Driving Traffic to your Art Portfolio

Driving Traffic to Your Art Portfolio
driving Traffic to your art portfolio SEO

Each week I write a new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. Recently we took a look at creating a portfolio website that showcases your art and this week we take a quick look at some of the things that you need to know about to drive visitor traffic to your site or online art store.
Creating an online presence is one thing but managing it, maintaining it, and then driving real people to your site is something else entirely. The old adage of build it and they will come just doesn’t apply to most websites, unless you include shredders in the frames of your artwork and your name is Banksy. 
When I started this website back in 2014 my average traffic for the first six-months was around four or five unique visitors each day, thankfully today there are many more. It takes a huge amount of effort to build up significant web traffic to any site and from experience, it can be a challenge to keep on top of everything that you need to remember to do. Websites are like children, you have to constantly feed them with content and you have to constantly check that they’re not misbehaving when playing on other people’s devices.
Then you have to figure out that whole Google thing, and then the Bing thing, and the list goes on. None of these things usually come naturally to artists, they are things we have to learn quickly if we want our work to be seen. This is the nub of the business of art for an independent creative.
And here sits another problem, being an independent creative takes so much precious time without having to go through the often steep learning curves of building and maintaining websites. Never underestimate just how needy a website can be.
I cut my teeth in the early days of the internet and ran a few reasonably successful websites, one about retro video games and a few I had been commissioned to create for others. Time passed and as the internet matured so did the need to keep up to date with everything that was being introduced and the constant need to keep skillsets updated. The way we build a website today is very different to how we once built websites. 
Today websites have to be optimised so that they display correctly on any device, when back in the days of my old retro gamer website the standard screen resolution was 800 x 600 pixels and that was essentially it.
I gave up creating websites for other people a couple of years ago in part because I just didn’t have the time and in part because today there are many ways to establish a good web presence without knowing too much about the coding skills one had to have back in the day. I know though that many artists want to go down the route of creating beautiful websites but there are options nowadays that can take much of the hassle away. 
I mentioned in a recent article about using services such as Adobe’s Portfolio and Google’s Blogger platform, and both really are viable alternatives that whilst they might make you site look a little more generic, they also take much of the headache and expense away so all you have to do is focus on generating traffic and creating good content. Yes there is a trade off in not having something bespoke but ultimately you need to decide on just how important having a web presence is, or how much you can afford. 
That’s not to say that picking an online web builder is all it takes, you still have the issue of getting people to visit your site, a skill that in itself means that you have to learn about things such as search engine optimisation or SEO as it is known by those in the know.
For clarity, and this is probably the most important thing that you definitely need to know, is that when anyone talks about search engine optimisation, what you learn about the subject today could be very different by tomorrow or even sooner.
Search engines are constantly changing the way they rank and index websites, and the algorithms used to decide what gets seen by who and when, are changed constantly too. That’s why so many SEO companies and consultants have sprung up over the past few years, SEO is an industry and an art in itself.
Not only that but there’s no way to know exactly when those changes will happen or what those changes will be. Algorithms used by all of the search engines are well-kept secrets and even the experts in search engine optimisation can only ever really make educated best guesses. Some SEO experts are better than others at making these best estimated guesses and those experts can be worth whatever they charge, but there are also some shady SEO practices that if used could see your site ranked even lower.
The minute you set up a website you will often see a flood of emails telling you that you could do better in search results if you hire whoever sent you the email. Many of these are sadly scams and my advice is that if you do want to take someone on to look after and refine your SEO strategy then always pick someone who has a good track record that can be checked, and who is reputable. 

freshen up your art portfolio website
You need to remember that SEO isn’t the only strategy of driving people to your website, it is important but so is great content. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore SEO entirely and you at least need to be aware of how it works and follow some basic principles when you are creating any content and publishing it online. A strategy to drive people to your site should also include quality content and the site needs to be optimised for a good user experience. Both of those elements are equally and arguably way more important than SEO alone. 
Think of your online portfolio or website as a department store. People might walk through the doors but if they have no clue where to find something they will either walk back out or they will bumble around and never find what they are looking for. If they walk in the door and just see a mis-mash of art that follows no particular theme and appears to be random, they’ll do the same then too. 
Setting up your website into categories will make navigation for the end user much easier and takes the random appearance away. Separating your sales and e-commerce from your gallery and any other content will mean that there is less chance of losing a sale because the link to the product is lost on some random page or hidden away in lengthy descriptions.  
Categorising and focussing on creating a better user experience where people can quickly find what they are looking for will also keep those people on your website for longer. The longer those people stick around the higher the chances are that they will convert into buyers, and if they enjoy the experience they may even come back time and time again. It’s not rocket science and there’s not really a dark art involved in getting people to stick around, it is purely about providing something useful, and making it as easy as possible to use or buy or read, in short you need to give them a reason to stay and not a reason to leave.
Making simple changes to your website or online store can make a huge difference in how frequently your work gets surfaced by the search engines. Separating your work into categories and naming your webpages consistently will help search engines to understand the relevancy of what you are offering, and this also helps people to find what you offer much more easily too. 
Algorithms and art…
Algorithms are something I have been working with for many years in both my day job and throughout my art career. Social media, search engines, the department store website search bars, all of these will have some type of algorithm working in the background to match what you are searching for to the content the website or service holds. Everything we as independent creatives rely on online is usually driven by some kind of algorithm. So about a year ago I started to carry out a little bit of totally unscientific research and retreated into my garden shed armed with a laptop, a pen and copious amounts of coffee.
What I have discovered over the past year more and more often is that my artwork titles seem to have been influencing the number of sales I have made. When I looked at my best selling works over the past year they all had a couple of things in common. One of the biggest things that each of the sold artworks had in common was that the titles of the artwork were not overly artsy. Instead of calling a painting something deep and reflective which I have done for many years, the ones that sold better had simpler titles. 
So my theory here is that the algorithms will be surfacing my work called for example “Mountain” much more than some of my other works depicting mountains because the title is easier for the algorithm and even people to understand. That’s not to say that people just don’t get the artsy and often deep titles that we give to our work, but they don’t necessarily get it from searching the internet.
Algorithms are not only found in the big search engines such as Google or Facebook and other platforms, they can be found under the hood of any web based search function and yes, if the light hasn’t immediately blinked on, that includes the search engines used by print on demand services too. FAA, Zazzle, Etsy, they all have very clever search functions and these are the functions that all too often get blamed for not surfacing an artist’s work. The problem though may not be with the search function at all. 
Each of my top ten bestselling works all had titles that described succinctly what the painting was about. The same titles perhaps that were being used to search for paintings depicting that particular subject. Coincidence? I think probably not. Often the artworks I sold more of offline had few hits online, and those are the artworks that had much longer and more reflective and arty titles that sometimes took me days to come up with.  
I wish I had known this sooner because I frequently spend hours coming up with clever titles for my artwork not realising at all that the title of the work might make a big difference in how it is found online. As much of my work is purchased online than offline it makes more sense for me to start rethinking how I title the work that I sell online, perhaps I had been way over-thinking what to name a piece of work or maybe I just hadn’t quite realised just how important the title is to the online market, and to the search engines and algorithms that are responsible for surfacing it. I think we can confirm that a title can make a huge difference to selling art.
Another thing I noticed was that even I was beginning to dislike website clutter. I have been playing around with this site for a few years trying to figure out the best layout for me to use, and I have been increasingly frustrated when I have stumbled on websites that haven’t been updated or don’t display well on my phone. 
There’s something else that will help you to keep everything in order and make your sites and stores easier to navigate and that is to create collections. Most of the stores on print on demand will allow you to create folders and collections, and this does make things easier for the buyer to find what they might be looking for. Once you start building up the numbers of artworks in your portfolio it can be confusing to the buyer if they are finding your typography works mixed in with your landscapes, and we know that in the art world consistency counts. 
Separating the work into styles, subjects, and categories will not only give the appearance of being more consistent, it will start to make more sense to the intelligence that is sitting within the search engine. A collection containing a style of art or a particular theme is likely to indicate a greater relevance to the search engines and the people searching for it. 
Another thing I have noticed over the past year or so of reflecting on my sales history is that whenever the collections have been titled with something that is more relevant to what those collections contain, they appear more often in searches which seems to have confirmed that this title theory isn’t just coincidence. The sales I have made have been mostly from these collections too.

support independent creatives and artists
Adding Tags…
One of the things I often hear from fellow artists and especially those just starting out on the path of online sales is that they really do struggle to get seen in search results. I’m sure there is often some bias on some services to drive traffic to the most popular products and the recently sold products and to artists who are known for their high volumes of sales, but I also don’t think that is really the barrier to being found. 
When I have been asked by friends to take a look at their products and try to figure out what’s wrong with their product pages there are usually a few things that are missing from the listings and these are crucial elements that all establish the relevancy of the work in the sites search function. 
Sometimes the artwork is tagged with the wrong tags, sometimes it isn’t tagged at all, and other times the description of the art hasn’t been completed or it has been completed with only a few words and certainly nowhere near enough for a search engine to be able to decide on whether or not that piece of artwork will be relevant in search results. 
Tags are one of the biggest reasons why search engines are not picking up the artwork. Often they bear no relevance to the artwork on display and whilst we don’t know exactly how every algorithm works or what it is looking out for, what we do know is that many of them especially on social media are looking out for relevancy, and we know for certain that they are also looking for tags that have just been populated to encourage people to click on the link. We have seen the news in recent months about click-bait posts and the wow factor when there is nothing to be wowed about and usually this is around headlines and tags used to describe what’s in the article or post.
This is a practice known as keyword stuffing and what we definitely know about algorithms is that they hate keyword stuffing with a passion and will down-rank the relevancy of the post/article or target website destination. It’s a bit like getting yourself on the no fly list. When this happens the post/article/painting won’t get surfaced anywhere near as often as another post/article that hasn’t been stuffed with tempting keywords that bear little or no relevancy to the content.
Finding relevant keywords to describe your art is often left to the very last minute, usually just before you click on the upload or post now button.  Keywords, metadata, tags, they all essentially mean the same thing but instead of thinking of them as something more complicated, think of them as invitations to clients to buy your work. 
Whenever I search for abstract art I know that if I just include abstract art into Google I will get what Google thinks is relevant based on any cookies I have cached on my computer or phone or other device, any previous searches I have made, and also what it thinks is most relevant based on a range of information that it already knows about me. I can repeat the search and will usually end up with roughly similar results.
But when I start to use terms like abstract art prints, or red abstract art prints, the results take a different path. So consider mixing your tags up a little bit and use phrases that will describe exactly what your work is. I might get millions of results for abstract art, and fewer results for red abstract art prints, but the latter will display much more relevant results. As a buyer I would be much closer to finding the red abstract artwork I had been looking for than if I had entered something that is more generic. 
You might also want to consider making sure that the title that you give your work also appears in the tags list. Tags are something most of us will be familiar with and if you are anything like me, thinking of tags and titles is my least favourite part of the artistic process. I often left creating tags until the very last second and never really thought them through very well, but they aren’t cast in stone. 
It is within your gift to go back to your works on the print on demand sites and your websites and change those tags you created years ago and make them more relevant to what people might be searching for today. This might be a real issue when you have a large portfolio but just changing the tags on a couple of works each day could give those works a totally new audience. 
Optimise your website…
Whilst we don’t really know for sure what the algorithms are looking for we do know some things about what they will definitely be looking out for. We know that having responsive webpages is favoured by the search engines so that the pages will display just as well on a smartphone as they will on a desktop computer. If you do have your own site then consider using responsive theme templates which have been specifically designed to adapt the page to whatever device it is viewed on from a single web address. For an example check out this site on your phone and then on a computer and you will notice that you will get a mobile view and a desktop view. The page decides which version you get when it works out what device is being used to view the content.
We also know that page loading speeds are an issue especially when your connection is poor or you have very low download speeds to the internet. So optimising pages to load quickly is also something that is worth spending a fair bit of time on. 
Art sites are visual by their very nature but the problem with images is that they tend to be large files which take longer to download. When you start adding an entire collection of art to a page the loading times exponentially increase with every new image. 
There are some simple things you can do to prevent this. Firstly try to limit the number of images on each page and then create more pages, or make the image file sizes much smaller. There is a downside with this in that when you are showcasing your art you want people to be able to appreciate the beauty, and when you start compressing file sizes the images start to degrade in quality. The upside is that lowering the resolution will put most people off trying to just grab a copy by copy and paste or by right clicking. 
Photoshop is the best tool that you can have when it comes to placing images on your website and it also has the ability to save an image for use on the web. Play around with the quality settings and try to find a good balance between file size and image quality and don’t forget to add some of the essential metadata to your images such as a title and alt text which means that the image itself will also be indexed by the search engine. You can use Photoshop to do this too. 
User generated content…
Whether it is allowing comments or allowing users to be able have some other presence on your site, perhaps even guest posts will also rank you higher and certainly in the engagement stakes. Engagement is one of the most important if not the single most important metric on social media and it is the same story anywhere else online too.
User generated content is great and it can also help drive traffic to your site from those users who are engaged with your site by them sharing the link online too. If every artist supported another artist even periodically and then returning the favour down the line, many artist websites would see a huge upsurge in traffic. Whilst many of those visitors might not buy anything, it’s the upsurge in traffic that the algorithms will see and they will start to prioritise your site as being more relevant and then you might eventually start to reach the buyers.
It’s not just the sharing of sites that will increase traffic, but submitting sites for inclusion on other sites will provide the benefit of back links. Again, we know that these are important when it comes to how the algorithms work, but bear in mind that it’s not the done thing just to hijack someone else’s site and splatter your links across their sites comments sections or forums without permission.
You can also search for directories that will include your site in their listings, and there are a number of decent directories available online. Unfortunately there are also a number of sites promising a great deal but delivering very little and usually for a subscription fee. When it comes to submitting your websites and portfolios to these services it pays to first do your homework and check out what is being said about the service online.
On the subject of slightly questionable services, there are also a lot of so called SEO experts who will make promises that they can never meet. You need to be wary of some of these who will gain some insight about your social media account, tell you that it’s a great account but with a wave of their magic wand they will be able to up your subscriber or follower numbers and produce a strategy to make your presence rank more highly and for your account to become more relevant. I never engage with these, if I need those services I will carry out some of my own research and approach them. There are too many sharks in this particular tank to hand good money over to. Again if you want to hire someone to carry out this type of service, make sure that it is you who approaches them and only do this after you have done your homework.
Keep everything tidy and understand the end user…
Checking your site as a user occasionally is a great idea. Make sure that every external and internal link still works and update them if necessary. Keep the layout simple and not overly complicated and pay attention to how people navigate. 
Using analytics tools will give you an idea of where people jump off to from your site and most analytics platforms such as Google Analytics will give you a much broader picture of what is happening overall, where people live, the times of day when your site is more active and lots of other useful information. 
The learning curve for analytics can be quite steep especially if you are new to the world of SEO and web design, so take a look at the huge number of resources that services such as Google Analytics provide. 
Google Analytics Academy is a great place to start and you can find the site right here.  
This is the official analytics training from Google themselves so the information is as close as you will get to knowing how Google rank sites. There’s also a useful Google Analytics channel on YouTube too which is again provided by Google and you can find out more right here.  
At one time the phrase keyword stuffing was being heralded as the best way to generate more traffic. Things have moved on a lot since then and the algorithms used today are much smarter at detecting where keywords have been stuffed into a page to make it appear to be relevant to the search engine.
Today SEO isn’t quite so focussed on just inserting search terms into your content, instead it’s about creating quality content that people find useful together with focussed keywords and phrases that retain the context of the text and content written.
There’s also more of an emphasis on trust and security with Google actively down ranking non-https sites. With the dawn of fake news making the real news there’s also some scrutiny in terms of ensuring that what’s on your site can be trusted. 

seo engagement is the only metric that matters
Why is all of this so important?
My focus for this site has always been to rank great content over SEO and that probably resulted in me missing out on massive volumes of traffic initially but I think in the future it will be a strategy that pays dividends. That’s not to say I have never really focussed on SEO, I always have but it has never come at the expense of relevancy within the content I write or at least that’s what I strive for. 
Today though I am focussed on SEO because of the new quality metrics that we starting to see appear within algorithms, and I am constantly trying to come up with ways of making everything a lot more relevant both on this site its sister site and in my online stores. 
Whether that is rearranging artwork into folders or collections or optimising images so that they load faster, there is always a way that you can start to increase visitor numbers to both your websites and your online stores and portfolios and even to your social media presence. 
Great quality content and giving people what they want are the two key takeaways when thinking about improving your website traffic. Neither of these are easy and for some reason it always seems to be much more difficult with art websites, probably because there are so many of them and you need to really stand out if you want to attract new traffic. Back when I ran my old retro computer website the traffic was constantly in the tens of thousands of hits each week and I had no clue at all about SEO back then. But what I did learn was that great content has always been pivotal in driving traffic.
And there’s another reason why SEO and quality content along with ease of use are so very important and that is because there really is no point in having a website that you spend hours and hours building and creating if no one can find it or no one sticks around on for longer than a few seconds. You absolutely need a hook, and then you need great content that reels people in. 
Having a web presence as I have said many times before is not just a nice to have anymore, it is absolutely essential especially for independent creatives. That web presence needs to be more than just social media if you want to build up engagement and get people to trust you enough to convince them that you and your art are worth their time and money. Art is a long-game and it has never been any different, and so are the websites we build to support our creativity. 
Setting up a website doesn’t have to be massively difficult, there are plenty of resources online that will help you but it’s worth considering whether a professionally built website might be worth its weight in gold when it comes to ensuring it is optimised for SEO. Whilst there will always be a cost associated with doing that, there’s also a cost associated with not being seen and not selling art too.
There are simple things you can do with your online stores such as making sure everything is completed on your profile and that your store is clutter free, and many of the print on demand sites give you the tools to help you with the marketing. They know what works better than anyone so have some faith in what they give you and know that spending time on this stuff now will mean that those search engines can get to work much faster and people will eventually get to find you.
I am going to do my bit too for independent creatives on the lead up to Christmas. This year I will be picking out artists on FAA and leaving supportive comments, I will be sharing the work of other artists on my Facebook page, and I will be leaving a comment or an emoji or just something that triggers the next round of post surfacing on Facebook. If we all did this for one or two independent creatives and we start to work together then that too will be a gift to those who want to raise their traffic.
About Mark…
I am an artist and a blogger, and I have a passion for the work of independent creatives. My work is sold right here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com 
You can check out my brand new portfolio website right here: https://beechhousemedia.com and you can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest right here.
If you would like to support the ongoing mission of this website or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can make a donation right here.
If there is a subject that you would like me to cover then please get in touch or leave a comment below!


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