Monday, February 11, 2008

Advertising your work on your blog - the design essentials

You want to create the right impression with your website or blog - so should you use advertising? Or should you just use the design lessons from advertising? One of the questions which perplexes me is whether or not a case can be made for using advertising on an artist's blog or website. However when it comes to lessons to be learned from advertising about design effectiveness I'm not in the least bit confused. The answer is clear - there's lots to learn and use - whether or not you use adverts!

Manet's Lilacs in a glass
coloured pencils on Arches HP, 6" x 4"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The principal reason why huge sums of money are banded around from time to time in relation to the acquisition of search engines, webware, e-mail platforms etc (eg. Yahoo) is because of the scope that a particular platform offers for advertising and selling the goods of people who are prepared to pay a lot of money. Advertising money is moving online and away from newspapers and journals in a big way - and has been doing for some time.

Might advertising therefore also represent an extra income stream for artists - or not? I'm no expert in this field but thought it might be worthwhile to share what I've found out about the key messages from advertising research. This is not complete - if people find the topic interesting I'll do a follow-up.

So - might the principles behind advertising design teach artists something about how to create a more effective website or blog for marketing their work? In my opinion, the simple answer is 'yes'.

Let me start by stating my own personal perspective on advertising. I don't like it.

OK, well there's a bit more to it than that. I find quite a lot of advertising to be intrusive and 'noisy' from both a technical and visual perspective. ('Noise' is the technical term for all the data we have to filter out in order to focus of what we want to look at.) I regard adverts as very similar to small children shreiking for your attention - OK if it's your own (once in a while) but unacceptable when it is continuous, in your face - and belongs to somebody else!

When I'm looking at a website I like to focus on its main message and I like any sites which represent me to try and do the same thing. If they want to sell me things I like 'softly softly' rather than the 'in your face' approach.

I find it really difficult to understand how an artist's website which is dominated by visuals of their artwork can also have any adverts on which are visually distracting. What's the point? On the other hand I can see how advertising knowledge can help people marketing their artwork.

What can you do to try and avoid the 'noise' of advertisements. Well this is what I do.
  • watch television with no adverts (the BBC or recorded with no adverts) or turn the sound off when the adverts arrive in the breaks of programmes on the commercial channels (This is mainly because there is a huge difference between the volume of the programmes and the volume of the adverts. Since some of the adverts literally shout at me I turn the sound off for all of them. I do wonder why the advertisers don't understand that i'm not the only one doing this!)
  • tolerate the Google Ads on Squidoo because they're not too numerous - while also making it clear that they are nothing to do with me or my recommendations. I only do this because there is no acceptable alternative to the product Squidoo makes. I've been cheering recently because they've disappeared altogether.
  • avoid website hosts which include adverts
  • avoid blog hosts which include adverts
  • avoid promoting feedburners which include adverts
In addition, and to avoid any confusion given that this is a blog post about advertising, I don't accept any money at all for placing adverts or promoting individuals on my website or my blogs. What you read is said because that's what I think and not because I get any money for promotion.

I apply the same general principle to the information sites. However those do include links to sites which appear useful but where I haven't read every last word and I do get an absolutely tiny royalty on sales of any books. The system works a bit like Amazon associates which I gave up on because it took too long!

Do you think you can tell the sites where the divide is a bit more blurred? Do you think people should always declare any Associate or Affiliate status they may have?

What do other people know about adverts?

There is a whole industry devoted to paying people lots of money for knowing about advertising design effectiveness. It's a fascinating topic - and one which you can use to help with the layout and design of your own blog.

Here are some technical findings about advertisements and advertising effectiveness. Interestingly, it contains information which can help those people who:
  • accept adverts but don't want them to compete with the artwork for sale
  • want to place adverts and want them to be in the best possible place
However - the effective advertising messages can also be used by those who want to redesign the layout of their own blog or website to ensure maximum effectiveness for their own messages. I'm no expert - so I went to some of those who do know about effectiveness.

So what are some of the major lessons?
...we know that there are 3 design elements that are most effective at attracting eyeballs:
  • Plain text
  • Faces
  • Cleavage and other "private" body parts
Users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it's actually an ad...........
Neilsen: Banner blindness - old and new findings
  • Neilsen also identifies several design techniques which impact negatively on the user/viewer in The Most Hated Advertising Techniques. There should be a distinction between editorial and advert - but one of the most effective techniques is when the line between the two is blurred. Check out whether your site has any of the characteristics which are rated most negatively. My pet hate 'pop-up windows' is right at the top! This article also identifies those advertising techniques which people liked the most. The overall message is essentially about being straightforward and honest and avoidance of anything misleading. No surprises there then.
Corporate websites can also learn from these studies, even if they don't run ads. Many elements that users dislike in ad design are also common in mainstream Web design, with equally bad affects.
Jakob Neilsen The Most Hated Advertising Techniques
Tip for making your ads visible: open your page and give it a quick glance, putting yourself in the mindset of a regular user. Do the ads draw your attention, without being garish? Would you be likely to notice and read them, or do your eyes glide right past them? Try to find a balance between ads that overwhelm your content and ads that your users won't even see.
Google Ad Sense - what color palettes are the most successful?
An advertising conundrum

Here's the conundrum for me - for which I have no answer. Is it possible to have advertising on an art blog or an art website without compromising the messages of the artist and/or the marketing of any artwork?

The widgets I include on this blog essentially emphasise the global nature of and the interests of this blog's readership and I hope are welcoming and confirm this is the sort of blog which casual visitors with the same interests want to read. You may think differently - in which case I'd like you to comment below.

I'm also interested in whether you think advertising enhances or detracts from the art blog experience - and what makes it acceptable. Do please comment below.

About the drawing
I continue in my quest to develop a style of working in coloured pencil which leans more towards impressionism rather than photorealism in style. This copy of Manet's 'Lilacs in a glass' was interesting. I came across a few other versions in Google images. Most of the other artists who'd attempted a similar exercise seemed to want to make the image more realistic than it was originally painted by Manet! On the other hand I'm rather enjoying loosening up my CP style by copying the works of the Old Masters. I'm working on the principle that lots of practice will enable me to be more confident in working in a similar way with my own images. When creating something entirely original I can do it - I just don't feel quite so confident while I'm doing it!



  1. I toyed with the idea of advertising on my blog before I sold my novel. I lasted about a week before I couldn't stand even the tine, one line text ad placed on my site. I just couldn't hack it -- it looked cheap and out of place, like I wasn't making enough money on my art so I had to rent out rooms on my blog to boarders.

    Now that I have my novel and my art, I'm glad I don't have any advertising. My blog is a place for readers and clients and other artists and writers to find out more about me and chat in the comments -- and that will lead to indirect sales. As a very non-forward sales person who hates the in-your-face sale, this feels much more like "me."

  2. Just commenting on your drawing (Manet's lilacs in glass)... I love it.


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