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Artist Web Sites: Burning Questions (and Answers) 

Smokey Question MarkHere are a baker's dozen of questions and answers from our last Art Marketing Q&A. If you missed it, or just want a recap, here are the most popular art marketing questions from over 70 artists who participated in the call:

First, a bit of background info. There was a theme running through all the questions and it was "how little can I spend on..." So, first, I want to mention one important thing: If you are going to be in business you will have to spend money to run it. There is no free ride to a successful art business. As Aletta de Wal says, "If you do not have the money to do it well, you may be squandering the money you do spend."  She's right.


1.  What is the best way to create a web site with very limited startup funds?  


The best way to do any type of marketing, both online and offline, with limited funds, is first to be very very clear on what you want it to do for you. You also need to have a budget and that includes knowing how much you can do yourself and how much of it you'll need help with. Then you can research solutions and pick the best, most cost-effective one for YOU. That's how you get the most for your money.

There is no one best way, it varies from artist to artist. There are many low-cost options out there. Remember, a website is only part of your total marketing. You still need in-person marketing and print marketing for a three-pronged approach to a stable business foundation.

2.  Is there an excellent software program that is cheaper than hiring a web designer?

Unless you want to become a web designer (or already are), buying software and learning it will take a huge chunk out of your money and your time to be in the studio and run your art business. I wouldn't recommend it for most people. There are many benefits to hiring a web designer, and even if you maintain your website yourself, it's wise to get help at the beginning.

3.  Is there a way to get your own website for free (aside from the cost of a web designer)?

There are free websites out there, but I don't recommend them. They will limit you at the beginning and may cost you more than other paid solutions in the long run. You can get a low-cost website that you can grow into over time.  And please, never use a website, free or otherwise, that is not located at your own domain name or that contains ads. I mean, not if you want to be taken seriously as a professional artist.

4.  I know a lot of artists who have websites, but I've never heard that they actually sell anything online.  So is it worth the time, money and effort, sales-wise, to have a website?

Yes, it's worth it to have a website, even if you ultimately don't sell anything online. It will help you sell your art in other ways. As a professional artist you must have an online presence that is yours, at your own domain name and not just a page on some organization's website. The website, at a minimum, will serve as an online brochure and will support your other marketing efforts. But if you think that you only need a website and you do no other marketing, don't waste your money. When it comes to websites, the saying "If you build it they will come" is not true. A website is part of your total marketing, it should not be your only marketing.

5.  How do I go about selling my art on the internet at a reasonable cost and not have to develop an expensive web site to start?

You don't have to have an expensive website to sell online. There are several ways, including having the buyer contact you directly to purchase, using a low-cost shopping cart system or a service like PayPal, or by participating in a reputable online retail website that sells art. You should still always have your own website, even if you're not directly selling your art through it.

6.  What are the best places for affordable art websites?

There are many places to get an affordable website. Which one is best for you depends on what type of artist you are, your budget and DIY skills, and what kind of art business you want. What is a wonderful solution for one artist may be the worst possible choice for you. Again, you need to be clear on who and what you are, and what type of art business you want. When I work with artists, sometimes it's just to help them choose, and then they take it from there. Other times I work with them to create a custom and affordable solution.  Do your homework, make sure what you select will support you in what you want to do, and that it can grow with you.

7.  What are the benefits if any of using Wordpress over Blogger or my own website to market my work?

Template websites like Wordpress and Blogger are a good solution for most artists. We love Squarespace, and there are good companies like FASO and Foliolink.  Again, it comes back to finding the best solution for YOU. Take the time to research possible solutions, get advice from a qualified professional (like me) if you need it.

8.  For someone just starting out using online art marketing and ecommerce, what would be a good progression of steps to take?  Is it better to use my own website for ecommerce vs. using a provider such as amazon, etsy, etc?

A good progression is to first (as I said) be clear on what you want and also how you want to grow your art business. Often times artists are short-sighted and end up spending a lot of time and money to start over when they outgrow what they have, because it's a system that can't grow with them. Once you're clear on your art business and how you want it to grow, research website and e-commerce solutions to find one you feel good about, both for the short and long-term. 

As for knowing whether to use your own website or go with a provide like Amazon and Etsy, don't think of it as either-or. Think of how you can use several online selling solutions to work together to support your other marketing efforts. You will need to make an educated choice, track your results, and perhaps discontinue or change solutions that don't work well for you.

9.  Can it be profitable to sell on Etsy?

Yes, it can be profitable to sell on Etsy, and on EBay, Amazon, and on other online venues. But remember, it's not so much that it's Etsy or EBay, it's how much thought, time and effort you put into setting yourself up and maintaining your marketing efforts there.

10.  Are sites like Amazon and Etsy worth the effort or are they a waste of time? And who can assist me with adding Etsy or Ebay stores to my website or blog?

Not if you do your homework and research other artists who are trying to sell their work there. On EBay, for example, check for Completed Sales to see what's actually selling and for how much. If someone looks like they're doing well on a particular venue, study how they set up their account, what they say, how they present their art, and so on. It's only a waste of time if you haven't done your homework and end up choosing a venue that's not right for you and your art. If after you research it and you think it's worth a try, then either set it up yourself or hire someone (like me) to help you set it up correctly and add it to your website or blog. Every venue is different, so read their instructions carefully.

11.  Is it worth it to pay for SEO opportunities?

There are two basic levels of SEO, which is Search Engine Optimization.  There is the first level where you set up your website, blog and other online venues like Etsy, FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, to make sure the search engines and people searching that particular website know you're there. It's absolutely worth it to make sure your website and online activities are set up properly. That will go a long way towards helping people find you. That's why it's not always the best idea to DIY, or to have an inexperienced friend or family member do it for you. Again, if you're going to do it, don't waste your time and money by doing it badly.

After that, there are additional paid-for SEO services that can cost several hundred dollars per year to several hundred dollars per month. Before you spend money on that, make sure those SEO services are appropriate for you. I have a client with an online retail store that sells art and accessories. For him, the additional monthly SEO fees from a reputable "white hat" SEO specialist are necessary. (The term "white hat" refers to ethical SEO practices, as opposed to "black hat" which is, well, not so good.)

Depending on where you are in your career, the additional expense may not be warranted.  What will get people to your website is your other marketing efforts and their becoming aware of you, by your name and company name, and through your in-person and other marketing efforts. Let's face it, most people won't find you by Googling "buy fine art."  They'll find you because they met you in person, got one of your postcards, and decided to look you up online.

12.  How can I add an affordable shopping cart online and how do I process credit cards at live in person events?

One of the easiest (and safest) ways to add a shopping cart online and even take credit cards in person at events is probably by setting up a business account at PayPal and using their shopping cart and other products and services. I recently helped an artist at a show and we got her a card swiper from PayPal and used it with her notebook computer to process purchases at the show, and it worked very well because she was free to walk around and talk to people while I stayed put and processed orders. It was a very successful event.

13.  How do I get links to my website for greater exposure and increased market? 

When other websites link to your website it will help the search engines find your site and give you greater site visibility on the search results.  If someone wants to link to you, don't automatically say "yes." Make sure they are reputable and that a link to your website makes sense.  For example, a grocery site linking to your art website probably won't help you. A gallery that shows your work? Absolutely great.  They should ask your permission, and you theirs if you add a link to them on your website.

That's it, hope these questions and answers were helpful to you.

If you would, please, help us all learn and grow by sharing any ideas/comments you have on this topic by leaving a comment on the blog.


All my best to you and yours,

Robin Signature Image   

 Real Job Book Cover

P.S. If you're like me and love to have great resources around, I suggest you get on the email list for Aletta de Wal's new book "My Real Job Is Being An Artist: What You Should Know Before You Quit Your Day Job (Or Get One)."  It'll be published later this year. I've read it, it's fabulous, and will be ordering 10 copies for family and friends. Honest. It's not just one size fits all "how to" or cheerleaderish "self help." It will help you get really clear about where you are and what YOUR most effective next steps are. Email me to get on the notification list, and get special goodies too!     


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Got a burning question about your art marketing? If you haven't already had one, you can request a free 15-minute conversation here. It's a great start!  





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Reader Comments (2)

This is a great post with some very valuable advice, especially about Etsy and SEO. Excellent

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHelen Aldous

Thanks Helen. I also noticed that you have some resources on your site about various places to sell/display/print-on-demand art online. Again, artists, do your homework and make sure something is a good match for you. Get professional help if you're not sure. Check out the Artonomy list here:

February 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterRobin Sagara

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