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Museum exhibition names and SEO

Ross Dawson alerts us to an article on CNet titled ‘Newspapers search for Web headline magic‘, which has some bearing for museums and how they title their exhibitions, at least on their websites.

Dawson has writen about the phenomenon of different print and online headlines for newspaper stories before, and the CNet article brings it into sharper focus.

Pithy, witty and provocative headlines–the pride of many an editor–are often useless and even counterproductive in getting the Web page ranked high in search engines. A low ranking means limited exposure and fewer readers.

News organizations that generate revenue from advertising are keenly aware of the problem and are using coding techniques and training journalists to rewrite the print headlines, thinking about what the story is about and being as clear as possible. The science behind it is called SEO, or search engine optimization, and it has spawned a whole industry of companies dedicated to helping Web sites get noticed by Google’s search engine.

Let’s have a look at the exhibition names of some of our current exhibitions and their Google AU placings for a search for their key content.

Great Wall of China: dynasties, dragons and warriors
Search term “great wall of china exhibition”
Ranking #1
Search term “great wall”
Ranking not on first page

Other histories: Guan Wei’s fable for a contemporary world
Search term “guan wei exhibition”
Ranking #4 (after UTS Reportage story on the exhibition)
Search term “guan wei”
Ranking not on first page

Our new home Meie uus kodu: Estonian-Australian stories
Search term “Estonian migrants exhibition”
Ranking #4 (our Migration Heritage Centre ranks #1)
Search term “Estonian migrants in Australia”
Ranking #7 (our Migration Heritage Centre ranks #1)

Ecologic: Creating a sustainable future
Search term “environmental exhibition”
Ranking not on first page
Search term “sustainable living in Australia”
Ranking not on first page

Inspired! design across time
Search term “design exhibition sydney”
Ranking not on first page (Powerhouse Museum home page ranks #2 behind Sydney Design 06)
Search term “Australian design”
Ranking not on first page

Bayagul: contemporary Indigenous communication
Search term “Indigenous identity”
Ranking not on first page
Search term “Aboriginal identity”
Ranking not on first page

With the exception of the Great Wall exhibition and a small exhibition of Estonian migrants, it would appear that common terms used by the general public to describe the content of major permanent exhibition galleries are not ranking highly in Google.

This is not easily fixed.

At the Powerhouse Museum we have been pro-active with search engine optimisation (SEO) and this has been a contributor to the rapid rise in visitation accompanying the launch of our collection database. To improve Google rankings we would require a rewriting of the advertising copy created to describe exhibitions, and, possibly a renaming of these exhibitions on the website. Common search phrases and keywords would need to be upfront in the body copy, as well as in page titling and used throughout. Whilst “contemporary Indigenous communication” might be the most accurate description of the contents of an exhibition, it is unlikely to be a popular search phrase, and it would be prudent to ensure that more commonly searched phrases like “Indigenous identity in Australia”, “Aboriginal identity” and the like pepper the exhibition’s poster page. This is not just important to attract general visitors. If you are not using the search language of high school students and teachers then your museum’s resources won’t be visible to them in Google either.

Because Google also examines backlinks, or how other websites link to your pages, it would be important to ensure that the key themes were clear to potential linkers as well.

If you are wondering how to do this then you can check the wording used by other websites to link back to yours with this nifty free SEO tool from We Build Pages.

Like newspaper headlines in print now are beginning to diverge from their online counterparts, museums need to examine their naming and descriptive conventions to ensure discoverability of their content.

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