Search User experience

SEO (search engine optimisation) basics and museums

One of the most common questions asked over the past few years has been “how do I get the best out of SEO for my museum?”. This comes up in casual conversations and without fail at conferences. We are all becoming increasingly aware of the higher and higher proportion of our traffic coming via search, and that as content on the web grows exponentially the chance of our content lying buried deep in search engine results increases.

Often the problem for museums with search relates to the diversity of their web presence. Other than our brand name, our content, especially those held in collections, is often very diverse and our exhibitions equally so. I’ve previously written about the need to tackle exhibition naming so that at least on the web exhibition titles are more ‘search-friendly’, but this is very tricky to apply to collection and education content.

The news media have taken to rewriting headlines for search – knowing that timeliness and findability are crucial to their success of their content – Scott Gledhill’s fantastic SEO presentation from Web Directions South 2007 is an eye-opening look at how News Limited journalists in Australia are maximising the reach of their articles (link is to a full Slidecast).

Is this possible with museum content?

Should (and can) curators, education staff, marketing staff, get a quick dashboard that reports the web performance of the content they are creating? Should (and can) they iterate their content, improving it, guided by real world performance? If museums are ‘slow media’, then is performance-guided content creation even a desirable outcome? (Update: do we really want to get to a situation like this parodied in the Slate?)

Maybe you need to tackle the basics first – getting your key content more visible. So where do you start?

Fortunately there are plenty of great SEO resources on the web and plenty of ways of testing SEO performance for free or very low cost. Last month Web Designers Wall posted a simple introduction to SEO which is worthwhile reading for the very basics. This along with Scott’s presentation should provide a good start point.