This article explains why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is vital for illustrators to understand. It provides freelance illustrators with tips for making quick fixes to improve their sites in the near-term and guidance for designing a new site in the long-term.

Written by Nate Padavick

What is SEO?

It's the process of improving your site to increase its visibility in Search Engine Result Pages. The higher a site is ranked, the higher it appears in a search.

What factors effect the ranking of a website?

  1. Security. A search engine prefers to send someone to a site that is secure. To check your site, open the Chrome browser and click on the little padlock icon to the left of your URL in the address bar. If it does not say "Secure Connection," then you have to fix that. Most site builders, like Squarespace are secure.

  2. Mobile Friendliness. A search engine prefers to send someone to a site that works on mobile. To check your site, open it on your phone. If the site's design does not respond to the small screen size, then you have to fix that. Most site builders, like Squarespace are responsive to mobile.

  3. Age. An older site has more SEO credibility. If you build a new site, keep the old one going! Nate has a very ugly Blogger site from 2012 that still brings him a lot of work. We cringe when we look at it, but it's money in the bank, so it keeps going.

  4. Links. A site with a lot of inbound, outbound, and intra-site links has SEO credibility. Search engines view all this cross-linking as a sign of trust, especially when the links go to or come from credible sites. For example, THEY DRAW links people to IFH many times a day—this increases the SEO credibility of IFH. IFH then links to all IFH Member sites—this increases the SEO credibility of your site.

  5. Page Speed. A search engine prefers to send someone to a page that loads quickly. 5MB is often recommended as the maximum. It is oddly difficult to easily calculate the size of a web page. Many things affect it: images, videos, custom fonts, fancy configurations, java script, etc. One thing you can easily control is image size. In short, don't upload a 3000 pixel wide image if your site only displays it at 600 pixels. Don't place dozens of images on a single page. 

  6. Optimized Content. This is the most important factor and it is often overlooked by illustrators! Your site should be designed so a visually-impaired person can understand it when they use a site reader. 

  7. EEAT. Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustiworthiness. These are the four standards of quality that Google uses to assess the credibility of a website. Creating a internet presence that demonstrates these qualities is essential.

How to optimize your content

  • Add more words to your website! This is the first and easiest and most effective thing you can do to improve the SEO ranking of your site. Search engines need words to know what your website is about. Dig into your site and look for opportunities to add text—both displayed on screen or associated as meta data.
  • File names and Alt Text. Every image on your site should have a descriptive file name, such as “watercolor-portrait-oprah-by-debbie-drawer.jpg” To check this, drag an image off your site and onto your desktop and look at the file name. You may not be able to change an image's file name on your site—without re-uploading it—but you probably can update it's Alt Text. This is equally important. Search engines read it.
  • Image captions. Every image on your site should have a caption that describes the situation for which the image was created, such as “Debbie Drawer, Oprah, watercolor portrait illustration, Vogue magazine, 2021”
  • Page names. Every page on your site should have a descriptive page name, such as “Celebrity Watercolor Portraits.” Page names like “Portfolio 1” are not helpful.
  • Page descriptions. Every page on your site should have a description of its contents such as “This page contains a portfolio of celebrity portraits illustrated with watercolor by Debbie Drawer.”

More SEO techniques

Here are a few more things to consider when, and if, you plan to re-design your site. We tend to create a new site every 4-5 years as technology and our illustration practice changes.

Galleries and light boxes. These are objects that enable a visitor to view a series of images, usually with a right/left arrow. Here is an example. Click through it. Notice how the URL in the address bar does not change as you click through the series. So, if someone is searching for “mountains and fjords,” their search engine cannot send them to a specific page that contains that specific image. Not all light boxes are bad. In many instances, they provide great value, but it comes at a cost.

Dragging images. Ensure the images on your site can be dragged to the desktop. Art directors often create mood boards comprised of images they find online. If your image is embedded in some object that disables this ability, then your illustration will not find its way onto an art director's mood board. (This is another reason to name your files descriptively with your name included!)

Using watermarks. A watermark may not prevent your illustrations from being illegally re-purposed, but it will serve as an ownership reminder if your illustration is printed and hung on an art director’s mood board! If you choose to use watermarks, do so subtly and ensure they don’t interfere with your creation. 

In practice. Nate employs many of these techniques on his personal portfolio website. Here is a link. It draws a lot of traffic through search engine keyword searches!

Learn More

Each of these topics are explained in detail in The PRO Series, five business-focused information sessions conducted by Nate Padavick annually. The next series takes place in October 2024. Anyone can attend. It will be announced via the IFH Newsletter.