Websites for Artists – Part One
Why Your Artist’s Website Isn’t Selling Art Online and What to Do About It
What do you want from living the life of an artist? Answer that honestly, and you’ll find every other decision about making and marketing art becomes simple. — Barney Davey
There are many reasons for an artist’s website to fail at selling art online. Step back and look at the situation with fresh eyes is the best way to know what is going on with your website. When you examine your actions without emotion, you can decipher what is going on objectively. This exercise will give you clarity on the status of your site now and how to improve it.
Websites for Artists Is a Favorite Subject.
In the Art Marketing Toolkit Project ($4.99 per month with no contract), websites for artists frequently come up. Many times, in conjunction with email marketing and social media. It is a popular topic for the group.
A member posed a question about her website in our private Facebook group. Because my answer will help many artists, I am sharing it here with you. Here’s her question and my answer with slight modifications:
I’m paying $28 per month for my website, and I’m happy with it, but I’m not selling anything. I’m wondering if I should put that money somewhere else. I have a shopping cart that’s never been used. Also, no one is signing up for my newsletter. I’ve stalled at about 900, and only about 300 are active. I can’t imagine not having my site, but I don’t know how much good it’s doing me. I get about 60 hits per month.
Below is my extended and edited reply. I provide answers to questions like this daily in the Art Marketing Toolkit Project’s private Facebook group. We sort the threads into more than 50 topics, like “Websites for Artists.” The organization by topics makes it convenient to research and find what hundreds of other artists and I can offer to help with questions and problems artists encounter in their businesses.
Please Don’t Feel Alone. You Are in the Majority.
To my artist member, I say don’t feel bad about your website and your list. You’ve already accomplished a lot with them, even if you are not producing sales right now. You got it to this point, and I commend you for the achievement. You have choices about what to do with your website. I invite you to keep reading this post to learn more about your options as I see them.
Don’t Blame the Artist’s Website Provider.
If art is not selling, it is rarely a problem with the website. These days, most of them have the same features with similar prices. Websites are commodities. With Shopify becoming dominant in the ecommerce website space, I’m inclined to tell artists looking for a new site or wishing to try a different vendor to consider Shopify because of its flexibility and impressive integrations and if they are all-in on ecommerce. However, for some artists, its sheer size is a turnoff.
There are dedicated websites for artists’ options that fit the bill for many visual and digital artists, photographers, artisans, jewelers, and other creatives. ArtStoreFronts.com, FASO.com, and Artspan.com are notable among them. Each comes with unique aspects to suit different ways to use a website to sell art online. It’s not a matter of better and best. It’s what the artist wants and which artist website service matches their goals.
Why Your Artist’s Website Isn’t Selling Art Online
It’s my experience that getting sales is not the primary reason for having a website for many artists. But other than guilt pangs due to others’ expectations, few are deeply upset about their sites’ sales or status quo. Meaning they appreciate having it.
The reasons why artists aren’t selling online through their websites are complex. But the simple explanation is they haven’t put in the work to transform the website into a productive digital marketing asset that sells art online. Given that the website platform is a commodity, it’s true that it is only as good as the work to take advantage of its capabilities.
You Are in Charge to Make Something Happen.
The reasons for artists not doing the work falls into not understanding what is required to turn a website into a profitable asset or lack of initiative to do the job if the realization of what is necessary is there.
It’s understandable. We want to believe technology makes things easy. I invest in a website, follow the guides to set it up, and expect it to start churning out sales. Unfortunately, that is delusional thinking caused by being uninformed or misinformed.
Selling art online requires patience, planning, testing, improving, and execution. – Barney Davey
Learning How to Sell Art Online and Doing the Work Is a Challenge.
There is nothing easy about selling art online. Start with selling art under any circumstances is a challenge. I’ll discuss the reasons why below, so please keep reading.
I will not blame a site if it correctly processes orders. It takes lots of traffic to sift through to find buyers who are open and ready to purchase. A 1% – 3% conversion rate is the norm and may be high for new websites. That percentage translates to getting 100 visitors to the site to spend more than a few seconds on the page to make 1, 2, or 3 sales on average for digital marketing results. As the saying goes, “Your mileage will vary.” Factors that affect the outcome are the price, the ease of making the sale, the buyer’s degree of confidence in the seller, and more.
It Takes a Lot of Traffic and Repeat Exposure to Sell Art Online
My member’s question included stating she gets 60 hits per month. That is not a lot and needs clarification. Hits are not usually unique visitors and may consist of visits from the website owners. To get valuable data, it requires Google Analytics or something similar.
My member’s art subject matter displayed on her site is eclectic. Buyers who would purchase an original bunny oil painting are unlikely to buy one of her nudes and vice-versa. That means she needs 100 unique visitors to each category to get enough data to know how well each type sells versus her other themes. And, keep in mind, those are numbers just for starters.
Buying original art is rarely an impulse purchase. The higher the price, the more this is true. – Barney Davey
The User Experience (UX) Is the Key Factor
I suggested to my artist that, if possible, she should offer more information. Specifically, how is the art shipped? Is it rolled or stretched, ready-to-hang, or does it require framing? The more questions she answers for potential buyers, the easier it is for them to buy. If a prospect must contact the seller for more information, there is a good chance they will pass and move on.
A simple, clean design with as few links and menu items as possible eliminates confusion about what the visitor should do on the site. Put yourself in the shoes of a new visitor to your site. What do you want to happen? What is on your site and homepage now that is a distraction? What can you do to make your visitor feel welcome and happy to be spending their time on your site? It will take time, thoughtful reflection, your site owner experience, and many versions before you dial in the UX on your site. A veritable and most worthy work in progress.
If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get.
Whether it is actual transactions for sales on your website or opt-in to your email list, you will only get the results you want if you ask for them effectively. That means you need to use a CTA (call-to-action) wherever you want to encourage an action.
A link or button that says, “Join my email list,” is not motivation that will work. Having sales, specials, or other inducements can stimulate actions. Please read my How to Use a Lead Magnet to Grow Your Email List post for ideas to create and use lead magnets to build your email list.
Selling Art Is Not Easy, and Neither Is Selling Art Online
I wish I could tell artists that any of this is easy, but it’s not. Putting up a website is a start. The following steps are ongoing, including driving qualified targeted traffic and making the user experience as seamless and inviting as possible.
The reality of selling art online is it requires:
- An attractive, easy-to-navigate website.
- Art that will sell when shown frequently to targeted buyers.
- The steady application of traffic methods (advertising, social media, direct mail, word-of-mouth, publicity, and more.)
- A checkout process that is as smooth and frictionless as possible.
- Constant testing to learn what works best.
- Reaction to the testing with consistent execution.
Websites for Artists Are Not Overnight Success Stories
Given all the other things artists need to do, I think getting a website to become a profit center is probably a multi-year project in most cases. Imagine if building a profitable website to sell your art online was your only job. It would still take considerable time, training, and effort to meet its potential as a high-functioning art marketing and online art ecommerce sales platform.
Since artists wear many hats, working full-time on their website is not going to happen. By acknowledging the amount of work necessary to produce substantial results, artists can turn down their anxiety over why their website isn’t succeeding. Technology promises to make things faster, easier, and more efficient. The truth is it takes tons of hard work to wrestle with tech before you tame it to do what you expect.
Avoiding Discouragement Is a Must for Making Websites for Artists Productive.
The way to avoid being overwhelmed and discouraged is to have a realistic take on what a website can do and how much work it takes to make it do what is possible. Start with those concepts and then detail everything that somebody must do to improve the site. Write it all down to start in a brainstorming session or several sessions. Then organize and prioritize to break things down into achievable tasks.
This work is hard, and it doesn’t let up until you reach a point where you see sales happen on a frequent, predictable basis. Think of your website as a sharp go-getter salesperson who knows nothing about the art business. But even though they are super-qualified, you need to train them thoroughly and monitor them with diligence until they begin to meet your expectations and live up to their capabilities. It’s no different from an artist’s website. It takes time to turn raw potential into something profitable and productive.
Websites for Artists Are Killer Apps.
Your website will be your #1 source of sales over time if you make it a top priority and stick with turning it into a sales machine. It won’t ask for time off, never complain, works 24/7, and sends you money regularly when it is fine-tuned and humming along. You can never set it and forget it. But the process gets incrementally easier as you learn more and improve your methods.
You can have a website that performs exceedingly well if you are willing to do the necessary work. I encourage you to view your artist’s website as a long-term project with outstanding potential to help you sell most of your art throughout your career. And to acknowledge a commitment to hard work that takes time to pay off well.
Another Way to Look at Websites through the Artist’s Life Concept.
All art and artists are not equal. That statement considers that every artist has their unique take on what it means to be an artist, to live the artist’s life. For many artists, making sales is not a high priority. They want the sales and the validation and income that sales represent, but they balk when faced with the type and amount of work required to make art sales happen.
When you look deep into what they genuinely want, you find it is a website that represents them and makes a statement about them as an artist with the ecommerce part an afterthought. If they make some sales because the website is up, that’s great, but they are not putting high expectations on sales because they have chosen to spend their time doing other things besides working on digital marketing plans and tools. The whole business of art is not their thing.
The Art of the Side Hustle
Being at some odds with the business of art is no hindrance to artist’s spinning up side hustles. They use odd jobs, gigs, shows, street busking, portraits, commissions, and murals. Teaching, researching, and picking up grants, along with so many ways to dabble part-time in the art economic eco-stream. Often, it’s a matter of learning to live on an erratic income, which is what artists of every kind do routinely.
The Art-Life, Dream-Work Balance Concept Works
You can be an artist and not be in the art business. It is okay to make art and be an artist who does not embrace doing business. Sure, side hustles, shows, and other stuff bring some sales but not because of a business plan. You can be all-in on turning your career into a thriving, well-known, professional artist. In either case, there is no wrong decision. Balance in the artist’s life means your art is not overshadowing your life and vice-versa and that your keep emotions and actions around dreams and work in perspective.
With balance, you can work at a high level on living your best artist’s life on your terms. Whether consciously or not, artists choose an art-life, dream-work balance that works for them.
Even though it is the norm for many artists, it’s rarely mentioned many are okay with fewer sales than is possible. That’s because they do not depend on making sales on their websites or elsewhere, for that matter, for their fulfillment of living their best artist’s life.
There Are Alternatives to Selling Art Online.
Since websites don’t automatically turn into an ATM when you launch them, you need a different sales and income source while you work on them. That’s why in the Art Marketing Toolkit Project, I stress local and warm marketing efforts at first because they don’t rely on websites, social media, or digital marketing and advertising. You can mix in shows and other alternative methods of getting your work to market to boost your income until your website sales start to kick in.
Making sales through your contacts and their contacts is rewarding on multiple levels. It might be enough that you are happy with your website being static and not selling tons of art on it. There are no poor choices here. Whatever you decide is what will give you the most satisfaction from being an artist is what matters. When you are confident about how you live your artist’s life, then others’ opinions are incidental for you to accept or ignore as you wish. And those decisions extend to your expectations for your website.
It’s Mind Over Matter
You’ve heard it many times, “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” That pithy saying packs a punch because it is so true. When you are clear about what you are doing, nothing can get in the way of living your best artist’s life on your terms.
For sanity and reality check, you must have perspective on what your website will do for you and what you need to do to produce satisfying results. Hopefully, the right attitude will ease disappointment over current website sales results and motivate you to make your website into the powerful sales tool it represents.
The Artist’s Life Is the Best.
I’m so happy you read all the way down here. You’re my kind of person. I want to offer you an invitation to join me and hundreds of artists in the Art Marketing Toolkit Project.
Besides art business topics, we work on living one’s best artist’s life as part of the Art Marketing Toolkit Project. That’s because we know doing the business of art does not happen in a vacuum. Business usually is an integral part of living the artist’s life. But it’s a broad spectrum where on one end, some talented hobbyists choose not to pursue business at all for their selected reasons. On the other, you find wildly ambitious artists who actively seek every opportunity to advance their careers. Both are right. And as most things go, it’s in the middle of those extremes is where most feel comfortable.