Branchflower's Blog About Art and Websites

5 Steps Will Increase Your Blog's Readership


If you’ve been having difficulty writing for your blog, you have a lot of company.  I want to rebuild interest in my neglected website and blog.  To help me stick to this goal I wrote 3 posts telling readers what happened to my website after months of not blogging, and why and how I will mend my ways.  If you are in the doldrums over your blog, I hope this has been of some help.

 

This is my distilled 5-step outline.  There is an infinite array of articles online that will help you become a better blogger—just search “write irresistible blog headline” or “how to write a good blog” and see for yourself.  Just remember to pace yourself so you can maintain writing without it becoming a slog.

 

1.  Write an irresistible headline

You have two big opportunities to capture or lose readers:  Your headline is the first.  Don’t be cute or obscure.  The headline should:

  • Be a concise and intriguing summary of the article,
  • Include keywords that help search engines know what to do with your article,
  • Take advantage of human behavior.  For example, numbered and listed headlines are the most read.  They can be overdone, so don’t use them all the time.

 

2.  Entice with a captivating first paragraph

The opening paragraph is your second opportunity to lock in or lose readers.  According to Copyblogger, only 20% of people will keep reading after the opening.  To retain reader interest:

  • State the problem and promise the solution(s),
  • Tell a story, if applicable to your post, but include the reader with “you” and “your” words,
  • Include keywords,
  • Include an image:  People like visuals.

 

3.  Give Valuable easy-to-read content

This can be your own insights or that of others (with credit).

  • Write with clarity and focus,
  • Pay attention to your stats to find your reader’s favorite posts.  Expand on these.
  • Notice what leading art bloggers are writing about, and give the topic a different twist,
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short and easy to read,
  • Use your spell- and grammar checker, and proof read for things they don’t catch.

 

4.  End with an actionable invitation

  • To sign-up for your emails,
  • To share your blog with friends,
  • To leave a comment,
  • To purchase something.

 

5.  Promote your blog

  • On your website’s home page,
  • On your print material,
  • In your newsletter and/or your Holiday letter,
  • On social media, if you are into that,
  • To your friends and other artists,
  • By linking your blog posts to each other if they are related subjects.

 

I have a fair amount of work to do to live up to this list.  Professional bloggers claim it takes 3-6 months to restore search engine’s faith in a neglected blog, so keep in touch—I’ll let everyone know in a few months how weekly blogging has affected my website in searches.  If you are trying to restore a dusty blog, leave a comment on how this has helped you:  I need the encouragement, and you need the back-link.

 

Thanks to a request by a reader, my next posts will be about color—how I achieve harmony and effects.

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Blog Burnout and A Recovery Plan

 

Previously, I wrote “How Blog Burnout Damages Your Website—and How to Recover”The Big Oak

 

After neglecting my website and blog for a year and a half I found that search engines had dropped my rank so low that only my home page popped up on a search for “Yvonne Branchflower artist”.  It will require a plan and serious dedication to revive my website.

 

Blogger burnout is a hot topic right now, and there are many articles online that address why it is happening.  After all my reading I’m going to suggest that blogging and social media have become such an all-consuming obligation that all the pleasure and creativity have been sucked out of writing.  This post will deal with the soft issues of writing--those things that will stimulate me (and hopefully you) to write.  The next post will address how I will write a blog that will inform and entertain my readers and me.  If I do this well, it will help you as a writer, too.

 

Embrace the freedom:

Think about this:  A blog is your opportunity to self-publish your thoughts about art to a world-wide audience.  You have complete freedom to express yourself with virtually no censorship.  This is absolutely extraordinary!  When, in the history of humankind has this opportunity existed?

 

Love your subjects:

Focus your blog on what most interests you.  Some artists feature their most recent paintings with a brief story.  I'd rather write an article.  And I like to teach.  Teaching is in my blood as much as painting.  This understanding makes it easier for me to accept all the writing will probably never directly result in a sale.  However, writing about subjects deeply interesting to me will result in better articles for you to read.

 

Write for your audience:

Understanding Your Blog Audience and What You Want From Them elaborates on the significance of your readers.   Accept that readers want different things from different writers.  This series of 3 or 4 posts is about my failure to keep my website and blog updated.  However, it is a cautionary tale from which you can benefit: You are observing my process of rethinking and rebuilding my web presence.

 

How often will you post?

Be realistic.  I used to post less than once a month at best.  I will aim for once a week and forgive myself for all the times I miss.  I suspect you could post less often and be ok.  Most professional bloggers say you should blog daily.  Not gonna happen.  I want to enjoy this.  Besides, rumor has it that SEO has far less value than it used to have.  And sometimes I simply want to be a hermit.

 

How long should a post be?

Professional bloggers say an article should be between 300-600 words, and not more than 1,000.  This is counter to what I remember from just a few years ago when (I thought) the recommendations were 150 words because people had no time and were just skimming.  I like the trend toward meatier articles.  Avoid padding. 

 

Will you use social media?

It is unanimous that social media users get more optimization-boosting links than non-users.  I’m a committed non-user of social media.  That is my choice, my loss, and I live with it very happily.  Yes, it is disappointing to have my site’s optimization penalized, but I would rather spend my time socializing with the 250+ residents of my senior community, making sure they have an interesting and challenging collection of art activities in our art studio.  Keep to your values.

 

How long will it take to recover decent optimization of a neglected website and blog?

The pros say 3-6 months.  Now before you get all testy, remember that you are committed to writing for the pleasure of sharing your knowledge and your work.  People will find you, but it takes search engines a while to accept that you are a regular writer worthy of moving to the first three pages of search results where you will be found by even more people.

 

What if you hate to write?

I suppose there is one last bit of advice that no one writes about:  If you hate writing, don’t write a wordy blog.  Tight writing can make compelling reading.

 

Next week:  The nitty-gritty of writing a blog that people will read and search engines will glom onto.

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How Blog Burnout Damages Your Website--and How to Recover (Part 1)

It’s one thing to write content that people want to read.  It’s entirely different to get them to read it.  I didn’t think a sufficient number of people were reading my e-newsletter and blog to merit the time I put into them.  Discouraged and burned out, I stopped publishing them. 

 

Cool.  With more time on my hands I could do other things.  But gradually my web stats declined.  Fewer new people visited my website.  When it became apparent that my Search Engine Optimization had declined to the point of invisibility, I became very uneasy.

 

There are so many worthy bloggers addressing subjects of interest to artists.  At the foundation of why I quit writing was the question, “What can I possibly contribute to the art blogosphere that isn’t already being written?”  Content should give the reader something worthwhile.  It should make the reader want more insights from that particular writer.  I did not think I could provide anything new.

 

Reviewing the popularity of my old posts showed that some have staying power over the years, while others do not.  Knowing which topics stand the test of time offers ideas for new or expanded posts.  It is, at least, a starting place.

 

Some time ago I bookmarked copyblogger.com.  Two articles are especially relevant to my current malaise:  No Blog Traffic? Here’s a Simple Strategy to Seduce Readers and Win Clients  made me think about who my readers are and what they want.  After all, I am writing for them, not for myself.  The author, Henneke Duistermaat, suggests identifying your single most dedicated fan who can be one person, a composite of several people, or entirely fictitious.  Write for your one most dedicated fan.  Henneke presents a series of questions to help you identify what your special reader wants. Click on the article--it is worth your time to read it.

 

 The second article, 50 Can’t-Fail Techniques for Finding Great Blog Topics is especially valuable to one who has tired of blogging.  This is not a ready-made list of topics.  Carol Tice presents a series of techniques for finding interesting topics.  Number 23 is “Talk about your mistakes” which is why I am writing this article.  Neither of these articles was written for artists:  Copyblogger is business oriented.  It is applicable because your website is a business representation of you, the artist.  They have tons of free articles and e-books that can regenerate your interest in writing about your art.

 

Judging by the number of abandoned blogs I see on artist's websites, burnout and loss of direction are common.  Blogging exposes your website to search engines, elevates your level of expertise to people looking at your work, and helps you to define your theories about art.  Learning how to write an interesting blog, headline or e-newsletter will make a difference in how you are perceived by other artists, collectors and galleries.

 

To put things right, I will resume blogging.  It will not be as often as is recommended.   To compensate, I will aim for content that will have a positive impact on readers.  I will try to not be disappointed if not many people read it.  Among them will surely be my most dedicated fan—the one for whom I write.

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Movie Review: Tim's Vermeer

Produced and directed by Penn and Teller, this film takes a fascinating look at how technology might have been applied by Vermeer.  Tim Jenison, a Texas inventor curious about how Vermeer achieved such precision in his paintings, recreates Vermeer's studio, complete with furnishings and models. Using a camera obscura in conjunction with a small mirror, Tim who is not an artist, is able to recreate "The Music Lesson" with astonishing accuracy.  This documentary about art making held my interest all the way through.  Whichever side of the technology-in-art debate you support, Tim's Vermeer will provoke thought.  Top marks from me.

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VMRC 11th Annual Juried: An exhibit worth entering

Update 6-13-2014:

Once again, this terrific exhibit sold my painting.  Their 2015 prospectus will be online in September 2014.


This is a well-run art exhibition that consistently sells my paintings.  While the venue might be surprising (a senior-citizen’s development), bear in mind that seniors have children, grand-children and friends.  In the senior community in which I live, residents buy paintings as holiday gifts, and sometimes they buy for themselves.  So don’t dismiss the venue.

 

 Here is why I recommend you enter this exhibit:

  • NO COMMISSION on sales
  • $35 for up to 3 entries (pretty standard fee)
  • 37% of the artwork sold last year (2013)
  • Over $5,000 in Merit and Purchase Awards (I’ve won a couple of them)
  • Well organized, pleasant people running the exhibit
  • Jurors with highly respectable qualifications
  • Over 2,000 people visit this annual exhibit

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The Problem with Plein Air Painting is...


Last summer a friend and I scheduled a painting day in Portland’s park blocks.  We chose a great location with red bistro umbrellas in the middle-ground and plenty of diners and strollers.  The park was in deep shade, light was somewhat greenish as it filtered through thick leaves, and the red umbrellas were mostly in shade.  Heavily tinted bistro windows appeared stark black.  I painted what I saw and was predictably disappointed in the dark result.  This is the problem I have with plein air painting:  Local color does not always match mood, and mood is the driving force in my paintings.

 

When Portland Art Museum Rental/Sales Gallery invited a baker’s dozen of its artists to a paint-out in the same park, I approached it in a wholly different way.  I preselected a site, photographed it, did multiple pencil sketches, and studied the values.  The monument of Teddy Roosevelt, which I wanted to feature, was lost in background foliage of the same value.  Altering the surrounding foliage to a cheerful light value created the center of interest I wanted.  The artist in my painting was actually facing me, but turning her toward the monument created a link between her and the monument.  Had I painted her the way I saw her, she would have been the subject of the painting, and Roosevelt, superfluous competition.

 

I wanted to portray a cheerful, busy day in the park.  And while that was exactly what the day provided, it was not what local color and real values provided.

 

Such high-key oil sketches as these are abnormal for me:  I am a landscape painter enamored with shadows and low-contrast.  Entirely out of my comfort zone with urban/people painting, I find it necessary to dig deep into the principals that govern my meditative landscape paintings:  Composition, color, value—and most of all, mood—pushing one reality to create another.

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Compact Art Studio Revisited


Compact efficient art studio

In 2011 and 2012 I posted 4 illustrated blog entries about my compact efficient art studio.  Artists continue to find them useful, judging by the web stats.  The simple uncluttered style of my studio remains very functional.  However, I made one tweak:  To prevent paint from spattering as I work on 18x24” panels, I got a new 22x26” pressed board support that goes on the easel tray behind the panel (or canvas).

To read all four posts about my small art studio, scroll down to December 2011 and March 2012.

My efforts were not very productive to find links to other bloggers who describe their space efficient studios.  However, these were interesting:

www.finearttips.com/2011/05/creating-art-in-small-studios is Lori McNee's article on small studios, her own and those of other artists.

http://www.emergencyresponsestudio.org   This is just too good to ignore:  A converted FEMA trailer does not fit my definition of a “compact art studio”, but the provocative concept may work for some artists in a modified form.  The huge skylight would cause difficulties for artists working in color because of variations in light intensity caused by clouds passing the sun.

http://pinterest.com/apidraper/creative-art-studios  Some useful storage ideas.  When purchasing storage containers, realize that square is more space-efficient than round.

For all you bloggers looking for a valuable topic, compact and efficient art studio is a worthy subject.  Even if you have just one thing in your studio that makes it work efficiently, post it.  A friend of mine lived in her van, which was also her art studio.  It was a very efficient (but not too comfortable) microcosm with floor-to-ceiling well-anchored storage.

May 28, 2013 Adding ideas as I find them:

Pinterest is a surprising resource.  Google "repurposed armoirs" or some similar phrase.

While these armoires have been converted for craft use, they provide plenty of ideas for painters. 

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Oil Painting Demo--my approach to painting


Spring Storm

Click on the DEMO tab to learn how I paint in this step-by-step illustrated demo of Spring Storm.  In this start-to-finish demo I will tell you what materials I am using and what I am thinking about at each stage of the painting.  Brushwork, color theory, botany--it's all covered.

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Useful Equipment for Plein Air Painting


My first foray into plein air painting involved a Jullian French easel.  Once it is set up, a French easel makes painting a true pleasure.  However, it is heavy, and it does not protect wet oil paintings.  When pochade boxes first began making waves, I bought one.  It made plein air painting much easier.

 

An 8x10” pochade box holds quite a bit of stuff.  A homemade adapter for smaller panels increases its versatility.  It is light-weight, compact, and best of all—it fully protects 2-4 wet oil paintings, depending on the thickness of the panels.  My box is a prototype made by California artist John Budicin (the box is a work of art!)  Guerrilla makes very well-rated pochade boxes, with the 8x10” running around $100 at www.aswexpress.com

 

ArtComber, a canvas cart, further contributed to making plein air painting easy.  It is capacious enough to hold everything I need when painting out—including a hefty tripod for the pochade box.  Water container, lunch, extra jacket, 12x16” palette keeper—it all goes in.  If that is not enough to recommend it, it comes with a fold-down chair which can also serve as a low table.  The ArtComber handles smooth to moderate terrain, such as uneven dirt paths and packed sand.  It would probably bog down in loose beach sand, and you would not want to drag it up the face of a bluff, but in my normal painting environs it works perfectly.  ArtCombers are about $60 at www.aswexpress.com

 

I don’t buy many art gadgets.  But these two items have really made plein air painting more accessible for me. 

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How to Make Your Home Page Stickier


"Autumn Patterns" 5x7 oil painting

A few months ago I decided my home page bounce rate was too high.  Google analytics showed my home page bounce rate routinely above 65%.  One month it was 77%.  This is the page the majority of visitors first land on—and I was losing them.  I did an on-line search and found many articles that helped me recognize strengths and weaknesses on my home page, and with a few modifications, lowered the home page bounce rate over 10%.  You will want to do your own research, but these tips will get you started:

Heading or Title

As an artist, your name is your brand.  It should come first, followed by a summary of what you do.  Example:  Yvonne Branchflower, oil paintings.  It should be big enough to see easily, but should not dominate your work.  (Using “artist” is too general, in my opinion.)

Subheading

This should concisely summarize the second most important facts about your work.  Example:  Small Landscape Paintings of Oregon and California.  People use search terms like these—and find me.  It may seem redundant to use “paintings” in both header and subheader, but when I used an abbreviated subheading of “Small Landscapes: Oregon and California” a search turned up lots of landscape gardeners.

Image

Changing or not changing the image is a personal choice.  I change mine every 2-4 weeks.

Call to Action

I really got hung up on this.  It is just not cool to shout “Buy my incomparably fabulous paintings NOW!”  Eventually, I decided my website is about more than selling paintings.  It includes my thoughts on art, and sharing information with viewers.  I decided on three calls to action:

  • Read my Notes From The Studio…. (my blog)
  • Subscribe to The Palette Keeper….(my newsletter)
  • See more paintings at….(my best selling gallery)

Each call to action has a link to the appropriate page on or off my site.  These calls to action improved the stickiness of my home page.

 

Readability

There are a lot of black background sites with white text.  They are very hard to read.  If you want your site read, use a light-to-medium background with black text.  Yes, black makes the paintings pop.  It also makes your text fall flat.  Keep the fonts simple and large enough to read.

 

Miscellaneous Home Page Additions

Based on web guru’s recommendations, I added:

  • My name and phone number
  • Copyright information
  • Last updated on….  (shows you keep your website current.)

Summary

I learned the hard way not to streamline my home page too much.  It is not enough to rely on one image to carry the burden of interesting viewers to look deeper into your website:   Entice the viewer with a few calls to action—with links.

I refuse to obliterate my paintings with a big copyright mark.  A general statement will suffice.

The value of “last updated on…” is up for grabs.  Some gurus say the search engines don’t see that.  I say, the viewer should, and perhaps search engines do, because I make changes often, record them, and rank pretty high in searches that don’t include my name.  It certainly doesn’t hurt to show the last update.

Make a note of your home page bounce rate for a few months leading up to your revisions, then see what happens.  This assumes, of course, that you read your analytics.  If you don’t, get with it!

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