Put Google to Work For You
ARTSBlog by Graham Little - You have undoubtedly heard of search engine giant Google and their array of internet-related offerings. There is, of course, their search engine that handles around 1 billion requests each day. The majority of Google's income is based around their AdWords service that delivers context sensitive ads on websites that are paid to sign up for their AdSense program. And millions of people depend on Gmail to handle their email needs. Then there are some services Google provides, free of charge, that you may not have heard of and might be of direct benefit for people working in the arts. I would encourage you to look into these services and decide if they are right for you or your organization.
Google Analytics is for anyone who has a website and wants to learn more about the web traffic they receive. The data is anonymous, and by tracking it over time and with some understanding of what that data means, this powerful tool can help you make your site the best it can be. You can learn all sorts of useful information about where your website visitors are coming from, if they visit your site directly, come from a link on another website, or found your page through a search engine. You can also get insight into the pages that they visit on your site, where they go, how long they stay, and what does work or causes them to give up.
To get started, you can learn more and sign up for Google Analytics. You will be given a unique snippet of code to paste into the HTML of the pages you want to track. If you need help, there is some great support information directly on the Analytics site. Once the code is in place, sit back and let the data roll in. When I first started using Analytics on ArtScene.org, I was simply fascinated by the curiosity factor of it all and the breadth of the statistical data it collected. But as I learned more about the program and the data I was looking at, I began to see a complete picture of our site and how it looks through someone else's eyes. I've made some changes too, like making certain pages that turned out to be popular directly available from any page.
If you run a business or organization, one of the best ways you can encourage people to connect is to create a profile on Google Places. One out of every five searches on Google are related to locations, and Places can help get your information at the top of the search and make it easy for people to contact you. Just create a profile for your business or organization with as much information as you can. You can add coupons if you like, post updates about your business, and more. Be sure to visit the dashboard, which like Analytics, provides some great insights about the traffic to your listing. I listed the Lincoln Arts Council with Google Places a few years ago, and it's been great to see how many people see the extra content we provide and decide to check our website out or contact us through the listing. We even managed to make it as one of Google Map's "Favorite places". And with Google street view and other enhancements, it's been great to see how the features have developed over time and offer even more tools to connect our organization with the public.
Four years ago, Google released their first version of Google Docs, their web-based word-processing and spreadsheet software. It solved a huge obstacle in working with traditional office documents on a computer: collaboration can be a nightmare. No more! By taking the platform online, anyone can access their documents from any computer, and share them in real time with others, so any changes made are seen instantly and you don't have to deal with multiple versions of a file. Google employees use it widely for their own internal needs, and the effort they have put into really shows. Today, you can also create presentations, drawings, forms, and more, and save them to a variety of popular file formats, even Microsoft Office file formats. It may be a bit sparse on features, but it's free, and handles the messy process of multiple editors with great ease. I was thrilled with Google Docs when I used it to make a schedule for the 50 or so volunteers we had at the 2008 Lincoln Arts Festival, and had to pass it around to many of them to have them fill in when and where they wanted to help. There weren't any problems with overlapping times, and I don't even want to think what a headache it would have been to coordinate it without the help of Google Docs. It is well worth your time to explore it too.
One of Google's most recent acquisitions is Picnik, a free online photo editing program. If you are looking to make some adjustments to some images, but balk at Photoshop's price or steep learning curve, then Picnik is just what you need. It's very easy to use, and really does a great job simplifying some of the more advanced tasks you might want to use when cleaning up a photo. You can make adjustments to the dimensions of the image to meet the requirements for submitting your artwork to a show, crop, fix red eye, and all sorts of tasks where before you might face the choice of buying and learning some photo-editing software, or handing it over to a professional. While I love using Photoshop and exploring its creative uses, it can be overwhelming, and I don't always have my computer with me to use on the go. Picnik fits the bill nicely when I need to edit a photo before uploading it for all the world to see. It has all the common tools I need to make adjustments and some pretty fun ones too, and is just a breeze to use.
I hope you found something new from this list to explore. With many people finding the need to stretch their budget, these free solutions could really make a difference. I'll leave you with one last tip of how to help you accomplish your arts mission without spending a dime. It's not from Google, it's from us. Create a profile on our site, and get your artistic accomplishments noticed right here in the community. It's free, and we've put a lot of work into making it easy to use and powerful. We made our site so that your information get's picked up by Google, making the daunting task of optimizing content for search engines as easy as filling in some basic information. Help us build our database of local artists and organizations, and help yourself get noticed, your work deserves it.
Graham Little, IT Manager