people just prefer not using the forms. Make it as easy as possible for someone to connect with you. Don’t make them hunt for how to get a hold of you, or they are gone.
Cleanup and Maintenance
- Delete unused plugins and themes.
- Check your backups once a week.
- Keep current on your WordPress and plugin updates.
Keep It Simple
Your website is not that complicated. The tools you need to manage it have been built for you. If you ever wonder about a technical aspect of it, Google is your best friend. When I first started building websites in 1996 (you know, last century), code had to be typed by hand. There were no databases. Images had to be small in order to work over a 28.8 dial-up modem. A site like the one you are going to build used to take at least a month to get right. Now I can make a site this size in under a week. Even in a matter of hours if I have everything I need. You can do this. Get your work online for everyone to see. Get some gigs from it. Good luck.