The decision to completely redesign a well established website is a daunting one. My fine art website has been online since 2008 without any changes to its design and presentation of information. Although it has received many kind compliments from visitors and has been an excellent platform for selling my original watercolor paintings, as the Internet and the manner in which people view and purchase products continues to evolve, one’s website needs to meet a new sets of standards as well.
Earlier in 2012, Google decided it was going to move toward what can only be described as a crowd-sourced system of search-result rankings. In other words, the Internet giant deemed that fresh content which was frequently shared via social media would gain priority in their search results in order to weed out low value and spam sites. Google even publicly announced that search ranking would be directly influenced by social sharing. When a company that controls as much Internet real-estate as Google publicly announces a major change, it is imperative that one pays attention. Bing’s relationship with Facebook has resulted in similar search algorithm changes through their service as well. Because of this, many older sites have begun to see less and less traffic which started to result in lower sales numbers and less ad publishing revenue.
I observed this phenomenon first-hand with a website I had dedicated to the hobby of home beer brewing. Search result algorithm modifications early in 2012 literally cut traffic to the site by nearly half. Since the site is supported by advertising revenue, income from the website dropped as well. What keeps the website going at this point is the over 2100 websites that link back to it and its very in-depth recipe formulation calculators. Even though the site has provided a wealth of information to home brewers since 2004 and its content will never be obsolete, its lack of continually updated fresh content has caused it to drop in search result rankings.
I have only chosen to mention one of my other websites in order to help illustrate the importance of keeping abreast of modern Internet changes and the direction in which the World Wide Web and user information-consumption is moving. Since sharing and fresh content are becoming so important to search result ranking and search engine optimization (SEO), it becomes obvious really quickly that a blog has a distinct advantage when it comes to keeping a website visible. Individual posts are fresh content and the social sharing buttons that nearly every blog post possesses create the perfect sharing mechanism to aid in higher search rankings.
Artist portfolio and sales websites pose an interesting challenge when it comes to modern search rankings. They are usually built to showcase one’s artwork which makes them very graphic oriented with little to no textual content. The website crawlers for the major search engines are generally unable to determine a website’s subject matter content based upon images alone and have to look for small amounts of text on the pages instead. Flash-based websites can have even more difficulties when it comes to site ranking. For an artist, the visual nature of the website often causes one to neglect creating much textual content and therefore can result in limited visibility when it comes to search results. The modern adage stating, “Content is king,” holds even truer today than ever. When you consider the advantage a blog has for search result purposes, it becomes obvious that an excellent way to create more textual content for a website coupled with a more engaging experience for its users is through blog integration.
I have a couple blogs spread throughout the Internet that are primarily designed to inform and to help generate traffic for my main art website but, for the most part, they fail to really effectively accomplish the task. I blame some of this on the way I have set up navigation or placed links to my main art site. Regardless, it has become clear to me that by integrating a main blog into my central website I virtually eliminate the aforementioned click-through problem since site navigation to my artwork is obvious, close at hand, and the visitor is already on the main site without having to navigate through additional cyberspace.
The above revelation began my quest to find a way to integrate a useful blog into my www.powersfineart.com. I first investigated using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) system to automatically move my Blogger posts into my main website. Unfortunately, the feature was removed by Google and is no longer supported. Next, I tried using an RSS feed with an RSS reader embedded within an iframe on my site. This allowed posts to be shown but content wasn’t actually being placed on my site so there was no SEO benefit and definitely no sharing capability. Additionally, the posts lacked the formatting and professional appearance that I really needed in order to maintain consumer confidence. Having a shoddy looking website definitely does not encourage consumer purchasing. I looked at other options that were available but they required PHP programming which is not supported by the host I was originally using. My free Comcast/Xfinity space supported absolutely no CGI, PHP, or other server-side scripting. I have an extensive programming background and was really up for trying anything but I kept running into brick walls which prompted some in-depth research.
I began looking into several self-hosted blogging options and WordPress was the one that quickly bubbled to the top of my search. I was very surprised at the number of big corporations that utilize WordPress for their main websites and it became clear that this format is what a lot of Internet users expect to see these days. One particularly appealing aspect of the WordPress platform in addition to its very robust blogging ability, is its huge arsenal of potential themes, plugins, and widgets. Many of the themes are even responsive which means that they resize or even completely reformat based upon the viewing platform. In other words, mobile device users see your site in a more easily viewable format while still maintaining many, if not all, of the theme’s characteristics. Useful plugins I have run across include one to automatically generate and submit a website’s sitemap.xml file for search engine submission, one to reorder posts and profile entries, a simple free shopping cart plugin, and one that provides additional sharing functionality for profile entries. Apparently the plugin, widget, and theme possibilities for the WordPress platform are limitless. Administrators are even automatically notified when WordPress, themes, or plugins have been updated. Everything always remains current and web-standards compliant.
Once I decided to use the WordPress platform, I knew I had to change my website’s host in order to accommodate the PHP and server-side action that my previous host didn’t allow or support. Since I had purchased my domain name through GoDaddy.com and I saw that they had an automated WordPress installation, I opted to have them host the new version of my site. Installation was easy and the next step was to find the theme that I wanted to use.
There were several things I was looking for when I was shopping for a theme for the new website design and it was definitely looking like there wasn’t going to be a free one that met all my requirements. I needed the theme to have simple navigation with a portfolio display that stuck with my concept that the artwork was to be the main focus of the site. I also wanted the theme to be responsive. With a large number of my clients purchasing work via mobile device and the percentage increasing quickly, I wanted a theme that would display in an easily readable manner regardless of the device. I also wanted the theme to be in active development and not sitting stagnant in case I had a feature or bug that needed to be addressed by its creator. And, most importantly, I didn’t want to have to write the theme myself. I simply do not have the time to devote to the programming that would be necessary. I finally ran across the “WowWay” theme from Ruben Bristian. It had everything I wanted and the features that it lacked are currently being worked on and should be implemented very soon. So far I am very pleased with the theme and the support that Ruben has provided.
Once I installed the theme, it was a simple matter of learning the very intuitive WordPress administration environment and populating the pages and portfolio. My biggest stumbling blocks were learning the platform’s nomenclature, determining the difference between a portfolio and a gallery, and deciding upon a shopping cart plug-in that would be easy to implement and would work the way I wanted. It couldn’t have been much simpler and probably took less than 6 hours to construct the entire site. My previous website had literally hundreds of hours of programming dedicated to it and it took nearly 45 minutes every time I wanted to add new artwork and shopping cart buttons. Updating a sold painting’s page took nearly as long as well. Although the old site had the appeal of random front-page images, automatic copyright date generation, and a slightly more integrated print shop, the database driven format of WordPress allows me to insert a new painting in less than a couple minutes and has a nicely refined appearance. I can even include embedded videos as a second image associated with a painting which is going to be a great way to add additional value and interest to some of my work. A painting’s availability status is quickly changed and the time I save will allow me to keep the site current more easily, allow me to dedicate time to developing the site’s blog, and most importantly, provide more time for creating artwork. I have always wanted to create reviews of the products I utilize and to illustrate the techniques I use to develop my paintings and the new blog format is going to be a great way to help facilitate that goal.
If you are an artist with an established website you want to bring up to modern standards while increasing mobile accessibility or a beginner looking for a quick and easy way to market your work to a larger audience, I would highly recommend investigating WordPress as a platform for your pages. By implementing a blog into my fine art website, I have already seen a 30% increase in organic search traffic. When you couple this with the statistic that 56% of visitors to a site navigate to other pages within the website, my artwork is already reaching more people and will undoubtedly lead to an eventual increase in sales.Tagged with: art, blog, blogging, optimization, plugin, responsive, search, seo, sharing, site, theme, website, widget, wordpress, wowway