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Artists and SEO - What are the keywords people are using?

by Clint Watson on 1/22/2010 12:53:23 PM

  This article is by Clint Watson,  former art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here.

I've been thinking more about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and artists.
So I decided to look up some Alexa data on what keywords drive search traffic to several artists I know are successful and selling their art.

Note that the bars indicate the volume of search traffic, so, in each case, only the top 1 or 2 terms really seem to be sending a significant percentage of the traffic.

Top keywords sending search traffic to Kevin Macpherson: "kevin mcpherson", "kevin macpherson artist", "kevin mcpherson", "kevinmacpherson"
"Branded" keywords sending search traffic to Kevin Macpherson in report:  ALL
"Generic" keywords sending search traffic to Kevin Macpherson in report:  NONE



Top keywords sending search traffic to Richard Schmid: "schmid", alla prima, alla prima book
"Branded" keywords (out of top 10) sending search traffic to Richard Schmid in report:  9 (alla prima, stove prarie press are Schmid brands).
"Generic" keywords (out of top 10) sending search traffic to Richard Schmid in report:   1 (sign lithographs)



Top keywords sending search traffic to Hazel Dooney: "hazel dooney", "hazeldooney", "dooney", "hazel", "hazel in decent" (what is that one about?)
"Branded" keywords (out of top 10) sending search traffic to Hazel Dooney in report:  9 ("dangerous career" is a Dooney "brand" form the "Dangerous Career Babes" artwork series).
"Generic" keywords (out of top 10) sending search traffic to Dooney in report:   1 ("ultra violet one")
Overwhelming top keyword for Kevin Macpherson?  "kevin mcpherson"
Overwhelming top keyword for Richard Schmid? "schmid"
Overwhelming top keyword for Hazel Dooney? "hazel dooney"
What do you think the overwhelming top search term for people coming to your artist web site will likely be?
Clint Watson
Software Craftsman, Art Fanatic, Contrarian Marketer


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Related Posts:

The Foundation of Your Online Art Marketing Strategy is....

I am the Contrarian Art Marketer

Easy SEO Opportunity for Artists

What REALLY Drives Web Traffic - Word-of-Mouth and Advertising

The New Branding

Web Traffic is Not an Asset

SEO Not the Most Important Thing

Topics: art marketing | SEO | Web Site Tips 

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Lori Woodward
Most common search on my site: Lori Woodward
Then "Lori Woodward artist"

I also get a lot of hits for "Putney Painters"

But most of my traffic comes through links from Facebook, Twitter, Fine Art Views, Artist Daily, other artists who put links to my blog on their site.

Brian Kleiwer had an interesting point about search words - he put Farnsworth Museum on his site because he lives near there and it's an art museum. That got me thinking that I should put meta tags on my site saying "Acadia National Park" and "Tucson Arizona" because I paint those places, but maybe that's not connected to what you're asking Clint.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
"lori woodward" and "putney painters" both branded terms. This post is only about *search* traffic - all of the artists I outlined my get more traffic from non-search sources than they do search engines (ie social media).

Using meta tags won't accomplish anything for ranking in search engines - that's not what they're for - that gets into another subject I'll cover at a different time.

Lori Woodward
Uh Oh Clint. Now I've realized just how ignorant I am about the whole topic. I thought I understood, so I glanced over previous blogs on SEO, but maybe I have got it all wrong.

What is a simple (easy to understand for artists) definition for SEO...

Anyone else confused, if not - please enlighten me... I guess SEO is not terribly important because I haven't had to learn much about it.

Clint, is there a good reason for me to know more?

Lori Woodward
Here's the question I have for you Clint. Are you thinking that SEO is more important for artists than you once did?

Clint Watson
via with facebook
I have not changed my position, I still don't think a *focus* on SEO is all that important for most artists - I think ranking for your NAME or some really specific niche *is* important, and I've always thought that. My opinion hasn't changed, I'm just gathering data to back it up, although I do plan to do this type of analysis on other art sites too.

Esther J. Williams
Clint, I took your advice last year and bought my name I was lucky it was available because the movie star/swimmer has the same middle name. So now I tell people to Google me and not to forget the j in the middle. That brings up all my website pages and comments on your blog on the front page of Google. So, I was able to differentiate from the sea of estherwilliams searches. Years ago, when I just told people my name without the j, they couldn`t find me easily on the internet. Now, I am plastered all over it. I just registered with Alexa and will use it to further reasearch. I am learning about inbound marketing also.

Terry Krysak
This is a great discussion, and I hope it continues.

I don't seem to show up on Alexa, but my top source of search traffic has been a post I wrote about making your own color chart. A Goggle image search with "make your own color chart" shows my blog post in the #1 and #3 position in the top row.

Honestly I don't understand why that is the case. Is that search result because of not very much information written on the subject?

Kathy Chin
I went to a pricing workshop the other day, and one of the participants told us how much her website traffic has increased because of Twitter and FB. She said she only got involved recently with Twitter, but says she's already gotten some jobs because of it.
She credited the "friend of a friend" concept for the increase in traffic on her site.
She couldn't stop talking about how much it has helped her business.

Esther J. Williams
Hello Clint, I registered with Alexa and they do not find any sites with my name esther j williams. The suggestion they gave me is to add a META TAG line in between the HEAD and the closing HEAD of my homepage. I tried to access that on my site with FASO and do not find it in the HTML on the main page. Can you tell me how to get this done? I sure would like to see my website link come up on Alexa.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
Esther - our support team can help you with a meta tag - there is a way to do that. However, there is really no benefit to an artist in registering with Alexa. I wouldn't recommend you even spend time on it. All Alexa does is attempt to provide general traffic/keyword statistics for sites on the Internet for reasons that are not really of use to artists. The stats you have access to with FASO will be much more accurate than Alexa's "guesses" - I used the Alexa data on this blog post because it is public information and therefore is OK to share in a public forum.

Esther J. Williams
Clint, thanks. I will think about it.

Leslie Saeta
I use, a free service that tells me where all of my hits are coming from to my website and blog. I am always fascinated with the "recent keyword activity" statistic. At least 95 percent of the keywords used to find my blog include my last name. So Clint, what can we do to increase the visibility of our name in our blogs and websites? Are there any tricks?

Rhonda Gauthier
I enjoy checking the stats section, through the FASO web site, on who visits my web site. It is interesting to see that people all over the world look at my web site. I have two domain names, my original and now

Clint Watson
Leslie - probably the best "trick" is to make sure your domain is or contains your name. Having keywords in the domain is, at this time, a pretty big factor at least with google. But, unless you have a common name (or someone else famous with the same name), most artists shouldn't have much trouble ranking well for their name. Another good thing to do is set up a facebook and twitter profile, even if you don't use it because it's two other sites that might rank for your name and point back to your site. It's not inconceivable for someone to comand most of the front page of google for a search on their name.

I think every single result on the front page of Google (ie spots 1-10) when searching for "clint watson" point to me or a page about me - if little ol' me can do it.........

Leslie Saeta
Thanks clint! I guess it is a good think I married my husband because there are not too many people with the last name of Saeta. I just googled my name and yippee - the first ten are me! I had no idea that it was already working.
I have completed all of your suggestions (and you do get a big thank you for all of your talk about newsletters ... they do work and do sell paintings!) except for twitter. Does twitter take a ton of time? I have a huge problem that I spend too much time on the computer as it is. And you do think it is worth it?

Esther J. Williams
Clint, what I do not get is why am I all over the front page of Google with esther j williams but Alexa doesn`t even find me with those keywords? I am on Twitter and Facebook plus 4 art associations, several other online art gallery sites but Alexa doesn`t see me. I find that confusing.

Clint Watson
Lesle - sign up for twitter only to make sure YOU are but don't worry about actually using it if you don't have time. It's not a high-payoff activity for selling art. Only use it if you like it for "fun."

And before I get flamed, yes, I know Twitter *can* be valuable but for most artists other things are much *more* valuable.

Clint Watson
Esther - your site doesn't get enough traffic for Alexa to track. Please trust me on this - there is no benefit to you to being tracked by Alexa - they don't matter one bit for an artist. They are only important if you're a big media company selling ad space based on your traffic and need an independent source to prove your traffic. They are not even that great of a source, they were just the easiest one for me to pull the data to show you because the other sources require paid subscriptions to get the info and I thought it would violate the terms to show the data publicly.

Clint Watson
Esther - that was not a slam by the way - a LOT of sites don't get enough traffic for Alexa to track.

Sharon Weaver
Since the artists name is the overwhelming hook, I am wondering if it helps direct traffic to a post id you put your name in "key words" when posting on blogspot?

Jeff Brimley
I hate to play devils advocate but, This article is fine for a well established artist who already has name recognition. But this doesn't help someone like me, Jeff Brimley who is still trying to get my name out there. So my question is what are the SEO of up and coming artist who are getting a lot of traffic to their site?

Esther J. Williams
Clint, no insult taken. I just started with your website service last year using my real name instead of that I had for 9 years, so it will take time. One person at a time.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
In response to Cory:

It's not just keywords and traffic (although "handmade metal jewelry" is a tiny traffic term according google's keyword tool returning as "not enough data" for the month of December.)

It's more than traffic it is INTENT.

If someone is searching for "Kevin Macperson" they likely have INTENT to follow him, purchase his art, contact him or take a workshop.

If someone is searching for a generic term it's sometimes very hard to ascertain the intent. They may not be buyers. As I said in Web Traffic is not an asset - they may simply waste your time.

"If I actually sold jewelry, I would probably be doing pretty well." - not really any data to back that statement up. We don't know if people searching for that are looking to buy handmade metal jewelry, sell handmade metal jewelry, sell products to jewelry artists, find supplies to make handmade metal jewelry, etc.

"most of their traffic doesn't come from their top 10 search terms." - while true of ALL search traffic IN GENERAL, that's actually NOT true in the cases I pointed out, the bars next to each term indicate the PERCENTAGE of search traffic. I used another source (that I pay for and couldn't release public data on) but the top keywords for each site that I discuss here accounted for well over 95 percent of search traffic for the examples given.

"That's why companies like Imagekind and Fine Art America are doing so well." - of course, because for aggregators like Imagekind the "Long Tail" IS all the names of all the thousands of artists who pay to show with them. Those are still searches for branded artists names they are benefitting from...with each long tail term representing a person out there doing marketing and building traffic to imagekind for them. Not that that's a bad thing but it's a different example than an individual artist site. Let's look at traffic on imagekind separately for EACH ARTIST for apples to apples comparisons.

I think a lot of people who are recommending SEO for artists are talking about ON PAGE SEO. By all means - do that - it's a no brainer. Yes use alt tags on your images, use descriptive titles, utilize H1 tags blah blah blah, or sign up for a website service that handles all that for you. And on-page SEO is a huge part of ranking for long-tail terms, because long tail terms by definition don't have much competition and thus the search engines rely a lot more on on-page factors. But going after head terms takes a LOT more than on-page SEO and that's where I think artists should move on to other opportunities.

Ranking for long-tail terms IS pretty EASY, natural and organic (and thus you don't need to pay anyone to do it for you) if you have a blog. So if you are willing to blog - do it. Cory's example illustrates how easy long tail ranking can be with a blog: He did an interview, then he ranked for a long-tail term - easy. That's not really an "SEO campaign" in the way that I'm saying SEO is not a great use of an artist's time. As an artist if you want to blog - that's a good thing - you'll pick up some "long tail" terms. But I don't think you should pay an SEO, target a "head" term, engage in massive link-building campaigns, set up microsites, buy old domains with lots of Page Rank and redirect them to your domain, etc.

I think other things will be worth a LOT more to your career. Yes those SEO things might work for some outliers, but other things will work better for most artists.

By the way, I am building a resource of data that will provide quantitative insights about this question with real data from a variety of real artists. I've just started and don't have a ton of data yet but so far every successful artist I've asked to share factors of their success with me, when I get to the question about SEO they ask "what's that?" I guess it's not that important to them :-)

So let's sum up:

1. A guy who sold tons of art doesn't think SEO a top priority for most artists (me).

2. One of the Internet's leading SEOs (Aaron Wall of SEOBook) doesn't think SEO is a good way for artists to spend their marketing time.

3. So far, artists who are making a living selling their artwork are telling us they don't even know what SEO is.

4. Alyson Stanfield says your mailing list is your number one asset.

Those seem like some pretty good sources for artists to consider to me. So why don't we start with the number one marketing asset (mailing list) and work our way down? I think if most artists did that, they would be so successful that SEO would never get high enough on the list to be a priority to actively focus on.

Of course, then again, I could be wrong . . . .

Clint Watson
via with facebook
In response to Jeff:

I think some people have mistaken my intent here.

I don't think SEO is a great use of most artists time - known or unknown. Art Marketing is about building a group of followers, sometimes one at a time. Yes it's slow, yes the established guys have an advantage. That's why the first part of the word painting is "pain."

There are a lot of practical things artists can do that will be a bigger payoff than SEO and that's what this blog and our newsletter discuss on a daily basis.

cory huff
Clint, I love your methodical approach to this stuff. It shows that you really know your stuff.

I'm glad for the discussion.

While you are in the process of gathering traffic data, I'd be even more interested in conversion data, if artists have it. It would be interesting to see how much search traffic converts to sales.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
I think I need to point out to everyone that I have nothing AGAINST SEO.

I am currently doing a ton of behind the scenes SEO stuff for our companies and have read the archives all the way back to 2004 of three of the top SEO blogs. I understand SEO very well at this point. And, no, I don't want to outline what we're doing because there may be people reading this blog that I'm competing against for competitive terms :-)

I am paying an SEO firm right now to help us with certain aspects (all white hat). That contract is not a cheap one, I promise you.

So I *DO* see the value of SEO for certain situations and *WE* are in that situation. And if I ever see the situation looking different for the "average" artist - I will change my stance - but I don't see it at this point.

The reason I tell artists not to focus on SEO is that I don't want you to waste your time, simple as that. If you want to waste your time and money let us know - you can sign an SEO services contract with us :-)

Clint Watson
via with facebook
Cory - conversion data - that is part of what I'm asking - for all sources not just search traffic, although it will likely be their estimate rather than hard numbers like Google Analytics can provide. Still most people have a good gut feeling of what is working for them.

Leslie Saeta
Clint - Thanks for your summation that basically says to ignore the SEO's and focus on building our mailing lists. I agree 100 percent. And I think we should all remember, "if you build it, they will come".

Clint Watson
via with facebook
Leslie - I never said "if you build it, the will come" - that's probably not true IMHO. It still takes marketing.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
If you guys really WANT an SEO tip, I'll give you won't help you sell much art, but it can be fun if you like this sort of thing.

If you want to build links pointing to your site, try creating some "linkbait" that entices other people to read your blog post and, hopfully, link to you.

Here's one way to try it:

1. Take some generally accepted wisdom like "SEO is a good marketing technique for artists" and write a piece that QUESTIONS that belief. People will be curious and want to read why you're saying something different than the crowd.

Of course never write anything that you don't actually believe in, but you can play up the way you present it in the title a little.

I don't think linkbait is worth your time as far a selling art goes but everyone keeps wanting to know something about SEO and getting external links is definitely a big part of traditional SEO.

So there's an SEO tip for the day...and don't forget those alt tags.......

Jeff Brimley
Ok I'm a presumptive fool. With reading some of your later comments I think I see where you were going with this. NAME RECOGNITION! These artists are receiving higher traffic from name recognition. So I went out into the internet and did research on how to do this. I found a great article on this at

As I have consistently come across the two rules to name recognition, Content on your website and being consistent.

Leslie Saeta
Clint - I was referring to the mailing list. "If you build it (the mailing list), they will come"!

Clint Watson
via with facebook
Leslie - ahhh - my mistake - yes if you build a mailing list they will come and you can lead them where you want them to go.....

Diane Tasselmyer
My head is spinning after reading the responses to this post.
I am very glad I took the advice and started a new domain with my name Diane Tasselmyer. I was so intimidated by it's spelling ('s Incorrect spelling) that I hesitated. But it is who I am and who I want to be remembered as.
So now I have two domains pointing to my FASO website.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
Jeff - yes - name recognition. Most artists have no problem ranking for their name. However, in those cases where it is a problem, it's so important, I'm beginning to think it might be worth it for the artist to paint under an alias. Of course that's a problem if someone has a pretty established career.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
I am undecided on that "alias" issue by the way, before anyone decides to change their name . . . .

Judy Mudd
Always good to see the facts, straight up. Thanks for the research!

Carole Rodrigue
I think this has been a great lesson. I get a lot of hits from people using my name, even though I'm not well known. But it's proving to me that my name is beginning to get recognized when I get people from all over googling my name and know it's me they're looking for because they add words like artist, horse painter. . .
And isn't that what we should be aiming for, name recognition?

Mark Haglund
I agree with Clint on SEO for artists. I am not sure it pays off for me. It may pay off for some. My business plan for marketing my art is at the local level. I also solicit several National Galleries on a regular bases, but competition is tough. So instead of sitting on my hands waiting for a nationaly know gallery for representation, I market in my art locally.

This is my plan:
I go to several local Biz to Biz weekly meetings to promote my art and educate people on Fine Art. I also promote my blogs and website. I believe word of mouth marketing is still one of the best ways to market.

I then ask the people I meet if I can add them to my email newsletter mailing list. Most agree to receive my newsletters.

I have my blogs linked to Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin so all my posts get automatically posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. I use Mail Chip for my newsletters, Mail Chip also posts to Facebook and Twitter. I have gotten several sales through Linkedin and my newsletters.

I am building a network of friends and supporters. They all market for me from time to time, and are even starting to see the value in original art. I have people that show up for my shows, besides family.

For me personally, I like selling art at the local level. Most of the fun I get from art comes from sharing it with people who I know and have a relationship with.

That's not to say I wouldn't like selling on a national or international level, but until then....I paint, paint, paint, and promote in my own local market.

Here is a sample of my email newsletter. Mail Chip also provides these cool links to past emails. Newsletter from Mark Haglund's Fine Art 1/22/2010 -

Have an Art Day

Sue Martin
Thanks, Clint, for the research and thanks to everyone else for the interesting conversation, questions, clarifications, responses, etc. This is turning out to be a very educational online community and I'm glad to be part of it! I was thinking the same thing as a previous commenter... MacPherson and Schmid have name recognition but some of us don't...yet. Then, just for fun, I googled my name "Sue Martin artist" and there I was...3 out of the top 5! I attribute this in large part to my FASO web site.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Clint, thank you!

I thought the message was 'use your own name, that is what people will search for when they want to find your website'. From that follows: build your following/tribe/etc through ordinary contacts and emails and newsletter.

And, did I get it right to read into it that traffic does not equal customers or sales? There seems to be two types of artists: SmartGeeks and StudioDwellers. SmartGeek focuses all their energies on computer stuff, rankings, meta-tagging and whatnot, spending all day on social media with the intent of spreading their links, not being interested in the people they talk to, and 3 years later they still chase google listings and other rankings, and ads to generate money.

While the StudioDwellers don't bother with all that, but instead focus on developing skills and clients, and by some 'magic', they suddenly rank high and are at the top of searches, and they sell.

And *still* the SmartGeeks tell the StudioDwellers they're dumb and loose so much opportunities and money. SmartGeeks hammer in this message everytime they can, displaying their rankings, and only linking to people with a ranking above number X, or *sell* spots in their link-list.

I happen to be the only person in the world with my combination of names. Without even trying, I get 126 hits on Google, with about 3 mentionings of my husband sprinkled in. Most of these hits are via my site, links to my site, and FASO. And I'm here and there on the net, and have been for longer than I've been with Clint. Seems he does something smart, and I'm so relieved I don't have to learn anything about it!

Clint, I love that you're doing the opposite to SmartGeek in your newsletters. You and your co-writers do everything to give us the best advice. Thank you!

Eve Passeltiner
I have just created my first website for my kiln-formed glass art and then did a google search to try to bring it up. The one that worked - had my name in it - Eve Passeltiner. I could also use Eve Passeltiner Fused Glass. If I only use fused glass...well...lets say, your article says it all. Thank you for your insights! P.S. I found your site through Alyson the art biz coach...

Great article. I have a section of my site devoted to original art. And it is so diffficult to have it up in the search! And the words like art and original - are the most common used words. so the only hting left is to make an artist famous enough to have him searched online.

Clint Watson
Henry, would you please explain what you want to discuss? You say "I never said 'if you build it, they will come" - but that's your first comment on this thread. Honestly, no offense, but it seems like you're commenting simply to link to

The comment links are nofollowed, btw.

Clint Watson
BTW - if anyone else is following this thread, I don't know anything about "Real SEO Company", so I can't recommend that anyone do business with them.

I know one that I work with for FASO if someone is interested in SEO. But, of course, I don't think spending money on SEO (or social media "help") is a good marketing strategy for artists.


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