Saturday, May 23, 2009

SEO for Artists - which factors help or hinder?

Does doing something help or penalize an artist's website or blog? This post is the last in this mini-series about SEO for artists and the factors which influence how a site ranks in search engine pages in response to a query - based on the results of the 2007 SEOmoz survey Search Engine Ranking Factors v2

It follows on from:

Victoria - a work in progress #4
8" x 8", coloured pencils on Sennelier HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

What are the controversial factors?

The SEOmoz survey in 2007 - Search Engine Ranking Factors v2 - identified some controversial factors (you can find a list at the end).

Below you will find three of these identified - while others were covered in earlier posts. I'm trying to identify those where there might be implications for artists and/or relevant to most artists' websites or blogs.

All of this, of course assumes that you actually want your website/blog and your artwork to be found!

Relevance of Site's Primary Subject Matter to Query

The topical relationships between the full content of a website and a user's given query
The reason this factor is controversial is the fact that Google searches sometimes throw up sites which have no obvious relevance to the query. A number of reasons are advanced for this in the comments on this factor - one being that old and trusted websites have an advantage over newer websites. Then there are the websites which you would think are relevant - and yet fail to appear. A classic example of the latter is the art society website which should have a lot of content which is relevant, lots of artists' (whether or not they are members) and other authoritative websites linking to them - and yet they fail to rank in Google.

Another way in which a site may not surface in response to a query is if it is a blog rather than a website. It's very difficult to tell how Google treat blogs as opposed to website and I've observed practice varying over time. My own personal theory is that as blogs exploded they started to swamp the Internet and search query results. I'm now very inclined to think that they don't get listed unless they are very relevant and/or very old and/or perceived as very authoritative - however that's just a personal view. In other words it now takes longer for your blog to have an impact.

You'd think that 'relevance' of a website's primary topic would obviously help your website or blog if that's what it's about. However, that rather depends on:
  • whether the topic has been described in text on the website in a way which matches closely to a query - because Google search works on words not images
  • whether the site description and keywords have a close relationship with the query
  • whether the site in question is a website or blog
  • whether or not the website or blog is actually clear about its primary focus and topics which are covered.
From my travels around the net, my guess is that there are a fair few artists who are missing out on visits because they've uploaded a lot of images but not paid too much attention to the topics, keywords or text. Or they've really sweated over their artist's statement - but not paid as much attention to describing what their art is about (as opposed to how it comes about).

That's fine if you're only interested in sending visitors to your site via people you've approached or personally given your card. However if you'd like to find casual site traffic you have to do a bit work to get your website or blog to rank. Being topical is not enough!

Participation in Link Schemes or Actively Selling Links

The basic principle is that Google tends to respond negatively to practices which seek to manipulate SEO and page rank. This is a controversial factor as some commentators suggest that it only matters if you get caught - while others suggest that deceptive practices are a very high risk strategy.
Some site owners attempt to "buy PageRank™" in the form of paid links to their sites. Buying links to improve PageRank violates our quality guidelines.
Google - report paid links
Google has a page for people to report paid links. Google suggests has a number of excellent suggestions around quality control of your website or blog:
  • make pages primarily for users not search engines
  • avoid the use of any tricks designed to improve page rank (eg buying links)
  • Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank.
I think the difficulty here lies with confusion over what are paid links. I think we all know intuitively that anybody who says "pay me a £1,000 and I'll give you links that will make a huge difference to your website" might well involved some trickery which may cause a negative impact. However, an advertisement is a paid link so there must be some way to differentiate between the two - and Google suggests what that is below. Also below you'll find how Google defines the link schemes and paid links that it doesn't like
Examples of link schemes can include:
  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging ("Link to me and I'll link to you.")
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
..............Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:
  • Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the tag
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file
Google - Link Schemes
The artist's perspective: Every time I see a scheme for reciprocal linking I wonder if people are aware of the potential risks. By all means link to other art blogs and websites - but I'd suggest being selective and looking long and hard at all schemes which require reciprocal links. For example, does it involve excessive exchange linking?

Also don't think other people know better than you or that things stay the same. I've joined blog directories - and then removed my blog from those same directories. In my view they had become bad neighbourhoods - they were full of poor quality sites and sites which seemed to be trying to manipulate page rank

Every time I see an advert placed by an artist I wonder if paying for the placement of that advert is backfiring on them if it's not had a rel="nofollow" attribute to the link/image tag by the website which hosts the advert.

I never ever allow anybody to post a link on this blog which is cloaking a spam link - mainly because I don't know whether that site which is being deceptive is also part of a bad neighbourhood. That's why all my comments are moderated - and this mini-series has managed to attract quite a few comments (all of which have been rejected) which were presumably written by people who don't read my warnings!

Quality of the Document Content (as measured algorithmically)
Assuming search engines can use text, visual or other analysis methods to determine the validity and value of content, this metric would provide some level of rating
This factor is a bit like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We'd love to believe in it but first we'd have to be able to know where it exists! If content is king why do the cut and paste splogs (spam blogs) do so well? That's essentially why this factor is controversial - and the comments make interesting reading. In principle nobody has a problem with quality of the document content being influential. In practice. the issue is about how this can be measured effectively - and weed out all the scrapers and spammers.

The artist's perspective: One commentator also asked who gets to define "quality" and how it is measured. I think that's a very good question. Goodness knows we know how jurors can vary in their views about what is 'good art' and what gets juried into a show, so how on earth can we ever hope that Google will be able to tell the difference between very good artists and those who not so wonderful? What it means is that artists who pay attention to refining the presentation of content from their website may do better in response to Google queries than those who are much better artists.

It seems likely that content comes into play if a site can first demonstrate that it has authority. All I can say is I've noticed big jumps in page rank status for this site has it has met and crossed specific thresholds for links and numbers of visitors.

I guess the analogy goes something along the lines of create great content - whether that's text, blog posts, new artwork or daily paintings - and people will sign up to receive updates form your site. Regular updates of your site also indicates that a site is active and lively which Google also likes. Posting daily paintings is a jolly good way of leading people towards your larger paintings, exhibitions and other places where they can find your work for sale.

As your authority increases Google starts to get more interested in the content of that text, those blog posts, and those images of new work and daily paintings.

What are the controversial factors?
  1. Manual Authority/Weight Given to Site Google is occasionally suspected or accused of applying manual manipulation to a domain or page (note that this factor refers specifically to positive ranking manipulation)
  2. Relevance of Site's Primary Subject to Query - see above
  3. Participation in Link Schemes or Actively Selling Links - see above
  4. Duplicate Title/Meta Tags on Many Pages - see 5 approaches to avoid on your art website or art blog
  5. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site - 5 more ways of helping your art website to rank well in Google
  6. Quality of the Document Content - (as measured algorithmically) - see above
  7. Domain Extension of Linking Site (edu, gov, com, ca,, etc) - in broad terms, some links (ending in edu or gov) provide an indication of whether a site has weight, is influential and can be trusted - but this is much less likely to be relevant to the vast majority of artists' websites and blogs. It might account for why so many art student sites pop up in search queries.
  8. Server is Often Inaccessible to Bots - see 5 approaches to avoid on your art website or art blog
  9. External Links to Low Quality/Spam Sites - see 5 approaches to avoid on your art website or art blog
  10. TLD Extension of Site (edu, gov, com, ca, etc...) - as for 7

I'm going to try and pull all the relevant information together in a new site I started today - SEO for artists - and I'll let you know when that's been published.

Making a Mark reviews......


  1. Hi Katherine,

    I'm sure that you've read about SEO on several blogs and I believe that you'll agree with me that they all say practically the same.
    Of course that there are technical issues concerning SEO and not everyone is into it.
    But alot of folks are and they're all doing the same.
    So, how can one distinguish oneself from the crowd ?
    Why does your blog has so many visits and followers ?
    It's all about content and regular posting.
    And when talking about content, it's not only quality that's important, in fact quality sometimes may come second, it's relevancy.
    An article may have quality, but if it's not relevant for its readers, they won't comeback to your blog.
    One thing that I do once in a while is to ping my blog, which will tell robots that my blog has been updated.

    Take care,


  2. Katherine, I think your portrait of Victoria is my favorite of all your work. It is so lovely! You've handled the light on her face in a delicate, yet contrasting way. And her hair is so wonderful, it looks natural and windblown. Congratulations on this.

  3. Jose - content, relevancy and frequency are certainly very important.

    If you use a feedburner (like Feedburner!) for your subscribers, then you can tick the option to automatically ping the feedreaders every time you publish.


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