No One Starts at Your Website

Guess what? Your patrons aren’t starting their information searches at your library’s website. In fact, OCLC checked that out. In their Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community report, they found that … NO ONE … started their info search at a library website. Yep – that’s a big, fat 0%.

And you know what? That’s ok.

Here are a couple of thoughts about that:

1. Your site isn’t built for that, and probably will never be. Sure, you have a link to your catalog. And links to a variety of databases. But those aren’t your website. On your actual website, you have a lot of information up about your library, like your policies and info on your board of trustees. But that’s not really what the majority of your patrons are interested in.

You do have some information that your patrons want, like hours, locations, etc – those are used a lot on my library’s website. But that’s not really the start of someone searching for information, is it?

2. There are other tools already set up that do that whole “let’s start an info search” much better than us. Think Google, Bing, or even Wikipedia. They are made to find little nuggets of info. In years past, actual librarians did that great – and there weren’t many other options. But now, the web owns that ready reference type stuff.

So what are our websites for?

Well – that should depend on your library’s strategic plan. But generally speaking, our websites serve a variety of purposes, including:

  • point to info sources. Catalog, databases, useful local organizations
  • we’re set up to answer questions (that’s not necessarily connected to beginning that info search)
  • some of us enhance learning, entertainment, and local community stuff via blog posts or posts/reminders about events at the library
  • all that normal stuff about the library – hours, locations, board members, policies.

But start info searches? That doesn’t really make sense in today’s web environment anymore (not to me, anyway).

Instead, point your patrons to the best places to go to start their searches – then, when they get confused … make sure they know that you are there, ready to expand, reshape, and redefine those searches so they’re actually useful.

That’s our job.

pic by jakeandlindsay

  • Claudia

    Half of our website traffic comes from inside our building, and that’s because it’s the start page for all our staff and public machines. Average visit on our website is 1.09 seconds. Average page views on our website is 1. We have all the stuff you mention – pointers to other sources of info, catalog, hours, ask a question, etc. No one’s going anywhere but the homepage. What are we doing wrong?

  • Andromeda

    It would be nice if those Google searches were more likely to drive me to the library, though! If I search Google for books that I know are in my local consortium, it doesn’t show up (even though Google knows where I am). Would that more catalogs were crawlable and permalink-able so as to play nice with the information ecosystem.

  • davidleeking

    Claudia – good question! The same thing happens to us (though it’s not half for us). We’re going to toy around with this idea soon – maybe I’ll share what we did (once we do it). But – my guess is this. Your in-the-library computer-using patrons aren’t interested in your collection or your website. They’re interested in things like Youtube videos, Facebook, or their email.

    We are planning to make a special “in-the-library” page that tries to keep people on the page. Maybe embed some fun youtube videos, run some polls or surveys, etc. And see if that makes people stay a bit longer.

    it’s something that needs more thought, to be sure!

  • Cecily Walker

    Patrons at our public terminals start their searches at our site because it is the default landing page on all our workstations. Our statistics bear this out.

  • Cecily Walker

    Patrons at our public terminals start their searches at our site because it is the default landing page on all our workstations. Our statistics bear this out.

  • davidleeking

    Do they actually search using your site, or do they quickly bounce to
    another site? We check that with the bounce rate. If they do actually search
    using your site, that’s awesome!

  • Donna Feddern

    That’s why there’s SEO. My library can be found at the top of searches for “volunteer opportunities” and “free wifi” in local searches. Also, Worldcat partners with Google so sometimes book title searches could lead people to your catalog. More on my blog:

  • Donna Feddern

    I do think we should pinpoint what content we are good at providing on our websites and optimize keywords that describe that info through SEO. That way even if people are starting with Google, they might still end up on our website.

  • Cecily Walker

    They search from our site, they visit our other microsites, electronic resources, and (most often) our locations & hours page. Since our redesign 3 years ago, search has been prominently and centrally located on our website. We relocated the search box when we switched to Bibliocommons recently, but our patrons are still using our site to search our website and resources.

  • Cecily Walker

    Also, in some cases, a high bounce rate may be an indication that your site is pointing people to the right resources. For us, a high bounce rate is a sign that we’re meeting one of our key performance indicators, namely that we make it possible for people to get to the right resources with a minimum of effort. We expect a high bounce rate because our site leads to electronic resources, LibGuides, and our new catalogue, none of which technically live on our own servers.

  • davidleeking

    Cool – thanks for sharing!

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  • Blendedlibrarian

    I pretty much came to the same realization two years ago in this essay:

    I take a somewhat different view on the function of the website when it’s no longer a gateway to content.

    Put simply, make it about the people and who we are – not the content. Use the library website to build relationships with the community – and show them there’s more to the library than content. Of course, we’ll continue to offer those content-related links, but they won’t be front and center.

  • Chris Keene

    We’ve recently published our e-strategy. One of the things we were aware of was that it was as much about the ‘rest of the web’ as it was our website.

    So as well as thinking about a Discovery service, we are also looking at how we can work with others: pubget, oclc, zotero, mendely google, etc. It’s about submitting our holdings and settings to them (e.g. holdings to oclc/pubget, exproxy settings to, but also making our APIs and Data as open as possible

    You can see the document on the right of our homepage

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