Artist Websites: How to Increase Your Online Traffic
and Keep Everyone on Your Site Longer
We live in an amazing age where practically any artist anywhere who has access to the Internet can present their art to the world, but of all the artists who maintain their own websites, only a small percentage take full advantage of their sites' capabilities. Many take no advantage at all; they simply put images of their art online and do little more than wait and see what happens. They may send periodic email updates, have links on their social networking pages, hand out business cards, ask people to check out their sites, and that's about it. The whole point of having a website is to use it to spread the word about your art and to broaden your audience, right? The main reason you're online in the first place is to show your work to as many people as possible, not just people you already know or happen to meet somewhere. You've got far better options than that, and the good news is any artist can actively increase the reach of their website with some simple adjustments and techniques.
Keep in mind that we're talking purely about artist websites here and how to make them more accessible, welcoming and appealing to all kinds of people, whether they already know you or not. Social networking and using it to drive traffic to your site is of course a huge part of that, but it's also a separate topic from what we're talking about here. The focus here is on how to increase the chances that people who are wandering the Internet for whatever reason might land on your website, whether they know you or not, and what they should find when they get there, how to keep them there, and how to make their experiences rewarding ones.
Unfortunately, the typical artist website is still not much different from artist portfolios of 20 or 30 years ago. In other words, it's designed largely for people who already understand art or know the artist, know what they're looking at, and know how to navigate their way through it all. The art is often presented with minimal explanation and not well organized. Written explanations or introductions about the art are often not easy to understand (assuming there's any writing at all), moving around the site is not straightforward, and the overall appearance of the site makes sense mainly to those already in the loop and is confusing to everyone else. As a result, the reach of these sites have in terms of who's able to access, understand and appreciate the art in more than superficial ways hasn't changed all that much from what the artist's fan base might have been before the Internet. The core make-up of those who visit and stick around for a while remains pretty much the same.
One of the greatest advantages of the Internet and one artists consistently overlook is that complete strangers can land on your website or discover you and your art entirely by chance or accident. We're not only talking about art people here, but about anyone! As things stand now, most artists tell me people find their websites not by chance or accident or because they're looking for particular types of art, but rather by typing artist names directly into search engines, once again demonstrating that artist website audiences consist mainly of people who've already heard or read or know about these artists rather than as a result of good SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Think about all the multitudes out there who might potentially love your art if only they knew you existed and could somehow find you online. And how about all those people who like the kind of art you make but have no idea you exist? Of course, attracting them to your website is a bit of a challenge because you have no idea who they are either, but it is possible. All you have to do is organize and present yourself and your art in ways that increase the chances for anyone to get lucky and discover you, art and non-art people alike.
No matter who they may be, the more people who are able to land on your website and see your art, the greater the chances of ultimately advancing in your career, receiving invitations to participate in shows, getting gallery representation, being included in exhibitions, making sales, getting commissions, being featured on blogs or art websites, and more. You have to assume that anyone has the potential to become a fan or even a patron, and you want to make sure you're reaching out to those who don't yet know you as well as those who do. Your goal is to maximize your online visibility rather than limit it, so let's talk about how to do that.
* To begin with, make sure every page on your site including those with images of your art has its own title line that accurately and specifically describes that page's content, much like a news headline summarizes whatever story you're about to read. One major mistake many artists make is using the same exact title line on every single page of their websites, titles like "Joe Smith artist" or "Mary Jones art" or "Bill Williams sculpture." Some websites have no title lines at all other than "Home" or "Index" or "Gallery" and don't even mention the artist's name.
The title line, for those of you who don't know, usually appears at or near the top of your browser window on index tabs or tab bars, not in the content of the page itself. If you're still have trouble finding it, ask your web designer or site's tech support how to locate and revise it. The title line is one of the MOST IMPORTANT lines on a webpage and contains text that search engines generally spider first and often show in search results (assuming they contain relevant keywords or information). Each title line on each individual page of your website should be unique, thereby representing another chance, another opportunity, another set of keywords, for anyone who happens to be doing a search with similar search terms to have that page appear in their search results.
For example, if a page shows an image of your art, the title line should consist of keywords specific to that art like your name, the work's title, medium, subject matter, topic, style of art, and so on-- the more specific, the better. If a page shows thumbnails of a series or group of related works, the title line might include keywords like your name, the name of the series, the medium, the theme, concept or unifying idea-- and again, the more specific, the better. Title lines should not ramble on and on, but instead be concise and include the most important keywords describing whatever is on the page.
If an image of your art has to do with a geographic location, for example, the title line might name the location or any landmarks pictured in the work. People searching for information about that location with similar keywords might see that image come up in their search results, click over to it, and like it enough to email you about it, or tell their friends, or maybe even ask the price. Rather than think only about art people, always think about why anyone else might be interested in seeing your work and what types of search words or phrases might help get them there.
* You need more than good title lines, though. Another distressing fact about far too many artist websites is that image pages often contain little or no text, either in the form of captions, descriptions or explanations. We all know art is a visual medium, but unfortunately, Google and other search engines can't search images alone; they can only search text. When image pages have little or no searchable text, one of the main purposes of your website-- to increase your art's online visibility-- is defeated right from the start. So make sure every image on your website not only has a title line, but also basic information about what it is (title, size, medium, etc), and if relevant, a brief explanation or description ranging in length from a sentence or two to perhaps a paragraph or two at most (but don't overdo it). This assures that images of your art will appear in search results, and especially in image searches.
* Make sure every image of your art has its own distinct URL, is individually searchable on search engines, and is individually linkable via social networking posts. Surprisingly, numerous images on many artist websites have neither their own unique web addresses nor any text descriptions or information, and as a result are completely unsearchable. If you're not sure about your images, check with your web designer or tech support and ask. Every unsearchable image you have means one less chance for people to land on your website.
With effective use of unique URLs, title lines, descriptions and keywords, each page on your website becomes one more way to attract a different type of person or demographic to your art. Every time you pair distinctive text with an image, with specific keywords that relate directly to that image, it's like opening a brand new gallery in a brand new neighborhood because now a whole new subset of people, ones who are using similar or identical keywords in their searches, have a chance to see that page come up in their search results, click over to it, and view that piece of art.
* So let's say you've acted on these recommendations and are now attracting increased numbers of new visitors to your website by adding more diverse title lines, more text and greater varieties of image descriptions. How are you going to keep them there? You start by making sure you have a clearly visible link to your homepage on every single page of your site. No matter where on your website new visitors might land, if they like what they see, your homepage is usually where they'll want to go next in order to find out more.
* The text on your homepage should quickly and clearly answer the following two questions for any visitor who happens to land there: "Where am I?" and "Why am I here?" Typically, you've got about 30 seconds or a minute to state your case in a way people can understand and connect with before they begin to lose interest or get confused, give up and leave. Do a good job of answering those two simple questions in a compelling, engaging and welcoming way, and in language ANYONE can understand, hopefully in a paragraph or two or maybe even a sentence or two, and visitors will be more inclined to stick around at least for a bit and spend more time looking at more art.
Even if your art is conceptual, theoretical, has a complex cognitive component or is arcane in other ways, you can always figure out how to explain the basics in ordinary English pretty much anyone can understand. You want to introduce your art in ways that give anyone a fighting chance to get a grip if they like what they see and want to know more. They may not all stay; hardly any of them may stay. But all you need is one to appreciate what they read and see, and take some kind of positive action as a result.
Here are more ways to increase the chances people will land on your website and spend a little time there once they do:
* Make sure the design of your site is straightforward, easy to navigate, your main menu is on every page of your site, and that visitors, especially new ones, can easily locate and click back to your homepage, your gallery page, and other main pages from every single page of your site.
* Update regularly. A website that stays the same month after month or year after year give the impression that little or nothing is happening in your artistic career. So regularly add new works, keep your news or events page current, and generally give the impression that you are actively advancing with your art and career.
* Make sure your site is mobile-friendly. More and more people are browsing the web on their phones, so your website should be as easy to access and read on the small screen as it is on a computer or tablet. Plus the fact that Google ranks online websites higher, especially when the search is being done on a cell phone.
* One of the most important ways to keep new or accidental visitors on your website is to always use language anyone can understand. You can have more complicated, complex or detailed descriptions or explanations too, but those should generally be on secondary pages where people who want in-depth information can click links to read more. You don't want to drown visitors in torrents of verbiage whether they like it or not, especially complete strangers who are usually way more interested in getting up to speed fast and seeing your art than reading on and on about it.
* Have an "About the Art," "About My Art," "Artist Statement" or "Art" page to serve as a basic introduction to your work. The length should be no more than 300 to 400 words. That's plenty for most people, and 150-250 words is even better. One or two concise paragraphs can be more than adequate in many cases. Think of this page like the introduction to a book, or the trailer to a feature film, or a sample of music you may want to buy on iTunes. Use it exactly the same way-- like a teaser or enticement to get people to want to see more. The object is to interest and engage visitors as quickly and effortlessly as possible, to make them curious, and to get them into your gallery or image section fast, because in the end it's all about your art.
* When describing your art, always write so even people who don't know you or have never seen your work before can get a sense of what it's about fast (don't worry about boring those who already know you; they'll be fine). You are probably familiar with the most common questions new viewers have about your art and how you usually answer them. A great strategy is to answer these basic kinds of questions on your "About the Art" page just like you do in person. This way, new visitors don't have to waste time trying to figure your work out because you preemptively clarify it for them, thereby encouraging them to click over to your gallery page even faster.
* Also have an "About the Artist" page. One of the greatest benefits of the Internet is that people can not only get to know the art but also the artist behind the art. Artists have more opportunities than ever to introduce themselves, talk about their lives and inspirations, interact with their fans, and generally provide insight into the personality behind the art. The truth is that many people buy art not only because they like it, but also because they like and respect the artist who made it. By making yourself accessible, you increase the overall understanding and appeal of your work.
* Organize your art; don't simply have page after page of unrelated images or thumbnails of every work of art you create-- especially without explanations-- and then expect people to figure out how it all fits together. You know your work perfectly; most people who visit your site are far less informed. Not only don't they have the time to sift through everything, but even if they try, they'll likely only get confused or overwhelmed and leave if you don't guide them. Guaranteed. For instance, if you make art in series or if you produce several distinct styles or types of art, have a separate gallery for each one including a brief introduction to the work in that gallery. Well-organized galleries instill confidence in viewers, make them feel like they have a grip on what you're doing and what they're looking at, like they truly understand your work (and as we all know, nobody buys anything they don't understand).
* Use specific descriptive words and phrases whenever you write about your art-- whether you're talking about all of it or particular individual works-- and avoid vague or general terms or descriptions. For example, let's say you paint urban scenes. Rather than describe them in general terms like "Big City Life" (useless to search engines), describe distinct aspects of every composition like who's in it, what's happening, the weather, location, street names, events, time of day, vehicles, buildings, and so on. Don't ramble on and on, but keep in mind that the more specific details you provide, the greater the probability of attracting people who may be searching for either similar kinds of urban art or even something totally different like travel information about a particular city, but who happen to be using those same keyword search terms. Your goal is for images of your art to come up in their search results. You never know who might click on them, find themselves on your website, and like what they see.
* When writing about your art, include words and phrases that people who like your work regularly use when they talk about it, tell you how it affects them, or express what they like about it the most. Words, phrases and descriptions that your biggest fans regularly use are most likely to appeal to potential future fans as well.
Artists hire me on a regular basis to review and make recommendations on how to improve the organization, structure and functionality of their websites. If you'd like me to review or make recommendations on how to maximize the effectiveness of yours, I'm always available. Call 415.931.7875 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's make an appointment. A typical website review takes half an hour and only costs $75.
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