Optimistic outcome for optimising the Hub

Paddy, Steve and I (Jane) have spent the last 4 months working on an interesting JISC project to optimise Archives Hub pages for search engines, as part of the Strategic Content Alliance


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a process that aims to increase the visibility of a Website in important search engines like Google. SEO works by modifying the content, the layout, and the architecture of web pages, in addition to using community building techniques to enhance the popularity of a website.

As part of this project, an SEO expert is tracking and recording our current web traffic. We are implementing recommended changes and looking for changes to the website traffic after the changes are made.

Recommendations we have implemented
1. A Search Engine Sitemap

This is something that was developed by Google and is used by other search engines. An XML sitemap is a recommended way of organising a Website and identifying the URLs for the purpose of indexing the site by search engine bots, allowing them to find content and data faster and more efficiently. It is a means for us to tell the search engine what the important pages are, and we can also put a date into the sitemap as an indication of how often the page is updated. The sitemap should help the pages get indexed faster.

The sitemap was relatively easy to create, although it probably needs a bit more work from us in terms of grading pages for priority.

2. Metadata

We have been working on the page metadata. In particular we have minimised duplicate title and description tags, ensured all pages have title tags and thought a bit more about the content of the title and description tags – does the title properly represent the page? Is the description an effective summary of the content with important keywords? It is important to think about this from the perspective of the robots – what are the words that will be most useful for them, in terms of search engine searches?

For example, where we had a metadata title ‘Archives Hub: For Archivists’, we had a heading for the same page ‘Contributing to the Archives Hub’. Ideally these should be the same and we should decide which terms are most important – should ‘archivists’ be in the main heading? Should ‘contributing’ be in the title tag? We have also started to reverse our page titles so that the subject of the page is entered first of all, so not ‘Archives Hub: Contributors’ but ‘Contributors to the Archives Hub’.

3. Headings

As stated above, we are getting the metadata title and page title to correspond, and we are also thinking about the importance of the page headers for search engines. In the past we have had monthly features with titles like ‘Wabsters and Shewsters’. Whilst this might work as an intreguing title for a user, it will not help a user searching for Scottish textile history.

4. URLs

It is worth ensuring that at least one of the important keywords is in the URL for a page. So, a page on railway history should have a URL like http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/railways.shtml and the title ‘Railway history: 200 years of the steam locomotive’.

5. Work on those keywords

We have worked on including keywords throughout the text, and especially in the first few lines. The inclusion of suggested websites and suggested reading provides a legitimate excuse to repeat keywords, both in their titles and in the annotations.

Other recommendations

There were other recommendations that we intend to implement over time, but did not have the resources to implement immediately – and some of them will more rationally fit into a redesign of our webiste (which is happening over the next 6 months).

1. Minimise use of tables

2. Change directory names to something more meaningful, e.g. ‘institution’ instead of ‘inst’, or ‘archivist’ instead of ‘arch’

3. Encourage external sites to link to the Hub site. This is an ongoing activity, but it should be easier with our new Website, and with our new approach to monthly features. We will also be able to link to Hub descriptions from sites like the National Register of Archives because we will have persistent URLs for all descriptions.

Web ranking reports

We have been working with Alan K’necht, an SEO expert, and Thierry Arsenault from the The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). Alan has provided us with weekly Web ranking reports. These reports are based upon some agreed search terms that we are using. We created three pages for three subject areas where the Archives Hub has strong collection representation: fairs and circus history, history of textiles and british railway history. For all of these subjcts we already had a monthly feature that we had created, so we could use the pages that already existed and just work on them to make them more optimised for search engines.

Conclusions so far

So, has it worked? If I take ‘fairground history’ as an example. On April 13th, this was at 30 in the Google rankings and at 14 in Google UK rankings. By May 11th it was at 11 in Google and 7 in Google UK. By June 6th it had moved to 6 in the rankings, and a quick search on Google UK now (17th June) puts it at number 3.

Railway history is maybe a more challenging topic, as we are competing with a huge amount of information. ‘Railway history UK’ was not ranked at the start of the project, but by 15th June it was at 15 in the rankings for Google, and at 11 for Google UK. A search on Google of just pages from the UK currently brings the page up to number 6 in the list.

Of course, the challenge with Google is to get the URL in the first page of results, and it is always a moveable feast, so if the page ranks highly one week, it may not do so the next. However, the work that we have done has clearly made an improvement to our rankings, and if we apply the lessons learnt to our other feature pages, we should be able to attract more people to the Archives Hub Website.

The principle of the JISC study was that ‘implementing a few simple and inexpensive Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques can increase an organisation