Websites for Artists: Creating Your Online Profile
Q: I'm ready to start selling my art over the internet. Please visit my website and tell me what you think. What about paying for gallery or exhibition space or a web page on large art websites or links on large art websites with lots of other artists?
A: Selling art over the internet is a bit of a catch-22 for artists. One of the main ways people get to your website is to type your name into search engines like Google, locate your web site on the results page, and click over to it. People who don't know your name but who might be interested in your kind of art probably won't find you. Sure, some might land on your website by chance, but they're usually looking for something else and rarely stick around long enough to take a good look at your art, let alone buy it.
As for linking or renting space on large art websites, that's usually pretty futile, and a good way to waste money. Thousands of group art websites exist, each one with anywhere from dozens to hundreds of artists, some with more. Throwing your art into the mix makes you kind of like a flea on a dog-- hard to find-- like entering your art in a group show with several hundred thousand pieces, and hoping against hope that somehow someone singles you out and likes your art enough to buy-- like winning the lottery. Get it?
That said, the internet is becoming increasingly important as a marketing tool, artists and the art business included. More and more art will be sold online, and artists' websites will eventually become the primary vehicles for showing work and presenting credentials (assuming this hasn't happened already). Even at this early evolutionary stage, you can make the internet work for you, but you have to do it in conjunction with traditional ways of getting your art out there like showing wherever and whenever you get the chance, networking within your art community, participating in juried and non-juried shows, and so on. Assuming you're doing all of this and more, and assuming you're respectful of any galleries or agents who represent you, here are some ways to spiff up your online profile:
To begin with, buy a domain name like www.yourname.com, www.yournameart.com, www.yournamepaintings.com, or www.yournameartist.com and have it hosted by a hosting service. DO NOT use free websites, web space you get from your internet provider, or web space on your friend's scented candle and incense site. Free websites degrade your art with annoying third-party vibrating banner ads and pop-up windows (your art and offshore gambling-- what a great combination!). Free sites and/or web space from your internet provider are hard for search engines to find, and tacking your webpage onto someone else's website makes your art look like an afterthought or a hobby rather than something you take seriously.
Once you've got a domain name, make that website about one thing and one thing only-- YOUR ART. Do not show pictures of your dog, talk about your garden, or drone on about how bovine growth hormone is depleting the ozone layer unless, of course, these passions represent integral aspects of your art.
Personalize your website. Make it feel like an actual place, a state of being, a frame of mind, an environment, an atmosphere, somewhere that's uniquely you. Generic portfolio-style artist websites with standard menus like "about the artist," "galleries," "shows," and so on are boring-- there are millions of them. Portfolio sites are good for presenting your art to people in the trade for possible shows or representation, but regular people who buy art because it affects them in some way will not be captivated. Include an online portfolio section for the pros, but the reality you create for regular folks who stop by to see what you do will be what ultimately sells your art. Remember-- selling art with images on a computer screen is very different from selling art out of your studio or at a gallery.
Write about yourself and your art in the first person. Why do you make art? Why are you an artist? How do you use art to express yourself? Being able to answer these questions is good no matter what the circumstances. On your website, people who feel like they're getting to know you, like they're connecting a human being with your art, are more likely to buy than people who don't make that kind of connnection. Additional incentive for those of you averse to writing: Search engines can't find a website with no text.
Give reasons to buy your art. Talk about why people own it, why they like it, what it does for them (not what you want it to do, but what people tell you it does), how it enriches their lives, what they like most about it, how long it takes you to make it, what it represents, that sort of thing. As a gallery owner once told me, "No art sells itself," and this is especially true online.
Assume visitors to your site know little or nothing about either art in general or you as an artist. Keep things simple, start at the beginning, and explain what you do step-by-step. People like to understand what they're looking at. If they can't figure it out, they're sure not gonna buy it. People who already know you or who know art will skip to the appropriate sections. Those who plow through your entire site, still can't get enough, and who want to know more will contact you.
If you decide to have a links page, keep it to a minimum. For example, share the same few links with a small circle of artist friends or art-related websites. I can't tell you how many times I go onto a website, check out its links page-- particularly if it's full of fun and entertaining places to go-- like the links better than the site itself, and leave never to return. On the other hand, providing useful practical links (like artbusiness.com) will increase your respect among artists, and could even drive traffic to your site-- people who will want to keep track of what resources you're finding online.
Use effective keywords in your title lines and in your text. Keywords are your ticket to high rankings on search engines and the only way that people who don't know you exist can find you. For example, keywords can be used to attract people who collect the kind of art that you make, but who have no idea you make it. If you sculpt coat hangers into baby ducks, use keywords that attract coat hanger baby duck sculpture collectors. If necessary, hire someone who can suggest keyword strategies based on your art (like maybe Alan Bamberger here at artbusiness.com, for instance).
Resist the temptation to show every work of art you've ever made, and make sure the large majority of what you do show is available for sale. Show too much sold work and people who visit the site will feel like all they get to pick from are leftovers. Keep your total selection to a maximum of 50 pieces or so. Too much work or too many different kinds of work overwhelms and confuses viewers, making them less likely to buy. Those who want to see more will ask.
Several more basics:
► Use good clear detailed images of your art that download fast (duh).
► Make sure all of your art is priced. Most people don't like to ask prices and rather than ask, they leave.
► Provide clear instructions for how someone can buy your art and how you're going to get it to them.
► Provide plenty of contact information so that anyone can ask questions. Answer all questions fast.
A look into the future:
► Make your art easy to buy and easy to pay for. Sign up with a service like PayPal so that buyers can pay you with credit cards. More and more online shoppers use PayPal because it's fast, easy, secure, and effective. And the more ways people can pay for your art, the more art you sell.
► Try selling on eBay (don't scrunch your face-- hear me out-- people who use eBay are buyers, not lookers). At the very least, it's a cheap way to advertise. It's also a cheap way to play with keywords (see Sell Your Art Online link below) and see how many bidders you attract. Don't worry; you won't compromise your art. Think of yourself as an explorer experimenting with new ways to sell. More and more artists are selling successfully on eBay; a handful make good livings. One artist I spoke with recently has sold over 1,000 paintings on eBay-- average selling price of $280 for a grand total of $280,000-- and that's some serious cabbage. Sooner or later artists are going to figure out how to market their art directly to consumers, and sites like eBay will play significant roles in making this happen (dealers take note).
► Continuing with eBay, think about joining forces with other artists and selling on eBay as a group. Several online artist collectives have experienced varying degrees of success with this strategy. Think of yourselves as an art colony of sorts; create a group ethos, manifesto, whatever.
► As with websites, success on eBay is all about smart use of keywords, and presenting your art in ways that connect with bidders, so don't go in cold. Learn some strategies in order to maximize your success. You might start by reading Sell Your Art Successfully at Online Auctions, but that's only a start and it's written primarily for dealers and collectors.
In closing, let me add that engaging the services of an experienced online artster such as myself can come in mighty handy in accelerating your learning curve. I'm dirt cheap compared to trial and error.
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