The next few articles in the Artists Online series are going to be about improving your search engine visibility. I should point out that I'm not an expert on this, so I'd recommend that you do additional research.
Set a baseline
This should be your first step because simply put, if you don't know where you currently are, you can't know whether you're improving or not. It can also help you spot any obvious mistakes that you're making - I just spotted one of mine!
So, indulge your ego and go type your name into Google.
Try the following versions:
"Your name" + art
artist + your medium + your geographical area
artist + something unique about your work
What do you find? Are you on the first or second page? That's good, you're pretty visible but if there's a lot of variation between the different search terms you might still have room for improvement. If you doesn't appear until 20 or 30 pages into Google, then unfortunately you're effectively invisible because only the most determined person is still hunting for you. Even 10 or 15 pages down is bad because people can be pretty lazy when searching online.
Take a note of the most and least effective ways in which you appear. Try to think of other ways someone might search for your work and test those too.
If I type "Kirsty Hall" into Google then I come up as 5 results on the first page and 10 out of the first 20 results. That's 50%, which isn't bad but if I type "Kirsty Hall" + art, then 19 out of the first 20 results currently refer to me. When I'm searching for an artist, I will generally add the word 'art' to help rule out the non-artists who share their name so clearly a curator who already knows my name has an excellent chance of finding me online.
If they don't know your name it's always going to be harder but it can be done if they've seen your work and remember something distinctive about it.
The search terms, 'artist + pins + sculpture' will bring this site up on the first page. However, if someone has only seen my work with string, then I'm in trouble because I don't appear in the first ten pages of Google at all if you use the search terms, 'artist + knots + string'. I'd just better hope they add the magic word 'sculpture' because that shunts me right back up to the front page!
The search terms 'artists + drawing + envelope' bring me up as the very top result on the first page - how lovely. Unfortunately, only I would know it was me because my name isn't mentioned in the little blurb - instead the words, "Each day in 2007 I am doing a drawing on the back of an envelope, ..." appear. Now that might be enough for someone to identify the Diary Project if they've heard of it before, but to me it instantly says, "oops, I need to change that profile".
Remember my 'Make It Easy For People' mantra from the Flickr posts? Well that applies here too. You need to make it easy for people to find you but you also need to make it easy for them to recognise you when they do find you. While someone might not remember your name well enough to type it into Google, it's quite likely to ring bells if they see it written down.
Being found when someone knows absolutely nothing about you is always going to be the hardest thing to achieve. Despite the fact that I list where I'm from and what I do in most of my online profiles, typing 'artist + Bristol + sculpture' doesn't bring me up until the 19th page of Google. Now, obviously, there's a lot more competition when you're using more general search terms so it's always going to be more difficult to get top results but I clearly need to do some work in that area.
Chart Your Progress
If you already have a website or blog then sign up with Google Analytics and Technorati right now. You can see how many visitors you're getting, which sites are referring them and which other blogs or sites are linking to you. Monitoring your numbers from the beginning means that you can see when things start to improve, which is always encouraging.
Plus being signed up to Technorati can provide a small but steady stream of visitors, in addition to highlighting who has linked to you and in which post. The incredible detail in Google Analytics can help you to work out why things have improved, as well as being endlessly fascinating in its own right. For example, I've just spotted that this site has suddenly had 12 visits from Etsy, which is somewhat mystifying since I'm not even on Etsy. I can only assume that someone from there has linked to me (if you're from Etsy, please do tell me how you got here, I'd love to know).*
Every so often, type yourself into Google to see if your rankings have changed. Don't just look at where you place, look at how often you place. What you're aiming for is to appear in the front two or three pages, over and over again.
Right, now that you've worked out how things stand at the moment, it's time to work on making things better. Don't be disheartened if you're pretty invisible right now, you can make improvements fairly quickly.
* EDIT: Aha, mystery solved. Thanks to Tina Mammoser for pimping me on the Etsy forums.
EDIT: Leonardo Bjork points out that putting your name in quotes can make a big difference to your Google results. Since most searchers know to do that, you should make sure you try it when you run your Google tests.
Get more help
If you'd like more information about building your online presence, check out the free resources section.
I am also available for online consulting if you need one-on-one help.