In some ways, the notion that an institution like the British Library has to market itself at all is fairly new. 

Indeed, my step father wrote a paper on exactly that topic (marketing is a family affair, you know).

But not only does the British Library have to create 'customer value', it has to do so online, casting as wide a net as possible and relying on its website to engage and even convert(!).

With the aid of analysis from its brilliant blog, let's have a look at the British Library's improvements to website information architecture.

Onward journeys

Graham MacFadyen, Head of Digital and Marketing Operations at The British Library eloquently describes the challenge.

...the “start anywhere, go anywhere” strategy reflects the reality that most people don’t take the route into your website that you meticulously map out for them on your homepage.

Most jump straight in from Google and want to know quickly where they are, if it’s right for them, and where to go next. 

This orientation, overview and onward journey job is the purpose of pages like www.bl.uk/people/jane-austen which have helped us double our organic search traffic to over a 1 million visits a month.

This is the Jane Austen page in question. Just to emphasise the onward journeys, I've circled them in red.

jane austen landing page

Rich themes

Other richer category pages, such as the Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians page below (shown in part), include a second header menu, topic-specific search functionality, more imagery and calls to action, and filtered listings pages that all encourage exploration.

Themes are used to broaden the conversation, with the libraries extensive collection tying these themes together.

victorians

Commercial adventure

There's still work to be done across other parts of the site, particularly with the integration of commerce, which Graham MacFadyen admits is next on the agenda.

This embedded commerce is an approach that galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs) have known as the ideal for some time but has taken significant investment to achieve (both in ecommerce sites and fulfillment, as well as in changing the culture of institutions).

The National Gallery does the minimum of allowing users to purchase a print of a work.

national gallery website

The V&A has taken this embedded commerce still further. During its David Bowie is exhibition, customers purchasing tickets online were invited to bundle the limited edition book accompanying the exhibition at a reduced price.

The V&A website continues to include calls to action to shop the exhibition range.

Content blocks inviting users to shop, book, join or donate are a noticeable feature of the V&A website - see below for numerous examples.

While this is nothing groundbreaking in the context of website design and ecommerce, it represents the steady evolution of GLAM websites. The press coverage generated by the announcement of a new exhibition needs to be capitalised on by an engaging website and social strategy.

Below: Four 'content blocks' taken from the V&A website demonstrating embedded commerce.

shop david bowie is shop dresses v&a 

v&a donate become v&a member

Social audiences

With Facebook the biggest traffic referrer for major publishers, information architecture is more important than ever.

New users arriving at one of The British Library's many websites or blogs need to be given a consistent and rich experience that encourages dwell time, repeat visits and ultimately revenue (either directly or through funding).

The library surpassed 1m Twitter followers in July 2015, in part because of its excellent and detailed blog content that can ony benefit by being placed within the context of the library's wider collections.

Organic search referrals, too, are maximised by the library's ability to create contextual pages that target high traffic search terms (such as the Jane Austen page above).

It will be interesting to watch the continuing development of The British Library's web architecture.

With 20 years of digitisation work under its belt, the library is uniquely positioned to target a large, new audience online, allowing the institution to continue its good work.

A website that offers a great customer experience is now an important part of GLAM success. For more on digital strategy and museums, see In praise of Tate's digital strategy.

british library twitter followers

Ben Davis

Published 5 October, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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