A beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in the arts
Search Engine Optimisation expert Manuela Rotstein takes you through the basic steps to improve your website’s ranking and boost visits to your site.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about making your website and content rank highly in Google and other search engines; in essence you are making the content on your site discoverable when people are searching for information using specific terms. Sounds easy, but it takes time and some effort to build your ‘discoverability’ in this way.
SEO can make a real contribution to boosting audiences for the arts, and some simple practices, applied consistently, can really pay off. This guide will teach you how to make use of SEO techniques to benefit your project, event or organisation.
Discover your strengths through keyword research
Your art project and your vision are very clear to you. But how will they resonate with your potential audience? What is the most evocative language you can use, which will motivate people to buy a ticket, attend your event, watch your live stream or promote your show? Keyword research can provide clues, giving you a way to understand your potential audience better.
Let’s imagine a fictional art project: a 360 Virtual Reality short film, re-interpreting 1984 by George Orwell. Which element of the concept will grab people’s attention the most? Drop your potential keywords in Google Keyword Planner and you’ll get these results:
A table of keywords associated with the art project referenced in the text
We can see at a glance that VR and virtual reality have very strong traction, while 360 hasn’t. Similarly, “1984” has twice the search volume of “George Orwell”, and “video” is stronger than both “film” and “clip”.
At this point, you can make an educated decision about your editorial choices with regards to the title of your project, its description and the way you promote it to your audience.
How to integrate organically with your audience's agenda
Your target audience searches Google a lot. Take a group of friends spending a weekend in Manchester – what would they be searching for? The keywords “things to do in manchester” have 40,500 searches a month, while “manchester theatre” has, on average, 33,000 monthly searches.
People follow quite a structured pattern when searching for art content and events, as they go from spreading a wide net, to researching several options. For example, “theatre reviews” has 3,600 monthly searches, and narrowing down to a specific offer and buying tickets leads to “manchester theatre tickets” with 1,300.
If people find you when they are searching, you can invite them to join in with whatever you are offering.
Explore past projects similar to yours on Google Keyword Planner and look at the search results pages and related searches at the bottom. See for instance the related queries for “photography exhibition uk”:
A list of search terms related to "photography exhibition UK"
Once you’ve identified users’ search patterns, prioritise those that have the most potential for your organisation or project based on volume of searches, whilst striking a balance in terms of relevance. Then build landing pages that address their queries, using their language and thinking of their intent.
In order to build your landing pages in a way search engines can understand, get to know your content management system (CMS) and learn how to use the basic SEO elements: H1, H2, meta titles and meta descriptions for search listings – see diagram below. I would recommend including the keyword in the URL and in the title, but, above all, your title and description need to be compelling – something users will click on.
The following could be a good template to address the queries observed above, which are common to all live events:
A template for a web page with good SEO
Is your term searchable?
For search engines, people are an important element in the definition of any work of art. IMDb, for instance, puts the cast list next to the title and the description. Whether or not it features high profile artists, talent or celebrities, your project is likely to be searched for by the names of the people in it, too.
Add text for all the expected elements regarding the people in your team or production, i.e. names, portraits and a brief biography. On top of that, a personal quote by each team/production member, a distinctive image or a 30 second exclusive video clip will provide a unique experience for your audience. Search engines will reward you for that by boosting your place in their listings.
Focus on getting the basics right each time, and test and learn with images and video as you progress, for example with a video from the Artistic Director or key talent.
When adding visual content, make sure you work to good accessibility practices. Ensure alt text is included, which describes what is happening in an image, and add subtitles to your video clips. This will make your project accessible to all audiences, enhance the experience for everyone and improve searchability.
Build your network and Google will discover you
In its somewhat techie Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide, Google describes how it discovers content in these terms:
“Google's crawl process begins with a list of web page URLs, generated from previous crawl processes… As GoogleBot visits each of these websites it detects links on each page and adds them to its list of pages to crawl. New sites, changes to existing sites, and dead links are noted and used to update the Google index.”
Consequently, it is important to build a good network of referrals – links to your project or organisation from your natural partner sites. Your potential audience and also the search engine robots will enter your project through this network of links. Strong partners are those which are visited more often. They will ensure your project is discovered and will “transfer” their authority to you in the eyes of users and search engines alike.
- Think of your funders, artistic and other partners, your event location, the city council
- Try your local (or national) newspapers and radio stations
- Reach out to fan sites on Twitter and Instagram
- Include your trailer and short clips on YouTube, Vimeo and others
- Encourage your audience to spread the word and link to you on their social networks
SEO and your arts project: next steps
In summary, SEO is about defining your digital presence. If you want to make a start with SEO in a way that is manageable, try these steps:
- Take a look at your current online presence around the terms and subject matter you feel you should rank well or highly in: are there priority areas that need addressing?
- Use keyword research to see what people (including potential audiences) are searching for and how. Prioritise what has the most potential for your organisation or project based on volume of searches, whilst striking a balance in terms of relevance.
- Get to know the CMS behind your website and make sure you know how to do the basics in terms of SEO: URLs, H1, H2 text and metatags.
- Rewrite or edit existing content where necessary to improve relevance and ranking in searches, whilst also considering imagery and video. Make sure you are working to good accessibility practices for all your visual content.
- Reach out to your partners and increase your online visibility
- Develop a simple set of SEO guidelines for future site content and review SEO presence regularly.
If you are short on time or expertise in house, then you can also get an SEO audit done by a specialist freelance consultant or agency, with recommendations and illustrations of what to focus on and how to do it. It can be done quickly and at a reasonable cost and can save you time at the outset. SEO specialists should give you examples of what to do in practice, based on your site and your content. You may then need to implement these changes in house, but you will have a clear view of the actions that will make the most difference.
Manuela Rotstein is Head of Digital Strategy at open-commerce.org. She has worked with the BBC, Classic FM and UNICEF UK, among others, to boost their SEO and put together a content strategy that resonates with their audiences.