Long-form writing is an immersive medium for people to connect with our heritage and culture — and there’s a great return on investment.
More than ever before, museums and galleries have a range of tools available to present material: images, video, social media engagement and the creation of user generated content was especially useful during the pandemic, when real-world exhibition spaces were forced to close their doors.
During the first wave of COVID-19, York Museums Trust explored ways for people to enjoy their objects and stories through its websites, social media and other digital partners. The most popular idea was #curatorbattle, which the Trust ran on Fridays on the YMT streams since the lock-down started.
‘Every week,’ explains the Trust’s Lee Clark, ‘museums and visitors were invited to put forward objects from a set theme, such as ‘dullest’, ‘prettiest’ and ‘best egg’, essentially creating an online ‘exhibition’ of objects from museums big and small, in one Twitter thread. #Creepiestobject took the battle to a new level, with museums all around the world taking part and garnering news coverage on CNN, The Washington Post and BBC One’s Have I Got News For You. The Tweet was seen by more than 2.5 million people with 1.5 million engagements. The Yorkshire Museum’s Twitter more than doubled its followers since the start of the battles.’
Tiina Roppola, specialist in design-led education at the University of Canberra, has traced the evolution of the museum visitor experience as a series of seven phases or acts, from ‘staging curiosity’ to the ordered curation of knowledge through the reconstructive, the participatory, the inclusory and the experiential. She suggests the seventh stage, characterised by the influence of convergent technology and social networking, will provide opportunities for viral engagement and immediacy.
But although social media engagement is a great way to spotlight interesting items and the stories behind them, it’s not necessarily the most effective way to encourage visitors to return, to grow traffic organically through search or to establish deeper, more enduring connections. Web search is still essentially driven by written content above all. It is through words that people find what they’re looking for, and long-form content ranks well in long-tail search queries. The most popular, single word search terms account for around 20% of searches. Slightly more specific searches with two or three words account for around 10%. The remaining 70% of searches are highly specific phrases, which allows content writers to really make the most of search engine optimisation.
Research also tells us that content over a thousand words is much more likely to rank well in SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). SEO experts Backlinko suggest ‘websites with above-average ‘time on site’ tend to rank higher in Google.’ Long-form content clearly outperforms its short-form counterpart.
Long-form content that clocks in at over a thousand words is the perfect way for museums and art galleries to build an online audience. It’s a proven way of driving traffic through search, bounces rates are typically low and it generates engagement through social shares. It results in more sign-ups to your email list, more subscribers and support, and it can also be re-purposed as social media content.
As well as being searchable, long-form written content is also evergreen. Although the flash-gun effect of a wildly popular social media post might cause a surge in traffic, it’s valuable to create long-lasting, durable, content that performs well over time. It ensures a lasting engagement with material that people will return to again and again. Museum Next founder Jim Richardson says that ‘long-form written content is still hard to beat for its ability to deliver long term value’.
There are lots of examples of good long-form content from museums and galleries. The British Library has an impressive collection of resources which utilises items from its collection as part of an immersive, valuable learning experience. The British Museum too has an extensive blog to engage visitors to its website with objects, ideas and stories.
‘Rather than deliver visitors to the museum, museums must now deliver themselves to the visitor.’David Resnicow
The Victoria Cross Trust, based in Doncaster, primarily maintains memorials and grave markers to commemorate the lives of holders of the Victoria Cross, for the benefit of the public and for posterity. It also aims to educate the public about the lives, citation details and last resting places of Victoria Cross holders to perpetuate the memory of these brave soldiers. The Trust’s educational activities were centred around Ashworth Barracks Museum which closed earlier this year. Although some of the collection is set to be exhibited in Sheffield and Stockton-on-Tees, there’s clearly an opportunity for the Trust to capture some of the objects and stories digitally. I’m working with some of the Trustees to create long-form written content that doesn’t just drive traffic, but which creates genuine engagement through the power of narrative, that makes an enduring impact on visitors and which serves as an investment in the Trust’s future work.
Faber, Nick (2018) Blogs Need a New Name. Museums Can Make it Happen’, The Cuberist Blog.
Resnicow, David (2020) ‘Museums Have Moved Online, But They Must Reinvent Themselves to Thrive’, artnews.com.
Richardson, Jim (2020) ‘Long-Form Digital Content? Here are three museums doing it well’, MuseumNext.
Roppola, Tiina (2012) Designing for the Museum Visitor Experience, New York: Routledge.
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