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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Paid Advertising: Which is Best for Artists?

I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating—if your goal is to sell art through the internet, putting it online is just the first step.

The second step is getting people to see your art; to somehow help them find the website where your art is displayed. If you can manage that then you’ll get a chance to actually make the sale (the third step).

In this article I’ll be focusing on that ultra-important second step by comparing the two most popular online methods used today for getting people to visit your website: search engine optimization (SEO for short) and paid advertising.

Don’t worry if those terms are new to you; I’ll define both of them in a moment. And once you know the differences between the two, you’ll be better suited to decide which method is the right choice to promote your art online.

I should also point out that you don’t have to choose one or the other. If you have the time and resources, you may want to dive into both. For everyone else, keep reading.

What is SEO, and why should I, an artist, care?

There are certain techniques for making your website appear sooner in search engines (like Google). For instance, if someone searched for “art” and your website was the first search result in Google, you’d have more visitors to your website than you’d know what to do with—hundreds, if not thousands per day.

The term search engine optimization encompasses all the different techniques which you can use to help your website rank higher for specific search terms. Naturally, ranking number 1 for such a common term as “art” is impossible—the biggest (and presumably best) art website in the world will have that spot.

But by using SEO techniques intelligently, you can begin to rank well for phrases and more unique words related to your art. Read through a few of my articles explaining specific SEO techniques for artists and you’ll see what I mean.

How does online advertising work?

First, you’ll have to join an advertising program like Yahoo Search Marketing or Google AdWords. These programs are the largest, easiest, and most common ways to advertise online.

You’ll then create ads (either text ads, image ads, video ads, or even audio ads) promoting your artwork. They’ll automatically be displayed on websites around the world (or limited to specific geographic regions if you prefer) and you’ll be charged a tiny amount of money for every person that visits your website by clicking on your ads.

The exact price you’ll pay for those visitors depends on how many other people are competing with you for those same advertising spots. The price-per-click may be 5 cents, 10 cents, 50 cents, etc. For artists, the cost of advertising tends to be less than, say, someone advertising for digital cameras or real estate.

Even so, those clicks can add up quickly, and therefore it’s wise to have an advertising budget to keep from spending too much.

A short while ago I began experimenting with Google Adwords to see what I could learn about the process. It was more involved than I expected, and if you’re interested in online advertising you should definitely read those articles as well.

So which is better for artists? Paid advertising or SEO?

Ultimately it depends on what you want to spend—time or effort.

It’ll take some time to learn SEO techniques, and even more time to understand how to adapt those techniques to your own situation. It’s very doable, however—if you start doing research now, I’d say you could have a decent grasp of SEO within a month. In six months to a year (if you kept at it) you’d know enough to give advice to others.

I’ve been studying SEO since 2006 (it was a hobby when I began EmptyEasel.com) and now I find myself doing occasional consulting work for other artists—probably because I don’t charge an arm and a leg like full-time SEO experts will.

Which brings me to an important point. You CAN pay for SEO services, you just need to do some research to make sure you get a good company. I offer SEO advice and answer specific questions for a small hourly fee, but some SEO companies will even do the work for you. It all just depends on how much you want to pay.

And remember, if you don’t want to spend money you can learn SEO yourself and reap the benefits without the cost. There’s lots of free SEO information to be found both here on EmptyEasel and elsewhere online.

Advertising, on the other hand, is never free. But there’s a much shorter learning curve (you can start advertising in minutes) and you’ll see quicker results than with SEO.

The downside is the cost and the fact that you have to keep paying for results over and over again—SEO takes time and effort, but once your website starts ranking high in Google and other search engines, those results may last for months or years without any further effort from you.

In other words, SEO has the benefit AND the curse of momentum. It’s slow at first, but it gets better over time. Advertising may be quick, but it’s always monetarily painful.

For young artists, the SEO route holds the biggest pay-off in the end. If you’ve got many, many years ahead of you, why not use that to your advantage? Take a lesson from the fabled tortoise—slow and steady wins the race.

Then again, I’d also suggest picking the method that fits your personality. Are you willing to learn a new skill and spend lots of energy for the possibility of great results down the road, or do you prefer to focus on what you know already (art) and pay to let someone else worry about the advertising?

Whichever route you choose, one thing’s for sure: the more effort you put into it, the better your results will be. So make sure to stick with it for a few months. If you do, feel free to let me know how it goes—I’d love to hear all about it.

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

You know, there's almost nothing I like better than seeing a new inbound link to EmptyEasel paired with a couple of nice words about my website. If you own your own art blog or portfolio site, you probably feel the same way when someone links to you. After all, it's just human nature—everyone likes a little recognition now and again. But here's something that. . . read more

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