Search Google for variations of ‘search engine optimization for museums’ and you will likely receive disappointing results. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of configuring the content and structure of a website in such a way that it is more likely to appear on the first page of a search engine query for relevant keywords and subject matter. In the midst of a decade that has seen both massively overhauled museum 2.0 websites and the proliferation of digital technology jobs in museum-related fields, it is surprising to find how few museums and museum professionals have made the connection.
It seems, in fact, that opportunistic companies have discovered this gap and attempted to capitalize on the seeming lack of knowledge of SEO within the museum world. If museums do in fact possess this knowledge, they have not to this point been as open to discussing it in online forums as they have been with the subject of social media use.
One institution that has been vocal in its attempt to harness the immense power of SEO strategy is the British Library. Thanks to its massive collection of journalistic objects, books, and British newspapers, the library has come to the realization that it has one of the world’s most searchable collections. Not only can objects be found and linked through its database, but the content of the digitized newspapers and print materials opens the gateway to a rabbit hole of information.
It is important to remember when optimizing a website that the information the site contains does not exist in a vacuum. Sites should be built with modern popular culture interests, trends, and current events in mind through the use of metadata strategies like keywords and tagging. But as many digital technologists may know, putting effort and research into SEO strategies will still not guarantee that you obtain positive results.
Search Google for ‘Mr Darcy,’ for example, either on Google.com or Google.co.uk, and below the IMDB entries for the Pride and Prejudice film adaptations and the link to the book’s purchase page on Amazon, you will not see the British Library. In fact, the library does not appear on the first 5 pages of the search results. However clever and strategic the British Library’s SEO work has been, it is not yet enough to bump the institution’s pages above the endless clickbait written about the iconic Jane Austen character.
It may be assumed based on this example that museum SEO strategists may not have the ability to see the forest through the trees – that is, in working to optimize their websites as a whole, they may not be considering the fact that search engines yield results based on the optimization of individual web pages, rather than sites in their entirety.
What further complicates the already foggy concept of SEO are the less than comprehensive how-tos available online:
Museums are often small organizations with staff who may not have the time or ability to decipher such marketing jargon. For museums looking to begin rethinking their SEO strategy, these steps are small, digestible and affective:
- Create an alliance between the web content staff and the information technology staff
- Ensure that each page of your website contains body text, and that the content is full of relevant keywords
- Inspect the HTML and CSS coding and URLs of the website to ensure that they are stable and high quality
- Create high quality pages and links, such as infographics and image-rich articles
- Build a web of links between pages of your site to allow for maximum user friendliness and include site maps on every page
- Select keywords that your core stakeholders will likely use, keywords similar organizations employ on their websites, and keywords that are popular throughout internet and popular culture
There are many other ways to improve your site’s SEO, but these are excellent starting points for structuring your site to attract those you most want visiting, as well as those you hope will stumble upon you through the use of a search engine.
Museums that have begun the journey to SEO are likely to reap success through an increase in online and in-person visitors, as well as a proliferation of traffic to various pages of their site. As the internet fills with more and more content, content and coding optimization will become a requirement in order for a museum’s website to remain discoverable through the use of search engines.