Artist Websites: How to Increase Your Online Traffic
and Keep Everyone on Your Site Longer
Any artist anywhere with Internet access can present their art to the world, but of all the artists who have their own websites, few take full advantage of their capabilities. Many take no advantage at all; they simply upload images of their art over and over again, and do little more than wait and see what happens (this goes for social media pages too, but the focus here is on websites). They may send periodic email or newsletter updates, post links or invites on their social media pages, hand out business cards, ask people in person to check out their sites, and that's about it.
The whole point of having a website is to spread the word about your art, to broaden your audience, and deepen people's interest-- not to maintain a static presence where hardly anything ever happens. The main reason you're online in the first place is to get your art in front of as many people as possible, not just people you already know or happen to meet somewhere. You've got far more options and opportunities than that. The good news is that any artist can actively increase their website's reach and traffic with some simple adjustments and techniques.
This means making your website more accessible, welcoming and appealing to all kinds of people, whether they already know you or not, whether they're on social media or not. Using social media to drive traffic to your site is important, but it has its limitations. For one thing, not that many people will click over to your site because they don't want to leave whatever platform they're on. You can do lots more on the internet as a whole, especially in terms of reaching people who are wandering around for whatever reason whether they're on social media or not. We're talking about maximizing the chances that they'll land on your website, and once they do, keeping them there. Whether they know you or not, what they see when they land there and how it's organized and presented is critical to making their experiences rewarding ones.
Why Having Your Own Website is Still Important:
When you have your own website, on the other hand, you run the show and are the only person who decides how to organize, present, introduce, write about, and position your art. No other platform can even come close to giving you that kind of freedom and control over your content and organization, not to mention the permanency and security of having an online headquarters for your art that will stay online for as long as you want it to, and only changes when you decide, not someone else.
Unfortunately, the typical artist website of today is still not much different from artist portfolios of 20 or 30 years ago. In other words, it's designed largely for art people who already understand art or know the artist, know what they're looking at, know artspeak, 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 hard to understand (assuming there's any writing at all), navigating 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 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 since before the Internet.
One of the greatest advantages, 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 artists rather than as a result of good SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Think about how many people might potentially love your art if only they knew it 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? Social media hashtags help to a certain extent, but attracting people outside of social media is different. Here, you have to organize and present yourself and your art in ways that increase the chances for anyone to get lucky and find 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, getting invitations to participate in shows, getting gallery representation, being included in exhibitions, making sales, getting commissions, being featured on blogs or art websites, meeting fellow artists, and more. You never know who has the potential to become a fan, follower, or even a buyer, so make sure you reach out to those who don't yet know you as well as those who do.
Ways to Maximize Your Website's Visibility:
* To begin with, every page on your site, especially those with images of your art, should have its own title line. The title line is one of the MOST IMPORTANT lines on a webpage, is often spidered by search engines first, and is regularly highlighted in search results (assuming it contains relevant keywords and information). Each title line on each individual page of your website should be unique, thereby allowing every one of your pages to appear in a different keyword-string's search results. A diversity of title lines is critical to increasing opportunities for people to land on your site.
The title line, for those of you who don't know, appears at or near the top of your browser window on index tabs or tab bars, or in your search history, not in the content of the page itself. If you're having trouble finding your title lines, ask your web designer or tech support how to locate and revise them.
Before we get going here, keep in mind that title lines should not ramble on or use excessive numbers of words, but instead be brief, concise, and include only the most important keywords describing whatever is on the page. Excessive title lines can get you in trouble with search engines.
Every title line should accurately and specifically describe its 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 title line on every single page of their websites. Repetetive title lines like "Joe Smith artist" or "Mary Jones art" or "Bill Williams sculpture" are way too general, and only match searches containing those keywords, in other words, people who already know your name. At worst, some websites have no title lines at all other than "Home" or "Index" or "Gallery" and don't even mention the artist's name.
For pages with showing single works of your art, the title line should consist of keywords specific to that piece like your name, the work's title, medium, subject matter, style, technique, and so on-- the more specific, the better. For pages showing multiple works or 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 or mediums, or the theme, concept or unifying idea of the series-- and again, the more specific, the better.
If a work of your art shows a specific location or landmark, for example, the title line should name them. People searching for information about those places might see your image come up in their search results, click over to it, and like it enough to spend time on your site, email you about it, 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.
* Every image page on your site should include text relating to that art. Why? Because Google and other search engines can't search images alone; they can only search text. When image pages have little or no searchable text, the main purpose of your website-- for people to see your art-- is defeated right from the start. So make sure every art page includes basic information about that art (titles, sizes, mediums, etc) at the very least. If relevant, also add a brief explanation or description ranging in length from a sentence or two to maybe a paragraph or two at most (but don't overdo it). Text assures that your art pages will appear in search results.
* Every image of your art should have its own distinct URL, be searchable on search engines, and be linkable in social media posts. Surprisingly, individual images on many artist websites have neither their own unique web addresses nor any text descriptions, and as a result are completely invisible to search engines. If you're not sure about your image pages, check with your web designer or tech support and ask. Every searchable image you have means one more chance for people to land on your website.
With effective use of unique URLs, title lines, descriptions and keywords, every page on your website becomes one more way to attract a different type of person or demographic to your art. It's that simple and no more complicated
How to Keep People on Your Website Longer:
* Make sure you have clearly visible links to all main menu items on every single page of your site, especially your homepage. No matter where on your website new visitors might land, if they like what they see, your homepage is usually the first place they'll go to find out more.
* On your homepage, quickly and clearly answer the following two questions for anyone 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 ways 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 fast in anywhere from a sentence or two to a paragraph or two, and in language ANYONE can understand, and visitors will stay rather than leave. Even if your art is conceptual, theoretical, has a complex cognitive component, or is challenging in other ways, keep your intro simple. You'll have plenty of time for details later.
* Avoid too much text on main pages. If you have more complicated, complex, or detailed descriptions or explanations that you feel are important to your art, start them on main pages, and after several sentences or a paragraph or so, follow with three dots and "Click to read more" or "Read more" links to secondary pages where people who want to can read everything. Many people get intimidated simply by seeing lots of words and that's the last thing you want for your site.
* Make sure the design of your site is straightforward, easy to navigate, and that visitors, including new ones, can get where they want to go fast, especially to your gallery, art or portfolio pages.
* Make sure whatever platform or service you are paying to design your site does not put links advertising themselves, their services, or anything else about them on every page of your site, especially main pages. At best, they're distracting. At worst, these can be so obtrusive that they interfere with how visitors experience your art. And at the very worst, they can divert traffic from your site to theirs.
* Update regularly. A website that stays the same month after month or year after year gives the impression that little or nothing is happening with your art or career. Regularly add new works and keep your resume, news, and events pages current, so people can see you are actively advancing with your art and career.
* Make sure your site is mobile-friendly. More and more people are accessing the web on their phones instead of computers, so your website should be as easy to navigate and read on the small screen as it is on large ones. Plus the fact that Google ranks mobile-friendly websites higher in mobile search results.
* Have an "About" link immediately after your "Gallery," "Portfolio," or "Art" link on your main menu with two dropdown links-- the first is about your art and titled "About the Art," "About My Art" or "Artist Statement." This page serves as a basic introduction to your work. The length should be 300 to 400 words max, and preferably more like 150-250 words. One or two concise paragraphs is more than adequate in most cases. Think of this page like the liner notes for a book, a movie trailer, or sampling a song on iTunes. Use it exactly the same way-- like a teaser or enticement to get people to want to see your art.
Write it so even people who don't know you or have never seen your work before can get a feel for it fast (don't worry about boring those who already know you; they'll be fine). You probably know the most common questions new viewers have about your art and how you usually answer them. A great strategy is to answer them on your "About the Art" page just like you do in person so they won't have to waste time asking. The object is to get people to your gallery or image sections fast, because in the end it's all about your art.
* The second dropdown link should be your "About the Artist" or "Bio" page. Here, people can get to know the artist behind the art. Your bio should be a brief summary or history of your art life, and nothing more. In the online age, artists have more opportunities than ever to introduce themselves, talk about their backgrounds and inspirations, interact with their fans, and generally provide insight into who they are and what they stand for. 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 as an individual, you increase the overall understanding and appeal of your work. In terms of length, follow the "About the Artist" guidelines above.
* 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 waste time figuring out how it all fits together, because they won't. 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 and make them feel like they have a grip on what you're doing and what they're looking at. People who understand and appreciate your work buy; those who don't don't.
* Be specific when writing about your art-- whether you're talking about all of it or individual pieces, and avoid vague or general explanations. 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 characterists like who's in it, what's happening, the weather, location, street names, events, time of day, vehicles, buildings, and so on. This is one more way for people to identify or connect with your work.
* 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 fans regularly use are most likely to appeal to potential future fans and followers 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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