With billions of blogs and websites vying for eyeballs on the internet, how can you make yours stand out from the crowd? It's no good putting up a portfolio website and hoping that people will just find you. You have to market yourself. This process starts with having a good, easy-to-navigate website and strong content. But it's also about getting out there on the web - interacting, chatting, commenting, advertising, Twittering, Flickring and Facebooking...
There is no magic bullet in terms of site promotion. Instead, boosting your web profile (and ultimately your visitor numbers) is a combination of several tactics that can have long-term benefits. You need to optimise your site so it can be found easily by search engines; tell people where your site is; and provide something good for visitors to read once they get there. What follows are 20 tips designed to help you get your site noticed.
Tip 1 Know your keywords
Most websites get their traffic through search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Windows Live. So what are the search keywords that you need to tap into? What might people type into Google to find your site or an article you've written?
You can test out search terms by using tools such as Wordtracker and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Type 'illustrator' into the Google Adwords Keyword Tool and you'll be able to see an estimate of how many searches the term gets, along with related searches such as 'illustration', 'illustrators', 'book illustration' and 'fashion illustration'. Type 'graphic design' into the same tool and you'll see that the phrase 'graphic design' has a higher search volume than 'graphic designer'.
Tip 2 Use your keywords
Optimising your site by embedding relevant keywords in your content is an easy way to make it more visible to the search engines. At the very least, your site's <title> tag should include those keywords that best describe your skills - 'illustrator', 'graphic designer', 'animator', etc. Take a look at www.bentheillustrator.com, for example. Not only has the site owner used the word 'illustrator' in the web URL, but the site's <title> tag reads: "Ben The Illustrator! Illustration, Landscapes, Sunshine." In addition to using keywords in your website's <title> tag, you should also work them into your categories, URLs, post titles and subheadings where appropriate. Don't overdo it, though. Search engines will penalise your site if you stuff it to the brim with keywords: keep a natural balance.
Tip 3 Buy your own domain
While it's easy to use a blogging service like Wordpress.com or Blogger to set up a website in 10 minutes, nothing screams professionalism than having your own domain name. Not only does it give you a more memorable and marketable URL, but you can also use a customised email address for correspondence. Many graphic artists and illustrators use their own name in the URL, which is fine if a suitable .com or .co.uk address is still available. Otherwise, consider working one of your keywords into the domain name - again, www.bentheillustrator.com is a good example, as is www.attitudedesign.co.uk.
Tip 4 Add keywords to images
Using relevant keywords should also extend to the filenames and the ALT tags that you give the images on your site. Rather than upload a picture called 'landscape3.jpg', add a keyword to make it more relevant to your SEO efforts, such as 'landscape-illustration-3.jpg'. Similarly, don't skimp on the ALT tag when posting an image. Add a meaningful and relevant description to accompany every picture.
Tip 5 Start blogging
Search engines love fresh content. If you don't update your website very often, the search engine spiders won't visit it very often. Unless you can update your web portfolio every day (or every few days), the easiest way to post new content is to start a blog or have a 'news' section. Use this to talk about what you've been doing recently, where your work is currently featured, the techniques you use, different art styles, industry observations, logos, other artists you like, and so on. Update your site regularly and write about anything that will appeal to an audience beyond potential employers. Write for other artists. Write for hobbyists. Need an example? Have a look at Jim Stoten's website at www.jimtheillustrator.co.uk.
Tip 6 Create unique content
It might seem like a no-brainer, but having content that no other site has is the first step to drawing a crowd. Many sites across the web will regularly quote, pinch, spin, rewrite and link out to other people's content. Not only should you always strive to be original, but you should also try to be 'link-worthy'. By writing original content (something that's useful, informative, funny, free, beneficial or helpful, for instance), you'll encourage people to link to what you've created. Links to your website, especially from sites that are more established than your own, will help boost the visibility of yours in search engines. All Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques start with good content creation.
Tip 7 Try 'linkbaiting'
Say what? Linkbaiting is the art of generating populist articles such as lists, Top 10s/20s/50s/100s, showcases, 'How To's and tutorials. Linkbait articles are designed to attract links to your website, boosting its traffic. People are already doing it - see 99 Sites ALL Designers Must Know About and 50 Beautiful And User- Friendly Navigation Menus. Think of the keywords that apply to you and generate article ideas around them. Perhaps you could blog about 'The Hottest Illustrators Working Right Now', give your take on 'The Greatest Logo Redesigns' or '10 Great New Fonts For Designers', or list '7 Ways To Get Your Creative Juices Flowing'. The more timeless (or 'evergreen') the idea, the better. You've got a wealth of design experience, so write about what you know and package it up tabloid-style for mass consumption.
Tip 8 One idea at a time!
Your web pages and posts will work best when they are centred around a single idea, topic or keyword phrase. If you're a graphic designer and an illustrator, try having links on your homepage to separate 'graphic design' and 'illustration' sub-pages. Kev Adamson's website, for example, has separate sections for his web design, illustration, graphic design and animation work. While the category titles are short, the page URLs are nicely optimised for search. Click the 'web' category and you'll find yourself on a page with the URL: www.kevadamson.com/freelance_web_design.html. The phrase 'Web Design Services' also appears prominently as a subheading.
Tip 9 Kill that pretty splash page
Yes, so the big agencies like Lambie Nairn use attention-grabbing Flash intro pages. But these guys don't get the majority of their work from people searching for 'design agency' or 'graphic designer' in Google. Such a splash page can dilute the effectiveness and importance of your homepage, especially if you can't get any of your keywords on it.
Tip 10 Spread the word
Unless you start shouting about yourself, nobody will know where your blog or website is. On a basic level, make sure you add your site's URL to your email signature so that it shows up on every email you send. Put your website URL on your business cards and letterheads, your invoices and thank-you notes, your Facebook profile, MySpace page, forum signature and portfolio pictures. Get your friends to link to your website from their own sites, and see whether your clients will give you a link to your website if work you've done for them is featured online.
Tip 11 Get listed
Boosting the visibility of your website with search engines is all about building links to your site. Ultimately, your website's popularity is determined by how many other sites link to you and how popular these linking sites are. Put it this way: getting a link from a national newspaper, magazine or the BBC is worth its weight in gold. One of the ways that you can boost the number of links to your website is by submitting it to directories such as DMOZ, Technorati, BlogPulse, BlogExplosion, blogarama and MyBlogLog. You can find a more detailed list here. You can also get a free business listing on Google Maps (handy if people are searching for local talent) and FreeIndex. co.uk, or submit to specific design directories such as www.folioplanet.com.
Tip 12 Work with a partner
As Benny Gold explains in our interview, one of the channels he uses for promoting his brand is his column on the website Highsnobiety. It's essentially a cross-promotion exercise - Highsnobiety gets a regular link from bennygold.com, while the favour is returned with a bio (and link) on each of Benny Gold's columns. If you can land a guest posting gig, it's an excellent way of exposing your blog to a whole new set of readers (and hopefully grabbing a few in the process). Another option to consider is co-producing a website design or theme. Work with a web coder to produce a free Wordpress theme and you can include a link back to your site in the footer.
Tip 13 Share your stuff
Social media tools like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, StumbleUpon and Twitter are an ideal way to publicise your blog or website. On my own website I use the Twitterfeed service to automatically announce new blog posts on my Twitter account. At the same time, Twitter posts are also bounced across to Facebook as status updates (using the Twitter application for Facebook). And that's just the start. Maximise your exposure by submitting any link-worthy posts to content aggregators like StumbleUpon, del.icio.us and Reddit. Use RSS. Publish a newsletter. Consider adding bookmarklet icons (small computer applications stored as hyperlinks) for these websites to your own website, to encourage your visitors to share your content.
Tip 14 Make your site 'sticky'
Attracting visitors to your website is only half the battle. How do you go about keeping them? Google visitors might only ever see one page of your website, so treat every page as a homepage in its own right. Ideally, you want to tease your visitors into exploring your site further, so sell another click by showcasing as much of your best stuff as possible. How about a box at the bottom of each page that displays your contact details? A list of related posts? A pointer to some free downloads? Or perhaps a customised 'best posts' listing that shows off the work you're most proud of? Make sure that visitors can access your contact details, portfolio and services information from every page of your site too.
Tip 15 Give something away
Another good traffic-building trick is to give your readers something for free. For example, you could make some original artwork available as desktop wallpaper. Add your name and web URL to the bottom of the image and make the file available in a range of resolutions - 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x800, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200, for instance. For longer-term traffic building, you could try offering your readers a set of free image downloads if they sign up for your newsletter.
Tip 16 Launch a shop
If you're regularly working on your own illustration or design projects, consider opening an online store to extend the reach of your brand. A store can be set up very quickly and cheaply - illustrator Jonathan Burton, for example, has used a simple Blogger blog template with a shopping cart and PayPal payment system. In contrast, fashion illustrator Di Murphy's online store is much more polished and professional.
Tip 17 Internal linking
While search engines will rank your site's importance and popularity based on the amount of quality links you have from other websites, it's also important to link to other pages within your own website. This process ensures that you have links to all of the pages on your website, and encourages the search engines to follow those links and to index the pages they find. By using a keyword in the anchor text (the text you highlight with the link), you can also increase the relevancy of the linked page for that keyword. The golden rule is to avoid throwaway anchor text like 'click here' or 'read more'. Don't write: "For samples of my illustration work click here". Do write: "View more of my freelance illustration work".
Tip 18 Content marketing
One of the best ways to boost your website's visibility is to get your content in front of as many people as possible. And that means getting on as many websites as possible. Consider submitting your best articles to article directories such as EzineArticles or ArticlesBase and leaving a link to your website in the author biography. For an example, see: http://ezinearticles.com/?Welcome-to-21st-Century-Online-Printing&id=1948145. You could also consider submitting your artwork to showcase sites, such as deviantART.
Tip 19 Manage your reputation
Grab yourself a Google account and set up Google Alerts. This will help you to monitor mentions of your name and your website across the web and blogosphere. It's a great way to see who's talking about you but not linking to you.
Tip 20 Analyse your stats
Do you know what the visitors to your site are reading? Or where they are coming from? Install Google's Analytics code so you can see how many people are visiting, what they're looking at, how much they're reading and how long they're staying. You can then use this information in two ways: one - tweak the content and keywords on unpopular pages to see if you can drive traffic to them; two - work out what content on your website is proving popular and produce extra related content to tap into the demand. One of the most popular pages on my own website is the Simone Legno/Tokidoki interview that I wrote for Computer Arts Projects, issue 116. Maybe I should do another one...