SEO for libraries

Why SEO for Libraries?

This week I gave a presentation about SEO strategies for libraries at the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. The more I learn about search engine optimization, the more parallels I see between SEO and librarianship. Just as libraries make quality information findable in catalogs and academic databases, an entire field has evolved around making information visible in Google. SEO specialists understand a lot about how consumers search for information. Libraries can use their insights to showcase their own collections and expertise.

Libraries are all about finding answers. SEO also offers the opportunity to answer our patrons’ questions at the point of need, from the very first Google search. We must gain visibility in this space. Currently many for-profit sites are outranking us, often for services that libraries provide for free.

We can look at a search for “how to do a systematic review” as an example. This topic is covered by countless LibGuides and library handouts. Yet Google features information from a for-pay editing company called Editage Insights to answer this question. Libraries help people with similar services for free every day. We should be showing up higher when our patrons search for these services.

for profit systematic review service

Library Visibility in Search Results

I recently did a small study to evaluate medical library visibility in search results. Using personas and Moz Keyword Explorer, I generated 65 target keywords for medical libraries. Next, I used Wincher to evaluate how well 25 randomly selected AAHSL libraries ranked for each keyword.

These keywords represented a potential monthly search volume of about 165,000. The word cloud below illustrates the terms with the most rankings. If people know to type in “medical library,” we have a good chance of being found. The smaller terms represent topics relevant to library services that we are not ranking for.

library ranking for SEOLibraries are not ranking at all for 41.5% of them. Additionally, we are only ranking in the top 10 for 12 words. When is the last time you looked past the tenth result in Google?

My project confirmed what most of us know: libraries have minimal visibility in search results. However, a few libraries in the sample are excelling. Those that had better SEO compliance had higher visibility. There is a lot of potential to learn from their successes and grow the online presence of libraries.

Google Ranking Factors

The two most important ranking factors for Google are domain authority and quality of content.  Domain authority is similar to academic impact factors. It is a score based on the number of sites linking to your content and the quality of those sites. Quality of content is a more flexible metric. Google values unique content that answers a specific user need. If a site has too much duplicate content or unclear focus, Google has a harder time matching it to user queries.

Libraries have a lot to offer users in terms of original content. We are already pouring our expertise into instruction sessions and consultations. If we can make that expertise more widely discoverable to Google, I believe we can increase our visibility.

Tips Going Forward

Although it may be hard for smaller libraries to build domain authority, nearly all libraries can improve the quality of their original content. Consider doing a content audit of your site. Remove duplicates, and swap out generic vendor descriptions of your databases for a unique recommendations from library experts. Are there any templates or white papers you can design that would provide value to your community?

You can also aim to rank locally. Most libraries don’t need to rank first nationally for every relevant keyword. In most cases, we are serving patrons in a very specific geographic area and need to show up for people searching near us. By using local examples in your content and networking with other departments on campus, you can increase your chances of showing up for local searchers.

Finally, it is important to apply SEO principles to your Libguides in addition to your standard library website. Libguides make it very easy to duplicate content and break up topics across several URLs. It takes extra effort to audit your guides and keep them structured according to SEO standards.

It can be a daunting task to create a content plan. For help creating actionable ideas for your library content, please take a look at my library content marketing workbook.

Further Learning

Digital marketers encourage their clients to share their knowledge, and they are great at leading by example. Many marketing agencies have free guidebooks and tools available for those new to SEO. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Moz – Moz is a trusted organization with helpful information for those new to SEO.
  • Vertical Measures – Vertical Measures offers content marketing workshops. Their guidebooks are great for generating new ideas for content.

I hope that I’ve inspired you to try SEO practices with your library website! I would love to hear feedback from any library that has tried some of these tactics.

My MLA presentation slides are available below for anyone interested.