Websites and Social Media 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 social media pages and tell me what you think. What about paying for an online store? Or having gallery pages or posting images on large art websites?
A: Having an online profile that works on behalf of you and your art is more important than ever. No matter how or where people find out about your art, whether at physical locations or online, if they like what they see and want to know more (or even buy something), the first thing they usually do is search you online. They'll likely end up on your website or social media pages at some point, so making sure you have a cohesive, coherent, integrated, unified profile that conveys basic information about you as an artist and about the significance of your art is essential.
Selling art online can be a bit of a catch-22 for artists. Back in the good old days before social media, one of the main ways people got to your website was to type your name into search engines like Google, locate your site on the results page, and click over to it. But searching that way only worked for people who already knew your name. Sure, some people might have landed by chance through searches that happened to match text descriptions on your site, but they'd usually be looking for something else and rarely stuck around long enough to look at your art, let alone buy it. Fortunately there are effective ways to keep accidental vistors on your site, but more about that later.
As for setting up galleries, pages or stores on large art and artist websites, that can be pretty futile and not necessarily the best use of your money if you have to pay for them. The percentages some of these sites take for selling your art can be pretty hefty too, even as much as physical galleries charge in some cases. Tons of 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 a website features you or you're able to drive significant 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 made a lot more sense before social media than they do now. Before social media, joining them was one of the main ways for artists to publicize and introduce your art to people who didn't know your name to find out about you. Large group art sites were also good because they handled sales and payment. Now artists can do all of this themselves. With options like Paypal, Venmo and Square, selling direct to buyers without any middlemen is getting easier all the time, as is getting the word out about your art.
Thanks to social media, any artist can now present their art online, bypass the limitations of search engines and bulk art/artist websites, present themselves and their art on their own terms, cultivate followings and ultimately sell direct. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook have huge audiences compared to specialized art websites. They also allow far more leeway in how you post and present your art. Specialized art sites, on the other hand, have all kinds of rules, regulations and restrictions on how you can post and present yourself.
Enterprising artists regularly attract hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of followers to their social media pages. 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 great about interacting with their fans. But no matter how good they are at getting the word out, the post important part is always the art-- successful artists are productive, dedicated to creating quality work, and committed to keeping their online profiles current and engaging. They make it clear, even if only by the amount of work they produce, that they're serious about this art game and are in it for the long haul.
Many many artists now use social media as the main way to show their art, get exposure, attract buyers and collectors, make sales, and get exhibition opportunities. But even though plenty of art is already selling this way with more and more selling all the time, limiting your online profile exclusively to social media and large art/artist websites involves a certain amount of risk. For one thing, these platforms have the final say on the disposition of your content-- not you-- and there's never 100% surety that what you post today will be there tomorrow. Worst case scenarios are that a website or platform where you maintain a page changes hands, changes focus or direction, changes their rules for posting, is abandoned by users for trendier sites, or disappears off the Internet entirely.
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 run the show and nobody else. In other words, you have to own, maintain and control a website dedicated entirely to you and your art. No matter how good social media platforms get, your personal website is still (and will continue to be) the premier place to showcase your art and present your portfolio. Regardless of your current situation, whether you have a website or not, you can build one that works for you, especially with all the excellent drag-and-drop template sites now available like Square Space, Wix, Weebly and more.
Now don't just build a website and let it sit there hoping that somehow "they" will come. And please oh please don't neglect your website or stop updating it regularly because social media is more dynamic and exciting. Artists don't keep current risk compromising their online profiles because whether you update or not, people will still visit. And if they see that not much has happened in recent months or even years, this will reflect poorly on you. Integrating your website with social media is the best way to increase your traffic. Traditional ways of getting exposure can also drive traffic to your site, like showing at galleries, 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 individuals who currently represent you, here are some ways to spiff up your online profile and your website in particular:
For those of you who don't currently have your own websites, buy a domain name like www.yourname.com, www.yournameart.com, www.yournamepaintings.com, or www.yournameartist.com and have it registered and hosted by a hosting service, preferably a drag-and-drop site offering quality art/artist templates like those mentioned above. Using tech support is fine, but make sure you are the one who updates the site, not someone else. Having to rely on other people for updates has significant drawbacks including limited availability, update fees, changing professions, etc.
Free websites aren't a particularly good idea either. They usually offer limited templates and can further compromise the presentation of your art by placing advertisements or links to their services or companies on your pages. Links that encourage visitors to leave your site and go somewhere else are NEVER good. Some sites can even compete directly against your site in online searches. For example, you don't want to search your name on Google and find a page from the company hosting your site that competes directly with your actual site. Additionally, free websites that place unrelated promotional or advertising links on your pages may have lower rankings on search engines than sites without advertising or worse yet. Lastly but not leastly, free sites give the impression you don't really 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. Personalize it. Make it feel like a place, an environment, a gallery, 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 create a "gallery atmosphere" around your artwork and display it a format that presents it at its absolute best.
While classic portfolio sites offering little or no explanation or background about your art may be fine for presenting it to galleries or professionals in the trade, those people represent only a small percentage of everyone online. You want your site to appeal and be accessible to to anyone who appreciates art, especially to regular everyday people who may not know much about it, but who like what they're looking at 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 about art. Making yourself accessible is ultimately what sells.
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. Write like you're a guide who's showing your art and talking about it along the way. 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 address 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 behind the art, like it's is more than an abstract impersonal commodity. Simply put, people who feel a 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 great gobs 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 media to drive traffic to your website-- with invitations to see your latest work, current series, buy and more. Rather than upload an image of your latest art to an album on Facebook, for example, and then mention it in a post, include the website link to that art in your post. The same image will still appear in your post, but people who click on it will go straight to your website instead of to a photo album on Facebook. This way, they can be alone with the work rather than on Facebook where they'll have all kinds of options and incentives to click to other pages.
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 the basics. Those who want to know more will contact you.
To repeat, update your website regularly. There's absolutely no point in using social media 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 never looks good.
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 an 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. Poor links pages can have the opposite effect.
Your website "title lines" and text are incredibly important. Well-chosen 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. Title lines on your web pages are kind of like hashtags on social media. Use them wisely. 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 wildlife for example, use keywords that attract sculpture collectors, wildlife art collectors, etc. And of course, don't forget your name, the type of art you make and similar basics. 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 one 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 to the type of art they like the most. You can also show select examples of sold or older works, but keep them separate from the current work. 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 can overwhelm or confuse viewers and make 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. Many 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 under a separate menu heading on your site like "Inquire" or "Purchase" or "Buy". That way, constant dollar signs won't interfere with people's enjoyment of your art.
* Post plenty of contact information and encourage anyone with questions to ask, not just a contact form. Answer all questions or inquiries fast.
* Provide clear instructions on how people can buy your art and how you're going to pack and 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, Venmo, 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 I do website and social media consults all the time. You can't underestimate the advantages to having an organized, effective and compelling online profile. I can help you get there. If you'd like to make an appointment or have any questions, call me at 415.931.7875 or email email@example.com
(art by Christopher Brown)
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