How the British Library is using SEO to become a digital media publisher

The British Library is emerging as a modern news publisher. His expertise in the field of journalism is immense. Home to one of the largest newspaper archives in the world, with more than 15 million news pages, it is also home to The Newsroom, a permanent resource retracing the evolution of news in audiovisual, print and digital media.

And it is in digital publishing that this institution is changing rapidly, producing its own articles, live streams and video clips for a global audience.

It’s a symbol of how nearly all of us – businesses, institutions, individuals – contribute to contemporary media, if only through a basic homepage or Facebook status update. . In the case of the British Library, it is much more than that.

After hiring Graham MacFadyen to head digital and marketing operations, the library doubled its online audience to 20 million in three years. MacFadyen previously worked for the Financial Times where he pioneered the FT’s much admired and profitable digital strategy.

Google ranking for ‘Mr Darcy’

The British Library strives for top rankings from Google on key topics. In searches for “Mr. Darcy” or “Elinor Dashwood”, for example, he will compete with Wikipedia, the BBC and the Jane Austen Society, as he seeks to “own the domain” of English literature.

“You want to become the destination for anyone looking for English literature and really climb up the ranks of the things you expect the British Library to be credible on: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde,” MacFadyen explains.

Dickens, journalist and newspaper editor, would surely have been in favor of the approach.

The British Library is succeeding in this search engine optimization (SEO) ‘battle’ by creating content around named authors and harnessing its’ curatorial expertise, which is world-class, and the original [manuscripts and other objects in its collections]MacFadyen says. “We put the original scanned material on the web and the ability to see this is in most cases unique. He also builds on-site “web spaces” on the library’s most popular specialist topics, from World War I to feminist literature.

Each month, the library’s marketing team meets with curators to plan media strategy, identifying topics for curatorial blogs and news articles – such as a recent ‘Great Medieval Bake Off’ blog post on 11th century culinary techniques – which can be linked to the collections. Although such pieces compete with the news media for attention, they are designed to last a long time and generate the interest of readers.

Make more available outside the South East

Since refocusing its digital strategy, the British Library has increased its number of Twitter followers to 1.39 million and has 250,000 Facebook followers. “The British Library will never spend its money to be successful in marketing, but we have some of the most unique and interesting content assets in the world and we should be using them to attract audiences,” said MacFadyen, who will be speaking at the Festival of Commercialization on October 5 and 6, on the rise of audiences with a small budget.

The purpose of all this is threefold. First, the library wants to use digital media to make itself more accessible to those outside the South East of England who cannot easily visit its red brick building next to London’s St Pancras Station. Second, he wants more use of his collections because “we don’t just collect it all because we like to catalog it and put it in basements.”

And finally, he wants to make money by selling tickets to events, exhibitions and retail sales.

The SEO-based strategy worked most effectively around last year’s 1215 Magna Carta exhibit. Ten months before its opening, the MacFadyen team created a Magna Carta ‘web space’ on the library site and began to ‘work our SEO’ until it had 50,000 unique visitors per month. “We were then able to start advertising an exhibition.” The exhibition duly “broke all our records”.

In the fall, the library will experience a “cultural revival”, improving its food and drink offerings and hosting events for authors such as Ian Rankin, Margaret Atwood and other “real big names in culture, literature, art and culture. academics, ”says MacFadyen, who sees opportunities for an increase in live video streaming.

With the British Library now reaching 20 million people, there must be potential for selling advertising inventory, especially where exhibits are already attracting corporate brands (the Linklaters law firm sponsored 1215 Magna Carta ). But our cultural institutions, whatever concerns about their funding, don’t seem comfortable with advertising.

But at least the British Library regularly meets with its peers – such as the Tate, the Natural History Museum, and the V&A – to share best practices for getting the most out of digital media.

“I don’t think any of us are John Lewis or Procter & Gamble in terms of the sophistication of our digital marketing,” says MacFadyen. “But we are all more advanced than you think from the outside.”

Twitter: @iburrell

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