Internet Marketing for Artists: The Website
Facebook, YouTube, Web Hosting, Twitter, Google, Instagram, PayPal, SEO, Pinterest, Messenger, Email…
For most of us, being an artist today also means being an internet marketer.
You want to find your collectors online, show them your work, and get it on their walls.
But, the list I started with says it all. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and they need to work well together for you to succeed.
In this bewildering new world we are all navigating, that’s a huge challenge, to say the least.
I’m sure there are countless paths to building a successful online art business. The only one that matters is the one that works for you.
But I thought it might be interesting and helpful to share what I have done – how I have fit the pieces of the puzzle together into an ecosystem of sorts.
So, I’m going to write a series of articles discussing how I’ve built my online presence, and some of the strategies behind it.
And I’m going to begin with center stage… the spoke around which the entire wheel revolves.
All of your efforts online should have one ultimate goal in mind: To get people to your website.
Once there, you can show them your work in the very best light. You can begin to nurture relationships with potential collectors. When ready, they can purchase your work directly from you, completely bypassing the traditional gallery system.
More importantly, it is one of only 2 online assets you can own and control outright – the other being your email list.
All other aspects of your online presence – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc… are controlled by somebody else. You don’t own it. You can’t change it. And you are vulnerable to the whims of some of the largest corporate entities in the world.
The fact is, these companies have complete control over these parts of our online presence, and they can shut us down for any real or perceived violations of their terms of service.
They Froze my Account
I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of artists’ social media accounts being suspended or even terminated.
It happened to me a few years ago. YouTube’s algorithm mistakenly flagged several of my videos as violating their community standards and froze my account for 2 days. Of course it was an error. When I appealed it, the human being who reviewed my case agreed and immediately restored my account to good standing.
But the lesson was clear.
It taught me I needed to invest my real time and energy into the assets which I personally own, and which nobody else can take away from me.
Putting my online presence – and my business – on this solid foundation gives me the security to move forward with confidence in this new and constantly evolving digital world.
With that, I’d like to describe my website from a high level, and share how I arrived at some of the decisions I’ve made about it.
Hopefully, I can give you some constructive things to think about as you consider your own digital strategy for showing and selling your artwork.
Built on a Solid Foundation
A few years ago I completely rebuilt my website using WordPress. Prior to that, I had a custom-built site. It worked well for a long time, but was showing its age – especially because it wasn’t mobile-friendly.
Other platforms I looked at – like Wix, SquareSpace, and FASO – were simply not viable options for me. They definitely shine in their ease of use. It’s not too hard to upload a few images, write some text, and get a decent enough website.
But that comes at a price.
At the time I evaluated them (early 2017), I felt uncomfortable with the fact that they constrained me to a limited number of layouts and design choices. While the layouts looked well-designed, I strongly felt that I needed the freedom to build my website in any way I chose.
As a rule, the websites built on these platforms tend to look pretty similar to one another. I wanted the ability to stand out.
My biggest concern, however, was that going with one of these builder platforms would have locked me in to one company’s solution. I had real concerns about the practicality of moving my website to another provider if there was an issue – say if the company went out of business.
So I chose WordPress
WordPress has been used to build about a third of the websites on the Internet. It’s flexible, powerful, and very stable.
There was a learning curve, but not a steep one, and there are countless videos and websites to help.
I did have to roll up my sleeves and do all of the design work. For me, that was the hardest part. Although I paint all day, web design is a completely unrelated discipline, even if there is an aesthetic component.
So I went through a fair amount of trial and error with the web design. Mostly error.
But learning new skills is always worthwhile, and I got exactly the website I wanted in the end.
There’s no question I picked the harder path. But I think I got a better result. Big rewards require big efforts.
While WordPress is extremely flexible and powerful, with that comes a lot of detailed choices to make. For instance, you might have to define a font every place you use text. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is.
Themes are essentially bundles of low-level design choices and definitions that easily allow a uniform look and feel across a website. They allow a user to define, say, a font in one place, and it will then be used everywhere. A well-designed theme will set a clear visual “flavor” for your entire website.
Hundreds – if not thousands – of WordPress themes are available. Some are free, and others are paid. While the benefits of a free theme are obvious, I decided on a paid option. It’s important that a theme be updated and maintained regularly, and that is far from a given with a free theme. I also wanted to have dependable support when I needed it.
Ultra from Themify
I purchased a package from Themify, and built my site using their Ultra theme. It’s powerful and robust, yet I found it quite easy to use. The few times I’ve needed to contact support have made the upfront investment entirely worth it.
And, it has allowed me to design a website I can feel proud of.
You might think purchasing a theme contradicts my decision to not lock myself in to a platform plan from the likes of Wix or Squarespace.
That isn’t really the case, however.
If I needed to, I could drop a new theme onto my website with a few clicks. I would then need to address a lot of small formatting issues. But that would probably be an afternoon’s worth of work. The basic structure of the website would be completely unaffected.
That’s a far cry from what would be involved in redoing my website from the ground up if I moved from Wix to FASO, for instance – days and days of work. If not more.
My website “lives” at a hosting facility. In my case, it’s InMotion Hosting. I have a shared hosting plan (meaning my website is on a server with multiple other websites). My traffic needs are not enough to require a dedicated server, and so this keeps the cost down – I pay less than $20 a month for the service. Cheaper options are also available.
While some hosts may be better than others on this feature or that one, most hosting facilities are basically good, and basically get the job done.
I don’t have any strong feelings about particular service providers in this space. If I were to decide my current hosting facility just wasn’t cutting it anymore, I could migrate to another one in a matter of a few hours.
The core purpose of my website is to build relationships and sell my artwork.
For the sales part, I needed a shopping cart service. This functionality is not baked in to the core of WordPress, so I needed to get an additional piece of software, called a plugin.
Several are available, but I chose WooCommerce. It’s an industry standard, very stable and solid, and there is a free option available. Since my needs were simple and basic, I did not feel like I needed the paid version, though I could easily upgrade in the future.
WooCommerce allows me to define my products (in this case paintings), display them in an attractive way, and process the purchase when a collector is interested in a piece.
When tied in with a payment processor that connects to my bank, I now have an end-to-end system that allows a customer to look at a painting in-depth, check out using a familiar shopping cart model, and process a credit card payment with the money ending up in my account.
In other words, exactly what a gallery would do for me, without paying the 50% consignment.
The starting point of building relationships is collecting an email address for my subscription list.
I do this automatically by connecting my website with my email service provider (I use ActiveCampaign, which I will discuss in depth in an upcoming post). Simple signup forms pass information directly to ActiveCampaign without me needing to do anything manually.
I also purchased a service called OptinMonster, which gives advanced ways of asking for email addresses.
Some of these will be familiar to you. In particular, the exit-intent popup, which detects when a user is about to leave a page, and shows them a final request for their information.
I’ve employed that, and also use a small floating bar at the bottom of most pages on my site, to give the user another opportunity to subscribe.
However, I’m starting to rethink these tactics.
The popup windows and floating bars can seem come across as pushy and even a little needy. I want to subscribe people who have a burning desire to be on my list… and they don’t need insistent tactics to get their email addresses. If I haven’t given people that burning desire, I should probably work on stronger content.
So… I’m still evaluating OptinMonster, but I have a feeling I may not renew the service when my year’s contract is up.
As I said above, web design is not a strength of mine, and it’s a skill I still have to work on.
And I’ve made plenty of mistakes.
My biggest failing has been a tendency to over-complicate the website.
But… I’m learning.
Lately, I’ve been striving to bring simplicity and clarity to the design.
My website has 2 jobs – build relationships and sell paintings – and these days I make my decisions based on those criteria.
If a page on my site doesn’t help with either of those goals, I change it or delete it.
As of this writing (October 2019), that leaves 4 major sections of the site, as reflected by my top-level menu items: Start Here, Paintings, Available Paintings, and About.
Start Here is the introduction to me and my work. Until recently, it was a very lengthy page – a deep dive into my process. Ultimately it was far too long, and the writing style was too stiff and formal. There’s still some good meat in the article, and I will repurpose it for something else, but I removed it from the website.
The replacement is much simpler, just a 3 minute video and an invitation to sign up. This is a less forbidding introduction, and it’s working better.
The Paintings section showcases my older pieces – especially those that have sold. There is a page for Signature Paintings – the best I’ve done, another for paintings in private collections, and another large uncurated archive. There is certainly room for simplification here, but it’s not the highest priority on my list.
Available Paintings is a separate top-level menu item because I want to draw attention to it. And, it’s something people always look for on an artist’s site.
The About section includes my biography, statement, and testimonials. Standard pages for an artist’s website.
And that’s it. That’s all my website currently contains.
I actually do have a blog with about a dozen years of posts in it. Most of them are pretty forgetable, but some are still worth reading.
I don’t currently include the blog in the menu, though I’m considering changing that. Particularly as I begin to write more content like this.
So, that is a high-level view of my website. My next article like this will discuss the second important element of a web-based art business, the email list.