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.
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.
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.
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