Search engines like Google process 1.2 Trillion search queries a year, surfacing relevant, trustworthy websites to users who are looking for specific information. That means a lot of free traffic if you can ensure your website or portfolio stays front-and-center when people search for subjects relevant to you. Want to know how it’s done? Then it's time to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
At its heart, SEO is all about helping people find your website. If, like most artists, you don’t have a large budget for marketing, SEO can be an important way to grow your online profile, because it helps direct the right people to your website without costing a dime. All you have to do is implement a few small tweaks to signal to search engines that you have relevant and trustworthy information that their users will appreciate.
So what tweaks are the most important? Search Engines change how they rank websites all the time (it’s estimated that Google has up to 200 factors that they take into account when they are determining whether to surface a website), but there are a few basic, evergreen SEO tips that everyone should know -- particularly artists and other creative professionals whose future work can depend on being seen at the right time by the right person. Want to learn a little SEO 101? These nine tips will help you get started.
1. Set Yourself Up for Success
Google and other search engines take into account the length of time a user spends with a website and its bounce rate as a part of how they assess its rank. A big part of SEO is about understanding your audience and the kinds of content and information that will hold their attention.
Spend some time studying your target audience. Use Google Analytics or other third-party analytics services to track how your users visit your website and the kinds of content they best respond to. If you have a social media presence, use social listening tools to gain insights into your audience's interests and needs. Check out forums and subreddits that are related to your products and services, stay on top of relevant news and trends, and do competitor research to see how you can differentiate your content from theirs. Whatever helps you create a more purposeful website that fits your users needs is fair game.
2. Find Your Keywords then Put Them Everywhere
When users search for information, they use particular words that search engines rely on to narrow their results. If you use the same key terms on your website, Google and others are more likely to see your site as a “match” for those search queries.
Start by doing a keywords analysis. Think up as many terms as you can, anything that is remotely related to your content, product or service as you can, then use Buzzsumo or Google’s Keyword Planner to find the ones that are popular with users (that is to say, used in lot of searches) but are not competitive (there aren’t many websites that feature them).
Once you’ve narrowed your list, make sure to use those keywords in your website’s copy, when titling blog posts, when tagging content and even in when naming the images you feature on your site. If search engines match your copy with an exact search query they are more likely to surface your website for that user -- and others, too.
Bonus tip: You can also use keywords to direct the kinds of website, blog and social content you should be producing -- they directly capture what your audience is searching for, after all.
3. Blog, blog, blog
Fresh content is the key to keeping your Google rank and audience focus on your work; businesses that regularly produce new content see 67% more leads than those that do not. One of the best, most inexpensive ways to create content that will affect your rank? Blogging.
Limit your blog content to information that is relevant to your product or service. If you’re a photographer, for instance, you should be writing articles that will help current and future clients with practical advice for their next photoshoot, not about current events or personal challenges. Use the information you glean from keyword research to think about what your audience may want a longform article on.
Be sure to incorporate keywords whenever you can. And commit to blogging consistently; according to Blogger, only 35% of the world’s blogs get updated more than once a year. That means that if you want to differentiate yourself, you need to keep at it.
Still feeling stumped on what to blog about? These 8 blogs from e-commerce stores might serve as good inspiration.
4. Cultivate Your Social Media Influence
Instagram accounts aren't just great for showing off your portfolio (although they are great at that, too), they can also be an important factor in how highly Google and other search engines rank your website.
While social media doesn’t provide content to your website, it does give Google more information and content about your practice. And although Google doesn’t care how many times your tweet is retweeted, it does take successful social profiles into account when ranking your SEO.
A few tips: when optimizing your social media profiles, be sure to maintain a clear message about the work you make and the products or services you provide. Schedule posts regularly, and make it easy for users to share your content and link back to your blog. And always make sure your social media bios include links to your website wherever appropriate.
5. Prep Your Pictures Before you Post
Correctly preparing images for your website is important, especially for artists and other creatives that post a lot of picture files in order to show off work.
Google and other search engines are interested in users getting the information they need as quickly as possible, so they include website load times as a part of their overall assessment. If images aren’t in the right file format or size, they can slow your site speed down considerably and hurt your SEO. The best way to stay lightening fast? Make sure you always use .JPG files, and compress anything over 2000px wide before you upload an image to your site.
Bonus Tip: When you upload your newly-sized images, be sure to include your name, relevant keywords, and a description of your image in the description fields on the back end of the image. It’s one more place that search engine’s “read” what’s on your site before surfacing it -- and it can play a role in making sure your website gets credit if/when the image gets shared on social media, too!
6. Link to Other (Reputable!) Websites
Google and other search engines rank your website in part by how popular it is with others in your industry. They consider the number of times other credible websites link back to yours (sometimes called “inbound” or “backlinks”) as a signal for your website’s authority, utility and influence.
The best way to generate backlinks is to create great, compelling content that other websites want to link to, but if you want to juice your numbers a bit, consider guest-blogging for other organizations or artists, in exchange for a few links back to your site. It’s a small time investment, but could mean huge traffic returns for you in the long run.
Outbound links, links in your content that direct audiences to websites different from your own, are vitally important, too. They not only add value to your readers experience (and generate goodwill from other websites in your industry), they also give search engines a better idea of the industry that you are in and how relevant your content is to other information on the web.
7. Connect the Dots for Readers
Outbound aren’t the only links to keep in mind. If you want to keep readers engaged with your website (and discourage high bounce rates), include internal links to other pages on your site whenever, wherever you can. Internal links can help flesh out topics of your readers, point them toward new products, or help them navigate your site, just be sure they are relevant enough to your users journey to be genuinely useful. The key is to add value for your readers, not to frustrate them with useless clicks.
8. Boost your Website with Plugins
If you use Wordpress to build and manage your website, you can use plugins (software that “plug in” extra information) to build out and boost its design and function. Plugins can help your website to cultivate all kinds of indirect SEO advantages, people use them to create more compelling color schemes, themes, and even full online shops, but they can also make a direct impact on how search engines “read’ your site. Yoast, for instance, is an SEO plugin that’s easy to use and adds a valuable content description for Google. It won’t alleviate all of your SEO needs but it will automate some of it.
A word of caution: be thoughtful about which plugins you choose to implement before you end up with too much of a good thing. Add too many to your website and your load time will suffer, discouraging visitors and hurting your SEO ranking in the long-term.
9. Make sure your Mobile Friendly
According to Social Media Today, readers spend an average of 198 minutes a day using apps on their phone. As mobile browsing continues to rise, readers are becoming as (sometimes more!) likely to view your website on their phones or tablets as they are to visit it from a desktop. That’s why, starting in 2016, Google began to penalize websites that aren’t mobile friendly by lowering their rank.
So how do you make sure that your website offers a great mobile experience for your users? You can make a mobile website that exists separately from your current site, build a mobile app or make sure your existing site is mobile-first responsive. You can adjust your text and buttons so that they are large enough to be read on smaller screens, and make sure that you have compressed any CSS or images that are on your site. Whatever changes you decide to implement, make sure that you periodically run your website through Google’s Mobile Friendly Tool to make sure that the search engine recognizes and will reward your hard work.
The best part about SEO is that the returns increase exponentially; the higher you rank, the higher your traffic, which in turn generates a higher rank, and so on. Once you have the right infrastructure in place and a few key habits down pat, your website’s numbers should rise on their own, leaving more time for doing what you love -- making great art.
Want to learn more about SEO strategy for your artistic practice or small business? Skillshare’s got dozens of classes to help you get started.