Selling Art Online – Pt 4 – Website SEO

SEOThe previous article in this series discussed the importance of maintaining a central website to which to drive Internet traffic for selling art online. Getting this site to rank highly in search engines, however, can take a bit more effort.

In the course of updating the outdated information in my marketing book through this series of blog posts, it would be negligent to not stress the importance of taking steps to improve your main website’s search engine ranking. There is an entire industry developed to the science of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and it is not unusual for large companies to employ specialists in this particular field. Major corporations see the benefit of addressing this issue and so should you. Although these corporations are generally spending a lot of money to purchase better spots in major search engine results, they are also incorporating some basic techniques as well. These are the methods that can, and should, be used by all individuals who are marketing via the Internet.

Beginning with properly coded web pages can lead to a much stronger web presence. If you are coding your own web site, make sure you have correctly entered the page’s meta-tag and keyword data. This is critical information in the HTML code that helps search engines determine the content that exists on your pages and it is amazing how often novices exclude it.

Many website and blogging frameworks such as WordPress do a great job of this directly out of the box. However, there is always room for improvement and there are some great plugins available that can really make a drastic difference. My WordPress theme constructed some very bizarre meta-tag descriptions because it just extracted the first bit of text from the first paragraph of each page or post.

If you are using WordPress, there are many plugins available that can allow you to easily customize the meta-tag information with no coding knowledge. One of my favorites is the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast. This add-on is fantastic and is a “must-have” in my opinion. It analyzes several elements of your blog posts and static pages to aid in search engine optimization. In addition to helping with META data, etc…, it will also analyze posts to help you properly structure URL’s, construct post content, have an appropriate number of words, etc… to maximize your content’s ranking potential. Not only did this plugin help me create better posts and content for http://powersfineart.com, it also helped me learn things about website SEO that I hadn’t previously considered.

If you are using WordPress to create your site, I would also recommend using a permalink structure other than the default which uses the post’s number designation in the URL. By switching to one which incorporates the post name, you create additional reinforcement to search engines as to the content of the page. Having the same keywords in the page’s title, description, content and URL are ways to ensure search engines know what information your website is presenting to readers.

Regardless of how you are generating your website, however, it is important to ensure that each page of the site has a unique title. The title appears at the top of the browser window or in a browser’s tabs and is also one of the first things a search engine examines. Since the title should demonstrate what content is on a particular page of a web site, it is one of the key elements used to index your pages. When one performs a keyword search through a search engine such as Google, this title is displayed in the results as well as the contents of another HTML element known as a meta-description.

Search Engine Snippet

This brief description of the web site is also included in the HTML code of the page and needs to be short so the search engine can properly categorize the page but also needs to be interesting enough to encourage people to click the search engine’s link to see your products or services. The page title and description are prominently displayed in a search engine’s results and therefore should not be ignored. Since these elements help describe what a page contains, care must be taken to ensure that the content of the page is descriptive and useful.

One of the simplest steps you can take to improve SEO, beyond having correctly formed HTML pages, is to include textual content. I often see sites that simply have images of artwork, paintings, or sculptures with no other information. Simple images don’t provide enough data to search engine page crawlers. It is important to have descriptive textual information on the site that clearly indicates what the images represent. The content should be relevant to the product and customers should be able to effortlessly find answers to their questions. By having informative text, search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing know where to place your site when a web user specifies search criteria. As a fine art painter promoting my watercolor artwork, my main web site at http://powersfineart.com/ includes my biography, artist statement, a welcome page describing who I am and what I do as well as portfolio pages with instant purchasing options. Each page of the web site contains a section of text which clearly describes what is in that particular area and this text is crawled by the search engine spiders to help aid in categorizing the site. Providing this information as actual text and not a graphical representation of text helps insure these results. Content is one of the most important elements to utilize in an effort to create a high-ranking web site. The other is making sure the content can be easily found.

InterlinkingOne of the most often overlooked techniques to increase website ranking and to improve content discoverability is to use web page “interlinking” which is a form of “deep linking.” The desired effect of “deep linking” within a web site is to build up back links to one’s home page in order to increase its presence within search results. The “interlinking” form of “deep linking” is used to connect relevant information on one’s website through the use of links within its textual content. The goal of this type of search engine optimization is to increase the authority of an entire web site and not just its home page. If you look at many of the page content descriptions within my main website at http://powersfineart.com/, you will find there are links within the text that connect to my contact page, print shop, or other relevant areas. Besides having simple menu navigation, there are links within each page’s text that direct the user to other areas of the site as well. Experts who focus upon search engine optimization (SEO), often state that web content developers should have one “interlink” for every couple hundred words of text. The reason this is helpful, is when a website is crawled by the search engines in order to determine content and ranking, the crawlers follow the “interlinks” which count as additional connections to individual pages within a site. Each page, therefore, gets another small boost in search engine ranking by utilizing this method.

The text that is displayed which describes the “interlinks” is another important factor to consider. Not only does this link point to other relevant information on your site, it also tells what content can be found at that location. By using explanatory descriptors, or “anchor text,” for your hyperlinks, you are further enforcing the search engine’s knowledge of each page’s content. By ensuring that the links are relevant to the content of your page, you also help reinforce the search engine’s subject matter determinations which can aid in properly placing your site in search results.

Although the above information just scratches the surface of the subject of SEO by describing some basic techniques, there is much more that can be done. Several search engines offer tools to aid you in making sure your site conforms to these qualifications and Google is no exception. The Google Webmaster Tools page allows you to submit your web site’s URL and, if desired, an associated sitemap.xml file. The sitemap.xml file, which is used by nearly every search engine service, can be useful in letting search engines know about pages on your web site that might not be very easily discovered. There are many utilities on the Internet which can help generate this file and although it isn’t required, it can be of great assistance if your site has dynamically created content or the pages are not well linked. Additionally, the Google webmaster tools page can be used to diagnose your web site in order to make suggested changes that might increase its search ranking. This is a valuable tool to consider using and can improve your web site’s visibility.

If you are a fan of Bing, The Bing Webmaster Tools are equally as impressive as what Google has to offer. I personally use both and have been able to raise my Google Page Rank by incorporating the suggestions both services have provided.

If you would like an even more in-depth guide to SEO, check out the tutorial that Yoast has created to work with their WordPress plugin. Even if you don’t use WordPress as your website’s framework, there is a lot of great information in the tutorial that is pertinent to the SEO of all sites.

The previous articles in this series have discussed a basic strategy for selling art online, helped us decide what is going to be our central marketplace for our artwork, and demonstrated some basic SEO strategies. Future posts are going to address print on demand websites, social media utilization, and how to drive traffic and potential purchasers to our websites.

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