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The Trouble with Artwork Titles: 3 Common Mistakes That (Many) Artists Make

Coming up with titles for your artwork is tough—no question about it. Do you go with something simple that describes the image? Do you spell out the metaphor you want your viewers to see? Or just slap an “Untitled” on there?

And now that we have the internet (in all its wondrous complexity) your job has gotten even tougher. But. . . maybe you don’t know how important titles are?

If you don’t, this article will be an eye-opener. Because today, online, your artwork titles can either make or break you—they can be the difference between thousands of people seeing your artwork. . . or none.

OK, so why are artwork titles such a big deal?

Here’s the short answer—search engines (like Google, Bing, etc) only read words. They can’t see the image you uploaded; instead, they look at all the words you use to describe it, including, and MOST importantly, your title.

(And here’s the longer answer, with more information, if you’re interested.)

When people search for artwork in Google, they often use words that describe the type of artwork they’re looking for. Google’s job, then, is to go fetch the top 10 pages on the web that SEEM to match what they’re looking for.

But again, Google can’t see the image.

So on one hand we have potential buyers, describing something—”A blue painting with sheep in it” or “Italy painting” or “hand-painted pottery with earth colors”. . . and on the other hand, we have artists using titles like “Untitled #23.”

That’s a big problem.

If you’re ready to receive a little more attention from the (literally) billions of people who use Google and other search engines every day, you’ve got to think about what your titles are saying, and what people might be searching for.

Here are a few of the most common, and most costly, mistakes that I see artists doing online (and how to fix them):

1. Naming your artwork “Untitled”

By far the most prevalent artwork title in the world, “Untitled” is HUGE issue if you want people to find your artwork.

If you MUST use the word “Untitled” as your artwork title, there’s an easy way to also help the search engines understand what your particular “untitled” work looks like. . . try something like this:

Untitled #24 – Mountain with sunlit peaks

Or:

Untitled (female reclining, oil painting)

The key is to use punctuation of some kind, and simply separate your “title” from your short, unofficial, description. As always, remember to think about how OTHERS would be searching for your artwork, and use those kinds of words.

You might say, “But Dan, there’s already a description field—I don’t have to put a description in the title, there’s another whole section for that!”

It’s true, there is—and you should definitely fill up that description section with a LOT more information about your artwork. The reason why you should also have some descriptive words in your title, however, is because of the importance that Google and other search engines place on the title.

But enough about “Untitled” artwork. . . here’s the second most common problem I see in artwork titles:

2. Naming your artwork something short and vague

Please believe me when I say that I understand that the creative process extends to the title of a work as well as the image itself. I’m a painter—I realize that there’s a need for creative, artistic titles.

Words like “Metamorphosis” or “Flight” or “Grrrrr” or “Solitude” or “Mish-Mash” or any number of one-word descriptors are great for people. . . people see the title, and link it to the artwork in front of them. They experience more from the image BECAUSE of the title, and as an artist, I too know how powerful that is.

But. . . again. People aren’t (typically) searching for “Grrrrr” when looking for art.

If they have a sense of what they want, they’re going to describe it, visually, or with words that indicate feelings or concepts, if they don’t have a specific subject matter in mind.

So as artistic as our titles are, as helpful as they may be when VIEWING the artwork in question, they still greatly reduce our chances of being found online by John Q. Public.

What’s the solution, you ask? Well it’s not as easy as putting a description on the end of “Untitled,” that’s for sure.

Artistic, creative artwork titles don’t usually pair well with a description. Think about it:

Metamorphosis – Abstract shadow in flight

Or:

Grrrrr (close portrait, anger, oil painting)

It’s like telling someone, “I’m going to be creative, but also, I’m going to be specific” and expect them to get the same reaction from your title. In short, it’s confusing, and I’m not suggesting that you imitate the above examples.

No, my suggestion is much more work. :)

You already know I think blogging is fantastic. But here’s how it can help with your titles:

Your artwork titles may be artistic, one-word, vague, and just completely wrong for attracting visitors from Google. But your blog titles can be anything you want them to be.

So why not upload that work of art, with whatever title you want. But then, on your free blog that you have, write a post with a great descriptive title—explain your process in creating the piece, or what you hope to express through it, or anything!

The key is to create an alternate page online, where Google can immediately see a great description of the artwork.

And then, link from it, to your artwork page.

In short, you’re creating a separate page (a blog post) in order to gather visitors from the search engines, and then directing all of those visitors to the page they would have never found otherwise.

Does that make sense?

Some art website providers (like ours) even have a blog built in to your portfolio website, so you can keep all your content, whether it’s artwork or blog posts, on one domain.

Even if your visitors don’t follow the link to look at your artwork, they’re still on your website, and the odds are good they’ll click around and see more of your work, right then.

Now. . . there’s one LAST problem that I see quite a bit online, and this one truly does drive me nuts. :) It’s even got a simple fix, too:

3. Naming your artwork with misspelled words

Yep, it happens a lot. And of all the things to keep people from finding your site, this one has got to be the most unnecessary one.

Usually it comes from mistyping, rather than ignorance. “Blue Moutnains” for example, would be an easy mistake to make, if you’re typing fast. It doesn’t even look that wrong! Or if you’re online checking email all day, you might find yourself writing “Femail Figure” instead of “Female Figure.” These things DO happen.

Luckily, the solution is short and sweet—double-check everything! :)

A minute to look over your titles, description, and artwork will go a long ways. Besides helping people find your art, it also will help you look more professional, and that’s invaluable online, too.

OK, so to recap:

• Don’t be the guy or girl who uses “Untitled” for everything without adding a description. If you do, your artwork will ALWAYS show up way behind all those other artists who cleverly included a description in their title.

• Be creative with your titles if you want, but also use your blog to pull in more visitors. If you know your title doesn’t work for SEO, make it happen another way.

• Check and double-check for misspelled words. ‘Nuff said.

I do hope this article helps. . . we see title issues at Foliotwist sometimes, and luckily we can do something about it and tell the artist, or give suggestions for better titles in our Traffic Booster emails.

But really, you can do this yourself, too. Just take a look at your website, and particularly, at your artwork titles. . . are they helping, or hurting, your chances at getting visitors to your website?

Now that you know how it works, there’s no excuse for bad titles. :) Good luck!

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