Monday, August 3, 2009

Websites & Artists Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization

Websites & Artists Series
Part 1 - Considering Your Audience
Part 2 - What's in a Domain Name?
Part 3 - Search Engine Optimization
Part 4 - Describing Art Online

Now that you've settled on your domain name and have some semblance of an idea for a design, there's yet another aspect of designing a website to consider - SEO (or Search Engine Optimization). SEO is an overarching term used to describe the elements of a webpage and strategies which can be altered in order to make it easier for search engines to find your page.

Now, one thing I will make clear at the beginning, if you don't want your site to be easily found by search engines, there is no need to go through the trouble. Sometimes, like in the case of personal portfolios to be presented to art directors, we don't necessarily need to obey these rules of optimization and don't want people stumbling upon these pages because they're not meant for public display, beyond job solicitation. By all means, go crazy with Flash and other things which aren't very search engine friendly. (See this article on hiding your webpage from indexing)

But chances are, you do want your webpage to be found easily! For this purpose, I personally employ Google's edicts of website optimization. As one of the foremost search engines on the net, Google also offers a wide variety of free tools and guides for webmasters to use in lieu of hiring SEO marketing experts.

A good first step once you have a completed page is to submit your url to google or the open source project to begin indexing your page with various search engines across the web.

Some Things to Remember:

  • Metatags have become moot! - At least for Google, and a growing number of other search engines. There was a time in the past where all you had to do was put a bunch of invisible metatags into the header of your webpage, but now, most search engines crawl your page in search of keywords and relevant content that actually exist within your webpage itself and aren't present in invisible tags. For artists, this means that you will need to actually include relevant info about your images rather than merely leaving the images to speak for themselves. The exception to the rule here is the meta description and Title tags, which are still used as a summary for your page in search engine displays.

  • Flash galleries are tricky - Because of the metatag issue, Flash galleries also present a bit of a problem. Because the text itself in most Flash displays are embedded into the Flash, this makes the text impossible to crawl for the majority of search engines (though it seems Google can read it now!). My suggestion is that if you're going to use Flash galleries that you put your relevant keywords in your artist biography, add them in the title tag of your page, or incorporate them within your page's content somehow, instead.

    Note that web standards are always evolving so this may change in the future! Also, if you try to hide your text using CSS or making your font small and the same color as your background image, Google may remove your site from its indexing if it is deemed 'deceptive in intent'!
  • Backlinking is your friend! - A 'backlink' is basically a link which is incoming to your page (particularly from another website outside of your own). Search engines often calculate your rank in their search engine by the amount of backlinking present on your site. Search engines will also measure the relevancy of the text providing the link and the relevancy of the site which you are linked from. If you are being linked to from an authoritative source, this adds to the importance and ranking of your site.

    For artists, this means being sure to link to your website from your forum signatures, online articles, blogs, and website profiles. The more linking, the higher your rank! But also remember to keep these links relevant and pertinent to your content! One wouldn't link back to their art gallery from a webpage on baseballs unless you're doing baseball art.
  • EDIT: 6-15-2015 - Be Mobile Device Compatible! - Phones and tablets have become all the rage since this article was first published.  Google has recently announced that your site's ranking can now be affected by whether or not it can be viewed properly on these devices.  To test your site's friendliness for devices and read more about this topic, see Google's article here.

  • For further info on designing for search engine optimization, see Google's Webmaster Guidelines and Google 101.

    Additional Tools for SEO

  • Google Analytics - So you've optimized your site, how do you keep track with what's working for you and what's not? My favorite tool is Google Analytics. Using Analytics, you can see the amount of traffic, new and old, to your page, as well as where this traffic came from, how long viewers are looking, what referring sites linked to you, what keywords people are using to find your page, and a plethora of useful information. All it takes is the insertion of a little bit of code into the pages you would like monitored by Analytics.

  • Google Alerts - Want to know when an article might be posted online about you, but don't want to have to manually search online every night just to find information? Try Google Alerts. The way it works is that when Google crawls a page and finds a search term which you've told it to alert you about, it will send you an email with a link to the page it finds with that specific term on it. I have Alerts programmed to find my name, my characters' names, and my alternate usernames on various art sites.

    For an example of its usefulness, Alerts helped me to discover that a Twitter-bot took my artist username so I could put out a notice saying that this user on Twitter was not me! Alerts also helps me to keep an eye out for art thieves who are are dumb enough to use the same title on images that I originally used (Tineye is also good for this purpose, as it is an image recognition tool that scours the net for you).

  • For further reading about SEO, check out these great resources!
    Google's Search Engine Optimization Guide
    Yahoo's Search Engine Optimization Guide


    1. Great tips, m'dear. I will definitely be coming back to this once I get my site established. I've heard getting your name (or your site brand) on the 'major' sites can also really help, so that Angelic Shades on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Youtube, etc, etc, etc, will come up high in the linkings, and if they point to your domain, it helps that as well. Even if it's you linking your page from your Twitter page, it's a high-ranked search result, so I think it still counts as an 'authoritative source'. At the very least it ensures you're coming up (everything on the first results page for my name is me, even though my domain isn't live) and not someone else.

      Also glad you mentioned relevant text links, as that's one I've heard mentioned a couple times recently. "My twitter page" doesn't do anything, but "Hayley E Lavik on twitter" adds another hit, another google alert, etc, and helps add relevance.

    2. Yup you got it! Relevancy I think is perhaps something that people tend to forget about with quantity taking focus over quantity (aka. link whoring). I've been getting a rash of emails lately asking if I can add random people's links to my links page and I've refused every one because I only add those which I find relevant or personal.

      Glad this is helping you out! If there are any other topics you'd be curious to hear about, do let me know! I think this will be the last one for awhile till I can think of more XD