Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SEO: Quick Tips for Libraries

If you've already heard a bit about SEO, you may find the idea terrifying, because the potential scope is so large. It can be a huge project requiring a great deal of time and expertise. But please don't run away screaming; I've got some quick tips that can get you started.

(I already know what SEO is; I want to skip straight to the tips)

Or you may be wondering, What on earth is SEO? Well, I'm glad you asked, because I've been doing some reading, and I'm learning a lot.

SEO is Search Engine Optimization. Basically, this means "making sure that people who are looking for you (whether they know it or not) can find you. So: you want them to be able to find you if they google you; for example, if they type "marketing non librarian." You want them to be able to find you even if they can't remember the name of your organization: "publicity not a librarian" (you can see that I don't turn up here at all, so I obviously need some tips!) Ideally, you want to be at the top of the page when someone searches for what you do: "library marketing blog" (again, not in the list.)

This applies to libraries in a big way. Don't you want people to be able to find you when they search for "teen events [yourtown]"? Or "job search help [yourtown]"? Or when they search for your annual "humpty dumpty festival"?

Of course you do! And there are some very simple things you can do to help this happen.

1. Web pages should have meaningful titles. Don't just have the title of every page say "Mytown Public Library." Include some descriptive information, such as "Mytown Public Library - Job Search Resources" or "Mytown Public Library - Teen Events." (By "title" I mean the stuff that goes inside the "title" tag, and shows up in the bar at the top of the window. But this could also apply to the headings you use.)

2. One topic per page is best. If something is important, it needs its own page. If your annual Humpty Dumpty Festival is a big deal, don't bury it in a mile-long listing of events - give it its own page, and this will help search engines find it.

3. Put relevant text on the page. So you've created a page for your Humpty Dumpty Festival. Don't just upload a pdf of your flier and leave it at that. Add some text that will make sense if you see it in the search results: "The annual Humpty Dumpty Festival is held the third weekend in September at the Mytown Public Library."

4. Don't put important information in images or in Flash. Search engines can't find words in images or Flash. So if important information - like the topic of a page or the name of an event - is only displayed in an image or in Flash, Google will not find it. If you're using images to convey information, be sure to use alt tags on the images. If you're putting information in Flash (for instance, in a slide show) then make sure the information is also available elsewhere in text format.

5. Links are important to search engines. In some way that I don't fully understand (yet), it changes your search rankings when you link to people, and when they link to you.

How do I get people to link to me?
I don't know! This is a tough question. I can offer a few suggestions:
-Take advantage of your community partnerships; offer to link to their site if they can link to yours.
-Add your events to online event listings. Your local paper, or other local sites, may have a section where you can list your events for free. This builds links, and as an added bonus, you get free publicity!

I'll leave you with a few articles about SEO.
This claims to be a list of basic tips, but it's not; it's a quick run-though of the potential scope of search engine optimization:

This is one of the nicest bare-bones guides I've seen:

A super-intensive (and graphically excellent!) beginner's guide: (full disclosure: I haven't read it all. But what I read seemed good!)

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