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Like any organisation, museums find themselves navigating the increasingly complex world of digital marketing. And while Google rankings aren’t the only metric they need to worry about, the value of playing the search engine game shouldn’t be ignored.
For many museums, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated their online activities, but while social media has been the focus of much attention, museum websites haven’t had the same attention. But a strong content led website can help a museum to achieve it’s mission online and be a powerful marketing tool.
But in order to make the most of the World Wide Web, museums need to understand the basics of climbing the rankings. Research shows that positions 1 – 5 on the first page of Google account for 67.60% of all clicks for that specific search term. That’s more than two thirds of all browsers.
Google positioning might seem like a game of chance, but there is in fact a science behind it. A science known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
There’s lots to be gained from dancing to Google’s tune but without the right strategy it can be easy to waste time and resources quickly and easily.
It might sound complicated, but SEO is a relatively simple concept. By including genuine content on your site that features keywords people are searching for, you can improve the position of your website on search engine results.
Why is this important? Because the vast majority of websites get most of their views from people who have found them through Google. Featuring high on rankings means that people who search for terms relating to your museum will be more likely to end up on your website.
The issue surrounding SEO for museum is that it can be fiercely competitive. The industry itself is worth more than $65 billion a year, and museums and cultural organisations have to compete within this field too.
Part of the key to success is finding the right search terms to suit your institution. Striking the balance between popularity and specificity is paramount.
A term like “best museums to visit in New York” will no doubt gain millions of searches, but the competition for page one dominance will be equally packed. Likewise, you may have no trouble dominating the search results for a term like “modern art museum specialising in sculpture within 10 miles of Bristol”, but the number of people actually googling such a term will realistically be very low.
Climbing the ranks on Google isn’t about stuffing your website with key words. In fact, Google has measures in place that actually reprimand sites that try to do this. Instead, it’s about offering informative, engaging and genuine content that appeals to search terms organically, providing genuine answers to browser queries.
To succeed in this, you need great web content. Luckily, museums have no shortage of fantastic content at their fingertips. From startling visuals to riveting facts and tid-bits, museums have the upper hand when it comes to divulging information, engaging visitors (whether physical or virtual) and writing great content.
For what do museums do if not provide content? In the flesh, this content may take the form of artworks, artefacts, memorabilia or documentation, but virtually speaking this content can come as words, images, timelines, graphics, videos and displays. Interesting, well written, unique content that reflects the excitement of your actual exhibitions.
A strong example of this comes from the Apartheid Museum in South Africa. Tasked with the difficult job of dealing with a difficult subject matter, the museum accurately reflects the informative, enlightening and sombre tone of its physical institution and carries it to its website, with plenty of engaging information about the apartheid movement itself as well as the history of the museum.
Google wants to connect great content with interested readers. While spamming your site with SEO phrases might provide some short-term results, great content is required to see long-term benefits as Google takes the amount of genuine interest your site receives into account.
If rising the ranks on Google was a checklist, then links would be one of the top boxes. The link is at the heart of how Google works. It’s a complex process, but putting it very simply, a link from site A to site B is taken by Google as an endorsement of site B by site A. It signals a genuine sense of connection and engagement from both sites, making them seem more trustworthy and appealing.
Links and endorsements from more reputable sites count for more, too. So a link from, say, the BBC or The Guardian to a museum site will count for a lot more in Google’s eyes than an endorsement from a small-scale blog. Likewise, linking to reputable sources on your site also stands you in good stead. It all helps.
Like humans, Google likes structured content and clear instructions. This means that your site should have good menus, readable URLs and various HTML tags. This makes it clear to Google what your website is all about.
Visually speaking, you need a site that’s appealing, exciting and also easy to navigate. Think of your website as a virtual embodiment of your museum – one that you can curate in the same way you would a physical space. How do people move around it? What’s the best way for them to discover what you have to offer?
Take the Tate website for example. After being greeted with a vibrant and colourful homepage, visitors to the site are invited to explore art by artist, by current exhibition and by theme. There is a designated section for kids, a place to explore galleries online with virtual tours, and a sliding banner for current merchandise on sale.
The fight for Google dominance is an ongoing battle, one that requires you to stay up to date with changing restrictions and guidelines, current trends and regular updates. However, the key thing here is to ensure that your website accurately reflects what makes your museum special. Be proud of your website: reach out to viewers and visitors online and show off everything your website has to offer. By displaying interesting, exciting and engaging content, you can benefit in the long run.
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.
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