There are two types of actor websites: fan sites you build for your adoring audience and business sites you build to get work. Mix the two up and you may send the wrong branding message: Fans don't need to know your agent's number or your union status, and casting directors don't need information on getting an autographed headshot. Some information belongs on both—news about recent bookings, appearances, articles, and so on—but be careful to create for your intended audience.
Let's concentrate on the business site, the digital branding of your acting practice. This type of site is all about loading quickly, clearly laying out your brand, and offering complete and precise tools to the people you're targeting. The audience? Casting directors—and only casting directors. Sure, the occasional director or writer may come along, but your goal in building an acting site for the industry is simple: to get work.
Your domain name itself is important, and registering www.yourname.com is the holy grail of owning your brand online. I've counseled actors faced with choosing a union name to research which names are available as domains and then go with the simplest. It may seem backward to choose your acting name based on branding, but today's online traffic demands it.
When I was on the user-interface team at America Online, one thing we found to be a consistent roadblock to success was placing unneeded clicks in the user's path. Through extensive focus-group testing, we found that you lose half your audience with every click you force the user to make. Instead of making people hunt for your demos, headshots, résumé, and contact information, "rise" the information through the content architecture by putting everything you can on the front page of your site.
Your image should be front and center, but clearly label it as a clickable link for downloading a jpeg of your headshot. Do the same thing with all of your core digital tools: a PDF of your résumé, an MP3 of your voiceover demos, QuickTime versions of your on-camera reels—all linked conveniently from your front page, so casting directors don't have to look for them.
Make sure the color scheme of your site reflects the brand you're selling. It may be cool to have all kinds of neon green and yellow to indicate your worldview, but if you're selling "ingénue" or "villain," your site's color scheme, fonts, and layout should reinforce that brand.
Think about your audience and choose your technology carefully. I watched the record companies shoot themselves in the foot over and over by heavily using Flash technology in an effort to outdo one another. Don't make the same mistake. Flash is not viewable on iPhones and iPads—yet. And it loads far more slowly than good old simple HTML. Choose the fastest-loading, easiest-to-parse site: no overly fancy and complicated navigation, no clever microprose (captions, links, and so on). Be clear, direct, and careful that your branding is spot-on, but don't make anyone wait to use your site.
Social networking is important, at least until that particular Internet butterfly flies away. Be sure your Twitter and Facebook links are visible somewhere on your front page, but don't add "Latest Tweets" or "Status" to your site unless your tweets are all business, no politics or personal stuff. CDs don't need to know how great the Lady Gaga concert was last night and how wasted you got; they just want to book you for a part. And with a carefully branded and frictionless website, that becomes a much brighter possibility.