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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Devious Fun with Online Promotion :: part 2

In my last blog, I wrote about my DeviantArt account and how I have been promoting my illustration work there. DeviantArt works, in a lot of ways, like a mirror image of the internet as a whole, on a more contained scale. Incidentally, one of the consequences of this is that it can serve as an excellent learning and testing ground for your online promotion strategies - what works, and what does not work.

At the end of last year, my gallery was sitting at about 5700 gallery views (counted over the whole of its four year existence) - with a noticeable increase in views over the second half of 2008, which I attributed to a combination of posting more and better works, more regular journal entries, and a natural gathering of momentum as my gallery acquired more "Watchers".

At the beginning of this year, I set myself a deliberate goal of bringing my gallery up to 10 000 views. At the time, I thought that would be a tough goal to reach. I achieved that goal by mid October, and at the end of the year, I was just short of 12 000 pageviews - which means I have more than doubled my page view count this year.

How did I achieve this?

These are the things that I found have been consistently driving traffic to my page:

1. Submitting works of better quality. When all is said and done, this is the single most important factor in making your DeviantArt gallery a success. The people who post there are all artists, and they won't be fooled by work of dubitable quality, no matter how cleverly it is promoted. But conversely, a lot of very fine work is sitting in the corners getting hardly any notice, just because the artist is to shy or does not know how to put her or his work out there.

At the beginning of last year, I posted an illustration for Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea" series. Up to then, I would have described my skill level as "competent amateur". This was the first time that I felt I would be completely confident to submit this image in a professional context. It was also the first time I realized the difference between posting an image that a few people like enough to comment on or award a "favourite", and an image that truly resonates with people. The image picked up views and favourites at a rate that was completely out of proportion with any of the other works I had submitted up to then. And it quite quickly floated up to the first page in searches for "Earthsea" or "Le Guin". In fact, for a while it even made the first page in Google, for the search term "Earthsea illustration"! Of course, this would also have contributed to driving traffic to my DeviantArt page. After all, the gallery is not only visible to fellow Deviants.

2. Submitting work frequently and regularly, while at the same time avoiding to flood your watcher's message centres. This can be a tricky balance to find. Most people will come to your gallery repeatedly - especially once you have built up a following of "Watchers" and friends in the DeviantArt community - and they will watch out for your new work - so supplying them on a fairly regular basis is important, otherwise they will lose interest. But viewing Deviations does take time, so submitting works too often, or too many images at the same time, is also counterproductive. Don't we all know that if we get bombarded with too much stuff, we'll eventually just switch off.

There's no recipe for finding the right balance, really - it's all a matter of experience, and perhaps a bit of gut feeling. One of those things one can only learn by doing it.

3. Tagging your images appropriately. Tags can appear in a Deviation title, description, and list of keywords. They are what is fed to the site search engine. If you don't tag an image, it won't come up in a search. Besides: Through my severe obsession with search and ranking functions, I have discovered an astonishing thing: The Deviation title is by far the most important place to tag an image.

For instance, my Deviation: "Robin Hobb: Jhaampe" currently comes up as no 5 in searches for "Robin Hobb" - even though there are a number of illustrations of Robin Hobb's work that have considerably more fave's, including at least one Daily Deviation. Experimentally, I have tried to call the image just "Jhaampe": even though the tag "Robin Hobb" still appears in the description and keywords, the image suddenly goes down to somewhere way down the page for this search. So: Tagging matters!

4. Commenting and fav'ing other Deviant's work. This is the fun part. Of course, it can also become a major eater of hours! But there is absolutely no substitute for getting involved and genuinely participating in the community. I always check out the galleries of each person who comments on or fave's my artwork - sometimes briefly, but if I like what I see, I do it more thoroughly, fave some works or even add them to my Watchlist. Chances are that if they like your work, you might like their's! There also is an unspoken etiquette that views or comments should be returned, and many people will post a "thank you" for a fave on your gallery home page. Tick, one pageview.

This is really the core of what DeviantArt is about - to enable artists in far flung corners of the world to get in touch with each other, and share inspiration, interests, tips, tutorials, and yes, even cooking recipes and dating advice! It is absolutely and entirely possible to form genuine friendships online. That, I can vouch for.

5. Using the journal. Not just to write up regular entries - one of the most popular DeviantArt customs is to do journal features. They can be about a particular topic, or just a bunch of works you like. They can be your own work, or that of other Deviants. But, and this is important to remember: Featuring other Deviants is by far the better promotion strategy of the two.

When I do a feature, I send a note to every artist I've included, to let them know about the feature. Not only are they very likely to pay a visit to my gallery to see themselves featured, they might also let their friends know about it. And, they might include me in a feature of their own, next time they are doing one. Gratitude can go a very long way.

6. Writing up news articles. News articles can be submitted by any Deviant and appear in a dedicated news area, not on an individual gallery page, though they can be linked from there. This is very similar to using the journal, except that news articles may not be used for exclusive self promotion, and should be on a topic of general interest. A number of the journal features I have done, I have posted as a news article as well.

7. Giving critiques. This feature is only available to subscribers. Critiques are a fairly recent feature - they are similar to comments, but they require a minimum word count, and should be somewhat in-depth, constructive comments on an artwork, not just "it's nice". Many Deviants use the site to get feedback and improve their skills, and this feature is designed to encourage the giving of detailed feedback.

Critiques do have their own channel on DeviantArt, they also get submitted to my Watcher's message centre, as well as to the page of the artist I'm critiquing. If that artist is someone who gets considerably more pageviews than I do, I win, all the way! Besides, there is less competition - critiquing doesn't seem to be a thing a lot of people are very comfortable with.

8. Joining clubs or groups. DeviantArt used to have an informal system of clubs. Very recently, Deviantart has finally decided to officially support clubs - now called groups - and set up some technical features which make the administering of a group a whole, WHOLE lot simpler. In essence, a club or group is like a DeviantArt gallery, except that is doesn't display an individual artist's work, but the works of all their members, who share a common interest of some sort. There are really big and broad groups. such as "Digital Artists" or "The Pencil Club", and there are small niche groups such as, well for instance, my own "Ursula Le Guin" group.

The whole idea behind submitting your work to a club or group is, of course, to get it seen by the other members of the group. Some clubs also run contests, post tutorials and technical advice, or offer support and advice to their members. The ultimate in self promotion is, of course, to run your own group! Though it probably pays to get a bit of a feel for the DeviantArt community before setting oneself up as an expert in something. :)

9. Using the Forum. I have to admit that the only part of the forum I use regularly is the Deviation Thumbshare - as the name implies, here you can submit thumbnail images of the Deviations you wish to promote. You can open your own thread - but beware, you'll have to reply to all the posts you'll get! - or you can submit to someone else's thread. There are always a million threads along the lines of "post your newest", but every once in a while, someone is looking for something specific - often for a feature - like "Dragons" or "Pencil Works" or "The colour red".

If you manage to get your post in while the thread is still short, you're lucky, and some other forum users might have a look at your gallery. Otherwise, you'll just attract the attention of whoever opened the thread. Not the most efficient promotion strategy, but it usually gets you a few views, and sometimes you get lucky and someone features you.

10. Getting a Daily Deviation. Daily Deviations are featured on the Deviantart main page for a day, and can be suggested by any Deviant to the responsible gallery director. From what I have seen, they tend to explode your pageviews and fave counts overnight. I haven't got there yet, but I will report on what happens when I do. This is the ultimate achievement in online promotion on DeviantArt, of course!

I've written up these strategies with a particular online community and its specific features and culture in mind, but it is easy to see how these strategies can be applied to online promotion in more general terms.

Several of them come down to what any good SEO expert would tell you:

  • - Quality of content - sometimes also called relevance

  • - Regular and reasonably frequent updates

  • - Keyword placement and tagging

  • - Using promotional tools - e.g. submitting your site to industry specific directories, or contributing to topic specific forums - and getting links to your site

But some of the most successful strategies have to do more with your soft skills:

  • - Networking, and genuinely engaging in your online community

  • - Added value content - such as journals or blogs - especially if they contribute to building an online community

  • - Promoting yourself through helping others promote themselves

It's not just about what you can get - it's just as much about what you can give!

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::

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