What do Vickie Winans, Fred Hammond, and CeCe Winans have in common? Yes, they’re all from Detroit, but also they each have a slammin’ website. They’re delivering their message in music 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to a target market of over 200 million Internet users.

You don’t have to be a Stellar Award winning gospel music mega-star to have your own website. A website should be an integral part of any gospel artists’ overall marketing strategy. Especially up and coming artists. Websites even the playing field and allow artists with limited budgets to make the same impact as those blessed with greater finances. The Internet is a cost-effective way of getting your message out and/or selling your product to millions of people around the globe. A website works for you while you’re sleeping, rain or shine.

Here are some tips for gospel music artists looking to get going on the world wide web:

Select and register a domain name
A few million names are already taken, but chances are you’ll be able to find one you’ll be happy with. For gospel artists, you’ll probably want to start with your name. If you’re name is Victory
W. Inans, and you’re friends call you Vickie, you may be out of luck. If you’ve been saddled with Zacharius Bittlebody, I think you’re safe. There are several extensions to choose from, but for commercial websites the “.com” is the most recognized. If you go with one of the others (i.e., “.net,” “.us,” etc.) there may be some confusion on the part of visitors and they may wind up at the wrong site. If you’re a ministry or an organization, you’ll want to register a domain name with a “.org” extension. Schools and educational facilities will want to register with a “.edu” extension. You can go to www.register.com to see if the name you want is available and if so, go for it and register your new domain name.

Come up with a general plan for your Site
Once you’re domain name is secure (at least for the next year), it’s time to start planning your site. You don’t need a web expert to do this, all you need to do is figure out a few key things. Who are you trying to reach? What information do you want to provide your visitors? Do you want to sell a product? What is your vision for the site?

Do a search on the web using www.Google.com or another major search engine and look for other websites similar to the one you’re envisioning. Find ones that you like and ones that you don’t like. Are there some common visual elements emerging? Do you prefer the more high-voltage (Macromedia) Flash-enabled sites or the more elegantly simple ones? Try to define an overall theme for your site; the look and feel. What colors do you like? Earth tones or vibrant primary colors?

Flesh out the details and begin gathering your material
Once you’ve got an overall plan for your site, it’s time to start fleshing out the details. How will the site be structured? How many pages will you need to make the site user-friendly and navigable. (Click here to see a list of recommended pages for a gospel artist website) Will you need artwork and photos? Try to put everything down on paper before you begin the actual development. Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, begin gathering the material that you want for your site. If not already digital, photos will need to be scanned and put in an image format (.jpg and .gif are standard formats for use on the web). If your grammar is a little shaky, have someone you know that’s good with words help you with writing the site’s content. You’ll also want to think about including a digital Media Kit that makes information on you or your group easily accessible by reporters and writers from around the globe. (More information on digital media kits is provided in the article that follows this one.)

Transforming your vision to a website reality
If you’ve got some computer skills you may attempt to develop the website yourself. There are a lot of programs and templates out there that can make the job easier. One of the drawbacks however, is the lack of individuality or customization that these may afford. For those with limited computer skills and/or time, it is probably best to go with a reputable web design firm.

Taking your site to the streets of the world wide web
Once your site has been developed, proofed, and thoroughly tested, it’s time to launch it into hyperspace. For the novice, this can be a deal breaker. First you’ll need to find someone to host your site. There are several host providers that provide free hosting, but you may be very limited in terms of available space and extras such as e-commerce and scripting. Also, free hosting services typically require you to run banner ads on your site. You’ll also need to think about how easy or difficult it will be to get your site updated periodically. For more information on free hosting check out www.geocities.com or www.xoom.com.

Taking your site to the streets of the world wide web Part 2
Once you’ve got your hosting situation worked out, you’ll need to transfer your website files to your host provider. Without going into a lot of detail, this can get a little hairy. If you’re not tech savvy, you’ll probably want to get some help with this part.

Don’t Stop Yet
OK, you’ve launched your site and now you can sit back and watch the CD orders come in….NOT. Just getting your site out there does absolutely nothing for you unless you market it. You can start by putting your website address on everything that leaves your hands: business cards, stationery, CD jackets, flyers, postcards, etc. Other creative places for your website address are on bumper stickers, magnetic vehicle signs, caps, sweatshirts, duffle bags, you name it. You’ll also want to get listed in search engines so that people can find you on the Internet. A whole cottage industry of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts has sprung up whose sole purpose is to get sites listed higher in search engine results. The higher a site is listed, the more likely it is to get the big traffic. Some things you can do to increase your site’s ranking include getting other reputable gospel music sites to link to yours, keeping your site up-to-date and relevant, and providing content that you can’t get anywhere else on the web. Additionally, you may want to send out a press release announcing the launch of your new site. If you’ve included interesting and unique content, your site may be newsworthy enough to generate you some free publicity.

Come on in to the 21st century
Today’s gospel artist is using every medium possible to get their message out. A website is just one more way to reach the masses. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to reach an estimated 200 million people around the globe currently using the Internet.