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The Business Side of Art

I have received a lot of positive feedback on last month's guest newsletter (see October newsletter "Marketing for Artists - Part One"), written by my good friend Kristen Spinning; web master and marketing consultant. This month Kristen extrapolates on the foundations established in the October newsletter. Enjoy!

Marketing for Artists Part Two: Web Based Marketing
a guest article by Kristen Spinning

Last month I wrote about the benefits a website can have for artists. But whether you already have a website, or are now fired up to start one, the next thing to wrap your head around is that you need to market the website in order to market your art. With over 250,000 million websites world wide, and 47 million new sites added in 2009, your site faces a huge challenge of being found.  Without some active marketing strategy on your part, your site will not be seen by many more than your existing circle of friends and relatives. Some of that marketing strategy needs to be built directly into the website, and the rest happens externally.

Marketing that is built into the site which you are trying to get people to visit in the first place may seem, at first, to be an effort placed at the wrong end of the pipeline.  However this type of marketing is not directed to the viewer, but rather to the one thing that is guaranteed (if you ask it) to visit your site and tell others about it: Search Engines. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of web sites to the computer programs that scower the web and index the content of some nearly 3 Billion web pages.  Using very sophisticated mathematical algorithms, Goggle, and the others decide where to place a page in their results list when a person searches for a key word. The higher your ranking, the better chance you have of being seen.  Visibility is valuable, so naturally an entire industry has spawned to help, or sometimes take advantage of web site owners who desire page one ranking.  Every one of my clients has received a very earnest sounding email from an SEO company guaranteeing page one ranking.  I suggest that when you get one of those solicitations, perform a simple test: Goggle SEO.  Does that company come up on page one? If they cannot do it for themselves, they most certainly will not do it for you. Like all things web, perform your due diligence.  It is also important to set a budget.  SEO, even with reliable companies, is an ongoing process, and can run up substantial monthly expenses. 

Most of the SEO optimization should be done at the time the web site is built, or revamped, since it involves your actual content. Search engines index pages based on the words contained in them. Your text, your page titles, page headings, sub headings, file names, even what your pictures are called are factors in ranking. The good news is, content that is friendly to your viewer is friendly to search engines. You don’t need to play games, stuff your paragraphs with key words, or do anything outrageous.  Just be clear, stay on topic, and don’t assume your reader (or search engine) can make an intuitive leap of logic between your words.  For instance, if you are announcing a showing, you don’t want to say, “Showing at My House”.  Taken literally, what does that mean?  The search engine doesn’t have a clue, and neither does the viewer.  Alternately, you could write an SEO friendly headline, “Bob Smith Hosts Show of New Watercolor Paintings at His Art Gallery In Houston.”  Now there is something to index: who, what where, and it is clear that it is art related.

Search engine ranking is also influenced by the number of links in, out and through your site.  There is a reason it is called the web.  If you have lots of connections, your site is considered more important than one that does not go anywhere.  It is somewhat of a popularity contest, and the most popular sites gain a definite advantage in the ranking systems.  You need to develop links and link exchanges. This takes work, and continual effort, as you always need to be looking for new link opportunities. You may be able to list in an on-line directory with a local art guild, or get placement with an on line publication for the arts.  If you are in a gallery, or participate in shows, be sure to have your website listed on theirs, and put their link on yours. But even with links, remember your SEO lesson.  “Signatory member North Fork Oil Painter’s Guild of Colorado” says more to humans and crawlers than “NFOPG member”. Link generation is another big business, and you will be solicited for link exchanges.  Beware of these, for several reasons.  First, by putting a link to another website, you are in effect endorsing it.  Are you comfortable with that endorsement?  Would you recommend it to a friend? The other problem with “link farming” is that search engines actually frown on this practice, and can penalize you for it.  Stick to links that are USEFUL for your viewers.

Beyond reciprocal links, you can generate inbound links by providing content for other websites.  In fact, this type of linking is more important to your over all web site traffic then search engines will ever be. Art is personal, and has aesthetic qualities that are difficult to “search” for. Being linked to from another site is like having an endorsement.  There are many strategies for building these links. You can write an informative article, cover a gallery opening, expound on the current art market in your area. You may want to offer a picture of one of your paintings as editorial illustration for someone else’s article. There are many special interest or news oriented websites that are in need of content.  Find ones appropriate for you, and query them regarding writing articles or providing artwork. In the article, byline or image credit, you will have a link to your website.  You may also want to find other writers who already have a following to write about you, your media, subject matter or technique that may be interesting.

Social media is another way to generate link traffic and improve your page ranking. FaceBook can reach many viewers.  Just be sure to keep your personal and professional personas separate. Your potential clients will not view your page if it is cluttered with Farmville notices or ‘took the kids fishing’ postings.  If you are going to use FaceBook, keep it relevant to your art; comment on new works, even post photos of your paintings.   Always put in a link back to your website. A good example of using FB for connecting with fellow artists and fans is Eric Michaels’ page http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=1178576500

Eric stays on topic, doesn’t overwhelm with content, and shares things of interest.  He also works hard to seek out other artists, galleries, collectors and fans.

These are just a few ways in which you can promote your website through on-line marketing.  Whether you chose to do this on your own, or hire a professional  SEO/internet marketing specialist, understand that it is not a quick fix or one time effort.  The internet landscape changes faster than a plein air session in a sudden rainstorm, so your techniques must change accordingly.

Keep Painting!

(Kristen Spinning is a web and graphic designer for small businesses, and watercolor painter in her free time. If you have questions or comments on this topic, you can contact Kristen at kromatiksgraphics.com)