Putting SEO to Work: How Washoe Library Raised Brainfuse Usage by 33% in 4 Weeks

Though libraries close their doors at night, their communities need information around the clock. There's usually one problem, though: how do we inform the community that these services exist--especially if they never walk through our doors? Libraries can connect with these patrons and see a rise in traffic and engagement by strategically using paid search marketing. That's why libraries like Washoe County Library System provide digital services that remain available 24/7. By working with Koios to promote Brainfuse’s JobNow with Google AdWords, Nevada’s Washoe County Library System saw an increase in usage of the career resource by 33% in just four weeks. By placing these services where local residents are already looking--in their Google search results--Koios and WCLS both hope to turn one-time needs into lifelong library support.

Washoe County Library System and Brainfuse JobNow

Located in western Nevada, Washoe County is home to the city of Reno and a population of about 420,000. Washoe County Library System encompasses 12 branch libraries. Through the last five years, WCLS has seen an increase in some circulation statistics. For example, from Fiscal Years 2012-2014, WCLS saw a 5.89% increase in checkouts. However, during this time, the system also suffered branch closures, which led to reduced foot traffic and overall usage.

Although Washoe County’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.0% by June 2017, the number of unemployed peaked at 13.9% in January 2011. At the same time, WCLS faced budget cuts, leading to reduced hours, staff shortages, and library closures. However, WCLS still needed to serve its job-seeking customers, even if the library doors were not open. One way it did so is by offering online career resources like Lynda.com courses, LearningExpress 3.0, and Reference USA. To reach patrons and non-patrons alike who might think of the library as “just books,” WCLS partnered with Koios to promote career resources, focusing specifically on Brainfuse’s JobNow software and live services.

Brainfuse offers education services, such as tutoring and writing feedback, for the K-12 level, as well as career training. Libraries like Washoe utilize Brainfuse’s JobNow services. JobNow connects patrons to resources like a database of resume templates, eParachute customized career path advice, skill-building tutorials, and job interview preparation resources. JobNow also offers live assistance with career experts through individualized resume feedback and interview coaching. Washoe County Library patrons can access live help through JobNow daily from 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. using their library card.

Speaking search speak

Connecting potential patrons to Washoe County Library System’s Brainfuse JobNow through Google meant sifting through an exhaustive list of search queries. More than just trial and error, Koios used data from Google AdWords to methodically research, test, and refine complex search strings to understand how job hunters seek assistance. For example, Koios analyzed the terms that Washoe County job hunters use online when creating their application packet, like “resume help” and “cover letter template.” Figure 1 below shows more of these terms.

Figure 1: Segment of Koios’ research into application documents

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Librarians may recognize some principles of information science in Koios’ marketing research: semantic searching, information seeking, and controlled vocabularies. Out of this research, Koios selected phrases where Brainfuse would be the best result and optimized Washoe County Library System’s advertisements to appear at the top of search results whenever those phrases were used, as in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Washoe County Library System’s paid to promote Brainfuse’s JobNow service

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Results

25% of all JobNow usage (300 out of 1,200 sessions) and 56% of live coaching sessions (10 of 18) in fiscal year 2016-17 took place during the period that WCLS advertised on Google. In those four weeks, 2,765 county residents saw Brainfuse in their Google search results and 89 clicked on it immediately. Because Google charges for clicks only, Washoe spent just $238.56 on the campaign--a cost of just $0.77 per use.

Although Brainfuse JobNow is the resource focused on here, libraries can benefit from promoting many other services through Google ad campaigns and connecting with new patrons. The ever-popular Lynda.com courses provide comprehensive training as an alternative way to acquire hard and soft skills without the financial or time commitment of pursuing a certificate or degree program. However, Lynda courses are still cost prohibitive for many potential learners who sign up directly through the site. After a 30 day free trial, Lynda’s basic plan runs at $19.99 a month and premium plans retails for $29.99 a month. By using a Google ad campaign to promote the library’s Lynda resources, patrons find affordable access to not just one premium service like Lynda, but an entire collection of resources, programs, and collections through their local library.

The Opportunity

Advertisements like Washoe County Library System’s JobNow campaign with Koios can help achieve short and long-term goals by attracting new patrons and building awareness of library services. Through Google’s Ad Grants program, libraries qualify for $10,000 in free paid advertising each month. To help libraries take advantage of this opportunity, Koios assists libraries with the application process. With its Libre Ads service, Koios can manage the grant for you to meet your library’s goals, be it to raise foot traffic, increase circulation, or connect patrons to resources like JobBoard. Just like with Washoe County Library System’s advertisement, Koios begins with expert research on local search trends to create a campaign tailored to your community. Libraries must meet the demands of their patrons whether they are needed at 3:00 p.m. on a weekday or 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Helping new customers connect with their local library’s virtual resources is a cost-efficient way to engage with consumers and increase circulation to create permanent patrons online and off.

To learn more about search engine marketing and how it can help your library, join our Library SEM Roundtable for exclusive articles, webinars, AdWords resources.

Why doesn’t my library show up in Google? Part 1: Understanding searcher intent

This post is part of an educational series on the basics of search engine marketing for libraries. If you want to keep up with the series and put these lessons into practice at your library, join the Library SEM Roundtable.

When helping libraries with search engine optimization, I’m often asked: “Why doesn’t the library show up already?” Eighty percent of the time I get this question, the answer is searcher intent. When you search for something in Google, the search engine first considers: is this person looking for a local result or information in general (i.e. global)? Google’s algorithms are exceedingly sophisticated, but even Google has resource constraints. Local results are more resource-intensive to produce than global results. Therefore, Google tries to return global results as often as it can. That can make it tough for libraries (as local entities) to rank for many of their desired keyword searches.

You can usually tell how Google is treating a particular search by its layout. A local query will almost always show a map, because most of the data to create those results are coming from Google Maps. Try searching for plumber, law office, italian restaurant, or car wash. Google treats all of these as local, and reasonably so. Google assumes that my intent is to go to one of these places (or in the case of plumber, have them come to me). Thus, a business 300 miles away would be a bad result. Places and services are generally treated with local intent.

Figure 1: Searching “car wash” usually produces a map with pins marking local businesses that offer car cleaning services. Google is treating the phrase “car wash” as local intent. The boxes on the right satisfy less likely intents: perhaps you’re looking for a definition or an obscure film.

Figure 1: Searching “car wash” usually produces a map with pins marking local businesses that offer car cleaning services. Google is treating the phrase “car wash” as local intent. The boxes on the right satisfy less likely intents: perhaps you’re looking for a definition or an obscure film.

On the other hand, try searching for congress, learn french, russian history, or projectile motion. Google treats these as global queries (i.e. general information), and links to the top resources on the subject anywhere across the country. Google also tries to answer “ready reference”-type questions directly in the search results, saving you an extra click.

Figure 2: The laws governing projectile motion don’t change from city to city, so Google sees no need to vary the results either. Although, that would make watching baseball a lot more interesting.

Figure 2: The laws governing projectile motion don’t change from city to city, so Google sees no need to vary the results either. Although, that would make watching baseball a lot more interesting.

The fundamental problem for library search visibility is that their resources cut across this global/local divide. Library resources would be good results for global searches--assuming everyone could access them--but are local by default. Access is constrained to a certain geographic area. Google doesn’t have a bucket for this: everything else in the world is either local or global.

Let’s take the example of a database like Heritage Quest. Here are some of the Google searches we might want to show up for, organized by intent and length.

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The closer to the “local” line, the more likely that it will appear in Google with a map. In these cases, Google will be looking for the 3 fundamental components of Local SEO: Name, Address, and Phone Number. If you search for “robeson county clerk” it looks for an office called Robeson County Clerk in Google Maps, with an address and phone number that matches Robeson County. When it makes that match, it’s highly confident that it gave you the result you’re looking for. There’s a whole sub-field of search engine optimization devoted to Local SEO that deals with consistent name, address, and phone records in directories that Google trusts. And yes, it’s very dry.

Let’s try another example. If you search “cooper name origin” Google is going to deliver results from its global index. Again, a reasonable assumption: what’s true of you as a Cooper is probably true of anyone else as a Cooper anywhere in the world. It doesn’t need to expend the extra resources to dig up the NC Coopers Society for you.

The length of search query tends to correlate with how difficult a search would be to win, but also with how often it’s searched. There’s only one Robeson County Clerk--and not many businesses are looking to connect with people searching for it--but Google always returns 10 results. So it’s easy for a relatively authoritative source to appear in those results via SEO. But if you search “archives” there are a lot of possible good options: County, state, national, corporate, military, etc. It’s going to be more competitive to appear in those results, even though “archives” is a fairly local term. You can imagine how difficult, then, it would be for Google to rank you the best global result for “genealogy”!

Let’s break down the last graph by quadrant:

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A comprehensive search strategy will incorporate keywords from each of these quadrants, organize those keywords into groups, and come up with a strategy for each group based on perceived value. In general, though, the winning strategy is to use paid search sparingly for global, fat head queries; SEO and SEM for global, long tail queries; Local SEO for local, fat head queries; and SEO for local, long tail queries.

If someone at your library has set up Google My Business properly for all of your branches, chances are good that you already have the bottom-left quadrant fairly well covered. Search “library” in Google. If you’re the first thing to come up, there are pins on the map for all your locations, and the addresses, hours, and phone numbers are all correct, then your Local SEO is probably good enough. For the bottom-right quadrant, try searching “storytime,” “computer classes,” or another one of your services or programs. The library is often one of the most authoritative websites in an area, so it’s not hard for you to win local searches.

If an individual library wants to compete for global searches, though, its only option at the moment is paid search. To be fair, it’s not just libraries who face this. You’ll probably see an Ancestry.com ad if you search “genealogy” (I did) and a Dyson ad on “vacuum cleaners.” For Dyson, it’s a cost of business: they give up a little of their margin on a $500 vacuum cleaner to be the top result. Libraries, of course, don’t have that luxury. However, Google recognized that paid search would be unfair to nonprofits and created a solution: the Google Ad Grants program. Qualifying nonprofits get $10,000/month in Google advertising credit for free. Join the SEM Roundtable and we’ll help you apply!

That said, there is another option for libraries to compete jointly. In theory, a universal page for a single book title or resource in all the libraries across the country would be a very good global result--as long as it could consistently route a visitor to the holdings of their local library. That’s what we’re attempting to do with Libre. Past library search engine visibility projects like linked data were built on a false assumption: if libraries convert their records to a crawlable format and geotag them to their service area, then Google will create a special haven between global and local searcher intent just for libraries. But Google has no compelling reason to carve out a library exemption. If libraries are going to appear in Google search results, they will have to follow the same rules as everyone else: search engine optimization and paid search advertising.

Pitching the Library to Millennial Leaders

Hi, Facing the Stacks readers! Below is an excerpt from the upcoming book, Millennial Leadership in Libraries, to be published by Hein. The book is intended to provide insights and advice about millennial library leaders to librarians of all generations, and in all kinds of libraries. I was asked to contribute Chapter 19: An Expanding Vision of Librarianship, and I recently received permission to share some of it with you. Previously in the chapter, I demonstrated that recruiting millennial leaders will have outsized impacts on your organization, explored their identifying characteristics, and considered where you might find them in your local community. In this section, I discuss how to pitch them. This section doesn't just apply to recruiting, though--you can use the same tools to inspire public officials, board members, or even current employees. Are you planning to try this strategy in your own library? Let us know in the comments!

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So you’ve found your prospects--now you’re wondering what to say to them. What would motivate a professional in another industry to come work at the library instead? In general, you will need to do something familiar in the startup world, but a bit foreign to the library world: pitching. An entrepreneur must always be ready to “pitch” his business to prospective investors, partners, or employees. This might take the form of a 30-second “elevator pitch” or a 10-minute presentation. The goal is always the same: persuade someone to get involved. Whatever the format, the ideal pitch to a prospective employee does three things: it showcases the vision, it recognizes the prospect’s motivations, and it accentuates unique benefits.

Showcase the vision

The best prospective leaders will identify with the vision of the library. Every hiring pitch--whether an in-person meeting or a cold LinkedIn message--must begin with the vision. Simon Sinek writes:

Starting with WHY when hiring dramatically increases your ability to attract those who are passionate for what you believe. Simply hiring people with a solid resume or great work ethic does not guarantee success. The best engineer at Apple, for example, would likely be miserable if he worked at Microsoft … The goal is to hire those who are passionate for your WHY, your purpose, cause, or belief, and who have the attitude that fits your culture.

Stating your vision at the beginning of the pitch will rule out the least qualified candidates immediately; it will filter out those do not find it compelling. Every candidate’s first mental question is why would I work there? The vision should be the beginning of your answer. Likewise, it should also be the first unspoken answer to every employee’s thought: Why do I work here? “Average companies give their people something to work on. In contrast, the most innovative organizations give their people something to work toward.” What will these Millennial leaders be working toward? Get them excited and invite them to imagine their role.

Recognize the prospect’s motivations

What leads to satisfaction in the workplace? Surprisingly, most managers cannot answer this important question, even though the answer is relatively well-documented. Can you? In his book Drive, Daniel Pink identifies three key elements in the science of motivation:

  1. Autonomy--the desire to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery--the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters
  3. Purpose--the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

In the hiring pitch, let the candidate know how the position will reflect each aspect of his or her motivations. Looking for purpose? Here’s our vision. Autonomy? Here are the important things that fall exclusively in your domain, the people who report to you, and the decisions you get to make without supervision. Mastery? Here are all of the opportunities you will have to get better at what you do, and all of the resources we have available to help. Write your hiring pitch with these in mind, and you will surge past the herd of companies that frame their positions in duties and responsibilities.

Tony Hsieh, perhaps one of the most successful developers of corporate culture in our time, poses a helpful fourth element in one of his Happiness Frameworks. Beyond autonomy, mastery, and purpose, he adds “connectedness, the number, and depth of your relationships” as a key component of satisfaction both inside and outside the workplace. No position exists in isolation, so intrigue the candidate with their potential colleagues and business associations throughout the community. Recruiters at Google consider this their secret weapon for hiring:

Jonathan used to keep a stack of resumes of the people he had hired in his desk, and when he was trying to close a candidate, he'd hand over the resumes and show the person the team she'd be joining. ... That was a club our smart-creative[s] usually wanted to join.

Remember, A players attract more A players.

Accentuate unique benefits

By now, some readers hoping to recruit for the library will think, “Yes, it’s all well and good to have a nice vision statement and promise all sorts of things, but ultimately, it’s about compensation, right? This is a library. We’re not Google. We can’t offer the same salaries that companies can, and we can’t offer dry cleaning or childcare or 24-hour fitness as an incentive like they can.” That much, I grant you. But while those sorts of incentives can be fun and convenient, they’re a shallow definition of corporate culture. No one is trying to work for Facebook for their free haircuts, and no one is leaving them to work for someone else because they have nicer bikes. Plenty of Millennial leaders, however, leave Facebook to pursue jobs at startups and some are even leaving to join the Federal government. All of those positions assuredly pay worse than the one they leave behind, and none have nap pods in the break room. So what’s going on?

18F has been incredibly successful at recruiting Millennial leaders out of Silicon Valley to come and fix the Federal government’s aging digital infrastructure. So successful, in fact, that they recently had to “pause applications” while they onboard the dozens of top-tier techies they’ve hired already. Next to none of these hires had any prior governmental experience. Here are some of their responses to the question, Why did you join 18F?

“Working in the private sector didn’t satisfy my need for meaningful work.”

~ Gail Swanson

“It sounded like a great opportunity to work alongside really talented people and learn completely new skills”

~ Matt Spencer

“I saw 18F as the best place to magnify my ability to drive positive change in the world.”

~ Bret Mogilefsky

The appeal of 18F is clearly not the pay. Most of the respondents cite purpose; many add elements of mastery or connectedness. Some employees openly acknowledge in their answers that they could be making more elsewhere. After basic needs are met, meaningful role in a meaningful cause trumps compensation. 18F also does an incredible job of accentuating the distinct benefits of working for the government, which are very different from the typical Silicon Valley incentives. The library shares in these benefits: scale, influence and balance.

First, 18F emphasizes the scale of its work. Changes made to the IRS e-filing process, for instance, will affect every citizen--and perhaps every business--in America. Libraries have that same sort of scale within their home communities. Though it doesn’t often happen in practice, a service provided at the library could theoretically help every entrepreneur or every business owner in the community. This ties into the library’s inherent influence in the community as well. If a citizen wants to start an afterschool program, no one pays attention. If the library wants to start an afterschool program, it can command the attention of local government, economic development agencies, school districts, nonprofit organizations, and more in support of its new initiative. Leaders crave both scale and influence. To Millennial leaders interested in “making a difference” in their community, these are highly appealing attributes of work at the library.

We’ve discussed purpose at length, but it may help to contrast it here with the commercial alternative. The library is seeking to improve society. The company is seeking to improve its bottom line. A company may succeed in doing both, but the latter takes priority. While some take this in stride, many Millennial leaders are closet idealists, hoping for their opportunity to change the world. The profit motive also tends to conflict with an employee’s own priorities, especially in raising a family. In many cases, leaders are forced to choose between long hours and advancement on one hand or rich family life and dispensability on the other. Libraries should advertise the work-life balance they offer even at the highest levels of leadership.

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Look out for the book, to be published by Hein in Spring 2018!