It should go without saying that, in our line of work, keyword research and search engine optimization (SEO) are pretty crucial to what we do. For most sites, organic traffic (that’s traffic that comes to a page from a search engine results page, or SERP) still accounts for the majority of total web traffic. That’s where SEO comes in. We’ve written a lot about it in the past, but in simplest terms, SEO is the process by which we can increase the SERP ranking for a particular web page or domain.

The power of keyword research for artists

As a top San Francisco digital marketing agency, what we really find astonishing is the number of businesses and sites that are taking absolutely no active role in their own SEO and keyword research. Small Business Trends ran a survey last year and found that more than half of the businesses surveyed did not actively pursue SEO. That’s better than 2015 figures from the Small Business Authority, which found in a similar survey that at that time, only 17% of businesses reported any active SEO investment.

It’s mind-boggling, especially when good SEO is so easy to do and comes with such strong ROI. We saw this sort of result first-hand in our recent work with Calvin Lai of Calvin Lai Art, a San Francisco commission portrait artist, and oil painter.

The Client

Lai’s business depends on connecting with people. As he describes his work, he’s a collector of moments. Through his art, he makes his audience feel like they are walking down a rainy street or sitting across a loved one.

Fine art oil painting is a niche market. From a business perspective, it depends on relatively few, high-value conversions. The ideal audience will be relatively small, so visibility for certain keywords and prominence in the SERPs is crucial for Lai’s business to thrive.

The Request

Calvin Lai’s site wasn’t receiving the exposure it deserved for such an accomplished artist. Despite its visual appeal, the site’s user experience suffered from certain structural issues. Further, it wasn’t showing up in the SERPs for most relevant queries. Put another way, if a potential client didn’t know to look for it specifically, that client likely wouldn’t have been able to find it.

Lai wanted to improve his site’s rankings and overhaul his site’s structure and content to get more exposure (especially for higher value keywords) and to provide a better user experience.

Our Proposal

We proposed to address these issues in the following ways:

  • Develop a keyword research plan to identify high-value keywords
  • Implement an SEO plan for the site based on those keywords likely to connect Lai’s ideal audience with his site
  • Switch website programs to improve user experience and SEO

Lai accepted our proposal, and we got to work.

The Process

Keyword Research

Our keyword research identified several likely keywords to target, emphasizing longer-tail search strings and key phrases. These included phrases like “San Francisco portrait painter,” “commission portrait artist,” and “professional artist for hire,” as well as some more specific words to gauge relative efficacy. For instance, we found that “impressionism” had a significantly higher search volume in various phrases than the related (but firmly distinct) “expressionism,” which would help us in choosing titles for blog content.

Our keyword research plan tracked metrics including monthly search volume, competitiveness (or how many other sites were vying to rank for those keywords), opportunity (a complex ratio between the number of sites trying to rank for a keyword and the average conversion potential for that keyword) and potential (another complex ratio which gives information about how likely it will be for a site to rank on the first page for that keyword). An ideal keyword is one that has relatively high search volume, relatively low competition, and clear and explicit relevance to the site in question.

SEO Site Navigation Plan

From the bank of keywords prepared, those with the highest overall score and relevancy were chosen and were mapped to the various pages under Lai’s domain. A primary keyword was supported by several secondary keywords, balancing their raw SEO potential with their relevance and utility to a site visitor.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Building on our SEO site plan, we prepared new title tags and meta descriptions with Lai for each page under his domain. Lai actively participated in the writing of the title tags and meta descriptions as a way to train himself on SEO best practices. Not only were these tags specifically written to target those particular high-value keywords selected, but they were also written for clarity to improve the overall user experience.


The title tags and meta descriptions were added to the appropriate pages, and the pages’ content was rewritten appropriately, where necessary, to drive those same keywords that most likely connect the ideal audience to Lai’s site.

Long-form blogging every week

Weekly blog posts were able to target specific key phrases and to answer questions or provide useful information to the site’s audience. Keeping content fresh and engaging further improved the site’s authority, contributing to its rise in rankings.

Consultation for the Wix website

Different website programs contain different features for important elements such as user experience, social media integration, and SEO. The website program Lai had been using, unfortunately, had limited SEO and user experience capabilities. Lai felt limited with his website and how he could integrate it with his digital marketing.

Colibri Digital Marketing’s top recommendation is always WordPress, but we understand that a WordPress website is not always within a client’s budget or capabilities. For Lai, we took his budget and his DIY approach into consideration and recommended that he switch from his current program to Wix. The Wix website builder has an easy user interface and offers options for first-time website builders to seasoned developers. Wix also features options for SEO and visual elements that are ideal for user experience.

Lai took a big initiative and developed his Wix website himself, while we offered consultation throughout the process.

The Results

After the title tags were implemented throughout the site, Calvin’s rankings began to climb. The site was now showing up for high-value search queries, providing a massive boost to visibility.

Within the first week, Calvin Lai Art made it to page three for the top key phrase, “commission portrait artist”. The site previously had not ranked at all. After blogging for one month, the site made it to page one. Less than a month after that, Lai was also on page one for another major key phrase, “San Francisco portrait painter”. Now, after just four months of bi-weekly blogging and providing excellent user experience, Lai ranks on page one for another top-performing and high-competition keyword, “San Francisco oil painter.”

The Power of Keyword Research for Digital Marketing Strategies

Within just a few days, Calvin Lai already saw his site begin to climb to page one of the SERPs. A few weeks later, as his visibility increased, his sales leads and conversions increased as well.

Calvin is a wonderful fine art oil painter. His work is absolutely brilliant and worth checking out if you are inclined. He was a perfect client for our SEO FOUNDATIONS PACKAGE. He was already producing excellent work — all his business needed to thrive was an increase in visibility and a little nurturing for its online presence. With our help, his site and his business began to grow and find the audience that they had always deserved to have.

That’s the kind of work that we’re so proud to do for our clients. If you’re wondering how your site’s SEO stacks up against the competition, now’s the time to request your own SEO REPORT CARD and find out.

Colibri Digital Marketing

We’re San Francisco’s only B Corp-certified digital marketing agency. We’re proud to work with a wide variety of clients who share our values and our commitment to responsible business, social progress, and conscientious practice. Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, we’ve got the insider marketing strategies for the digital age that your business needs to reach its full potential. Give us a shout, and sign up for your free digital marketing strategy session to get started!