Thursday, May 21, 2009

5 approaches to avoid on your art website or art blog

It's very difficult to get everything right in terms of an art website or blog. However, it's a lot easier to avoid doing things which are going to have a bad impact on your art website or art blog.

This post is based on the survey done by SEOMoz in 2007 which you can see in Search Engine Ranking Factors v2. What I've done is try and translate the top five negative factors which they identified into what they mean for artists who have a presence on the Internet.

This post follows on from:
The series is accompanied by a work in progress. This is a portrait drawing of Maggie Stiefvater's daughter Victoria. Today's picture is where I got to when I did the third scan.

Victoria - a work in progress #3
coloured pencils on Sennelier HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

SEOmoz provide a Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization for those looking for more help with sorting out their websites and blogs.

How to get into trouble

There are two ways you can get into trouble
  • either by doing something inadvertently or without appreciating the impact it will have
  • or by seeking to deceive
I've reordered the approaches identified by seomoz as ones which should be avoided so that they now moved from the silly to the stupid!

Server is Often Inaccessible to Bots

Internet bots are software programs which perform automated tasks - like crawling your website or blog to see if you've updated it. This feeds into updating how your web or blog pages are included in the search engines.However if your website can't be accessed it can't be ranked.

It pays to:
  • have a decent host with easily accessible servers
  • design/create your website or blog so that it can be crawled easily
Examples of things to avoid doing
  • DO NOT have images which are much bigger than needed - which means that the page takes ages to load.
  • DO NOT bloat your code unnecessarily. (You may be very surprised just how many sites have code bloat!) Bots speed through code which is not bloated. Slow them down and they'll index and/or update fewer pages
You can check out how long it takes to review your site and how much of the site is being updated by reviewing Google's Webmaster Tools/Statistics/Crawl Stats.

The artist's perspective: I've had problems in the past with this blog being slow to load. However I tend to reflect that this is probably a temporary problem and will be sorted and that it's likely to be sorted far quicker by Google/Blogger than I could achieve if I moved to another host!

However I did look at ways in which I could reduce the load on this very heavy weight art blog (in terms of posts, words and pictures). Here's a summary of the actions I took
  • Switched off the Blogger blogroll images in the blogroll - that made a big difference
  • Reduced the number of posts on display from seven to five
  • Eliminated all unnecessary widgets and any which seemed to be slow to load - no matter how nice they were!
  • Continued to keep all images posted to no bigger than 500 pixels on the longest dimensions and no bigger than 100KB @72 dpi
Plus I try to be a good neighbour by always contacting a website owner if their website is slow to load and let them know. Do you?

Content Very Similar or Duplicate of Existing Content in the Index

It's a mistake to duplicate blog posts or websites without being careful to make sure that only one shows up in the Google Index. This is what Google has to say about duplicate content . It's worth reading in detail as you will want to avoid the following...........
In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we'll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved. As a result, the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.
Duplicate content is filtered into the supplementary index. If pages on your website or blog are perceived to be duplicates they'll stop receiving any visitors or visits.

Duplicate Title/Meta Tags on Many Pages

Search engines are primarily interested in unique documents and text, and when they find multiple instances of the same content, they are likely to select a single one as "canonical" and display that page in their results.
seomoz Beginner's Guide - Critical Components of Optimizing a Site
Your website or blog will be crawled if you have duplicate titles or meta tags - however it's unlikely that all the pages will rank well in Google and you may well miss out on keywords that you could or should be ranking for.

The simple fact is that Google does not like duplication and wants all snippets to accurately represent the web result. Consequently it will leave out pages with page titles or description meta tags which are identical to one already indexed.

Google Webmaster Tools includes a tool called content analysis that you find in the Diagnostics section. Reviewing the results of this analysis helps you to identify if you've got any duplicate page titles or meta tags description issues.

TIP: If you want to see how many of your pages are indexed and HOW they are indexed remove the "http://" from your domain name and replace it with "site:" and then use this as a search term. will show you the number of pages in your website that are indexed by Google - but it won't tell you anything about page rank.

So, for example, if you do this search on my portfolio website (ie put into Google as a search term) you can see how I spent hours going through each individual page creating individual page titles and meta tags for each page. (That's hours as in 'it's a big website'!). Each page on the website has its own individual summary set up as the web page description. No pages duplicate.

Google's advice about what you should about page titles and tags is as follows
Good practices for page title tags

Accurately describe the page's content - Choose a title that effectively communicates the
topic of the page's content.
• choosing a title that has no relation to the content on the page
• using default or vague titles like "Untitled" or "New Page 1"

Create unique title tags for each page - Each of your pages should ideally have a unique
title tag, which helps Google know how the page is distinct from the others on your site.
• using a single title tag across all of your site's pages or a large group of pages

Use brief, but descriptive titles - Titles can be both short and informative. If the title is too
long, Google will show only a portion of it in the search result.
• using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users
• stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags

Search Engine Optimization

The description meta tags you provide are really important because Google might use them as snippets for your pages when indexing that page in Google - which is certainly what happened for all my meta tags. The words then become 'bolded' when they turn up in a search query.

You can Improve snippets with a meta description makeover. This is a blog post from 2007 on the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog. Google also has very useful advice in Changing your site's title and description in search results

Here's a summary of tips for page titles from the Google download (pdf file) Search Engine Optimization which I used when refining my website.

Page Titles
  • Create unique accurate page titles (can include the name of your business)
  • Make the title brief and describe what's on the page
  • Create unique title tags for each page
  • very long titles
  • vague titles
  • the same title running across the whole site
  • a title which does not reflect page content
Description meta tags
  • Accurately summarize the page's content
  • Use unique descriptions for each page
  • use keywords appropriately
  • a single meta tag applying to all the pages on the site
  • stuffing descriptions with keywords which are irrelevant to that page (although this tactic has been ineffective since 2005)

The artist's perspective:
Now after all the techie stuff - what are the issues for artists?

I kept reminding myself all the time I was writing my description meta tags that I am not the only artist who used pastels or coloured pencils and who drew/painted trees/still life/whatever. Here's a suggestion - when you've drafted a description meta tag, take a long hard look at it and ask yourself how many other artists could say the same thing? The quick way of making it distinctively yours is to include your name. Here's an example which comes straight from the query.
Pastels and Pencils - Drawings of Trees and Leaves by Katherine ...
Original fine art drawings of trees and leaves by Katherine Tyrrell in soft pastels and coloured pencils .
Things to note:
  • Title:
    • generic front end to title which relates to name of the portfolio website - it's the same on every page of the website.
    • middle section relates to what's on the page
    • end section includes my name
  • Description meta tags:
    • the snippet says exactly what's in the description meta tags
    • the meta tags include all the words which describe my work (and me) - it's original fine art, the artwork is drawings, the subject matter is trees and leaves, the media used is soft pastels and coloured pencils, the art was done by me
    • it's not the same as the text on the page
So four things to think about when writing descriptions:
  • precisely what type of art is it
  • what type of media
  • what's the subject matter
  • who produced it
This is where people who have galleries of mixed works in various types of media lose out in a major way.

Frankly none of this is rocket science. Anybody who can access the description meta tags (may be called "page description") for their website will be able to address any weaknesses with their current set-up. It doesn't involve code and it's not difficult. It just requires you to be methodical and systematic and capable of doing a very boring job!

SHORTCUT TIP: If you want to gain an insight into the description meta tags of successful sites which rank high in Google, view the website using as the page source option in the View menu item. Somewhere near the top of each page of code you will usually see both the page title and the description meta tags.

External Links to Low Quality/Spam Sites

Who you link to always matters.

If you link to low quality sites you're assumed to belong to the same neighbourhood. If you link to a spammer the search engines may assume you are a spammer too. If you link to a link farm you can do your site some serious damage.
a link farm is any group of web sites that all hyperlink to every other site in the group....A link farm is a form of spamming the index of a search engine (sometimes called spamdexing or spamexing).
wikipedia - link farm
Wikipedia has an interesting article about different forms of linking between websites.

The artist's perspective: The question for artists essentially boils down to working out which are good quality sites and which are low quality sites. That's not easy - but it does pay to look quite carefully at how they operate before you link to it.

I've seen a few website owners in the visual arts arena attempt exercises to enhance their page rank. One way is through a meme. It never involves the site owner in much effort and it always involves people in having to link to the site. I refuse point blank to reference any site where the nature of the exercise is nothing whatsoever to do with what it's ostensibly about and everything to do with getting links to one person's website so that the 'meme/wheeze' owner can enhance their advertising rates.

TIP: If you suddenly see a banner for a website on everybody's blog but it's nowhere to be seen on mine then ask yourself these questions
  • Does it require everybody to link to the same website?
  • How much effort does the site owner have to make to earn that link?
  • Does the site owner generate a fair bit of good content (as opposed to scraping the input of others)?
  • Does the 'host' website have advertising?
Now I hasten to add there are legitimate group activities which are OK - but if your answers to the above questions are Yes/Not a lot/No and Yes then you have your answer to why it's not on my site!

Overuse of Targeted Keywords (Stuffing/Spamming)

The general consensus in 2007 was that sites were more likely to be ignored than penalised if they stuffed their websites or blogs with targeted keywords. This is a definition of keyword stuffing. You know it when you see it so don't do it!

Besides which Search engines now employ themed, related keyword techniques to interpret the intent of the content on a page. If your titles and tags don't match the content of your page you'll have a problem.

The artist's perspective: For artists, the best approach is to know what keywords are relevant to the topic you are writing about and to use them sensibly and appropriately. Avoid overuse just because they happen to be legitimate for that topic.

The one aspect I'm not clear about here is the repeated use of the type of media for each painting on the gallery page of a website (ie 20 paintings = 20 uses of 'oil painting'). Anybody got any comment about this aspect?

The next post in this series will be about the controversial factors - those where people disagree about their impact on your website or blog.

Feel free to comment about any aspect of this post. As I indicated yesterday I'm somebody who tries to keep myself aware of the issues re SEO, rather than an expert. All I'm trying to do is work out what's important to know if you're an artist. Helpful comments are always appreciated!

Making a Mark reviews......


  1. Wow! As a relatively new landscape painter and very new blogger, I am delighted to have found your blog (which I linked to via an Empty Easel article). Some of this information is beyond my level of expertise right now, but several key points in this and your earlier articles about SEO are very pertinent to my efforts.

    I see that you also follow the work of my generous landscape artist, mentor, Linda Blondheim. That's cool, too.

    Mary Lemmenes

  2. Thanks for writing all this - how useful! Now I just wonder, where do you add the meta tags...?

  3. Really, really useful Katherine, thank you.

  4. Where can you find meta tags? Sorry I should have made that clearer!

    OK - first blogs - and I can only comment re Blogger blogs

    In Blogger I think the meta tags for the description of the blog content can be found as follows
    - go to Settings
    - go to 'Basic'
    - See the 'Description' box - that's what comes up as the snippet under the blog title when your blog is listed in Google so I'm assuming that's the meta tags.

    If you look at the html for the template on mine - right up near the top - there's a section which relates to meta content. Don't touch that - it's picking up stuff from the options in settings.

    Now look at the published version of my blog and check out how many keywords relating to the type of content you find on my blog I got into that description under the blog name. That wasn't an accident!

    That's what I meant (in an earlier post) about people who create banner images needing to make sure they've still got their site described

  5. Now on a website, obviously the software is all going to vary. If your website has very accessible software which is wysiwyg oriented it's like to say 'site description' rather than meta tags

    Similarly for each page there will be a page properties section and that probably has a section related to page descrpiption. Again that should be the meta tags providing the snippet for that page

    Or at least that's the way it works in SiteKreator which is the web software which what I use for my website. Sitekreator is also super easy to use, very flexible and has good support and tutorials available!

  6. Thanks for explaining, Katherine - most helpful!

  7. this pencil work is BEUAITUFL Katherine!!

  8. Thank you so much for creating this entire, very informative post. I continue to learn so much from your blog and look forward to checking in each day. Thanks for all the time you put into creating it. Beautiful work on the portrait as well. It radiates light.


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