After seredipitously encountering an Search Engine Optimization (SEO) victory (my wife searched for events happening on a major street in my city and our events page turned up #1), I’m feeling pretty good about the library website. That does not mean that we cannot improve however, so I thought I’d blog about it a bit.
Now, I am not going to cover the basics of SEO, because there are plenty of resources out there that can help with these things. If you have money, maybe you’ll want to spend some on an SEO consultant who understands the basics.
But even if you hire an SEO consultant, you still need to understand the basics of website architecture from your company’s perspective if you want them — and you — to be successful. You do not want the people you hire to bring traffic to your website by guessing how your customers do searches. You need to be ready to identify your user needs online and how best to put the library at the forefront when people have those needs.
So, here are a few tips that I’ve learned about how users search for their libraries:
Sometimes users will search for the system; sometimes they’ll search for the branch
If you look at your website stats, I’ll bet any money that your top searches will be for “library” “[city name] library” “library [city name]” and so on. The next bunch (I bet) will be “name library.”
But let’s go even further, if someone is searching for a branch, they may be looking for a specific service or event at this branch. If this is the case, you want to be sure they don’t have to look for you.
- For one, you want to have a page for each of your branches with the branch name in the <title> tag. Make sure basic location, hours and etc. are on this page. That will make sure people find your site when they search for a specific branch.
- If you have a database of programs & events, make sure you have a way to feed upcoming programs to specific branch pages. If not, make sure you have a link to events from each branch page.
- Make sure you have locations mentioned (in text or as image names) when you promote specific programs on your front page.
Don’t Let Enthusiastic Branding Get in the Way of Common Sense
As companies, like banks and software companies move from names (Hewlett-Packard) to acronyms (HP), so will many libraries. This is all great and fine, but you want to be sure that your brand does not get in the way of your SEO strategy. Take the Acronym for Halifax Public Libraries, for instance: HPL. “HPL” can refer to any of the following:
- Hamilton Public Library
- Halifax Public Libraries
- Human Performance Lab (at York University)
- Human Performance Lab (at Calgary University)
- Human Placental Lactogen
- Huntsville Public Library
- High Performance Linpack
- Hewlett-Packard Labs
If you are ‘the’ HPL (in my case, Hamilton Public Library) then all is fine and dandy. However, if you are HPL number 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 — then there is some trouble. Also, are you sure that it is an acronym that people will type into Google or another search engine when they are searching for you?
- Make sure all images and acronyms have a plain-english explanation for who you are as well. For one, the title should include the full title of your organization.
- As a general rule, favor plain language over jargon on your website. “FindIt” might be great for print promotion on your catalogue, but “search” is what most people look for online.
- For your URL, consider including the word “library” somewhere. This is especially true if your library’s acronym could be confused with those belonging to other organizations. Remember that the word “library” is the best brand that we have.
Consider Your Users’ Needs, and then Make Pages that Respond to Those Needs.
It shocks me how many libraries have websites that do not include the words “reading” “books” “computers” or “wireless” somewhere on their pages. We want people to think about the library when they are searching for books, along with all those publishers, used book stores and etc.
When someone is looking for wireless connections in your town, does a search for “wireless [your town]” have your organization up and front? Why not?
- Build your website according to user needs, using simple language. You want the keywords that people will use to appear on your website.
- Assuming that you have the following services, you should include the following terms somewhere on your site:
- Wireless (wifi)
- Computers (and computer lessons)
- Events & programs
- Books, Bookclubs, DVDs, Authors
- Reading, Read, Readers
- Kids, Parents, Teens, Seniors
Don’t Buy into the “Front Page is Everything” Philosophy
Whenever you start a website project, the first thing almost everyone is going to tell you is that their particular interest/service/whatever needs “a big button saying “[insert service here]” on the home page”. While it’s true that being on the front page will draw more traffic to that page, it does not follow that you will have more visitors to your site. It is much, much better to have a logical pathway to each service, with clear labels and a simple interface.
From an SEO standpoint, this also matters. If someone is looking for something specific (eg. How to sign up for an Literacy program), they are going to want to hit the “sign up for Literacy” page on your website when they search, not the home page.
- People will click a few times to get where they want to go. While you do not want people to get lost, you also do not want to schmush your front page with content simply to give exposure to pet projects.
- Consider other marketing techniques to draw attention to smaller projects. For example, you could try viral marketing instead.
- Spend more time developing useful content that will get people clicking on your website after a search, rather than worrying about from-the-front-page navigation.
- Make sure that you have search engine-friendly Urls turned on if you are using a content management system like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal.
These are a few tips I have. There are many more, of course — maybe you want to share some? In the end, libraries spend much too much time worrying about the design of their webpage without considering other pathways that customers will take — including search and external links (which I have not covered here).