On Celtic Fairy Stuff
Preparing Your Canvas for a Watercolor Painting
Fabulous Fabrics Without Breaking the Bank
The Sun, Part II
Online Marketing Part Three: Advertisingby Liiga Smilshkalne
Now that the shape and soul of your site is clear, here comes the core of the whole thing: advertising. This is probably going to be the part you are most interested in, but keep in mind that the previous two are very important for the third one to succeed. If the site has no soul (i.e. idea) or it isn't well-placed, a lot of marketing efforts are going to be wasted. There are several important elements to advertising your art online: getting to know the search engines, picking the right affiliates, choosing banners, creating implied advertising, spreading word of mouth and utilizing offline advertising. And after we're done discussing these, I'd like to offer a few words on spam.
Making your site search-engine friendly is very important, because that is where a lot of valuable traffic will be coming from. There are three aspects to this process, some of which are better known, while some others are very obscure. These aspects are keywords, directories, and whitelisting/blacklisting.
Keywords are the most obvious part when it comes down to search engines. You want your site to display as many keywords as possible that pertain to the topic it is on, while keeping it all coherent for the human reader. Asides from the obvious choice of inserting keywords in text, there are a few other methods. First, search engines like page links that have keywords in them, and are surrounded by corresponding descriptive text. It makes sense that a link that has keyword in it, and is described by text that has more related keywords in it, is likely to be a good link. At the same time, don't force-feed the keywords into your text, because there is a certain limit - which is not entirely clear - at which Google gets suspicious about the frequency of keywords on your page and may punish you by lowering your rating. So a good idea is to keep it all down to the topic, have a solid idea of what the site is about, and use the same terms that other mortals are likely to use when talking about it. ;)
(Warning: technobabble up ahead!)
But lo and behold, there is more to keywords! A particularly sneaky way to insert them is to place them in image names, as well as ALT tags. ALT tags are little beasts that inhabit the image tags, and basically they are what produce that text that you sometimes get to see when holding the cursor over an image. It is a nice place to include extra keywords, and search engines will pick them up!
Moreover, you can be sneaky and hide your keywords. Oftentimes, there's some blank space at the bottom of a page that doesn't do anything. Usually nobody really notices it or cares about it. But people have devised a way to use this space to their advantage - write all your keywords at the bottom of the page, and change the text color to something very close to the background. Or, better yet, put your keywords in a table, and put a layer with an image right over it. Nobody will ever know! Some search engines have caught up to the similar text trick, so it may not always work, but right now there has been nothing heard about them being able to identify a layer that is overlaying some text.
Directories are very important if you want your site to get a good listing. Keywords are good - but they are not enough, as there are many sites out there with similar keywords. The holy grail of all directories is DMOZ: If it is on DMOZ, it is on Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, etc. DMOZ is a directory that is built by actual live humans, so every submission is reviewed and either accepted or rejected. They are picky about what they accept--cafepress.com free stores have no chance with these guys. Other directories you can seek out on your own, and make sure to first look for general ones and submit your URL to, say, Yahoo, and also don't neglect themed directories, which, although smaller, are good for listing your site on. What directories do is, first of all they give visitors an opportunity to find you while browsing them, and it will be well-targeted traffic. Secondly, your site will be noticed by search engines, which will bring in more targeted traffic. So if you want to be listed quickly and for good, go for directories.
Google has a very tricky system behind its sleeve: It has site reliability index, White list and Black list. Basically how it works is that Google looks at sites that lead to your site, and checks their reliability. Link farms are all blacklisted, because Google doesn't like such 'artificial' linking schemes, as they don't really give the visitors useful information, only more links. So you don't want your link to be put on link farms, because that will decrease your rating in Google's eyes. As for the white list, they are sites that Google trusts to know what they're linking to. Among these sites are cnn.com, www.dmoz.org and other large and respectable sites. If your site is linked to from them, then Google will give you good rating and love you forever and ever. *cough* Therefore, while each incoming link adds to your rating in general, the amount by which it adds can vary greatly, and blacklisted sites such as link farms can in fact subtract from your rating. So invest in good incoming links, as they will help you greatly.
On a related note, be careful about link exchange. Google generally considers link exchange less valuable than one-directional linking. So that is why adding your site to 50 web rings is not a guaranteed path to Top10 on Google. ;)
Picking the right affiliates is extremely important. They can be a valuable source of traffic and help with your search engine listing.
The main point of having affiliates is to attract more visitors by spreading the word. You can do this in two ways: either by crosslinking (where you link to them and they link to you in return) or by one-direction linking, which can be either paid advertising or an "honorable mention" or anything else. From the visitor's point of view, if they see your site linked to from a resource that they consider serious, then they will likely also consider your site serious and will be interested in checking it out. For this reason, it is a good idea to find affiliates that share a similar theme to what your site is about, but don't directly compete with you. For example, if your site is all about selling faery prints and doing faery commissions, the kinds of sites that you might want as affiliates are ones that sell gnome prints/commissions, for example, or flying kitty prints/commissions. It might be harder to get someone who does general fantasy - including faeries - to link to you, as you two would be competitors, but for as long it's a slightly different kind of fantasy, there's a good chance that you'll be able to put that link up. The closer the affiliate is to your own theme - without crossing that line of being competitors - the better it is, because that will bring more relevant traffic.
As for search engines, we already covered the site reliability index that is a quirk of Google, but there's more to it. Google will count incoming links to your site, and that will help determining your site's position in search results. The closer the affiliate's theme is to your site's theme, the more valuable this link will be considered. Also, it is very desirable that all affiliates link to the same page on your site. www.yoursite.com and www.yoursite.com/index.html will be two entirely different links according to Google! So, if possible, it would be perfect if you could have all your affiliates link to the same page. Also, the more appropriate keywords are in the description of your link on your affiliate's page, the better. Of course, there isn't a whole lot of space, and you won't always be able to influence the text they will put near your link, but the more keywordy it is, the better.
Banners are one of the most popular ways of advertising online. You see them almost everywhere, on all imaginable and unimaginable topics. They are rather ambiguous when it comes to advertising. On one hand, many people click on them. On the other hand, many people despise them, to the extent of using firewalls and other programs to prevent them from displaying in the first place. Therefore, it is important to consider where you place your banners. Similarly to affiliation through links, the more trusted (and relevant) the site that the banner is on, the more quality traffic there will be. A bad example of banner ads is putting 'Free Smileys' banners on Epilogue.net. People who visit Epilogue are not looking for smileys, so many will ignore it entirely, although a portion of visitors will click on it either out of curiosity or because they decide that they are, in fact, interested in free smileys. A good example of advertising is putting a web comic ad on Penny Arcade (Penny Arcade is a wildly popular online web comic about games and related things) - there have been several occasions when the incoming traffic has crashed the servers of those who advertise their site there. Of course, the same rule as with affiliates applies - it might not be an entirely wise idea to try advertise on a competitor's site, but make sure the themes are as close as possible.
Also, make sure you design your banners in a user-friendly manner. Big, flashing arrows or banners that seem to move around a whole lot are very annoying, and are likely to be ignored, ironic as it is. However, a banner with a snippet of your art that moves at a reasonable rate can be eye-catching and inviting. An interesting approach to this would be having the owner of the site where your banner is located design your ad. It works best if you advertise on a comic site, because when the readers see an ad that contains their beloved characters from the very comic that they tend to visit, it is rather tempting to click on the ad and find out what it is about. Good examples of this are ads found on PvPonline.com and at Commissioned. Implied advertising is an entire world of its own. While reading this article, how many of the mentioned links did you visit? How many times have you clicked on a link in someone's signature in a forum? Those, and more, are forms of implied advertising. It is used extremely widely, because it appeals to the visitors more than, for example, banners or pop-ups. The reason for this is that when an ad is implied in a larger flow of information, the significance of the advertised object is usually very clear, and the audience takes it in for further consideration, as opposed to a separated chunk of info that has 'ad' written all over it. There is so much advertising around us that we have grown suspicious of it and have learned to ignore those ads that are easily recognizable as such. However, we don't do this with implied ads, which are therefore used everywhere, from movies to books to radio to websites to clothing to wherever else. Anyplace that people will be paying attention to is likely to include implied ads. Now, that is not necessarily evil - if a resource is considered by the writer to be significant enough to include in their product, then there must be something behind it - and if you're in luck, then that something isn't a big sum of money. Needless to say, links located in implied ads also count towards your search engine rating, and they are a great way to surround your link with appropriate keywords - although it is harder in such situation to make sure all links lead to the same page, the importance of which was explained earlier. For this reason, it is also useful to participate in various communities that have a related theme to your product. Granted, this is a rather time-consuming process, but it is very valuable, because it gets you a chance to sometimes insert that precious link to your page, you can make good use of the signature space in forums, and people are more likely to click on the ads of those whom they know and like. Not to mention the fact that certain communities, such as Elftown or RPG sites can be a great source of commissions, especially if you get to showcase your art a little bit, which is the case of Elftown. Besides, this is one form of advertising that you can actually enjoy doing, unless you are extremely antisocial and no interests whatsoever. ;)
Word of mouth is a hard to control, but very effective form of advertising. The principles are very similar to those of implied advertising, except that in this case the information about your site gets spread further on its own, without additional effort on your behalf. For this reason, it is useful to have at least one chatterbox in your circle of friends or acquaintances. ;) The pros of word of mouth are that it is usually effective for getting people interested in your product, as information tends to spread between people who either trust each other or at least have some interest in what the other has to say - i.e. your ads are perceived with open ears (or eyes, as the case may be online). It is also cheap, because all you really need to do is take the time and tell your friends about it. The cons are that it is as controllable as a forest fire - you don't know when it will happen, what context it will be in, or if the information will even be accurate. Also there is a chance that it will reach few people, which may already be close enough in your circle of friends or relatives that they will be more inclined to ask for free service than actually purchase anything. For this reason, one should be extremely careful about tubers and 'exposure' jobs - it truly bites to get a reputation of someone who does things for free. The rumor has it that there are lists of artist names circulating around tuber community, one type of which are 'no-no' lists that list articles whose works should definitely Not be tubed for whatever reason, and another type is a list of artists who have Supposedly given their permission or are fine with their works getting tubed or otherwise exploited. Even if you try to make it an 'only for this occasion' kind of thing, once you get on such the 'yes-yes' list, it is Very hard to get off of it.
Offline advertising works for online resources, as well. It can take form of implied advertising, word of mouth, or even passing around banners and business cards. If you are advertising an online site offline, there are several important things to consider - for one, your URL has to be short and memorable, particularly if you are going to rely on word of mouth. Short URLs also look better on business card. Then, you'll want to focus on people who have good access to the Internet - it is unlikely that people will try to commission you online from Internet cafes. But all in all, offline advertising can be extremely effective. For example, I had a small article published about my art in a local magazine with a general topic, due to the placement in 'New Masters of Fantasy' CD. As a result, the views on the website that the article posted a link to went up by about five times for the day, from the average of 200 to slightly over 1000. The trend lasted for a few days before going back to normal. Another example was when the artist Kay Allen got interviewed in a TV show where her art was mentioned. According to her account, she got so many orders the following days that it was hard to keep up with them. The benefit of offline advertising is that you will often reach people in your proximity that never knew that you are an artist, making the information even more of a novelty and encouraging the spreading of word of mouth. So whenever you can get your name out there, go for it. Hand out neat, artistic business cards now and then, throw in a word about your struggles with time management due to painting in everyday conversations, and see if maybe, just maybe some local media might be interested in your latest achievement in art world.
Asides from all forms of advertising, there is also the dreaded spam. What spam really is, is unsolicited advertising. It focuses on quantity, and often ignores quality. So it can be expensive, timesaving method to reach random people with minimal security that your advertising will work. Lately, there have been lists of e-mail addresses being sold for spam purposes. They tend to be grouped by subject - people who would be interested in this or that. Notice how often, when you sign up for something, websites will ask for your interests? They're lying when they tell you that the information will be kept confidential. Also, tracking software, from cookies to entire spyware programs, can be very effective on gathering data suitable for shaping such lists. Now, lately there is more and more spam-prevention techniques used in e-mail programs, spyware removers and firewalls, but it is a rather big business behind it all, so it might be a while before spam dies out entirely.
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