Two months ago I began reworking my website in an effort to improve readership, content and SEO. After a year and a half of neglect it had pretty much fallen off everyone’s radar screen. My initial focus was on the home page because that is where most visitors land. Next, I revived the blog because text is important to search engines. Some trends are already apparent.
Results of Home Page Redesign
I like understatement. So for years my home page was as spare as I could get it. Two months ago I switched to a template that added a list of recent blog posts, upcoming events and an invitation to join my email list. Suddenly, the home page bounce rate took a notable dive and average time per visit jumped. Think of it like a friend knocking on your door: You invite your friend in and say, “Come into the kitchen, I’ve just baked cookies.” Offer your guest something to enjoy (cookies, or an interesting blog post, or great images) and you will have a happy guest. Your home page equates to the front door of your home.
For those readers who avoid their web statistics, “bounce rate” refers to people who land on a web page (in this case, the home page) and immediately leave the website. Offering visitors links to internal pages resulted in them reading the blog, perusing the paintings, and generally roaming around the entire website. The home page revision was successful.
Blog Trends, Observations and Questions
First, the trends: A month ago I began posting weekly. One post was very popular: Picked up by BrushBuzz, one of those coveted links for artists, it netted many readers who went on to read my other posts and pages. Again, the stats for these new posts are trending up and down in all the right places: More pages are being visited by more people. In particular, the percentage has increased of new visitors vs returning visitors. You need both, but remember that new visitors become returning visitors, and if you fail to capture new ones your readership will shrink.
Now my observations and questions: Some posts will be much more popular than others, and some buzz words will always get noticed and read: “Blog Burnout” is currently a hot topic. Resolving it is not (my posts on how to revive a blog didn’t get much attention.) Do bloggers want to wallow in their misery a while longer before attending to the problems? Are they simply tired of writing? Or has promoting the blog become a time and energy drain?
Maybe those are the wrong questions. What if the article titles or content were weak? “Blog Burnout” was a series of 3 posts: The first dealt with the situation, mine as well as the general blogging public; the second, with the soft issues of posting; and the third, with specific tasks that should improve the success of my blog and yours. Each post had a different title. Maybe those titles should have been the same with Part 1, 2 or 3 added, or some such variation. It’s not too late—I could edit the titles for posterity.
Another observation: My post reviewing the movie, “Tim’s Vermeer,” did not net very many readers. However, 2/3 of those readers visited several other parts of my website—a good percentage. I’m inclined to think, despite the fairly low readership, that movie and book reviews are worthy topics.
Mondays are widely regarded as one of the best days to post to a blog. Yet my blog appears to gather more readers on Saturdays than on Mondays. It may be worth while to experiment with Saturday postings. The point here is if you are investing your time on a blog, manipulate its release to reach the most readers.
Is it just about gaining readers? No. If the content is not valuable, readers won’t return, and I’ve wasted their time and mine. If they do find my blog informative, they will return. “Informative” content has to be the purpose. Benefits will follow.
I am an artist. I am not a professional blogger. So it is crushing when I write about painting only to have it totally ignored, as was a recent post. What happened? Was the article lame? Do people just want to read about blog burnout? To find out, I will have to explore the craft of oil painting more often and more deeply. Eventually, the web stats will reveal the answers.
The up-side of blog burnout is going through a process of rediscovery, and writing and sharing thoughts about art and creativity with a fresh voice and renewed commitment.
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, "On average, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, but only 2 out of 10 will go on to read the content." 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.
Previously, I wrote “How Blog Burnout Damages Your Website—and How to Recover”
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.
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.
"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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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!
"Dry Creek" 5x7" oil painting on panel
Getting the most out of your art website is crucial in today’s marketing climate. Your website does not have to be extensive to impress viewers, but it must be current and easy to navigate. Following are some tips for tuning up your website—go through the steps at least once every six months (quarterly is better.)
Check your outbound links
Check every outbound link on your website, including your prior blog posts. If a link has broken, try to re-establish it (the URL may have changed.) If it cannot be reestablished, give your reader a searchable phrase by which he may be able to find your source.
Check your internal navigation links
Don’t take for granted that your internal links always work: They can fail for a variety of reasons. If an internal nav link opens to a blank page, either get some interesting content on the page or delete the navigation link and page until you have material for it.
Use your spell checker
Spelling errors make you look unprofessional. Give your entire website a baseline check. An easy way is to copy-and-paste your text over to your word processing software and run it through spell and grammar checks there. I do all my writing and editing in Word, then copy-and-paste to FASO’s templates.
Use your grammar checker
This is harder for many people, especially those for whom English is not their first language. Do your best.
Check your contact info
Sometimes we forget that the web doesn’t know we just moved, changed our phone number, or the phone company changed our area code.
Check location of your art
If you list the work’s current location in the description be sure to update the location as you move your work from studio to gallery to another gallery. Since that is easy to neglect, make the verification of locations part of your tune-up.
Every time I give my website a tune-up I find a few quirks that need to be corrected. Rather than commit them to memory, I make a list of what needs to be done and tackle it all at once.
When visiting other artist’s websites I do more than look at the art: I look at presentation and learn. Most artists maintain their websites nicely, but a large minority don’t. Would you be favorably impressed by an art gallery that had filthy floors, loaded ashtrays, stinky bathrooms and crooked paintings? Of course not! You assume that if they don’t take care of their stuff, they won’t take care of yours. Keep your website clean—take good care of it. Be assured, you get judged by it.
Next week: Some bigger improvements to your art website. These may take a little longer, but they are worth it.
So, you read my prior blog 3 Fun Tips to Make Your Blog Better and you’ve begun collecting great advice and examples in your folders. You are looking at blogs critically, deciding what makes a blog compelling. Following, are some blogging habits I appreciate (do these ring any bells with you?):
Integrated blogs: An integrated blog is part of the website. Graphic design is the same, giving both blog and website a uniform, professional look. It is true that some blogging platforms are more versatile than others, but when reading an integrated blog, your visitor never leaves your website (unless following out-bound links.) Visitors who stay on your website are more likely to browse around to see what else you has to offer. Don’t let your visitors wander off.
Out-bound links that open a new page: Too often, I follow interesting links only to lose track of the original fascinating website/blog that is full of so much valuable information. Choosing the option to open a new page (or window) for your out-bound links keeps your site available to the viewer. If a viewer likes, and doesn't lose, your site, he is more likely to bookmark it and be a return visitor.
Out-bound links that are explained: Do you like to know where you are being sent and why? Most people appreciate an explanation in the text or in one of those little balloons that opens when you hover over a link.
Blogs that give me the whole enchilada: My attention span is short. I will read a continuous blog. I will abandon a blog that gives me one enticing paragraph and then says, “click here to read more.” If you get irritated by that, don't inflict it on your readers.
A story with the painting: We all love a good story, and a good story makes a painting and the artist memorable. Such websites and blogs are more likely to get bookmarked and stay bookmarked. Aspire to be as interesting, and spend time examining their paintings and writings. These artists know how to build a good on-line following.
Titles that define the subject: Time is short. You are looking for information and the title will determine whether or not you read the article. Cute or cryptic titles get passed over. Probably, search engines pass them over, too.
If your paintings are your vision, your blog is your voice. Be clear and true.
Blogging is coming of age, and the internet is full of great resources that can help you develop a blog that people want to read. This post will help you identify and save those resources so you can refer back to them.
Open a second “home page” beside this page so you can do a little internet sleuthing.
1. If you don’t have a Bookmark folder for “Blogging Tips,” make one now. Right now. Into that folder put www.problogger.net/blog/ and www.dailyblogtips.com . Both sites are written by professional bloggers, and feature articles that inform you about good blogging practices. They are not about art: They are only about blogging. Read the articles that interest you, and take time to notice titles because titles capture or lose readers. Google “blog writing tips” for more resources. Great bloggers link to other great bloggers, so follow some of their links for sites to add to your new “Blogging Tips” folder.
2. Set up another Bookmark folder. Call this one “Favorite Art Blogs.” Put into this folder art blogs that you find compelling. You will probably save art blogs for different reasons: Some are informative, others are inspiring or beautiful. Some art blogs market the art while others don’t. Collect about a dozen, (more, if you like) keep them weeded as you find better blogs, and ask yourself why you like each of them.
3. Have a place for notes. I keep a 6x9” spiral bound notebook by my computer for notes about my blog and my newsletter, The Palette Keeper. Using little stick-on dividers, the blog section is divided like this:
- Blog do’s—things I deem important to good blogging.
- Blog don’ts—things that would probably lose readers.
- Topics to write about—this is important! If you don’t maintain a list of things to blog about, your brain will turn to mush just when you really need to remind the world you exist.
- Notes—odds and ends about blogging that don’t fit elsewhere.
Check your stats a day or two after you post on your blog. Did you get a bump? If so, you have readers! Over time, your stats will reveal which of your posts are most popular, and you can use that to develop a subject theme for your blog.
I did say “Fun tips” in the title of this article. You should enjoy your blog, however much or little you write for it. Likewise, enjoy learning how to make it better. It helps if you like to write, but even if just thinking about writing makes your brain cramp you can still publish an interesting blog—just keep it short and to the point. So, how is your blog doing?