Librarians and the Concept of Search Engine Optimization

When Emily Clasper stood in front of a group of "eager to learn librarians" to discuss a class on 21st Century Search Trends, she was shocked that when she came to a PowerPoint slide that discussed Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the slide might as well looked like this:
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It seemed that many of the librarians in the audience had not heard of the term before, and I imagine that the minutes she spent discussing SEO strategies sounded much like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons ("wamp waa waa waaa wamp").

Clasper, who thought that SEO was something that every librarian should at least have the basic grasp of understanding, was a little shocked at the lack of knowledge coming from a group of people that should be some of the best users of online resources.
I mean, we need to use it, right? We have online resources, Web sites, and digital content we want to put into the hands of our patrons. We want to market our services and the opportunities we provide to our communities. We aim to remain relevant in the every day lives of the people we serve. So isn’t understanding and applying the basic principles of SEO to our digital environment kind of a big deal?
It did make me wonder where the disconnect came from between Librarians (at least the one's in Emily's audience… as I'm sure all the readers of this blog are SEO gurus, right??) and the value that SEO both as creators of information, and as consumers of information. Emily points out that as users of online resources, "aren’t we obligated to understand as much as we can about where our information comes from?" If we don't understand the basic concepts of why certain results are placed higher on the page than others, are we then blindly trusting search engines and the filters and rankers that are being used?

I started thinking about the other side of this coin and wondered if maybe librarians were thinking too narrowly on who their audience is today. As much as we hammer the idea that "the library" is not simply a place any longer, I think many librarians still see their audience as those that do come in to that place (perhaps expanded a bit to include those that make requests via email as well as physically come into the library.) Although the information we create online may be designed for those that hold a library card, or attend our university, or work in our company… should we simply limit the exposure of our information to those groups? Perhaps the understanding of SEO strategies can expand the reach of the information we collect beyond our traditional doorstep.

Traditionally, SEO strategies have been housed in the Marketing or Internet Technology groups, and not in the library. Therefore, if the library wants to understand if these strategies can help expand our internal and external reach, the first step would be to find those who define your organization's SEO strategies and determine what you need to be doing to be included in that strategy. Search isn't just about the basic Boolean "AND OR NOT" structure any longer. A better understanding of Search Engine Optimization will make you a better consumer of information as well as a better contributor of information.

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Emily said...

Re your comment: "many librarians still see their audience as those that do come in to that place (perhaps expanded a bit to include those that make requests via email as well as physically come into the library.)"

I was actually planning to do a post about specifically that. From my perspective, I see librarians equating a handful of people they interact with as "our patrons", while the volume of folks using their services is much more vast and diverse. They hate it when I have stats that prove it, too.

Edward said...

I disagree. I don't see SEO being all that important on the user side. We pick search engines (and trust their brand) based on the accuracy of the results -- search engines worry about SEO so users do not have to (that is part of the value they provide as a service). As someone who uses Google, I do not need or want to stay on top of all the various moves and counter moves (which change frequently) between content providers and search engines. I think its enough to know that there is such a thing as SEO, but the details would not really help. It would also be somewhat futile because search engine algorithms and SEO strategies are largely hidden from the user and any understanding of SEO would amount to speculation (i.e., you still wouldn't "know" why that result got there).

On the other hand, if you are a content provider, SEO is very important.

Anonymous said...

I'm aware of SEO, but since I haven't actively built or maintained any web sites for several years, I am not as up on SEO as I could be. I tend to agree with Edward, that we as librarians are more apt to be up on which search engines are the best for our research than how sites are optimized for search.


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