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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Devious fun with online promotion :: part 1

Those who know me well will know that I am a *little* bit obsessed with web statistics. And that's not meaning just my Google or Alexa stats or my page hits and visitor count - ranking systems of all sorts of shapes hold a weird fascination for me. I want to understand them. And yes, occasionally I would quite like to be able to trick them, mostly when I see what kind of dross sometimes washes up to the top of the rankings, evidently just because someone is doing a particularly good job at promoting their stuff.

Tricking, let me say it, does not work, in the long run. But there are few things that do work if paid proper attention to, and these tend to be the same, regardless if it's a major search engine you are dealing with, or if you just want to have your holiday photos on some social networking site seen by more people.

This past year, I have been quite active on, where I've had my own online gallery for the past five years. As I got more involved with the wider community there, it occurred to me that in a lot of ways, Deviantart mirrors the workings of the whole of the internet, on a more contained scale.

The site gives everyone the opportunity to post their artwork, photos, designs, craft objects, or literary works online in their own customizable online gallery. With every gallery also comes a blog or "journal", and a message centre for communicating with other Deviants. Basic service is free, more features can be accessed by paying a moderate annual fee. There is no selection process as to who can open a gallery - but there is what I would like to call a democratic selection process in how much attention your gallery attracts.

"Attention", in DeviantArt terms, can be of several kinds: Gallery views, "Deviation" views, gallery "Watches", Comments and "Favourites" are the main flavours, and as a paid subscriber, I have access to a set of fairly detailed statistics regarding how well my own "Deviations" are doing. (I do, btw, love the choice of word. A "Deviation is any submission to a DeviantArt gallery -- and those of us who practise art in any form know all too well how the rest of the race regards these activities - unless we manage to attain "genius" status, but that is usually only obtainable by dying. But I digress. --)

Like any good Web 2.0 site, DeviantArt is not just about putting your work out there and getting it seen, it is very much also about interacting with other fellow artists. When I joined DeviantArt I was fortunate to have a head start because I already knew a small group of fellow illustrators from another online community, so I started out with a few people watching my gallery.

For the first few years, I mostly limited myself to uploading artwork, and posting the occasional journal entry. Every work submitted floats up in a "channel" of most recent works, which can be drilled down by medium and genre (e.g. "Traditional Art" - "Painting" - "Fantasy"), or limited by topic through a search function (e.g. "dragon", or "eiffel tower"). People do browse those channels, and work that stands out will thus immediately attract more views than work which is a bit humdrum.

Each new Deviation is also posted to your Watcher's message centre, where they can decide to view it or not.

At this leisurely pace, my gallery was slow to gain momentum, and there was a very clear relation between the frequency of posting new work, and the number of pageviews I achieved. A couple of years ago I decided to upgrade to a paid subscription, and one of the tendencies that became immediately evident was that certain images - not, in my own opinion, necessarily my best or most interesting, or even most recent ones - were attracting a disproportionate amount of views.

This, I deduced, must have to do with the option to search images by topic - my single most viewed Deviation, to date, is an illustration for Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre", which, appart from being compulsory school reading, also seems to enjoy undiminished popularity among teenagers in English speaking countries. Another popular image was a decidedly shoddy early attempt at Photomanipulation, depicting a scene from the Narnia books.

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? I'll tell you about that in my next blog! :)

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::

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