Artist Websites 101: Why Artists Should Avoid JavaScript and Flash Websites

Published Feb. 19th 2008


While I was looking back over my SEO for Artists series, I realized there was another article I needed to add to the mix. Everything I’ve written so far discusses how to optimize your portfolio website or art blog for the search engines, but they’re based on the assumption that you’re using a certain type of website in the first place.

You see, there are several different ways to code—or build—a website, and some online portfolio sites are built in such a way that they’re NOT suitable for search engine optimization at all. (More on search engine optimization here.)

To put it simply, if you want lots of people to find your website via Google, Yahoo, and other major search engines, there are a few types of portfolio sites that you need to stay away from. Naturally I can’t guarantee that any portfolio website will bring in droves of traffic—try starting an art blog for that—but today’s article is meant to at least give you a heads up on the subject.

The three main types of websites you’ll come across are HTML artist websites, JavaScript artist websites, and Flash artist websites. Let me just tell you right off the bat that what you WANT is a plain HTML site. . . but keep reading, because I’m going to quickly explain each type of artist website and why it makes such a big difference to the search engines.

HTML artist websites:

HTML is the most basic type of programming online. It stands for HyperText Markup Language, and there are millions of HTML websites online today. It’s a simple programming language but a lot can be done with it—and it also plays nice with supporting programming languages like PHP and ASP.

(Don’t worry about those, I just mention them because I use HTML and PHP together on EmptyEasel, yet it’s still essentially an HTML website.)

Now the reason why you want an HTML website for your artwork is because Google and the other search engines can read HTML very well. They’re used to this type of code more than any other, and they’ll almost never have a problem adding websites based on HTML into their search results.

There are several online portfolio services that use HTML. For instance, foliotwist.com (the company I co-founded in April of 2009) provides artist websites written in HTML and PHP that are specifically designed to be easy for search engines to read.

Another service that uses HTML is Fine Art Studio Online (or FASO for short).

Take a look at any of their sites and notice how the web address at the top of your browser changes as you navigate from page to page within the site.You’ll probably also see an HTML address of where you’re headed appear at the bottom of your browser when you hover your mouse over any links on the page.

These are both signs of an HTML site.

And in case you’re wondering, I believe FASO uses ASP as a supporting language along with the HTML, in the same way that we use PHP at foliotwist.

OK, so now that you know what types of websites are good, here are two that aren’t.

JavaScript artist websites:

JavaScript is another programming language that just happens to be harder for the search engines to figure out. Many HTML websites use little bits of JavaScript here and there, which is fine—EmptyEasel uses one or two lines of JavaScript—but when a website is based entirely (or mostly) on JavaScript, it starts to cause problems.

If you hover your mouse over a link and the HTML address doesn’t appear at the bottom of your browser, that’s probably a JavaScript link. If all the links on a website are JavaScript. . . well, search engines just won’t be able to navigate it as easily.

To be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of this lately, but maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. I always hover my mouse over the links in drop-down menus though, just to make sure, because that’s one place that JavaScript links are likely to show up.

Flash artist websites:

The worst when it comes to search engines, Flash websites are a lot like interactive movies. They take a few seconds to load and usually look fantastic with lots of graphics and “flashy” effects. The problem? Search engines can’t read them at all.

Unfortunately, many companies that provide Flash websites for artists claim they work just as well with the search engines as HTML sites. . . but it’s simply not true. When you’re on a Flash website, the web address at the top of your browser will stay the same no matter where you click or what “page” it looks like you’re on.

That means the search engines really only see ONE page, total—and since the page is in Flash, they won’t know what’s going on inside of it either.

So before you put a lot of money into an online portfolio, check to make sure it’s going to function like you want it to. Of course, if you’re not interested in getting visitors from the search engines (maybe you’re already famous, or you just want to have a really good looking site) then you might prefer a Flash or JavaScript website.

For myself, I’d rather not burn any bridges that I don’t have to—and that means having a website that works with, not against, the search engines.

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