Recently an artist asked if she could help with our on-line presence. Knowing many artists are wanting to get the best from their websites we thought we’d do a few posts on the subject. This one is covering the much changed world of Search Engine Optimisation.
How to be Search Engine Friendly.
Turns out it’s simple. The really smart folk read this straightforward SEO Starter Guide from Google. They look up Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and create a Webmaster account for updates on their site’s performance. Many use Google’s AdWords Keyword tool to focus their content and meta-tags and install Google Analytics to see who is visiting and whether their key phrases are working. Advance users even link their accounts for some truly powerful statistics. Although Google has nearly all the traffic many will remember Microsoft’s Bing (which now serves Yahoo) and sign up for their Webmaster tools.
Of course, in the real world most of us start our websites with a “build it and they will come” optimism. Initial design priorities (particular for artists) are likely to be with aesthetics more than future performance. It’s when we don’t have enough visitors that we begin to focus more on SEO. Two problems can arise :
1. Web technology. Some web-building programs and designers create sites which search engines bots struggle to crawl. Common among artists are those made with Adobe’s Flash (those wizzy animated galleries can now be done with HTML) and those using iframes (often Apple’s iWeb users leave their actual content on web.me accounts). If you are unsure whether your site has these problems just right click on your pages and “view page source”. If you don’t see written content and images marked up with titles, search engines won’t either. With flash sites it is probably worth considering moving your content to HTML particularly since Apple’s iPad does not support Flash (certainly we are seeing a growing number of iPad visitors and suspect a lot of Apple users may also be art lovers).
Another slight problem is with dynamic sites like blogs and Content Management Systems which often generate a ” ? ” followed by random numbers in the web addresses they create. WordPress used by many artist bloggers (and Art Cove) by default does this. It is easily changed, but I have spotted some popular artist site’s still running with the default settings.
for a long time many have profited from a number of easy to implement tricks…
2. SEO advice. There are no end of potentially damaging SEO services out there and shady link exchange schemes . Most recognise these for what they are (the unsolicited email is a give away). However it is still easy to get lured in by the free advice of ”SEO experts” whose raison d’être seems to be finding chinks in Google’s amour to exploit. Even quite recently I attended a government sponsored course where the tutor suggested to business owners to look out for common misspelling to use as keywords. No!. The problem is that for a long time many have profited from a number of easy to implement tricks or Black hat techniques. Gaming Google has largely defined the SEO industry giving it a bad name.
However, last year Google released Panda an algorithm which heavily penalised “low quality sites”. It is the slap that the SEO industry has long needed and Google have continued their efforts this year with Penguin and an update hitting ”over-optimisers“. Usually through Matt Cutts (the head of Google’s Webspam team) Google is much more open about what they are looking for. As always, they are saying if you value your brand name or domain (usually an artist’s real name) stay clear of anything not helpful to users and search engines.
How to Rank High on Google Page Results.
After following Google’s “white hat” SEO stater guide, the best advice is to build a site users like, offer rich quality content (even better if unique), update regularly and engage users through social networks. This should attract relevant links to your site which Google will see as votes of confidence. The more popular the sites linking to you, the better you do. In addition Google will look at other technical and user-friendly criteria such as speed and accessibility. Site’s with some history do better particularly if they show a natural progression in linking behaviour.
It is important to note that Google rates Web Pages not just your site. If you are using social networks you will want to be sure to have both outbound and inbound links to your site. Visitors should be able to find your site whether they type www. or not, but do stick to one. Google seems to pick up on this but they are actually treated as two separate domains. Incidentally, if you are just setting up, it does not matter which you choose. Non www.’s are becoming popular as www. is a redundant sub-domain which is awkward to say, but others like the tradition and expect it will be used anyway. Be careful who you link to as Google has a “bad neighbour” penalty. They advise using a no follow tag if you need to link to a bad site. For example, you want to highlight someone who is copying your work.
Panda forces us to ask - am I adding value?
Artists who blog should be particularly aware that with Panda you can be penalised for having too many pages with little (written) content. The big question Panda forces us to ask is am I adding value? Although this post may not qualify, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling the pressure to keep publishing something. Times have changed – it’s now quality first, quantity second.
On the whole Google’s philosophy seems largely in tune with the majority of artists . Google wants to see well designed and user friendly sites and typically artists are sensitive to this. Google don’t like to see lots of irrelevant advertising banners spoiling the users experience and most artists would shudder at the thought. Google likes to see people giving and sharing on the web and increasingly artists are (probably out of isolation) showing how they work, their progress and offering valuable tips. So after all that - how is your website doing?