I’ll cut to the chase—there are a lot of search engine optimization tips out there. I’ve published quite a few on EmptyEasel myself.
All of this readily-available information means that in many ways, it’s very easy to “know” what you need to do to help your art blog or website rank higher in the search engines. What’s tougher is knowing when to do it, and for how long. . . because let me tell you, optimizing your blog for search engines can quickly burn you out if you don’t have an overall plan.
So today I want to share a fairly simple outline that any artist can use to schedule their search engine optimization efforts. It doesn’t matter if you just started your blog or website, or you’ve been blogging for years: follow this 12-month schedule, and you’ll get results. It’s that simple.
Ready? Then let’s begin.
Month 1: Get the basic terminology down
Do some preliminary reading on SEO. I’d suggest checking out SEOmoz.org. Just read read read until you have some familiarity with the basic concepts. SEOmoz has a lot of great free articles (and some paid articles) for beginners here.
You can also check out my SEO for Artists series on EmptyEasel for information that applies directly to artists and art bloggers.
Keep in mind that there are plenty of people out there who will gladly sell you a pipe-dream of 1st page rankings for your website or blog. I would highly recommend NOT paying someone for “The Secret to SEO” or any other outrageous claim.
If it sounds too good to be true, well. . . you know the rest.
Month 2: Assemble your SEO toolbox
Once you know a little bit about SEO, it’s time to grab a few free tools and bookmark a few helpful websites.
The tools I’m going to mention are Firefox add-ons, so I’d start by switching to the Firefox web browser if you’re currently using something else (get it free, here). Once you’re running Firefox, download SEO for Firefox and SearchStatus. Firefox will ask if you want to install them; say yes.
Both of these tools will help you see how other websites are ranking according to various factors (Google PageRank, Compete, Alexa, etc). You can use this information to gauge how your own site is doing over the coming months.
In fact, for the rest of the month as you surf the web, use the Firefox add-ons to see how “important” the sites are that you go to. Get a feel for each website’s PageRank (more info on PageRank here) and how it compares to your own website.
Don’t forget to read the instructions given by the authors of the add-ons—knowing how to use your tools is always important. Then, when you want to research a website more thoroughly, go to Yahoo Site Explorer or Compete and type in it’s domain name.
Sites of interest to you should be other art blogs, other art websites, and so on. You WILL need to know where you fit into it all so get used to using these tools now.
Month 3: List out your keywords and start blogging
Yes, you need to have a blog.
You can use almost all of the information in this article to help improve your portfolio website too, but blogging will take you so much further that I can’t in good conscious NOT tell you to blog.
When it comes to keywords, basically you just need to plan ahead on some words that you want to focus on. Make a list. These should be words that art buyers will be typing into Google and other search engines, which also describe you and your art.
Don’t psych yourself out or stress about choosing the “perfect” keywords. They should be natural, logical descriptive words and phrases. That’s it.
Here’s a longer description of how to use keywords in your art blog or website.
Month 4: Start paying attention to links
After a month of blogging, it’d be nice to have some links coming in from other websites. Use Yahoo Site Explorer to see if you have any (read more details on using Site Explorer here).
I’d also suggest using Site Explorer to research some other art blogs and artist websites in your niche. Find out who the big linkers are, and who is getting a lot of links. Just by seeing how OTHER artists are doing can help give you some ideas on getting links yourself.
Month 5: Submit your site to directories
If you’re not getting links already, that’s OK—here’s where you’ll start to build links yourself. For the first month of link-building, all you have to do is find some directories that you can manually add your website to.
You’ll need to do a little digging, but you can usually find directories by searching in Google. Try “Art Website Directories” or “Directory of Artist Websites” etc. Spend time adding your website in the correct subcategories of the directory (some will separate by medium, style, etc).
You can also just search for “Website Directory” and then drill down into these bigger directories until you find the category for “Art.” Always add your website or art blog to the correct category—if there isn’t one, then find the closest option.
Granted, directories have limited value when it comes to links, but they DO have value. Most directories are older, and it always helps to get links from older domains. A few years ago, DMOZ.org was a great directory to get a link from. Nowadays, it’s still good, but it’s tougher to get a link there. Still, always give DMOZ a shot.
Oh, and one more thing: make sure to check the PageRank of each directory that you go to, using your Firefox add-ons. If a directory only has a PageRank of 0 or 1, it might not be worth adding your website to that one. The higher the value of a directory, the better its link will be for you.
Some directories charge a fee, but I don’t really encourage artists to pay for a link. Just move on to a free directory. Some require a link back, and I’ll leave that decision up to you. If you want to link back to the directory, go for it. If you don’t like doing that, then move on.
Month 6: Join several art forums—and participate!
Before I talk about forums, I want to mention that you should STILL be blogging every week. At least a few times per week if not more. It may help to create a blogging schedule, or keep a notepad and pencil around at all times to write down ideas that you can blog about. Here are some blogging ideas if you need them.
OK, so forums. Art forums are a great way to learn, share, make friends, and network. WetCanvas.com comes to mind immediately, but there are many more as well. Do a Google search for “Art Forum” if you want a big list to go through, and choose 2 or 3 to visit on a regular basis, say, once a day or every other day.
When you enter a forum, it’s important that you participate in a helpful way. You’re not there to spam the other members or get them to visit your art blog or website. You’re there to talk and discuss.
If the forum allows it (and most will) add a link to your “signature line” to your art blog or website. That’s all you need to do. Don’t go overboard, just add a link. As you involve yourself in the topics, those links will start adding up.
If you’re already a member of an art forum, you know they’re great places anyway—so really, this should be an easy month. And don’t quit after a month. Keep adding to the discussion; share advice or teach; and become a part of the community.
When you get too busy to keep participating you can leave, if you really want to, but I’d say give it 3 months, minimum. You need links, and forums are a place where you can naturally get them.
Month 7: Network with other art bloggers
By this time your blog should be getting full of blog posts. . . right? Well then it’s time to start networking with other bloggers.
If you haven’t been reading any other art blogs, you’re missing out—you’ll get ideas, both for art and for blogging, as well as meet some great people. Go ahead and enter the conversation there, too, by leaving comments if the blogger allows it.
Find a few blogs that you’re interested in (or as many as you can handle) and read them every day. Join in whenever you feel like you have something to add.
I will say this though, and I can’t say it strongly enough: NEVER, EVER SPAM.
What I mean by that is don’t be a nuisance and leave useless comments just to get your name out there, or you’ll burn bridges faster than you build them.
Yes, most blogs will ask you for your website or blog address, so you’ll get a link each time you leave a comment, but don’t try to take advantage of the system or your comments will get deleted by the blogger in charge.
The goal of leaving comments is to become a valuable member of the blogging community. Once you’ve built a friendship through comments, go ahead and ask the blogger to exchange links. Do this for a few months and you’ll start to see your authority and links rise.
Month 8: Install Google Analytics
Dive into Google Analytics. Yes, I’ve talked about this before (click the next link to read all about using Google Analytics) and I can’t stress it enough: you need to know if you’re getting traffic, and where it’s coming from.
Google Analytics is a little useless if you’re JUST starting out, which is why I saved it for month 8. You should have some traffic by now, if you’re blogging regularly and following the schedule—so within about 24 hours of adding Analytics, you’ll get a good idea of who your readers are.
Take the entire month, check Google Analytics every day, and get comfortable with it. You’ll need it in the coming months.
Month 9: Start using social networks
Traditionally social networks haven’t influenced search engine results as much as other factors, but Google is changing that by including Twitter comments and other social networking elements in its search results.
Some artists find that social networking works much better for them than SEO—if that’s you, then great. At least try it, and then you’ll know.
Oh, and are you still blogging? If not, you should be. :)
Month 10: [Insert creativity here]
Online, people talk about something “going viral” when thousands or hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people are all talking about the same thing.
Sometimes it’s a YouTube video that goes viral, other times you can make a name for yourself just be guest posting on a popular blogger’s blog. The important thing to remember about creating viral content is that creativity is almost always rewarded.
So what makes you unique, as an artist? Can you show your process? Can you deconstruct one of your pieces? Can you teach? Can you give amazing advice, or inspirational words?
Brainstorm for a month—what can you do online to set yourself apart?
Some artists set challenges for themselves and others (e.g., daily painters, 100 paintings on one subject, collaborative themed projects, etc). Some artists create their art on video, or just upload videos of themselves.
Check out these 4 ways to use YouTube if you’re cinematographically gifted.
There are no limits to creativity, and as artists, we are blessed with an abundance of it. Once you have an idea, announce it to the world everywhere you can, and follow through with it.
This is one of the most powerful ways to gain links, authority, and a following online. In other words, this is some pretty advanced SEO.
Month 11: Begin competing for high-value keywords
When you start out blogging, you want to use words and phrases that describe your art. The longer the phrase, the more likely you’ll be able to rank well for it. (Local phrases work especially well).
But by the time you’ve created viral content, and you’ve networked with hundreds of other bloggers, you may be able to go for those words and phrases that you never dreamed were possible before.
OK, so ranking #1 in Google for the word “Art” may always be impossible. . . but now is the time to re-evaluate what phrases you’re ranking well for, and push the envelope.
Remember Google Analytics? Delve deeper. The longer a keyword phrase is, the less people are searching for it. So find your long keyphrases and create new blog posts that target HALF of that phrase. Or which use a slightly different version of that phrase.
The goal here is to broaden your reach, and start ranking for slightly short, more competitive keywords.
Do some Google searches on keywords that you’d like to rank for. Take note of the PageRank of the websites that are ranking in the first page. How do they rate compared to your website?
When you see a Google results page that has lower-ranking websites than your website, that’s your opening. Target that keyword, and write a blog post. Just make sure that it still describes your artwork. :)
Month 12: Assess and improve
Whew, if you’ve come this far, you’ve earned your SEO badge. As artists, it can be tough to split our attention this way (between art and marketing) but it’s very worth it. At some point, you don’t have to worry about SEO anymore. Maybe it’s after one year. Maybe two. You won’t know until you get there.
Look at your links, look at your keywords, look at your social networks and viral content. Is there anything you excel at, or like doing? Then push HARD in those areas. Go with your strengths.
In the same way, if you see areas where you’ve slacked, then regroup and redouble your efforts. I will say that after 12 months you probably don’t need to focus on link building as much. Instead, think about giving back. Help other artists just starting out. Write a series of blog posts on how you did it. That kind of karma never hurts.
I sincerely hope this article helps you—optimizing your art blog or website isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s not impossible, either. Follow this schedule for 12 months and you’ll be miles ahead by the end.