If you build them, will they visit?

Libraries spend lots of time and money building digital cultural heritage collections yet all too often these rich resources dwell in Internet obscurity.

How can libraries market their collections effectively and make sure they are discovered by Google and other search engines? What can libraries do to improve the site ranking and number of visitors to their collections?

 Frederick Zarndt and a team of cultural heritage professionals from major public and university libraries in the U.S. presented this paper at the IFLA 2013 conference in Singapore. The authors discuss search engine optimization (SEO) and proven methods to ensure the content of your collection can be more easily discovered.

Some collection marketing ideas taken from the paper plus a few more are introduced below:

1. Get to know your audience

Consider a survey to learn more about your audience. Understanding the demographics of your patron community will tell you a lot about the reasons they visit your collection, what they look for when they arrive, and how to keep them actively engaged so that they come back again and again.

Involve your stakeholders from the start. They are the ones who will be using your collection, and by being on the team from the earliest days, they buy in and help spread the word. Don’t underestimate the value of ‘word of mouth’ marketing!

2. SEO

Ensuring your online collection is “Google ready” is essential. In our experience with Veridian we’ve routinely seen visitor numbers increase 20 times over once appropriate SEO is configured and the major search engines have indexed a digital collection!

We discuss SEO in more detail here, but three key things to focus on are creating a sitemap, including a robots.txt file and paying close attention to page titles.

We’ve worked hard to ensure collections hosted with Veridian are as well optimized for visibility through Google and other search engines as it is possible to be. Every Veridian installation is carefully configured and monitored to ensure it is indexed properly by Google, Bing, and other major web search engines. Read this case study to find out more.

3. Create online channels to link to your content

Set up social media pages for your collection. Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to sharing interesting material from your collection will help cultivate an audience and increase referral traffic. Some examples to look at:

  • The California Digital Newspaper collection has a Facebook page with a regular link to the ‘Article of the Day’.
  • The National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past collection has a Twitter page which posts daily links to “New Zealand newspapers of the not-quite-current-events variety”.
  • The Virginia Newspaper Project publishes a blog called Fit to Print. Entries are inspired by items found in the Library’s growing collection of current and historical newspapers.

4. Audience Engagement

Give your audience the opportunity to be actively engaged when they visit your collection.

Veridian’s crowdsourced User Text Correction feature can establish a community of registered visitors who help correct errors in the OCR text. Your audience could also get involved in crowdsourced transcription of handwritten letters and manuscripts. Both will help to improve the quality of your collection and encourage community building and knowledge sharing.

Other standard Veridian features like tags, comments, private lists/bookmarks, and social media sharing features are designed to encourage users to contribute to, share, and engage with your digital content.

5. Elephind.com

Elephind.com is a Veridian powered newspaper search engine for digitized historical newspapers around the world. It enables family historians, genealogists, and researchers to search, for free, across many newspaper sites simultaneously, rather than having to visit each site separately.

Many, but not all, of the source collections that are searchable from Elephind.com are Veridian-based collections. We’re always looking for new online newspaper collections to add to Elephind so contact us if you’d like your collection included.

6. Create Media Interest

Think about what is newsworthy, unique or what interesting content has been discovered within your collection.

Tie in with events such as a relevant convention or the anniversary of a historical event. Make announcements about recent developments like the addition of exciting new material or features.

A press release or article published online just may be picked up by local media to help raise awareness and interest.

We hope the ideas above show there are a number of things you can do to ensure that your collection is discoverable and engaging for the patrons who visit.