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SEO For Artists: On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO

by Clint Watson on 4/23/2010 9:50:32 AM

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

"SEO" is short for "Search Engine Optimization." 

 SEO is a collection of practices that are intended to "optimize" a website for maximum visibility in search engine results....and I say "search engines" to be nice to Bing, Yahoo and the others - in 2010 SEO basically means you're trying to rank at the top of the results in Google for various searches.  My standard disclaimer:  SEO is not a great use of marketing time for most artists, and there are a ton of other, more important things you should be doing instead....but.....since everybody seems to want to know this stuff and ignores my disclaimers anyway - here we go.
In my last article, I outlined some of the factors that we think Google uses to determine how to rank search results.  This needs some more discussion.  After all, if you're going to "optimize" your website for something, it helps to know the factors you're optimizing for.
What you need to understand is that there are actually two types of SEO -  on-page SEO and off-page SEO.  
On Page SEO vs. Off Page SEO
On-Page SEO refers to things that you can control on your website.  
It is easier because,well, you can control everything on your website.   You don't have to get other third parties involved.  Unfortunately, for most searches, on-page SEO is not nearly as important as the other type of SEO:  Off-Page SEO. 
Off-Page SEO refers to things that other people do and/or say about you and your website.  
It is much more difficult because you have to convince or entice other people to do take actions......that will help your website rank better.  Most SEO experts agree that Google places a lot more emphasis on the factors we target with Off-Page SEO 
(There are sometimes exceptions to this in the case of a new search term that Google has not seen before).
So let's re-organize (and add to) our list, dividing it up between on-page and off-page factors.

On Page SEO Factors:
  1. Do the search terms appear on the page? If so, where?
  2. Do the search terms appear in the title tag of the page?
  3. Is the IP Address hosting the domain trustworthy...or is it known to host spammers?
  4. Does the content of the page appear to be copied from somewhere else?
  5. Does the content of this page appear multiple times on the domain? If so, how do I know which copy to show in the results?
  6. Do the search terms appear in the domain for this page?
  7. Do the search terms appear in the URL for this page?
  8. Does the page appear to be engaging in malicious or manipulative practices? 
  9. Does the page appear to be buying links? - if so - Google will penalize the site
Off Page SEO Factors:
  1. How many external links are pointing to this page?
  2. Do the external links come from a diversity of sources? *
  3. How old is the domain that this page resides on?
  4. Do the external links come from sources that Google trusts? *
  5. Do the external link sources have lots of links pointing to them?
  6. Does the anchor text of the external links pointing to the page contain the search term? *
  7. Is the domain one that Google trusts?
* The asterisks indicate the most important factors in SEO for most searches.
As you can see, the top three factors have nothing to do with anything on your page that you can directly control!  See why I say SEO is not a great use of your time?  The time an energy you spend trying to get external links with the right anchor text could pay off more dividends if spend crafting a great email newsletter to your fans (and might get you some links anyway!).
Anyway - I thought it would be good before we embark on this journey to have an overview of what we're trying to accomplish.
Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic


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Related Posts:

SEO for Artists: Structuring URLs

Topics: SEO for Artist Websites

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Helen Horn Musser
Clint, I agree with you there are few things an individual cn do to entertain search engines except be engaged in the internet and linking to your other websites and interest youare envolved with. They all do wonderful work and are very savey about real links. Thank you for giving us more information to help us in what we can do to help search engines notice us.

Sharon Weaver
Are off-page the same as backlinks? There seems to be a lot of different ways cropping up on the web to get more backlinks.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Clint, thanks, this is interesting, if difficult. I'm so happy I can leave it in your capable hands, and I do believe you, especially as believing you makes my life easier. :-)

I recently saw a poll asking artists through what manner they made their sales, and from blog or website was *low* on the list. Top two were through galleries, and through own DIY exhibitions, cafés, etc. In other words, where people and the paintings are in the same room/location at the same time, physically. Seems to me that it is wise to spend most effort on what yields the undisputably best results.

Still very interesting to read your explanations. Thanks.

Carol Schmauder
This all seems like a complicated dance one plays with the search engines. Painting and networking seems like a better use of time than figuring out how to work the off-page SEO factors. Thanks for your insight Clint.

Clint Watson
Sharon - yes off page links are sometimes called backlinks because they link "back" to your website - there are lots of ways to get them - but steer clear of anything fishy and especially anything that requires payments - Google will slap a site down hard if the site pays for links. Also, leaving comments on blogs, etc doesn't usually count because those links typically are "NOFOLLOWED" which I'll cover in a later article but a "NOFOLLOWED" link doesn't count for SEO Purposes.

Clint Watson
Charlotte - I agree - in our own polling email newsletters were pretty high up too - I agree that other activities are much higher payoff than SEO - it's a low return activity for most artists (it is a *high* return activity for some other types of websites though - just not most artists).

Judy Mudd
Thanks, Clint. This clears up a lot. I can understand your stance on not spending a lot of time worrying about SEO instead of your art. THIS is why I recommend your websites to people.

Clint Watson
Thanks Judy - Ironically we've spent a lot of time adding a bunch of SEO features to our sites - mainly because people constantly focus on it (when they shoudn't) and because adding a lot of the on-page stuff was easy for us to do in a way that doesn't require a lot of time from the artists - the off page stuff gets harder though because getting backlinks does take some effort from the site owner

Smadar Barnea
Hi Clint, I'm a photographer and have only just started to try marketing my art. To this end, I've started reading about blogging, websites, SEO etc. I stumbled upon your blogs a few days ago and, after reading some, have subscribed to follow.
This latest article has been an eye-opener, because it has shifted the weight from all the SEO-talk to CONTENT. That SHOULD always be the most important ingredient in the blog, but gets overwhelmed by all the technical stuff about keywords, links etc. I realize these are important and should not be overlooked, but I think even the most well-planned blog won't make the grade, if it's not interesting enough. Telling us frankly that we don't have all that much control over the search engines, brings us back to the heart of things: If you want to be heard, say something enough people will want to hear. So - thanks!

Helen Horn Musser
Clint, Thank you for all your incites regarding search engines. They are completely independent and can't be manipulated. We are all at their feet and need to be mindful of our internet positions affected by them.

Clint Watson
Smadar - I love that "if you want to be heard, say somthing enough people will want to hear" - I've tweeted your quote here:

Clint Watson
Helen - sort of correct - search engines are independent but they can be manipulated to an extent - that's sort of the whole premise of "SEO" - the problem is that serious SEO is difficult, time consuming and expensive - thus....not a good payoff for most artists. I would say the increasing amount of high-ranking crap/spam sites would indicate that some manipulation is taking place though.

Helen Horn Musser
Clint, Manipulations will be recognized by search engines and will go no where long term

Clint Watson
Helen - Well it depends - one could argue that setting up URLs, begging for links and changing your title tags is a form of manipulation - however, if you use manipulations that the search engines have "banned" then you are correct.....sort'll get banned if you're a little guy - but the "big" manipulators sometimes get away with it (,, demand media backed sites) - but those are of little concern to most artists. The truth of it is that Google allows some manipulation through because they make 90 percent of their revenue via adwords - and adword driven sites tend to be some of the worst spam/manipulation out there. I wish I had a version of google that returned all the same search results EXCEPT any site with adsense on it - that would solve a lot of the spam, but of course that's not realistic since that would leave them with zero revenue.

Helen Horn Musser
Clint, your observances
well taken, however, I believe google and other search engines are not completely susceptible to wealth gain but, devoted to web service to internet web sites and other internet interest.

Clint Watson
Helen - Maybe not *completely* susceptible; however, Mahalo is breaking all kinds of rules that should have gotten them banned long ago - but they are generating millions for Google, so....I'm wondering....why haven't they been banned? I'm left with only one conclusion - revenue....The big search engines have a lot of people and servers to pay for so they are businesses concerned with revenue unlike their early days - I'm not saying they're "evil" - but not totally just devoted to philanthropic service either. Just something to be aware of, not something that will affect most artists most likely.

Helen Horn Musser
Clint, I am not at all familiar with Mahalo; I can't comment on this or how Google may be involved but, I do know google has been very helpful to me and my website and would not guestion their interest in the internet.Clint, as an internet invester, you would know that there have to be rewards to keep investing in the internet.As a very successful online fineart investor you know the value of your customers as does google. I am very thankful for both of you

Spencer Meagher
Can't thank you enough for the wealth of knowledge you share. It seems to be so complex, but I'm confident the fundamentals are not out of reach for those artists who want to succeed. The education you provide is of much greater value than any I would get from a university.

Natasha Isenhour
This is why I'm with YOU! Thank you Clint for unraveling some of this mysterious world for us. Your creative talent and understanding of the cyber-world take a lot of weight off of this artist for sure!

Helen Horn Musser
Natasha, Ditto that for Clint

Hi Clint,
Thank you! I'll stick with your disclaimer. For me, the best part of this article, and people's comments, is help with prioritizing. I recently attended a Social Media Workshop for Artists by Pat and Melinda of Convivial Design in Abiquiu, and at the top of the TO DO list was...strategize. Help like this with understanding the time investment and likely results help tremendously with deciding where to invest precious time, and how best to connect my art with the people it's meant for.

Thank you again!


Michael Cardosa
Hi Clint,

Thanks for this installment. Have not been overly concerned at this point with SEO. IU realize at this stage of the game most people aren't looking for me. Art first (or content first) and then worry about this later.



Diane Tasselmyer
what the heck is #4. what do you mean by "copied from somewhere else"?

I create stuff in wordpad and copy and past into my blog or other things.

Or are you referring "copied" as plagerism?


Clint Watson
Diane - I mean copied from another in plagerism (although there are sometimes legitimate uses of copying from another site - syndicated articles, quoting somebody under fair use, etc).

Sharon Weaver
This was a great discussion with lots of good info and insight. Good one, Clint.

Dianne Panarelli Miller
Thank you Lori for something I can tell the countless people who ask me to donate a painting almost weekly. It always makes me feel uncomfortable to say no and now I have a wonderful way of educating these people and maybe making money for the both of us!

Barb Stachow
Donations of artwork is always easily passed off as being...only paper. What about all the money and time we artist put into it, that must count for something, I like the idea of donating money for tax purposes and keeping the painting. Or better yet, posting the painting with a price and donate a share of the income with the group.

Karen Winters
I do numerous charities every year - but the ones I like best are the shared percentage of sales - not outright donations. I only do one of those because the organizer is a friend.

I had a recent request for a 100 percent donation of a painting. When I said sorry, no, they offered to buy it and then auctioned it off for 2x the value. It was a win-win for all of us.

Michael Cardosa

good for you for holding out for what is best. I'm sure it also worked out better for the auction since the charity had some skin in the game and knew what the worth of your work was!



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