Promoting / Marketing Art on the Web

Jan 10th

SEO Question: How do I promote my art site via SEO and search? I want to drive traffic to my site from Google.

SEO Answer: I have been asked this question in various formats more times than I can count.

How I would Have Marketed Art Years Ago:
A few years ago when I was far greener to marketing I would say get links with the anchor text you want to rank for. Make sure those words are also in your page title and page content. Then mix in a few quality links by submitting to the Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ, and vertical authority sites that are related to your field.

My very first SEO client was an artist by the name of Gregory Christeas who was also a photographer. A couple years ago I used very low level uber spammy techniques and his site started ranking in most of the search engines for "headshots" within a month. I charged him maybe $100 or so and then within a month he had already got a lead that gave him thousands of dollars in profit. He is the one who sorta made me become an SEO...although I sold no services at the time he was demanding that I helped him and so I did. I still thank him to this day for that. SEO has probably got a bit more complex since then, but I digress...

A couple years ago he moved overseas to Greece, his native land. Before he moved I had the chance to meet him and he is probably one of the top 5 most spiritual people I have ever met. He still has an art site. Years ago he used some of my low level SEO techniques I used on his art site and now he ranks at #3 in Google for abstract artist, but the site looks like dog crap compared to how amazing his artwork is. In fact, I think it makes his art look far worse to be on a site that looks like I designed it.

Mindshare is Key to Promoting Abstract Ideas:
Some of my friends think Paris Hilton is really ugly from top to bottom from the inside out. But she gets lots of search volume because she has mindshare and media coverage. Many people think she is this or that because they are told what to think of her and given enough repetition they start to believe it. I guess the theory I am saying here is that if enough people tell you something falls into a certain frame set or category then eventually many people will believe it.

What is beauty? The more abstract an idea is the more inclined we will be to rely on others inputs to formulate our own opinions.

Commodity Artwork:
Now if a person is searching for Pablo Picaso prints, in spite of him being an amazing artist, that is a bit of a commodity and maybe that is a good thing to optimize for since there is low commitment in products with low cost.

Somethings do not make sense to push algorithmically, and some leads have very little value. I don't think SEO is a real solution for most live artists. SEO doesn't really get too many people talking about you.

Artwork from an Amazing Live Artist is Not a Commodity:
Take for example my friend Gregory Christeas. He hid out on the streets of France while in exile from Greece. While living as a street bum / artist without a home he made art out of whatever he could find...coffee grinds, aluminum foil, whatever. His site looks piece meal at best, yet if you hunted about you could find the story about how he met Pablo Picaso.

About two years ago I tried putting his art in a database and tried moving him to become a blogger before I even knew anything about blogging. I don't think I sold him a convincing story though because I didn't really know anything about blogging at that point. Eventually though I would love to work with Gregory to help him do better web marketing because he is a great guy and his art work is amazing. Or maybe I think it is better than it really is because I feel I know, trust, and like him?

It's all about Feelings:
And I am not saying that I am one of those asshats who thinks that blogs will save the world or whatever. What I am saying is that story telling matters. Giving people a reason to come back and learn more about you and get to know you matters. Letting people feel they can know you and trust you and know what your motives are is really just about the cheapest for of marketing you can come across.

In the same way that SEO as a standalone bolt on product has largely died and is dying I think walls blocking off distribution to artwork will prevent many artists from succeeding.

Being Different:
At a place in SOHO I saw the expression on my artist friend Gregory's face when he saw this literally hairy pink and lime green pokedotted striped piece of artwork on the wall. He was pissed at the idea of art teachers telling people to be provacitive without reason.

We are all different, and if we express who we are in what we do that will only work to our advantage. But people run into issues if they try to be different just for the sake of trying to be different.

Create Connections & Tell Stories:
If you can find ways to make people talk about you then you win. The more levels you can connect with fans on the greater you will win.

The Importance of Conversation:
While search engines seem to be pushing many content production models to the lowest common denominator I believe they are pushing artists to become story tellers.

As Cory Doctorow recently posted:

Today there's the explosion of choice brought on by the Internet. All entertainments are approximately one click away. The search-cost of finding another artist whose music or books or movies are as interesting as yours is dropping through the floor, thanks to recommendation systems, search engines, and innumerable fan-recommendation sites like blogs and MySpaces. Your virtuosity is matched by someone else's, somewhere, and if you're to compete successfully with her, you need something more than charisma and virtuosity.

You need conversation. In practically every field of artistic endeavor, we see success stories grounded in artists who engage in some form of conversation with their audience. JMS kept Babylon 5 alive by hanging out on fan newsgroups. Neil Gaiman's blog is built almost entirely on conversing simultaneously with thousands of readers. All the indie bands who've found success on the Internet through their message-boards and mailing lists, all the independent documentarians like Jason Scott, comics authors like Warren Ellis with his LiveJournal, blog, mailing list, etc.

So how would I recommend marketing art?

  • Research to see what others have done to become successful using the internet. Maybe don't copy them, but consider how their ideas have spread.

  • Make sure your site design and format sells the same story you want the content to.
  • Don't be afraid to mess up. Many of my past posts are garbage. Many of my future posts will be as well.
  • Don't try to connect with everyone. The world is a big place. If you try to be interesting to everyone then you will be interesting to nobody.
  • Don't be afraid if sometimes people take things the wrong way or derive an alternate meaning. If people can't get multiple meanings from something how can it be good art?
  • Make sure you give people reasons to talk about you regularly.
  • Don't be afraid to be opinionated. Isn't art just an open expression of opinions and interpretations anyway?
  • Give stuff away. If people really want it they will find a way to access it. Piracy is a form of progressive taxation. Further consumption of your artwork is just going to lead to further consumption.
  • Give stuff away. Many artists have made their names by being the first or only person in their field to give stuff away in the format that they give it away. Helping others makes it easier to feel good about the day. Also imagine what type of great marketing it is for a person or a brand to donate to Amnesty International or other cool charities.
  • Go where the conversations are on and off the web. If I were an indie rock musician I would try to find a way to get to Coachella.
  • If I were any type of artist I would probably go to Burning Man.
  • If you want to try to also use search for marketing think laterally. Connect yourself with important ideas and ideas which matter to people you would like to appeal with.
  • Probably more stuff, but I don't yet know lots about art and it is early in the morning.

Disclaimer: I have not an artistic bone in my body and I may be full of crap, but I believe the stuff in this post. ;)

Update: Shepard Fairey explained how he marketed the famous Obama poster.

Published: January 10, 2006

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Comments

Dark Matter
January 10, 2006 - 6:01pm

It is very difficult to do seo for an artist unless you inhabit a very specific or unique niche. As someone who has helped to promote artists online, I am of the opinion that SEO is usually very difficult to do for an artist site.

I would make the suggestion that an artists website is one place where design and aesthetic appeal are the most important aspects. Graphic design and SEO have always had a rocky relationship, but in this case design is more important. Do such seo as you can, but people need to be impressed with your creativity not your seo skills.

Once you have a cool website that captures your individual artistic style, you should look around on the web for sites that feature new/up and coming artists. I myself ran a webzine that patially dealt with art. I started off by interviewing some of my artist friends for the site, and after a while I began to get solicitations from some fairly well known artists requesting to be interviewed for the site.

I conducted these interviews via email. There was one interview I published with a fairly well known surreal photographer which afterwards ranked #1 in google for the photog's name. After that, I received a steady stream of emails from artists of all sorts looking for interviews. This was great...these were really GOOD artists soliciting ME to be in my crappy little webzine.

I did some research and found that almost all of the artists who had solicited me had interviews on many different sites, some of which were large authority sites, some of which were dinky little zines and blogs. They were also on every forum/message board/community site you can think of including deviantart and myspace.

I have kept in touch with some of the people I interviewed (though I have since abandoned my webzine) and they have told me that the interviews actually send them a fair number of referrals and had helped them sell some pieces and find many new fans.

This post is going on far longer than I expected so I'm going to sum up with my suggestions for artists trying to promote themselves on the web:

1. create a website that captures the essence of your work/style. seo is not to be ignored but should not come at the expense of aethetic appeal.

2. solicit interviews or artist profiles on websites big and small. the people that read these sites are the people you want at your site.

3. be active in as many online communities as possible such as deviantart, flickr, myspace. A friend of mine who is a portrait artist for the wall street journal got an interview on NPR (radio) through come cnnection on flickr. Since then her site traffic and income has skyrocketed.

As an aside, I reccomend using robots.txt to block all image searches, such as GIS, since this will significantly decrease the amount of people stealing your artwork and using it on their own sites.

lol I think this is my longest post ever anywhere!
BTW Aaron I have bought the book and read it several times, thank you for being so generous with your knowledge...peace we outta here

January 10, 2006 - 6:08pm

Wow, great comment (probably far better than the original post)!

the only thing I may conditionally disagree with is:

>I reccomend using robots.txt to block all image searches, such as GIS, since this will significantly decrease the amount of people stealing your artwork and using it on their own sites.

In most cases I do not think those buying expensive art and those stealing copies overlap. In fact I think those stealing it or copying it or whatever may in some cases provide great free marketing for the artists who sell art.

>lol I think this is my longest post ever anywhere!

well it no doubt kicked ass :)

>BTW Aaron I have bought the book and read it several times, thank you for being so generous with your knowledge...peace we outta here

the same to you man...thanks for the great comment

January 11, 2006 - 9:58pm

Great stuff

January 15, 2006 - 7:57pm

Great post. I have got to get back to blogging this year ...you are right on target about letting people know you. I'm an artist and business woman ... the only thing I would add is spend time in the real world directing people to your site. Plaster your domain on everything you can in the physical world... postcards, bumperstickers, ads in local or national magazines, good looking full color business cards are a must. Thanks for the great post.

October 21, 2007 - 12:55pm

I had a boring site called property for sale in france with good SERPS and then I did this because my friend said - "why not tell people your story renovating a property in south west france

The point of my reply is that it is actually true what you say about mind share and telling stories. Although probably temporary, my trafic doubled in one month by adding these 5 pages or so. The reason - I gave the customer what they wanted and not what I wished to sell them.

September 27, 2007 - 5:10pm

I certainly dont think you are full of crap, you have some great ideas in there, I am doing quite well with my SERPS, but if you ever fancy helping out another emerging artist, feel free to shoot me an email :)

Regards

Kathryn.
mazoo.co.uk

May 23, 2008 - 8:21pm

Wonderful post, thanks so much Aaron.

A lot to think about and consider.

Ditto to Kathryn's comment above!

boshart.co.uk

June 30, 2008 - 1:05pm

Aaron, I have been reading alot of your posts on this site and hope to buy the seo book. I have found everything I have read such a great help and inspiration. Seo is the hardest thing if you have no idea about it. So thanks for the useful info.

Michelle
art2arts.co.uk

August 16, 2008 - 2:48am

Thanks for this article which has given us a lot to think about and backed up some of our thoughts. We found that the best results we had was with a travel website. We did a small charity project which was not intended to be a marketing ploy. Several local newspapers picked up on this and this brought in direct visitors to the site, as well as a substantial number of links to the site. We intend to utilize the same techniques with our art websites.

Edward

October 15, 2008 - 10:07am

Aaron as an artist I only dedicate myself to painting. SEO is something that I usually leave to those who know what they're doing. However I recently started to read some of your posts and suddenly have found a great interest and how I could benefit knowing simply what the hell goes on with seo and marketing art online. If you have balls you would paint naked in front of Trafalgar square to draw attention in which would hopfully attract popularity lol. Ok maybe thats a little over the top. Good stuff though look forward to investing in your SEO Book soon.

Fabrizio Van Marciano
vanmarcianoart.co.uk

May 4, 2009 - 2:28pm

Interesting posts from everyone.
My main question, is whether the computer screen EVER does justice to art.
I have had so many occasions where customers have been surprised ( the right way !) , when recieving their art...that they say it looks even better in the flesh.
I see alot of bad art websites, where a customer has little or no means of telling how good the finished work is.
we are currently focussing on people using their own photo's to creat art.
At least that way..they ought to know what the real thing looks like in the flesh !

Jack
wallfillers.com

July 25, 2010 - 7:28pm

Hi folks,

The term ''better to be a big fish in a small pond, than a small fish in a big pond'' is quite relevant with art websites I think. For instance if you paint landscapes then it's not going to work putting 'landscape paintings' in your titles and all over your site hoping that'll do it. The world has a million landscape artists trying to sell their paintings online right! ...but if you live in, say, Cornwall and you're a landscape artist... and you put 'landscape paintings of Cornwall' or 'Cornish landscape paintings' in your titles then that's just cut out 95% of the competition... making your pond much smaller. Then you can go even smaller and put in something like 'landscape paintings of Redruth and west Cornwall' ...and the pond is positively drying up. So basically being a little more specific and localizing you site can help you get noticed.

The other thing I notice about a lot of art websites is that the owner/artist has gone for a rather funky ( sometimes not so funky ) sounding name for their site. For example 'funky melon art' ( I just made that up, but you get the idea ) they then put that at the top of their home page, in their title tags, description tags e.t.c thinking that it's catchy, it'll look good on their business cards and people will sure remember it. Well no.. they wont... because they'll never get found unless someone searches for melons that are funky :-\
So if your site is about landscape paintings of Cornwall... then call it 'Landscape painting of Cornwall' or 'Cornish art' or 'Painting of west Cornwall' or whatever.

You can always put the funky melon bit somewhere on your site, but don't put it in the important bits like in your title, description, page headers and such. Or at least only put it on the end somewhere.

Just a few thoughts :-)

Chris

chrischalkart.com

July 26, 2010 - 3:29pm

Welcome to the site Chris :D

Seems like you have a strong SEO foundation. :)

August 14, 2010 - 6:54pm

Thanks for the welcome Aaron :-)

My SEO knowledge is trial and error stuff really, that and understanding just a few basics.

Keep up the good work!

February 23, 2011 - 12:49pm

Hi Aaron. Thanks for yet another great article. Art is such an 'ethereal' topic, that it's good to get such useful and practical advie.

I have used some of techniques you have mentioned including article marketing. However the key message I get from the article (and comments) is to encourage trust and tell the story. We have some great stories to tell and will make much better use of blogging in the future.

Thanks again,

Rob
artgalleriesdirect.com

January 8, 2012 - 4:42pm

Just read this article. Still relevant even though it's 6 years old.

Well done and thanks!

Coloursoup
coloursoup.com

July 9, 2012 - 5:49pm

I think the same principle here applies as it does for any business - don't just limit yourselves to online marketing. Get out there and be seen as well. I know a client of ours - Primrose Gallery ( primrosegallery.co.uk/ ) does exhibitions for artists, which gets the artist known in the local area and is publicised by the Gallery, so it's effectively extra, 'free' advertising that you can couple with your own efforts. This prevents the 'eggs in one basket' syndrome and is likely to get extra interest from referrals and website visitors from people you gave leaflets, business cards or sold artwork to on the day!

August 13, 2012 - 5:56pm

Was just researching for a follow up to a blog we wrote a while back on algorithms in art - artpistol.co.uk/news/firing-blanks. Can you ever see a day when the perfect keyword, talking very long tail here, will retrieve the perfect piece of art? Guess what I'm getting at is will good art always need good SEO online?

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