This is the latest installment in a comprehensive series of posts where I share the process of creating my first feature documentary film, Still Moving. If you find this or any of my other posts valuable in any way, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the film via PayPal.
In my last post I wrote about something a little more personal, how I’m overcoming self-doubt. Now I want to shift the focus back on to the business of making films. Next up? Making a website for your film.
We recently launched the website for my first feature documentary film, Still Moving, and since then we’ve made tons of tweaks and upgrades. The website has had some successes and failures so far, and we’ve learned a lot along the way.
But, in order to learn we’ve had to launch. The goal of this post is to share with you the tools you need in order to launch a website for your film so that you can start the process of tweaking and upgrading as well.
Why You Should Make a Website for Your Film
Think of your website as a landing page for your film. For many people, it will be the first or second impression of your film, an opportunity to convince them that it is worth supporting (by donating, by sponsoring, by investing… by watching, by purchasing, etc.).
And though many of your visitors may come from your social media properties, your website plays a very important role in helping your potential audience understand what your film is about.
Think about it. If someone hears about your film because they clicked a link, or found it on a search engine, there’s a good chance that the only information they’ve learned about it has come in the form of a 140-character post or brief description. That’s not much context.
So, your film’s website is an opportunity to tell a potential audience everything they need to know about the film, and to control exactly how they get that information. Seems pretty important, right?
While there are some advanced techniques like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that you can do to drive traffic to your website, I’d like to hold off on exploring them. For now, I want to focus on the fundamentals.
How to Make a Website for Your Film
I’ve boiled the process down to five simple steps that will get you up and running in a very short period of time.
1. Pick a Web Host
Your web host is exactly that, the actual server on which your website is hosted. Sounds technical, right? Lucky for us, there are tons of companies out there that provide affordable hosting and take care of all of the technical stuff. One of my favorites is Dreamhost. In fact, this very website is hosted on Dreamhost, as is the website for my feature documentary Still Moving.
What makes Dreamhost so great? Their prices are low (less than $10/month for the basic hosting package), you can register domains through them, and they have one-click installs for just about every blog or website platform you want and need. I’ll dive more into the one-click installs in the next step. Perhaps the best feature of Dreamhost is their customer service. For non-technical people like me, it’s important to be able to get ahold of someone quickly when things go sideways… because they will. I’m a tinkerer. I go in, click stuff, modify stuff, move stuff around… and eventually stuff breaks. The Dreamhost customer service reps have been incredibly helpful (and patient with me) when stuff does break, and they typically resolve the issue in a matter of minutes.
In addition to all of the wonderful Dreamhost features, they offer a variety of hosting programs, from shared hosting to VPS and dedicated servers. What does all of this mean? Simply that when you start generating a ton of traffic for your website and outgrow the basic hosting package, you can seamlessly upgrade to hosting that can handle more. Suffice it to say that Dreamhost has been an easy and reliable host for my websites for several years now and I would recommend them to everyone!
2. Install WordPress
Now, once you’ve got your web host, the hardware all figured out, it’s time to decide on your software. I’ve debated with people for years about the best software platform to use to build websites, and for years I’ve fought for the same software. WordPress is by far the best platform to build your website on, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Most web hosts have “easy installs” (the one-click installs mentioned above) for WordPress because they recognize that it is the best and most-used software platform for building websites. That means, after you buy a domain and hosting, you can have WordPress up and running with just a few clicks and in a few minutes time.
But why is WordPress the best? Its interface is straightforward and very easy for beginners to learn (if you can use an e-mail client like Gmail, you can use WordPress). It has the largest online community of any website platform, which means there are a virtually unlimited number of themes and plugins, as well as free tutorials to teach you how to use all of them. Its development team is incredibly active, which means they are always looking for new ways to improve and upgrade the software and are constantly deploying these updates. Under the hood, its code is clean and efficient. And, it has built-in SEO features (as well as extra plugins) that will make ranking on search engines much easier than just about any other platform.
So, what are you waiting for? Install WordPress and let’s move on to step three.
3. Pick a Theme
In step two I mentioned themes and plugins. Since WordPress plugins can get a bit technical, I’d like to devote an entire blog post to them in the future. For now, I want to write about what most people consider most important: website appearance.
One of my favorite WordPress features is the ability to install pre-made themes that radically change the appearance of your website. Out of the box, the WordPress platform has a fairly barebones look. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a web designer or developer to upgrade the look in a significant way.
There are thousands of free WordPress themes that can get you started. Or, if you’re interested in a more professional (and unique) look for your film’s website, you can explore premium WordPress themes on perhaps my favorite online marketplace, the Envato Market. This very website, as well as the website for Still Moving, was “designed” using the Enfold Theme ($59 on the Envato Market). There are TONS of great options on Envato, many of them cheaper than Enfold. If you’re looking for something to match your personal style or your film’s aesthetic, I’d suggest doing a search and filtering by popularity. Keep in mind that most of these premium themes come with tons of presets that allow you to change the entire layout and color scheme in a few clicks. What’s important is that, if you are going to spend money, you are spending your money on a quality theme, and the best way to ensure quality is to buy something that lots of people before you have bought. If you’re interested in seeing what some of these premium themes are capable of, just start clicking around. Many of them offer examples of various layouts and color schemes… and it’ll only be a matter of time before you’ve found the exact look that you’d like to use for your film’s website.
4. Build Your Pages
Once you’ve installed WordPress and picked a theme, it’s time to start building. I can’t write your website’s content for you, but generally you’ll want the following pages: home, blog, the film, the team, and contact. I’ll explore copywriting techniques and marketing funnels for your film’s website in future posts. For now, it’s important for you to consider one thing when building your website.
Every page and every post on your website or blog should have what’s referred to as a “call-to-action” (CTA). Your CTA can be as simple as “donate to the film by clicking here,” “watch the film for FREE by clicking here,” “purchase the film by clicking here.” It can be as complicated as “sign up for our e-mail list and get exclusive behind-the-scenes footage today!”
The point of your CTA is to get visitors to take another step closer to becoming customers. If you think about your website as a storefront, getting people to walk in the door (visit your website) is only the first step. After they walk in the door, things need to be arranged in a way to get people to your ultimate goal. For some of you, it’s a donation/sponsorship/investment. For others, it’s a free view or a purchase. If you understand your ultimate goal, you can reverse engineer the “customer experience” from there.
5. Start Promoting
So, you’re up and running, now what? Get out there and start promoting! Hit people up in person, on social media, on blogs, wherever you can, and get them to check out your website.
Don’t be afraid to show them what you’ve got! Your film’s website is and will always be a work-in-progress. You will constantly be analyzing and improving different areas of the website (as you do your entire filmmaking process) in order to reach your ultimate goals. For this reason, it’s important not to get caught up on presenting the perfect website, but instead trying to put out the minimum viable product. You need to test, and to test you need data, and to get data you need visitors.
So, again, get out there and start promoting!
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