The most common question we get is ‘how do I get more visitors’. The answer, I think, is a bit more subtle than that, although there are ways to increase your visitor count. This is a very basic introduction to Search Engines and Social Media, but offline promotion as well. It should be enough to get you ahead of 99% of the artists out there. This sort of information goes out of date quickly, so the latest news on the internet will be particularly useful on this topic.
The ways artists (particularly ‘fine artists’) market themselves is quite different to other industries. What is considered normal in one area of creativity (such as writing, or professional gardening) might send the wrong signals to professionals in the visual arts.
This is not to make too big a distinction between ‘fine’ and more ‘commercial’ type practices, as this might not always hold true. However, if you market yourself too heavily online, consider that you may be losing some things (top gallery and curator interest, for instance), that may in the long run be of more value to you than mainstream sales and traffic.
What follows is generally considered prudent Fine Art online and offline promotion.
What is the Best Promotional Strategy?
Perhaps the best advice for artists is simply make the best art they can, put their best documentation of this work on their website (quality not quantity), and subtly let the most relevant people know about your work. This may be through putting your own web address on business cards, in email signatures, and perhaps also in exhibition catalogs and books. These are all accepted visual art means of promotion, and are subtle and can be effective.
In the visual arts, perhaps more so than most other industry, personal relationships – and recommendations from your peers – carry the most weight. So use your website as a tool to promote yourself with attendance at openings, art fairs, and major exhibitions and other social events, not instead of it!
In whatever suitable offline context you can, show the type of work that you would like to show at your ideal gallery, and show it often (to let people know you are around).
If you are focusing on your work, and your ‘offline’ career, this will have a knock on affect – Google and other websites will track you down because they will see visitor interest there already. Places will link to you, rather than you having to worry about getting your work and site linked by them.
There are also a whole bunch of other tricks of the trade that your website (and website designer!) can help you with, below.
Generally, any social media, traffic or search engine work is impossible without some data telling you if you are successful or not. A statistics account (of some kind) is a must. Statistics let you see who, where, and where from visitors have come to your site, how long they stay, what they look at, and many other important metrics. You might find you have an unexpected following in Scandinavia, when your exhibition strategy was all based on the United States, for instance.
Statistics are also vital for seeing the ‘before and after’ affect of any social media or search engine work you do – without it it is impossible to judge what is working, and what isn’t.
We can add a statistics account to your site, or if you are tech-savvy, you can do it yourself by following the instructions on any of the industry leaders (two of the best are Statcounter – limited, but we like their interface – and Google Analytics).
Statistics are also addictive and fun to watch. Legal snooping!
Generally we encourage a ‘light’ social media strategy for artists. Unless it particularly makes sense for your type of practice (pop, performance, particularly political or culturally engaged, etc). We can add twitter, facebook, and other share buttons to your site, but generally we advise against it. These can look a little ‘desperate for attention’ (if you were following the above advice you wouldn’t need it). Some artists – like movie or rock stars – even hide contact information on their site altogether (‘if you need to know, you can find it’).
Remember, the best social media strategy for artists is aimed at gallery directors, critics, curators and other artists – rather than the general public. These people will do most of your promotional work for you, and while successful artists usually work hard on cultivating relationships with these kids of people, it is very difficult to find a successful artist who has gained much by focusing on a large, untargeted general audiences.
Facebook usage is always changing, and artists have experimented with all kinds of approaches – ‘public’ pages, posting often, ads, and other ways using facebook as a promotional platform. It is certainly useful for letting people know and coming to your exhibitions (events). But don’t underestimate how nice it is to still receive something physical in the mail.
If your friends are largely from the art world, facebook really can be a good place to keep relevant people up to date. Each artist should decide what their relationship to facebook should be. At a minimum, you should list your URL in your profile. I would advise against ads, and relying too much on a public page can get you caught in paying for facebook to publish your posts.
If you want to get fancy when a link to your site is posted on facebook, we can change the default thumbnail image, title, text, and other details – that show up when someone posts a link to your site (try it yourself to see what comes up now).
Twitter has been growing in use by visual artists. Examples of artists who have found creative ways to use twitter include Takahashi Murakami, Jenny Holzer, David Shrigley, Douglas Coupland, and Gerhard Richter. These are all different approaches, but suit their unique ‘essential practices’ in some way. Twitter, of course, is still in the ‘non-compulsory’ category for artists.
Blogs are also becoming more popular for artists, to show things they are working on in their studio, to give news updates, or simply to post images and text that interests them. They can be good for maintaining an interest for people who have a casual interest in your work. Blogs also make lots of fresh content, which is loved by search engines. Overall, you should blog if you want to, as a creative outlet, or for its own sake. We can add a seamless inline blog to your site (which requires only one login, and keeps the search engine ‘juice’ on your main site, rather than elsewhere), or link you can link to an external one.
Newsletter email lists, and programs to help manage them, are perhaps the most established and reliable ways to keep a select list of interested parties up to date about your work. Emails are still the ‘gold standard’ of online media, as they reach people more intimately. There are a few options here. Many artists do it themselves by keeping a list of email addresses in word or Google Docs. We use Tiny Letter, which is a free and very simple website that folks can subscribe and unsubscribe to, and you can send emails from their website easily, too. You should join our newsletter service, for updates but also to see it in action. Other services (more expensive, but with more features) include MailChimp and the industry leader, Aweber.
Some people email galleries ‘cold’, which is often, but not always, a risky or fruitless move. Consider meeting relevant people first at industry relevant events, and starting some sort of interaction (no matter how small). Keep it authentic, and follow it up with a business card, and take note of any interesting ideas (not necessarily you related!) you may have left them to think about. It can be wise to follow up these sorts of interactions with some email contact, to keep you in their minds, and not merely a passing stranger. Being neither too pushy, nor too invisible (the twin poles that most artists usually sit in) will go a long way. Remember, directors and curators are busy, creative individuals too – compliment and note their work (if you mean it), and use subtle links to your site (as already mentioned). Beware of posting separate attachments or CDs, which rarely get opened.
Despite all of the above advice about being highly targeted, artists should still be aware of how search engines work. This is important in regard to images, and how (not just how high) their profile appears when ‘Googled’. Again, this information changes, so search for new information when you need it.
Just as with the all the information above, there is a spammy, commercial way to interact with search engines, and a subtle way. In all cases we recommend the latter.
The spammy way is usually trying to rank well for general, perhaps initially financially lucrative, terms (such as ‘Abstract paintings online’, or ‘landscape watercolors new york’. This has become quite an industry, and is now dominated by people at the razor’s edge between being banned from Google, and appearing first on it. If you want to follow this approach, be prepared to either find low-competition search terms ‘abstract painting Guam’!, or become an expert, and really work on this weekly. We can and have helped people find appropriate terms and set them up to do well in this, but this is generally beyond the scope of this article.
The second approach is to make sure that you appear first for image and text searches for your name, and that the information people see is the information that represents you best.
Google Main Search Results
Every Artist Website is built with a good SEO (search engine optimization) foundation, and your site should appear as the first (at least first few) search result(s) soon after starting to use it. If this is not the case, wait. Natural links from other sites towards you will fix things. However you should keep in mind that deliberately setting up links, by you, for unnatural reasons or at an unnatural frequency, can have you thrown out of Google altogether. Google is much smarter than you will be with any of this.
So, deliberately making links is not something you should be doing. Particularly as it is something that should happen by itself – with a good offline promotion strategy outlined above.
One of the best natural (ie. for a reason) links that are available to new sites is from this very site. We are both related to your industry, well respected, and rank well for relevant terms. This article gets linked to often, which leads to the link after this sentence, which leads Google to you. So, if you have not written an Artist Website testimonial, send us one via email. If it is useful in helping new people come on board we will add it, and it will be a solid and useful link back to your site.
This is the name for the small bit of black text that appears after your blue name and green web address in a Google result. Often it is just your name, and perhaps something about your location (‘Artist, New York’), or something descriptive to you (‘Artist specializing in Paintings, Drawings, and Prints’), or whatever suits you best.
The above is a screen shot of Tracy Emin’s Google snippet, taken when her site was still under construction. The snippet is automatically generated, as Google searches through (1) any special instructions put in by the web designer, to tell them what to put here, or if not (2) the first important bit of text they come across on your site. There is a maximum character limit (150 characters), which the above sentence runs over, meaning Tracey’s snippet is truncated with a ‘…’. (Tip to Tracey’s web designer: if it were smaller, it would look a touch more elegant.)
We have good success in changing auto-generated snippets, to ones of an artist’s choice. This is boutique activity (!), so speak to us if you would like to have this done for you.
Google Images is notoriously slow to find and update new images, in the past it has taken up to 6 or 12 months for Google to find some new images that might be on a website. This has been improving recently, but certainly still don’t expect instant results.
The best way to make sure your images get picked up by Google is to name them after the search you want them to appear in. Your-Name-Title.jpg is a good format, as the most fruitful search for you will be for people searching for your work. Others advise mentioning whatever search term you want to appear in within the text on your site near your image (your name will already be on every page, and likely in your domain name, so this is usually not necessary). You can add tags and ‘titles’ for images also, if you want to be fancy – again this is not usually required, and decreasing in importance and may soon hurt. Larger images are favored over smaller images by Google.
Keep in mind that often Google is happy to just show one image from each website for a particular search term – at least early on in a site’s development. So if you don’t get dozens of image results straight away, be patient. All of these things already in this article grow upon, and help support, each other.
Other Small But Important Things
Some other things that can help is that we can add in Search Engine plugins (to give you more control over how your site is indexed, and to improve performance), and a Site Map (so nothing is missed by Google). Generally you don’t need to add these to your site unless you have a problem.
There are some no-nos, too, that can cause blacklisting (or low results) from Google – make sure to avoid these at all costs. Don’t use swear or overly ‘commercial’ words (‘sale’ and ‘sold’ can be a negative), don’t have a lot of spam comments on your blog, don’t use text the same color as your background (has been used to try to trick Google in the past), don’t add fake keywords, or try to change results with paid, or self-initiated, links. Generally, the best advice has been put as ‘Don’t try to make Google look stupid’ – they can, and will, make you regret it (if not now, in the future, with an inevitable smarter algorithm update).
I hope that serves as a brief introduction. As always, we are available for hire on any of these things, if you need help – please try to book ahead of when you need things done by. Or, please leave any questions you might have about the different methods of getting traffic to your Artist Website below, and I will try to answer them as best I can.