The vast expanse of the web has no limits. There are a seemingly infinite number of places where people can spend time learning, shopping, socializing, and playing. Face the facts: Your library website is just one among millions. How will web users ever find it in the endless online world?
Does this discourage you? Are you ready to abandon your web promotion efforts because your website doesn’t get much traffic? Don’t. This article will give you options, some quick and some more involved, to make your site findable, to drive traffic to it, and to let more people know about your library. You’re most likely not going to take over the web, but you can make your pages easier to find, and free links are the key.
Make a Good Website With Content That Attracts People
While there are many quick, one-time things you can do to make your content findable, we’ll address those later. First, we have to make sure that there’s a reason to promote your library and its website. If you’re not offering relevant services or interesting content on your site, there’s really nothing to promote.
The most important and effective thing you can do to make your content findable and to draw people back is the most difficult: Make a good website. Creating a website is ridiculously easy, and it takes about 5 minutes to start a blog. Filling such sites with interesting content, however, takes skill, effort, and inspiration. Anyone can hit the “publish” button, but to learn about the interests of your community and to systematically present relevant content takes time. This is what you must do.
One way to approach the issue of content is to use the strengths of your library’s staff. Perhaps you have employees who are passionate about romance novels or get wired about fixing computers. This excitement will show through if you have them talk about their interests online. One great thing about public libraries is that almost anything in the world is within their scope of interest. Highlighting the expertise of individuals in your library not only can produce interesting content, but it can also illuminate the humans in your facility. This helps build relationships, one of the most important things librarians can do to promote themselves. Good content makes your website more findable because the better your content is, the more people will talk about it and link to it. These links are the lifeblood of Google’s PageRank. And you want links. Badly.
Another way to create a good site is to make it useful and interactive. The web is a very social place, and your site shouldn’t be an exception. People are accustomed to being able to do things online like express themselves, list their preferences or favorite things, upload photos, and more. People are also accustomed to being able to accomplish things online. We can pay bills, renew car registration, book plane tickets, and much, much more. But can your patrons pay their fines online? Can they apply for a library card online? Can they book your meeting room online? These features might take some effort to develop, but they’ll also give people another reason to visit your website.
Join the Community Conversations
People might be talking about your library online. It is a good idea to participate in these discussions to either thank people for compliments or to offer explanations or apologies for any negative experiences people may have had. You may also want to reply to comments to clarify information about services and resources. (But when doing so, always identify yourself as a library employee to be fair.)
One way to see who has linked to your library website is to use a special syntax in Google. If my library’s URL is http://www.mylibrary.org, I’d type this phrase into the search box: link:http://www.mylibrary.org. Try it out; you just might find your library listed in an unsuspected place. Contact the pages’ authors to thank them for the links.
Commenting on local blogs is another way to make people aware of your website. On most blog comment forms, you enter your name, email address, and URL. Librarians do a great job of building community in the physical world and can use this expertise to do the same thing online. The process is pretty much the same, too. You must find people in the community, learn about them, and then interact with them. When doing this online, it is important to speak in your own friendly and authentic voice rather than act as the institutional voice of your library. Being heavy-handed and pushing some sort of library agenda isn’t the way to endear yourself to local bloggers. Rather, read what they have to say, and respond with relevant and interesting content. Here are a few sites you can use to find local blogs:
Another way to track what people are saying about your library is to visit social review websites. Essentially, these are like online Yellow Pages imbued with people’s opinions. People can comment on and rate restaurants, cafes, bars, stores, theaters, and yes, libraries. If you search for your library and don’t find it listed, post a review yourself! These are some popular social review sites:
Visit these sites every so often to keep track of what people think of your library. (And if you get positive reviews on Yelp, you can even get a sign saying “People love us on Yelp.” Place the sign in your library’s window or front door, and you have instant positive social promotion!)
List Your Site Where People Are Searching
Assuming you’re already spending a decent amount of effort developing and publishing interesting content and enabling interactivity on your website, you need to expose as many people as possible to it. There are many places to list your library’s events or services and to interact with current or potential library members.
Your Library Unplugged: You have a free wireless network in your library, right? If not, go for it. It is an inexpensive way to get people into your building. If you do have wireless, or once you get your network up and running, make sure to list your library in one of the many free Wi-Fi directories on the web. Here are a few:
Library-Specific Directories: Make sure your information is listed—and accurate—in the following directories that are specifically for libraries:
Inventive Event Listings: There are a number of websites devoted to listing all of the events going on in different neighborhoods. It is a good idea to make sure that all of your events are listed in the following sites:
One of the most logical places for you to post your events is LibraryThing Local. In case you’re not familiar, LibraryThing is a website on which people catalog their home book collections. Users can browse other people’s collections, folks who like similar books can link up, and members can rate books and write reviews. The LibraryThing Local section lists book-related events. Searching for local events is easy; just enter your postal code. Again, chances are that your library is already listed as a venue, but you really ought to register for an account and take ownership of your organization’s page on this site. You will be able to add or change contact info and list your book club books, meeting times, and author talks.
Answer Board Sites: Unfortunately, few people know that libraries offer research assistance. Instead, they turn to online sources—wherever they can find them. A couple of years ago, there was a sudden flurry of new “expert” websites providing spaces for people to ask and answer questions. People list themselves as experts, and the sites manage the experts with varying methods of accreditation (sometimes none). Some site visitors offer to pay a set amount to get the help or answer they need, while others expect it for free, and the site serves as a clearinghouse for people who are seeking research assistance. Ahh, if only people knew that libraries do this for free! You can answer questions, identify yourself as a library staff member, and let the questioner know that the library performs the same services directly. You might even earn a few bucks while you’re at it! These are some of the more popular expert-finding sites:
You can also participate in Slam the Boards (http://answerboards.wetpaint.com), a librarian effort on the 10th of every month to answer as many questions on these sites as possible.
Audio and Video Listings: More and more libraries are producing audio and video content for their patrons. Many only link to or list this new content on their own websites. But there are numerous online directories for audio-visual content that people utilize to find materials of interest. If you are producing podcasts or videocasts, make sure that you are listed in these essential sites:
Here are some popular audio sites:
Both audio and video are listed at www.odeo.com and www.podscope.com. Also see www.podcast411.com/page2.html.
Help Everyone Find Your Services
When you promote your library and its website online, you’re in front of a worldwide audience. If you’re successful, you’ll probably end up interacting with and helping people not only from your community but also from the next town, county, state, or country over. This is OK. Just as we don’t ask to see someone’s library card when they enter our building or walk up to the reference desk, it doesn’t matter where a person is seated when they click to your website. You definitely want to make sure you’re serving your constituents, but it is good for the prosperity of all libraries when anyone becomes accustomed to finding useful information from, or being entertained or inspired by, a library.