About a week after I started my site overhaul, I realized I hadn’t Googled my site in a while. I did a search for “Whiteroses Art” (the search term most often used to find my site). The results were horribly disappointing. Google didn’t even have my site anywhere on the first page of results. Oddly, the first result was for my DeviantArt.com profile – which I hadn’t updated since 2011! Bing wasn’t much better but at least my site was at the bottom of the first page. If a potential client searches for me, I am doomed.
Clearly I had a ranking problem, and one part of that problem is called SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It governs where your site ranks in search engine results for any given search. The other part of my problem was content, or lack thereof technically.
What is SEO & Why Do We Need To Care About It?
Let me give a brief overview of SEO before I dive into how I’m solving my problems.
Being married to a security expert, I’ve heard many a lecture on how SEO was “total bullshit.” A former Google employee has said basically the same thing in various interviews. BUT, I watch a lot of Shark Tank and entrepreneurs on that show talk about how they are driving massive traffic to their site only with SEO. How could they both be right?
It turns out they both are right. SEO is bullshit but it’s still important bullshit. The SEO naysayers will tell you the problem is that SEO rankings are easily manipulated (given enough money). Search engines are well aware that they are being scammed. It’s always been something of an internet arms race. One side is always trying to outsmart the other. What’s a small artist website to do to get good search results?
The afore-mentioned Google employee said that Google wants people to create websites with good, meaningful content because that’s what’s going to help raise their rankings. As artists, we have lots of content outside of just images (even if you don’t realize it yet). That doesn’t mean you can ignore SEO though. It just means, at least for the moment, things are getting a bit easier for those of us who play by the rules.
Dear Search Engines: I Exist!!
The first part of my journey to tackle the problem of my miserable search engine rankings, was to let all the search engines know I exist (again). I resubmitted to all the search engines (more or less): Bing, Google, Yahoo, & Alexa (whom I’ve never heard of). It’s a very simple process where you submit your URL and, in turn, the search engine gives you a bit of code to insert into your website. That’s how they verify the site and that you are the owner. In WordPress, you just insert the code into the fields provided & it’s automagically done for you. (note: ‘automagically’ is apparently an actual word now).
Now the search engines know I exist so they can start indexing my site. Basically they have bits of code that read every page on my site trying to figure out what’s on it. That’s just one step in the process and by itself it doesn’t do much. That takes me to the next step.
SEO for Artists: Content Is King!
My previous site had a lot of pictures but very little text. It had very few pages overall, maybe a dozen or so. That doesn’t give search engines a lot to go on. This is a common problem for artists. We’re often told that we should focus on our images with as little text as possible. “Your art should speak for itself,” art experts like to say. Thankfully I have less-than-zero desire to be a gallery artist (because I studied the money side of the art world). Those ‘experts’ don’t care how many people see your site, they only care that the “right” people (rich, well-known collectors) see your site. My interest is in selling art – to anyone who wishes to own it, rich, poor, or somewhere in between. Therefore I need people to see my art and for that, I needed more than just pictures of my work.
If you actually want to sell art, you need text. If you’re like me, I really couldn’t think of what I could possible write. When I started the overhaul, I had no plans to blog, nor could imagine what I could blog about (ha!) so what possible content could I add to the site?. The answer to my dilemma was found in a huge art event called Artomatic that ended in December 2015. I do the show every time it’s held but this time I volunteered to do mini interviews with the artists. One question stood out as a problem for many artists, myself included (& I chose the questions!): tell the story of one of the pieces you have on display. What story???
I don’t do concept art. My art doesn’t convey messages, push agendas, or espouse a philosophy. It’s just meant to look nice on your wall. So how was I supposed to tell the story of one of my pieces when none of them have one? Then I realized something important:
Every piece of art has a story - the story of its creation!
That small epiphany has caused my site to grow exponentially! Instead of display just a picture with only the title, year, size, & medium, each piece now has a story (or soon will). People don’t have to leave comments in guest books asking what the inspiration for a piece was, or how it was made, or where I got a material. Now they can come to my website and read all about how every piece was created, its inspiration, the techniques used, and/or where I got the materials.
Writing the stories is time-consuming. I’m not even close to half way done yet. But, that content serves an important purpose. It’s the “meaningful content” that Google is now looking for when it indexes a website. All that new content will help in getting my website to rank properly in web searches.
But the content isn’t the end all be all. SEO still needs to be done.
My Approach to SEO
My site is created in WordPress, which has an awesome, and free plugin for SEO from a company called Yoast. This little plugin puts a little box at the bottom of every single page on my website when I am editing or creating it. It tells me EXACTLY what I need to do to boost my SEO rankings, like setting a ‘focus keyword’ and having at least 300 words of text on a page. At least 300 words of text. Hmm, good thing I decided to write the story of every piece of art!
As you can see in the image above, merely putting text on a page isn’t enough for SEO. There’s a lot more to it than just that. It provides that nice list which constantly changes as you type. When something appears in green, you’ve successfully completed that part of the SEO page ranking. Orange means you need really consider making the suggested change. Red means you really should do what it says. Clearly I ignored that twice, and for good reason. The theme I’m currently using, called Twenty Sixteen, does a few things that Yoast is unaware of (they are theme specific). For instance, my theme automatically turns the page title into headline, but only after the page is published. This technically satisfies Yoast’s suggestion to put my keyword in a ‘H2’ tag (a headline, size 2) but that dot will always be red in the editor view. Turns out, that’s not a big deal.
The good news is that I can have those two red dots and still have an overall green light for the page’s SEO rankings. In the picture showing the Yoast plugin, in the upper left corner you’ll see a small image that looks like a stoplight. That’s the overall SEO rating for the page. You can see that the page has a green light even with the red dots. As long as that image has a green light, you’re good.
If you look closer at the image, you’ll see that Yoast provides a lot of feedback. The tool is absolutely invaluable. If you don’t use WordPress, I’m pretty sure you can still use the service directly from the Yoast website. I’ve never done it so I couldn’t tell you anything about it.
Why “Art” Can’t Be Your Focus Keyword On Every Page
Focus keywords are search terms. They are what a user types in to a search engine. Each page needs a unique keyword (there are exceptions but it’s complicated) so you maximize people’s ability to find you.
Using “art” as a keyword is not a good idea. Go ahead and Google “art.” Did you that the first page of results doesn’t turn up a single individual artist’s website? You will never hit the top search page for “art.” It’s too general of a term and too many other sites already have their positions locked. Is that bad for artists? Nope.
The focus keyword for the main page of my site, the home page, is “WhiteRoses Art.” Your home page’s keyword should be set to whatever your page is called. Each page should be named appropriately for the content that is actually on the page. The keywords for my gallery pages are “Clay Art,” “Steampunk Art,” etc. To be honest, those probably aren’t the best choices since they are very broad terms, like ‘art,’ and the likelihood I will ever rank highly is minimal. However if you Google “WhiteRoses Clay Art,” this site is the second listing – my DeviantArt profile is, at the moment, still first.
SEO is important but you can’t get so carried away in ‘optimizing’ for it that it turns your website into a horrible mess. Over-doing SEO can also cause Google to drop your rankings. This may sound scary and complicated but Yoast constantly updates its website and WordPress plugin to help you avoid the wrath of Google.
Even though your art will always be the centerpiece of your site will always be your art. However, writing about your art is extremely important if you want people to find you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good writer or not. It doesn’t matter if you have a compelling story for every piece. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads what you write. What matters is that you write, and write on every page of your site, because Google will read it.
Lastly, SEO is a complicated subject and I can only do it so much justice in a small article. I highly recommend going to Yoast’s Website. It has a ton of completely free information not only about SEO but on nearly everything you need to know about running a successful website (regardless of the subject).