There’s no point having a website if no-one knows it’s there. Heather Maitland shares some tips on getting noticed on the web

The biggest theatre in my area has a new website. It’s clearly spent a lot on the redesign and it looks fantastic. But it might as well have burnt the money, because the website is invisible. So many cultural organisations forget that there is no point having a website unless people look at it – especially the ones who don’t already know and love us. It’s not that we have to persuade them: over half the online population has used the Internet to engage with arts and culture in the past 12 months1. Even so, my survey of jazz attenders showed that, although they are heavy Internet users, only one in five had seen the promoter’s website. The website for one of the organisations designated as a national artform centre had fewer than half the visits of my tiny local arts centre’s site. One county museum’s website has just 3,000 visitors per year.

WHAT IS GOING WRONG?

My survey of 49 cultural organisations showed that on average just one in five visitors to their websites got there by typing in the web address (URL). More than half arrived via a search engine. When someone uses a search engine they search a filing cabinet of text, collected by the spiders sent out by search engines to crawl over websites. The search engines work out what the websites are about by using a complex formula to identify the most important words. When someone searches, their search phrase is matched against these important words. So, to become visible, we need to make sure that our websites use the words people search for.

In 2010, just 36 UK people per month searched for ‘Jazzsteps’, Nottingham’s most active promoter of jazz and 1,300 people per month searched for ‘jazz Nottingham’. But 3,600 per month searched for ‘gigs Nottingham’, the same number for ‘what’s on Nottingham’ and more than 8,000 searched for ‘music Nottingham’. Jazzsteps did not appear in the first ten pages of search results for any of these phrases. This meant that only people who were already familiar with Jazzsteps would be likely to find its website. To everyone else, it was invisible.

Here are ten easy things you can do to become visible to people who don’t already know and love you. Around 90% of searches in the UK are carried out with Google, so that is the focus.

1. Search online for the Google Keyword Tool. Use it to identify the phrases people enter to search for your kinds of events and activities and for your location. As many people search for the misspelled ‘Bonnington Theatre’ as for the correct ‘Bonington Theatre’.

2. Take a look at where Google ranks each of
your pages with Free Monitor http://www.cleverstat.com/en/google-monitor-query.htm. Change the country to the UK, enter a URL and the keywords people search for and then hit search.

3. If you don’t rank in the first ten results, make some simple changes to your website, using the keywords in:

• Title tags: say what you do followed by who
you are in 65 characters with the most important keywords first. Every page should have a different title tag using keywords relevant to its content.

• Headings, bold text, italic text and body copy on each page: the more often you repeat a keyword, the more the search engine pays attention to it.

• Alt tags: these are the captions in little boxes that appear when you hover the cursor over a picture.

4. Use words that mean something to non-specialists, such as ‘workshops for adults’ instead of ‘education’.

5. If you have a Flash entry page, get rid of it now. It looks like a blank page to search engines which then assume that the whole website is empty. The first page that visitors see should have a headline that sells your site and a summary in about 40 words to
convince them they want to carry on reading.

6. Get the kinds of websites that your potential audiences will visit to link to you. Include a clause in contracts that asks the artists you book to link to your website from their website and MySpace or Facebook pages. Check your inbound links with the free tool at http://www.siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com

7. Check how well you are doing by using the free tool at http://www.website.grader.com

8. To find out what the search engine spider sees when it looks at your site, use the free keyword density tool at www.ranks.nl. Derby Jazz is now second in the search results for ‘live music derby’, its title tag uses the keys words ‘live music’ – it would be even better as ‘live music Derby Jazz home page’. It also uses key words in its headings, and frequently elsewhere.

9. Will people want to click on the search result for your site? Ensure your title tag reads well as it appears as the blue heading at the top of your search result.

10. You also need a compelling Description Mega Tag. This appears in the search results as the two lines of black text under the blue heading. If you don’t have one, Google will pick some text from the page at random, like this:

IS IT WORKING?

It is a waste of your resources when some quick and easy changes could make your website work so much better. So keep an eye on how it is doing by installing Google Analytics on every page – it’s a 20 minute job for most websites.

Find out how at
http://www.google.com/support/googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66983

 

Heather Maitland is a consultant specialising in marketing, audience development and audience research.

e heather@heathermaitland.co.uk
t 01949 843161

1 MTM London, ‘Digital audiences: engagement with arts and culture online’, consulted at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/we-publish-digital-audiences-engagement-arts-and-c/

2 AT Internet Search Engine Barometer report consulted at http://en.atinternet.com/resources/surveys/search-engine-barometer/search-engine-barometer-november-2010/index-1-2-6-215.aspx 18 December 2010
 

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