Websites and Social Networking for Artists:
Use Your Online Profile to Sell More Art
Q: I'm ready to start selling my art online. 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 online can be 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 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 by chance through searches that happen to match words on your site, but they're usually looking for something else and are generally not inclined to stick around long enough to take a good look at your art, let alone buy it. Fortunately there are ways to keep accidental vistors on your site, but more about that later.
As for setting up galleries or pages on large art and artist websites, that can be pretty futile and not necessarily the best use of your money. Numerous group art websites exist, each with anywhere from dozens to hundreds of artists, some with more, and practically all promising the world. But those promises don't necessarily pan out, especially on the larger art websites. Just because you throw your art into the mix is no guarantee anyone will see it. Unless you're able to drive traffic to your page and convince people to take action while there, the chances of people landing by chance are comparable to entering your art in a group show with anywhere from several thousand to hundreds of thousands of pieces and hoping someone somehow finds yours.
Large art and artist websites used to make more sense than they do now. Before social networking, joining them was a great way for artists to publicize their art. But these days artists have far more options for getting the word out. Large group art sites were also good because they handled everything from payment to shipping. Now artists can do this themselves. With options like Paypal and Square, handling your own sales is getting easier all the time.
The great news is that thanks to social networking, any artist can now present their art online, bypass the limitations of search engines and bulk art/artist websites, cultivate their own followings and ultimately make sales. Enterprising artists are regularly attracting hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of followers. Those who do it best post regularly, maintain consistent and engaging narratives, provide insight not only into their art but also into their lives and adventures as artists, and are good about interacting with their fans. But let's not forget their art-- these artists also tend to be productive, dedicated to their profession as well as to maintaining their online profiles. They make it clear, even if only by the amount of work they produce, that they're serious about this art game and in it for the long haul.
For many many artists, social networking has been instrumental in transforming the Internet into an important avenue for introducing and presenting their art, getting exposure, attracting not only collectors but also exhibition opportunities, and for making sales. But even though plenty of art is already selling this way with more and more selling all the time, actively maintaining your online profile exclusively on social networking sites can be a risky business. For one thing, you have no control over your content, layout of your pages, or the surety that what you post today will be there tomorrow. Worst case scenarios are that a website where you maintain a page gets purchased by non-art-related interests, changes focus or direction, is abandoned by users for a site with a better interface, or disappears off the Internet altogether.
The single best way to protect yourself against the hazards of setting up shop on other people's websites is to establish an online location where you control the show and nobody else. In other words, you have to own and maintain a website dedicated entirely to your art. Websites are the artist portfolios of today. They're the places where artists introduce themselves and their art, organize and display their art, present their credentials, and provide contact information and details for anyone interested in finding out more or hopefully even buying. Regardless of your current situation, whether you have a website or not, you can build one that works for you.
Now you don't just build a website and let it sit there, hoping that somehow "they" will come. You have to operate, maintain and integrate it into your social networking activities; that's the single best way to drive traffic to the site. Traditional ways of getting exposure can also get people over to your site, like showing at bricks & mortar locations 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 currently represent you, here are some ways to spiff up your online profile and your website in particular:
Free websites and fee-based multi-artist web hosts can also compromise the presentation of your art by placing obtrusive advertisements or links to their companies on your pages. Incentives for visitors to leave your site and go somewhere else are NEVER good. Some of these sites can even compete directly against your site in online searches. For example, if you search your name on Google and a page from the company hosting your site that happens to have your name on it ranks higher than your actual site, or appears in close proximity to your site in the search results, you can lose valuable traffic if people click to those company run pages rather than clicking directly to your site. As for free websites that place unrelated promotional or advertising links on your pages, they may have lower rankings on search engines or worse yet, give the impression you don't care about your art because you're not willing to spend any money on a website.
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, any cause you espouse is an integral aspect of your art.
Personalize your website. Make it feel like a place, an environment, somewhere that's uniquely you. Selling art with images on a computer screen is very different from selling art out of your studio or at a gallery. In a sense, you have to build a "gallery" around your artwork, create an online atmosphere that displays it at its absolute best. Websites that do nothing more than mimic artist portfolios of pre-Internet days are not only out-of-date, impersonal and often boring, but they also tend to be hard to understand for people who don't know much about art.
While classic portfolio sites may be good for presenting your art to gallery owners or professionals in the trade for possible shows or representation, those people represent only a mini-microscopic percentage of everyone online. You want your site to appeal to anyone who appreciates art, especially to regular everyday people who may not know much about it, but who like and buy it because it attracts, enthralls or excites them in some way. Your gallery section will still be fine for the pros; they know exactly where to go and what they're looking at. But the online reality you create should be welcoming and understandable to anyone who happens to stop by to see what you do, no matter how or why they end up there or how much or how little they know. Making yourself accessible is ultimately what sells your art.
Write about yourself and your art in the first person. The Internet is impersonal enough already without your having to make it even more so. You've decided to show your work to the public; talk about that. Why are you an artist? How do you use art as a form of expression? What's your perspective? What do you want your art to communicate? Being able to answer questions like these in a conversational way is good no matter what the circumstances. Talking about who you are and what you stand for makes visitors feel like they're getting to know you, like there's a human being creating this art, like your work is more than an abstract impersonal commodity. Simply put, people who feel some connection to an artist are more likely to buy than those who don't.
For you artists who don't like to write, think about this-- search engines can't find a website with little or no text. The less text you have, the less accessible you'll be through online searches. Now this doesn't mean you saturate your website with mountains of text simply to be visible to search engines, but rather that you make sure to include all those facts, terms and descriptions unique to you and essential to understanding and appreciating your art.
Whenever possible, use social networking posts to drive traffic to your website. Rather than upload an image of your latest art to an album on Facebook, for example, and then mention it in a post, put a link in your post directly to that art on your website. The same image will still appear in your post, but people who click on it will go straight to your website instead of to an album on Facebook. You want people to see your art, but it's always better if they see it on your website where they'll have opportunities to look around and check out everything else that's there.
Speaking of navigating your website, think of yourself as the curator of your own museum. Provide enough in the way of organization and explanatory for anyone who visits to orient themselves quickly and easily and find their way around. 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, explain what you do step-by-step, and move them on to your image pages as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Most importantly, write in language ANYBODY can understand. People like having some kind of grip on 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 can't get enough and want to know more will contact you.
Update your website regularly. There's absolutely no point in using social networking to drive traffic to a website that doesn't change. When you send people to your website, either send them somewhere they haven't been before or send them somewhere new. A stagnant website rarely reflects favorably on an artist.
If you decide to have a links page, keep it to a minimum and make sure every single link relates in some way to you and your art. The worst links pages are full of fun and entertaining links that are better than the artist's site itself. I can't tell you how many times I go onto a website, check out the links page, click on one that looks good, and leave never to return. You don't want that! Provide only links that serve your cause-- like those of galleries that currently represent you, blog interviews, features about your art, and so on. Make sure those links connect to pages specifically about you and your art, not to homepages or other pages on those sites that have no information about you. Quality links pages can increase your respect and standing among visitors, and may even end up driving more traffic to your site.
Use effective keywords in your title lines and text. Keywords are your ticket to higher rankings on search engines and one of the best ways for people who don't already know you to find you. For example, good keywords can be used to attract people who collect the kind of art 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. Don't get carried away though and go keyword crazy; only use keywords that relate specifically to you and your art.
Resist the temptation to show every work of art you've ever made or to dump them all into the same gallery, and make sure the large majority of what you do show is current work that's available for sale. Your gallery section must be organized so anyone can understand and navigate it. You can show sold or older works, but keep them in separate galleries and away from the current works for sale. Show too much sold work though and people who visit the site will feel like all they get to pick from are leftovers. It's generally a good idea to limit 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 and makes them less likely to buy. Those who want to see more will ask.
Several additional pointers:
► Use good clear detailed images of your art that load fast.
► Make sure all art that's for sale is priced. Most people don't like to ask prices and rather than ask, they leave. You can either have a price next to each individual work or you can do like the galleries do and have a price list at a separate location on your site. That way, dollar signs won't intrude or interfere with people's experience of your art.
► Provide plenty of contact information and encourage anyone with questions to ask. Answer all questions or inquiries fast.
► Provide clear instructions on how people can buy your art and how you're going to get it to them.
► Make your art easy to buy and easy to pay for. Accept credit cards, sign up with a payment service like Paypal or Square, and so on. The more ways people can pay for your art, the more art you sell.
► Offer an approval period for buyers, say a week to ten days, where they're allowed return your art for any reason should it turn out to be other than what they thought they were buying. Don't worry; I've heard very few stories of people returning art.
In closing, let me add that engaging the services of an experienced consultant and advisor like myself can come in mighty handy in accelerating your learning curve when it comes to presenting and selling your art online. You want your website and social networking activities to be as organized, effective and compelling as possible. I can help you get them there. If you'd like to make an appointment or have any questions, call me at 415.931.7875 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
(art by Christopher Brown)
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