SEO for Digital Libraries

Search engine optimization for digital repositories cannot be addressed once and then left alone. As Kenning Arlitsch and Patrick OBrien have learned from more than two years of research at the University of Utah, it requires continuous monitoring at each repository for long-term success. The reporting tools developed for their IMLS funded project, “Getting Found: Search Engine Optimization for Digital Repositories” are part of a toolkit that will help repository managers monitor metrics and adjust their practices accordingly to achieve success.

Digital repositories face a common challenge: being found by users in a crowded and ever-expanding sea of information on the Internet. Getting found means repository objects must be included in the indexes of major search engines because most students and faculty now begin their research with Internet search engines. Digital repositories created by libraries will be largely invisible to users if their contents are not indexed in these search engines. Surveys conducted by Arlitsch and OBrien have revealed low average indexing ratios in digital repositories and institutional repositories (IR) across the nation. IR have unique SEO issues due to the type of content they offer and the crawling and metadata requirements of specialized search engines like Google Scholar.

Reasons for low indexing ratios can be grouped into four areas:
1. Server and software configuration and performance
2. Metadata
3. Unclear institutional goals and organizational communication
4. Changing search engine policies

Many librarians are unaware how invisible their collections are to their users, and most institutions lack the staff skills necessary to understand and address the multiple layers required to improve search engine indexing and rank.

Arlitsch and OBrien have demonstrated considerable success with raising the indexing ratio of digital repositories at the University of Utah. They raised their average indexing ratio in Google from 12% to over 80%, with several collections, including their IR, achieving nearly 100% indexing ratio. Those improvements have led to a 450% increase in referrals from Google and a 130% increase in visitors.

Arlitsch and OBrien have expanded their research and are developing a toolkit for digital repository managers. They will eventually offer SEO training for the library community.