Yes – even the world of art is waking up to why search engine optimisation (SEO) is a good thing.
My fundamental perspective is – you can strive to get your work accepted in galleries, you can set up as many exhibitions as you have energy for, you can network in person like a greasy salesman, but you’ll never reach even a fraction of the potential new customers you can online.
But to achieve that, you need to be found. And that means getting indexed in Google and the other search engines. And for artists, this represents a greater challenge than for many small businesses or individuals.
This post was prompted by an excellent blog post from Nikki Pilkington examining why being searchable (indexed highly is what we’re talking about) for just your name is not nearly enough!
Incidentally, Nikki is well worth following for info on online marketing, social media and blogging.
Nikki talks about how being indexed for what you do is far more important (and harder to achieve) than being found for your name. That’s easy. But it relies on the prospective website visitor knowing who you are. And frankly, we’re all looking to attract web traffic from people we don’t already know – that’s how we grow our audiences and potential customer bases, right?
So if we assume you want to be found for your work, your tuition practice, your exhibitions or your public speaking, why do I say that’s harder for artists?
A lot of it comes down to the common features of many artists’ websites.
- a lot of images, not much text
- images handling using a java plug-in or Flash features
- lack of keyword research to inform the written content
- use of frames and other architectural issues
- poor navigation and menus
Let’s look at these in order:
1 – a lot of images, not much text
Artists’s websites are often very image-heavy. That’s great, but it often means that there’s not much written content. This means there’s not much text for Googlebot and the other search engine spiders to use to figure out what your site is all about. And often what text exists is a bit vague and artisty, rather than reflecting what potential visitors might be looking for.
Instead, consider how to use text on your site to build up a word picture of what you do, and what the owners of your work might be interested to read. (This is part of what I mean by keyword research.)
And for your images, make sure you use the ALT tag to help search engines work out what the images are. You can use quite a few characters – so you could say Joe Bloggs watercolour painting of a boat, available to buy and give Google something to index. With an ALT tag like this Google can return your image as a result for searches including Joe Bloggs, boats, watercolours and paintings. Oh, and use filenames for your images that Google can make sense of, like boats-in-the-harbour-joe-bloggs.jpg for example. Google et al treat the hyphens as spaces.
A great way to overcome the ‘not much text’ issue without moving the focus of your website from the pictures is to start and develop a blog. This is a subject all on its own, but for now, let’s agree that with a bit of lateral thinking most artists could create an interesting blog that could drive visits to the main art website. And blogging is largely without financial cost when using WordPress – like this blog does.
2 – image-handling using a java plug-in or Flash features
Another issue commonly found on artists’ websites – Java or Flash is used to display images, perhaps in a scrolling gallery, or with pop-ups or other cool-looking gimmicks. That’s fine because it can enable a nice user experience, but the search engine robots (spiders) can’t make these work like a human can, and may not find those images at all.
There are alternatives that can be partially indexed by spiders, but the best route of all is to make the image available as a file from the web server just like your web pages. And if you include a watermark with your web address on the image this will help to stop image theft and give extra visibility for your website.
3 – lack of keyword research to inform the written content
There are plenty of keyword research tools available (including excellent ones at Google) to help you identify what’s being searched for and how often. We’ve already looked at why a lack of text will limit your search engine visibility, but not doing research to reveal which keywords matter is hardly any better! The fundamental point here is that your text content should reflect what people are looking for, so that search engines return your pages instead of someone else’s.
It’s a challenge for us all to think in terms of what our web visitors are looking for rather than what we might look for, but this is a vital part of the process of creating and updating web pages.
Now that tools are readily available, I urge all ambitious artists and website owners to ensure their content benefits from this kind of research.
4 – use of frames and other architectural issues
Most web designers gave up using frames a long time ago, but many hobbyists still do, without being aware that Google will ignore most of the important content. If the frame carries the navigation (menus) and the page carries the content, because the frame is what Google sees, it will only find your menus. Your content will go un-indexed, which is not good!
5 – poor navigation and menus
Related to point 4, make sure your site has a logical navigation, that makes sense to human visitors. A website should offer a sense of exploration, and it should be possible to find one’s way round the site without a lot of back-clicking.
Navigation that presents a clear sense of where the visitor is, and how that page relates to others is essential for a good visiting experience, and it also works for search engines too.
There are lots more ways to improve a website’s ranking in search engine results, but we’ll cover these in another blog.
In the meantime, if you think you need help, or advice, get in touch or visit my website!