What does Facebook reach, Google Analytics, content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and the phrase, "time on page," have to do with Western History and Genealogy (WHG)? If your goal is sharing the resources of the Denver Public Library's Western History and Genealogy Department with as large an audience as possible, these concepts are pretty important.
Allow us to explain.
When the first web browsers became available to the public in 1993, the ground beneath most libraries shifted dramatically. With each passing year, volumes and volumes of material that was once only available at a library was open to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. That caused every library on the planet, including DPL, to seriously re-evaluate their core mission - making their materials available to as many people as possible.
Twenty five years later the WHG, and the rest of DPL, are adding a whole batch of tools to our skill sets that help us share our materials with the people of Denver and beyond. Those skills are centered on disseminating information as efficiently as possible via our Digital Collections, blogs and social media properties.
Content is King
There's an old maxim among web publishers that says, "Content is King," and it means that no matter how nice your website is, it won't be of any value to customers if you don't have good content. At WHG we are blessed with an abundance of incredible materials for creating web content. That includes a massive selection of research materials ranging from monographs to manuscript collections to clipping files and, of course, our Western History Subject Index.
We present this content in the form of blogs and social media postings. This gives our staff members the opportunity to dive deep into serious topics like the Death Penalty in Colorado, as well as more fun topics, like the fact that Village Inn was started in Denver.
But our content isn't just written or posted in a haphazard fashion, it's usually planned out months in advance and determined via editorial brainstorming sessions. In these sessions we look back at topics that:
- Highlight items in our collection (the Village Inn blog, for example, highlights a good use for our clippings files).
- Have general appeal to our readers (this generally involves nostalgia - which is pretty easy to conjure up from our collection).
- Have performed well for us in the past.
Once a blog is written, it's edited by two different employees to ensure quality and is published at a time when we think it will receive the most attention. This process is generally know as Content Marketing and is used by businesses of all sizes. One of the key elements in content marketing is an understanding of web analytics.
Web Analytics for Librarians
Simply stated, web analytics is an analysis of traffic patterns to websites that provides insights into customer behavior. At its simplest, web analytics tell us how many times a blog is viewed (Page Views); how many individual people looked at the blog (unique viewers); and how long they're spending looking at a particular posting (average time on page). Our social media analytics tell us how many people's feeds our content is appearing on and how many people "like" it.
Here are a couple of interesting conclusions we've drawn from our analytics. We know that the best time to post an item on Facebook is on a Wednesday, right before lunch. Is this because we're a great mid-week lunch read? Possibly. While Wednesdays are the best time for a WHG post, the weekend is the worst. Turns out that our customers and readers just aren't as interested in our materials on the weekends.
We've also learned that DPL customers spend a long time looking at our posts. For example, over the past year, our average time on page is a 2 minutes and 20 seconds. While that might not sound like long in real time, it's an eternity on the web where the average time on page is something more like 30 seconds.
These sorts of insights help us disseminate our materials to as wide an audience as possible. We also frequently benefit from the dynamics of viral media when various Facebook groups pick up our materials. A great example of this is when the Rainbow Music Hall Facebook Group periodically posts the blog we did two years ago on the legendary Denver music venue. When this happens, we'll see a blog that's sometimes several years old come roaring to the top of our most-viewed list and just as suddenly disappear.
For special collection librarians and archivists, this is an absolutely wonderful phenomenon. After all, the last thing we want is for our materials to sit fallow on our shelves. Blogs like these keep the materials mentioned within (in the case of the Rainbow Music Hall, our Rocky Mountain News archive and Tom Headbanger collections) the eyes of the public.
It's What We've Always Done
Much of our blog content is designed to be as accessible as possible to search engines, so that it's also as accessible as possible to our customers. This is done, in part, through the use of keywords and SEO.
SEO is the practice of creating material that's formatted in a manner that allows search engines to evaluate its content and present that material to search users. If you're thinking, "Isn't that what librarians and catalogers have been doing since the printed word first emerged?", you're right.
Modern SEO is a very simple version of what, more specifically, our catalogers do on an incredibly detailed level every single day. In this case, however, the main audiences are search engine bots that crawl the web deciphering websites and returning the results to their algorithmic masters.
When our content is presented properly to search engines our content appear higher in the search results and the material in our collection is that much more accessible to researchers. And that, in a nutshell, is what every library on the planet is striving to do.
While content marketing and SEO are fantastic tools for librarians, they really don't mean much if you haven't got a really stellar collection to back them up. In the case of DPL and WHG, we're fortunate to have an incredible collection that includes hundreds of thousands of photos and, literally, millions of items ranging from single page broadsides to massive paintings. We're also fortunate to have staff such as meticulous librarians, catalogers, archivists and shelvers that make this material available to the people who actually show up at our door to use if for research.