OK, so how do you improve your Google ranking?
The SiteWizard has an excellent article called How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking on Google. It might be a bit technical for some artists (it certainly lost me in places!) but it'll give you a bit of background about how Google works. Searching for 'improving Google ranking' will give you lots of information along these lines but the SiteWizard article was one of the clearest I found.
My own tips are a lot less technical!
Use your name
You absolutely must link your professional name with your professional online identity. No one is going to be able to find you if you hide behind a pseudonym!
If you start a new blog, use your name in both the blog title and the username. Google seems to pay a lot more attention to the title and the username than it does to your profile, which is one reason why having your own dedicated domain name is such a good idea.
Even if you host your blog or domain on a free site, which tend to rank somewhat lower than dedicated domains, changing the title to include your name can make a big difference. I was mystified when I searched for myself by name last month and discovered that The Diary Project didn't appear on Google until about page 15. It was outranked by far less important sites, where I was mentioned only in passing, and far newer sites, like this one. I just couldn't understand it. Eventually I worked out that although I had my name in the profile, Google wasn't giving it much weighting. I changed the title of the blog from "The Diary Project" to "Kirsty Hall: The Diary Project" and the page ranking shot right up. It's now on the second page if I search just for my name and the first page if I search for my name + art.
Of course, you might not want to use your professional name in all your online interactions – you don’t necessarily want a curator or potential collector to find iffy drunken photos or blog posts where you're talking about your sex life! Remember that your reputation is all you have online and you need to protect it. Have a personal online identify by all means, but if you don't want it to intersect with your professional identity then make sure you avoid ever linking the two. Google is remarkably smart at joining dots. I linked to my Livejournal in a professional capacity twice and it now comes up in searches of me. This isn't disastrous since I don't write about anything incredibly revealing over there but now I always have to bear in mind that someone searching for me in a professional capacity could find and read that more personal blog. Since I don't want to strengthen that Google association, I deliberately don't link to my Livejournal from here (you're welcome to go and read it though).
Switch Things On
OK, this is an area where I'm not strong but you need to make sure that you've got the right things switched on in your blog or website. If you work with a web designer, make sure they've optimised your site for search engines through using keywords. Check your website or blog software documentation and make sure that you're being indexed by search engines. I used this article by Biz Stone to make sure that I had the right settings activated on The Diary Project, which is hosted by Blogger. Even if you're not on Blogger, it's worth a read because there are some good general blogging and promotion tips.
If you are on somewhere like Blogger, definitely make sure you've added your site to their own listings. It really is worth it: I get a steady stream of visitors to the Diary Project because it's in the Blogger listings. I got 55 visits from there in the last month: it's currently my fourth largest source of visitors to the Diary Project and provides more visitors to The Diary Project than this site does.
Use Your Natural Advantages
If you’re working with an unusual technique or imagery or have a less common name, then you’re always going to be easier to find on Google simply because there’s less competition.
Unfortunately if you’re called Joe Blow and you’re an oil painter, then you’re going to have to work a lot harder to stand out. So pick out the things that are unique in your work and use them in your profile and your keywords. To find those things, imagine you've only seen your own work once in a group exhibition. What would stand out? If you're not sure, ask a couple of friends what stands out for them.
Write a snappy profile
Mention the important things in your profile - your name, where you're from (in case someone is looking for artists just in your area), the materials you use, the imagery you use and any relevant keywords that describe your work. Keep it fairly concise, don't use too much art jargon and and try to employ the sort of terms that would be used by someone searching for work that's similar to yours.
Be In More Than One Place
As Andrea pointed out in comments.
"It’s easier to have a strong web presence of course if you’re something of an internet whore."
Why yes Andrea, yes it is!
One reason that I’m all over the front two pages of Google like a cheap rash, is that I’m in more than one place online. I've used my own name in at least five sites of my own, plus other people have written about me or linked to my sites.
Now, getting yourself in multiple places online is something that definitely takes time and effort and since it's complex, I’ll be discussing the most effective ways to do this in later posts. In the meantime, consider upgrading your profile on any sites you're already on if it's appropriate to do so (see earlier point about professionalism). You could also ask any galleries that show your work if they would link to your website. However, I have been told that some commercial galleries frown on artists being online, so you might want to test the waters fairly gently on that one.
Personally, I haven't always done this well, I used to be positively shy and retiring. For instance, I'd been curating for several years before I twigged that I ought to put my name on the posters of the shows! I genuinely felt that I was much less important than the artists and it was 'putting myself forward too much'. So at the moment, I have very little online documentation of the five years of curating that I did, although I'm planning to put together a curating page on this website in the near future. That said, at least one or two of the shows that I curated turn up in Google when you search for me.
Considering that I didn't get paid for any of the curating I've done, I should at least have been getting some major props for it! It's safe to say that I wasn't doing myself any favours when I was hiding behind that bushel and I regret it now. But at the time, I just wasn't emotionally ready to be more forward. Later in the series, I'll be talking about how to promote yourself when you'd much rather hide under the bed clothes - believe me, it's an area where I have plenty of personal experience!
Link to yourself
If you are in more than one place (see above) then make sure that you link back to yourself in your profiles. Don’t make visitors go searching for your blog, website or Flickr account but instead make it easy for them (there’s that mantra again!) by pointing them directly towards the places you'd like them to go.
Google also looks in the text of sites, so using your name, the name of an art project or your other sites in your own blog posts can also make you pop up on Google more often. You could try doing things like labelling your photographs when you blog them (something I've only just started doing). I don't know for sure that it helps but it certainly won't hurt. Plus it also makes it clear when an image is yours rather than another artist's - important on a blog like mine where I blog both kinds of images, sometimes in the same post.
Linking to yourself in this way also ups your Technorati numbers. Technorati works by giving you a popularity ranking; you start out low and the more sites that link to you, the higher your ranking rises. Now, obviously you shouldn’t try to artificially boost your Technorati rank by linking to yourself more often than is necessary. However, there’s nothing wrong with pointing people at your other sites if it's relevant to what you're talking about or when there's new content over there. It's not manipulative or 'too in your face' unless you're either sneaky or make a big song and dance about it: instead just think of it as being helpful, both for them and, admittedly, for you. Regular visitors will just ignore the hot link but new visitors won’t be left wondering 'hey, what's this other thing they're talking about?'
Start A Blog
If you don't already have one then start a blog.
Blogging improves your Google ranking in several ways.
Firstly, it means that your site has fresh content. Google and the other search engines prefer newly updated sites: a site that’s been updated recently will tend to place higher than a static site that hasn’t been touched in a couple of months or even years.
Secondly, if you’re blogging then you’re usually linking to other people and they’re hopefully linking back to you. I’ll cover this more in more depth in the articles on blogging but suffice it to say that links are very good. The Google spiders love links - it is called the web after all - so the more little threads you have going in and out of your site, the more visible you are to those spiders.
You won't appear in Google instantly so don't be disheartened if you don't see changes overnight. You can help yourself by doing the things I've mentioned but the web is a big place and those little spiders, although surprisingly fast, can sometimes take a bit of time to find you.
If you haven't seen any change in a couple of weeks then reconsider your options. Look at your Google Analytics and Technorati results again, see if you can spot where you're missing out. Keep testing, do more research, do more reading and try new things. Go back and search for yourself in Google again and note any changes. However, be aware that something like building up a blog takes time; you won't instantly get hundreds of visitors unless you're already famous - in which case, you should probably be writing this series instead of me!
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.