How SEO for Museums Can Grow Attendance and Membership

Since the drastic changes brought on by Covid-19 in 2020, museums have been forced to fully reckon with today’s digital landscape. While this has often been a challenge for a field in which physical, in-person experiences are paramount, many museums have creatively engaged with new audiences by building a stronger digital presence.

With visitation levels still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels, museums must continue to fulfill their mission with online programming, paying special attention to how their patrons navigation information they normally provide in-person.

Of course, this requires an understanding of how internet search results and rankings can affect your institution’s online presence and popularity.

By strategically employing search engine optimization (SEO) in your museum website design and content, you can reach more potential visitors, raise money, book more events, and grow your institution’s brand awareness both within your community, and beyond.

people walking to a museum

Why museums should leverage SEO

Your website is often the first experience people have with your museum.

Most visitors use Google to find important resources on your site such as maps, location, hours, and ticketing information. Making sure your website appears in Google search results and in the way you want it to is crucial to providing your visitors a great experience both online and in person.

But visitation information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the things you could be optimizing for.

SEO can draw in more museum visitors and members by increasing your website’s traffic and engagement, allowing more people to learn about your museum. Using SEO effectively by targeting keywords allows your institution to become more visible to more people.

Explaining SEO in the museum context

At its heart, SEO is about making sure your website and content is listed in the search engine results – ideally near the top of the page – when a user is searching for your institution or something related to your offerings.

In other words, museums can target a combination of branded keywords (i.e. keywords associated with your museum’s name specifically) and unbranded keywords that relate to your collection, exhibits, research, or other offerings.

For instance, when you perform a Google search for “Tampa Bay history,” the first result is the Tampa Bay History Center, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum with whom Big Sea proudly partners.

A related, more general search, “Tampa Bay museum,” also yields the Tampa Bay History Center homepage as the first result. This means that this museum is killing the SEO game ranking highly for searches close to their full brand name, but also for related, unbranded search terms in their area.

In the end, great SEO effectively gets a museum’s content, exhibits, and special events in front of more eyes than ever.

What are the benefits of SEO for museums?

While regular, local patronage is valuable, that’s not always enough for an institution to both maintain its collections and grow. Being visible in organic search results allows people outside of the community to find you. This is especially useful when trying to target tourists or get your museum a national audience.

Here are some of the benefits of SEO for museums:

  1. Increase in Organic Traffic and Visibility:  By optimizing for relevant search terms, a museum can increase its organic (non-paid) search engine rankings, leading to more visitors discovering the museum online. This can translate to increased physical visitation and broader recognition.
  2. Cost-Effective Long-Term Growth: Compared to paid advertising (like PPC campaigns), SEO provides sustainable and often more cost-effective results over the long term. Once the museum ranks well for specific keywords, it can continue to get traffic without paying for each click or impression.
  3. Local Engagement and Tourism Boost: Many tourists and locals alike use search engines to find places to visit. By optimizing for local search and appearing in “near me” queries, museums can capture the attention of potential visitors planning trips or seeking cultural experiences in the area.
  4. Enhanced Online User Experience: A significant part of SEO involves improving website usability, speed, and mobile-friendliness. By investing in these areas, museums ensure a positive user experience, leading to longer website visits, more engagement, and a higher likelihood of physical visits.
  5. Stay Competitive in the Digital Age: Many museums, landmarks, and cultural institutions are already investing in SEO. To remain competitive and not lose potential visitors to other attractions, it’s crucial for museums to ensure they are easily discoverable online.

The challenge of SEO implementation in museums

Museums, like other entities, face several unique challenges when implementing and maintaining SEO strategies. Some of the primary challenges include:

  • Dynamic Content: Museums frequently update exhibits and events, requiring continual content and SEO strategy adjustments to remain current and relevant.
  • Budgetary Constraints: Limited budgets, especially in smaller or non-profit museums, can hinder their ability to invest in comprehensive SEO efforts or expert consultations.
  • Technical Limitations: Some museums might operate on outdated or less-flexible website platforms, making it challenging to implement essential SEO practices.
  • Balancing Aesthetics and SEO: Museums prioritize visual appeal, and sometimes the desired website design might conflict with SEO best practices, such as heavy reliance on images without sufficient textual content.
  • Diverse Audiences: Museums cater to a broad range of visitors, from tourists to educators. Creating an SEO strategy that appeals universally without diluting the message can be challenging.

Despite these challenges, with the right approach and resources, museums can leverage SEO to enhance their online visibility, reach a broader audience, and promote their offerings effectively.

If your museum staff doesn’t currently have the capacity to develop and implement an SEO strategy, it might be time to invest in help from SEO marketing experts who can help your institution claim those coveted top-ranking search results.

How do I know if I need SEO for my museum?

Here are some signs your museum could benefit from search engine optimization:

  • Low Web Traffic: If your museum’s website isn’t getting much traffic, it’s likely not ranking well on search engines. SEO can help improve its visibility and drive more online visitors.
  • Not Appearing in Relevant Searches: If your museum doesn’t show up in top results for pertinent terms (e.g., “museums in [your city]”), then SEO is needed to boost its online presence in these crucial search queries.
  • Lack of Mobile Optimization: With many users browsing on mobile devices, if your museum’s site isn’t mobile-friendly, it can negatively impact your search engine rankings and user experience.
  • Outdated Website Content: Search engines prioritize up-to-date and relevant content. If your content is old or not regularly updated, SEO can assist in content optimization and strategy to improve rankings.
  • No Local Search Presence: If your museum isn’t appearing in local searches or on maps when visitors look for nearby attractions, you’re missing a vital opportunity. Local SEO can optimize your site for these local queries.

Addressing these primary issues can significantly enhance the online visibility and accessibility of your museum, leading to increased visitor numbers and engagement.

SEO best practices for museums

Here are a few things you can do to enhance search engines’ ability to crawl and understand your museum’s website:

  • Start with Google: What happens when you type your website’s name into Google? What about your major exhibits? What about keywords related to your exhibits or offerings? Start plugging different search terms into Google, and take screenshots and make notes about what you’re seeing to give you ideas about where to start your optimizations.
  • Work backwards: Use a tool like Domain Analysis in SEMRush to view your pages from Google’s perspective. When you type in your homepage, for instance, you’ll see a list of all the keywords you currently rank for as well as their placements. Do they look right to you? Are there other things you think should be on there? View all of your important pages this way to get a sense of how you’re already appearing in search results.
  • Keyword Alignment: The backbone of SEO is choosing the right keywords that match your audience’s search intent. Tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Google Search Console, and HubSpot can help you identify competitive keywords that your site has a chance to rank for. If you are working on already existing pages, start with their highest ranking keywords (that also have the highest search volume), and make improving their positions your first focus.
  • Content Optimization: Content optimization is the process of aligning content with your chosen keywords. Learn how we create high-quality content for the user and SEO in our helpful guide.
  • Off-page SEO: Once you have performed keyword research and optimized your content, you can start to share it. You can employ a digital PR strategy to start sharing your content with other websites, and you can also use social media to boost your SEO efforts.
  • Natural Link-Building: Natural link building is the process of acquiring backlinks to your website in a healthy way (without buying links that are potentially harmful). Google uses backlinks as a signal for the reliability of your website.

Off-page optimization techniques for museums

Off-page optimization refers to actions you can take outside of your website to help your museum’s website rank more highly in search results. These techniques can help lend more authority to your page.

Off-page optimization techniques can include:

  • Guest blogging: Have your museum’s curator or subject-area expert write an article for another institution’s website to increase awareness of your museum and build some healthy backlinks.
  • Podcast interviews: Similarly to guest blogging, podcast interviews allow you to leverage your institution’s staff experts. Educate the public on your museum’s special collections while also building brand awareness.
  • Mentions on other websites/directories: Make sure your institution is listed in relevant city guides, museum directories, and more to build backlinks and get the word out about your institution.
  • Press releases: Generate press releases to announce special exhibitions, events, or guest lectures. You’ll drive visitors to the events while also building your backlinks.
  • Social media content: When you share your website content on social media, you grow your audience and encourage more people to engage with your content.

By their nature, museums have lots of interesting content and an abundance of expert commentary to leverage for various optimization opportunities, so be sure to take stock of your staff resources, special events, guest lectures, and collections for new ways to connect with your audience and boost your institution’s online presence.

How can I track the SEO performance of my museum’s website?

You can’t grow and evolve your content if you don’t have a way to track your SEO performance. Google Search Console and GA4 are common tools that organizations can use to measure SEO performance. Let’s break down what they can do:

Google Search Console:

  • Average positions for keywords you’re ranking for (called “queries” in search console)
  • Keyword impressions in search results
  • Clicks to your pages on Google
  • Options for different devices

Google Analytics 4 (GA4):

  • Traffic levels & sources
  • Assess visitor engagement on your pages
  • Track conversion rates
  • Time spent on page
  • Pages per visit
  • Bounce rate
  • Scroll depth
  • Link clicks

Another useful resource is HubSpot, a CRM museums can use to connect marketing, sales, and content strategy on one platform. You can also use it to analyze your SEO performance and get recommendations for the keywords to focus to make the biggest impact.

External tools for organic search optimization

There are a number of external tools you can use that can help you keep your website’s SEO metrics healthy. These tools don’t always hook up directly to your website (though some can), but they can still provide valuable insights into the performance of your site in search results.

The first three tools we recommend, SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Moz, are all useful for conducting keyword research, gathering insights, reviewing competitive analysis, and performing technical audits

Answer the Public allows you to perform long-tail keyword research. Botify hooks up to your website and assists you with keyword tracking and technical SEO. Bard, Google’s AI tool, can really help you generate ideas for SEO optimized content outlines.

SEO for museums FAQs

How can SEO help increase museum visitors?

When you create content and interactive opportunities through SEO, you have the opportunity to motivate people to connect with your museum. If you have a special display or speaker coming to your facility, optimize your content to promote that event. You can also offer discounts, contests, and other incentives for people to not only show up, but spend money while they’re visiting.

How can I use SEO to increase donations to my museum?

SEO-rich content is the perfect way to share highly engaging content like storytelling as well as cutting-edge research. Showing a broad audience the impact of your institution draws in more donors.

Having a specific SEO strategy in place to share your organization’s story, especially when it’s combined with robust social media and email marketing, can take your fundraising efforts to the next level.

In a nutshell, you can use SEO to:

  • Help people find you
  • Share your organization’s impact via organic search results
  • Optimize your website for donation conversions
  • Get more local attention (press releases, interviews)
  • Boost other content marketing strategies (email, social media, paid media, etc.)

No matter how you get the donations, you can use SEO content to put some of your efforts on autopilot. Instead of working harder for those funds, SEO helps you work smarter.

Can I use SEO to attract sponsors for my museum?

Attracting sponsors to your museum begins with building a strong website with engaging content optimized for keywords relevant to your museum’s offerings and specializations.

Remember, with the higher web traffic and engagement brought about by an effective SEO marketing strategy for your museum, you will be more attractive to sponsors looking to increase their own brand impact by partnering with your institution.

In addition, you can proactively seek out new sponsors by creating a webpage on your site with a detailed sponsorship package that outlines the benefits of sponsoring your institution, which can include brand exposure, access to your audience, naming rights, event advertising opportunities, and more. Once you’ve created your sponsorship package, you can use it to reach out to potential sponsors via industry events and social media connections.

Let’s shape the future of your museum with SEO

Strategically implementing SEO for your museum can dramatically increase your institution’s web traffic, engagement, and brand impact, giving you a competitive advantage in a challenging market. Big Sea can help your museum break out online to help expand your mission, raise funds, book events, and attract more visitors. Contact us today to find out what we can do for your institution.