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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So You have a Craft Site...Now what?! (pt. 1)

As most of us find out the hard way, having an art or craft website to sell your creations is simply the beginning of the process. It isn't enough to put your heart and soul into creating your art or design a website that matches your vision and creativity. People won't magically find you no matter how great and original your work is or what your site looks like though many of us, myself included, wish it would. Sigh!

What all of us want is to have other people, besides family and friends, to stop by and take a look around. The ultimate goal if you are selling your crafts online is to have people purchase your products. But first things first, you need to get people to find your online presence.

Well, you may be asking yourself, how do I do that?

With a lot of hard work. You need to be conscious of a few basic web tricks that can help you in the long run. A quick word before we get into this...I am not a web guru nor do I claim to be. These are a few things that I've tried and had success with. I've also kept this as simple as I can and will try to keep the techno babble to a minimum because if you want to really "get into" website creation, SEO, optimization and other programming then you need to find that on your own. What I've given here are basic things you can do as an average user to help yourself and your website become more successful in selling your art and crafts online.

Now let's get started...One of the first things you can do is make your website as convincing and legitimate as possible so people will develop trust and hopefully buy something from you. A good way to start building that trust is to include your contact information. This means adding your name, location, phone number, and an email address. Be as honest and transparent as possible.

Another good way to build confidence in a potential customer is to include reviews from your customers. Also include articles written by the local paper, photos of your stall at a local craft fair, or list consignment shops where potential buyers can purchase your products. If you are lucky enough to be spotlighted by an online marketplace you sell at, mention it. Basically, if it involves where you have sold or are currently selling, add it! The more the better.

One of the simplest and most time consuming things you can do to build up your online reputation is to build links. That's what it's all about links, links , links! (And content but that's coming up later in Part 2.) The internet is built on links, hence the names "net" and "web". It makes sense when you think about it. So how to you go about building these links? Here's a list of a few ideas:

Blogs (hence this one. Yeah, I just used the word "hence".)
Link to everything you have on the web...your Etsy or Artfire shop, website, Facebook page...but offer something useful for the readers that isn't just about you and the crafts you are selling. You'll get more hits and keep people coming back if you are entertaining or offer useful information. I don't know about you but I love to get stuff for free. Offer something that user's can't find anywhere else. I'm pretty creative and I'm always making something so I have patterns and tutorials I post (Well, I'm just starting out but I have ideas for beaded snowflakes, candle holders, rings, bracelets, necklaces, slippers, socks, arm warmers....).

Message Boards or Forums
Try to mention yourself in passing and be informative. Share pertinent information about yourself, but don't be a jerk about it. Nothing ticks users off more than blatant self promotion though some forums provide a section specifically dedicated to this. You can also post links to other sites, give advice, chit chat, or make comments and compliments to fellow posters. The best thing to do...your signature or what you add in the comment section should always include a link back to your website.

Payed & Free Ads
Take out space in your local paper or try listing your site on places like Craigslist or Kijiji. These a free and have sections dedicated to artists and crafts.

You can also buy ad space on the web through Google, Facebook and other sites. Sometimes you pay per click which is exactly how it sounds. You pay a fee every time someone clicks on your ad. This can be pricey if your key words are popular (more about that later). Other websites run your ad for a specific length of time.

Create a Business Card
Another great way to generate traffic to your craft site is to create business cards with your URL (website address) on them and hand them out at trade shows or craft fairs. Include these business cards with all purchases! If you sell a necklace in your ArtFire shop, throw your business card into the package. At a craft fair, put it in the bag with their purchase, or better yet; staple it to the receipt! Offer a discount or free shipping to those who purchase through your website and mention it on the card. This does two things: it encourages your buyer to keep the card and it encourages him or her to purchase through the website versus in person. It's easier to sell on the web than to be at a craft fair for 12 hours a day for a week and there is no commission to pay!

Other Places for Links
- Anywhere that is focused on crafts or art that allows link posting. FreeCraftyLinks, Yaami, Crafter's Buzz are my favourites. For a complete and frequently updated version you can check out this blog page

- Add your URL to directories that are craft related or not. These are list of websites that are organized by topic. There are directories specifically for arts and crafts and there are those that include an art or craft section. You can try DMOZ though I've never gotten a response from them. When you go to a directory site look for the suggest URL, add your URL or submit your site links on the page. Click it and add yourself to their list.

- Get yourself accounts on networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, StumbleUpon and any others. These are free and are great places to find new resources and fellow crafters. These are all about you so brag it up! Show off your latest creations, comment on upcoming sales and successes you've had, frustrations with current projects, join relevant groups, post photos...Make sure you add links back to all the websites you sell your art.

- Facebook is awesome! Sorry to be so gung-ho on it but it does offer a lot of opportunity for average people to reach a wider audience. I'm not on MySpace because I've only got so many hours in the day but it's probably great too. Which ever is your favourite create a group or join a group! Create a fan page. Do whatever it is you can do.

- Trade links with other crafters and artisans. This may seem like a no-brainer but most have a links section. Send an email and ask nicely. After all, he or she wants links too!

- Link exchange programs, though I haven't tried this since the 90's, I never found they worked. This is where you place a banner ad code on your website and your banner ad is shown on other websites. They usually work as a percentage of views. For example, for every 10 ads viewed on your site, you'll earn 9 views on all the other participating websites. You can try it but I'm not.

- Web rings work along the same principle. You add the code to your page and join the group. Websites are then linked together through this hub. It's also a remnant from the 90's and I don't use it. I've seen them on other sites so I assume they are still around.

A Final Word (or so) on Links
Not all links are equal and this is where page rank comes in to play. You want your website to be listed on the highest ranked pages you can find. One link on a high ranking page is worth tons of links on pages with no or low ranks. But...low pages now may not be low pages in the future. It all depends on who they are linked to and how many links they have. That's that web thing in action again.

Also note that the rank of a page is divided up by all the links on the page. If your site is listed on a page with a rank of 4 but it has 400 links on it then that's not going to do much for your site. If a site is ranked 3 but there are only 20 links, you'd be better off at the lower ranked site. I would add myself to both regardless.

You can check the page rank of any page by going to a variety of websites all of which are more than happy to do this for you. Most work by typing in the URL and the information about the website is displayed for anyone to see. You can check a page you're interested in being listed on and you can check to see how your page is ranked by other search engines. I'm not going to recommend a specific site for this but if you enter page rank checker into any search engine you'll get a list as long as your arm (and maybe your leg). Find the one that works best for you. Just don't pay for this service because there are lots of them out there that are free.

If you're a fan of Google they have a page rank checker tool that you can download to your computer that runs at the top your web browser. It automatically tells you what Google thinks of the site and can be an effortless way to have at least one quick opinion of a website in question.

Use links to other websites to your advantage. Don't just title your link "click here" or "this link". Say what it links to. If the link is to customer reviews the link should should say customer reviews (see how handy that is). Don't make your links like this...Check out this link to see my customer reviews. It goes to the same place but with the first example you have linked key words in your site going directly to pertinent online content. Search engines really dig stuff like that.

Last but not least...Don't believe the hype when it comes to the folks who promise to submit your site to hundreds or even thousands of websites or search engines. Many of these use what are known as "deceptive tactics" to try to fool search engines. If they figure out that you're trying to generate a higher page rank by having tons of links you may be banned from appearing in their results! Forever!

For more information on how to improve your art or craft website, please visit part two of this tutorial. So You have a Craft Site...Now what?! (pt. 2)

If you have any other ideas or suggestions on art and craft websites that may be of use to other readers of this blog, please post them in your comments. Think of it as adding a dose of good to your karma pot. We all can use a little more of that!

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