Opinion: Get more eyes on your site

Russell Stannard, a THE Award winner for his work with ICT, offers practical tips on how to increase the visibility of a website with your open education resources

October 25, 2009

There is nothing new about the idea that open education resources could be an effective way of marketing courses in higher education. The strategy has been part of the internet since Day One. You offer free materials, people consume the content, and then they come back for more.

What has changed is that there is now so much content on the web that your offering might never be found. This is not a problem for the big players in the open education resources game because they have the clout to get the message out there. So I wasn’t surprised to read that the 10,000 hours of content released by The Open University had led to 5 million visitors to the institution’s site and an extra 10,000 registrations. But what about the open education resources content from just one course at one university?

The starting point has to be search rankings. Start by giving your project a name that incorporates terms that people are likely to use in searches. For example, if you are creating “multimedia training” or “multimedia tutorials”, it is a good idea to include it in the name. It is no stroke of luck that the site I developed is called www.multimediatrainingvideos.com.

The next thing to consider is meta-tags, bits of HTML code that describe your site and its contents to help search engines find it. Because we all think we know how to describe our content, we tend to approach the matter unscientifically. You can visit Google’s AdWords to learn what search terms are the most common within a given area. I added the meta-tag “online learning” to my site because I realised it was a common term for training videos.

Within Google Ads, you can create advertisements for your site. You can choose the search terms that make the advertisement appear and limit the amount of money you spend each day; once your money has run out, your ad won’t come up. The great thing about this is that you are charged only if someone clicks on the ad and goes through to your content.

Use Twitter to network with people and organisations that might be interested in your content. Continually tweet your content.

If your site, like mine, has video content, another great way to get the message out is to load the content on to YouTube, Vimeo and other video-hosting sites. You can create channels and add captions that push the consumers towards your open education resources. They get a taster on YouTube or Vimeo and then proceed to your main site if they want more.

Of course, once you get visitors to your site, you want them to return. So it is a good idea to set up a newsletter. For our site, we created a newsletter that we use to inform subscribers about new videos and content. Signing up subscribers allows us to capture their details, which could be useful if we later decide to market our multimedia courses.

Not content with just that to push my content, I also have a blog, which is yet another way of exposing your resources to the world and building links to your site.

Finally, be sure to make use of Google Analytics. It gives you loads of information about where your users are coming from. Through this, I know that on my website www.teachertrainingvideos.com more than 30 per cent of visitors come through Twitter and about 25 per cent come via search engines. I even know the search terms they used to find my site.

Yes, new media is another world and a lot to take in, but somehow it has become the world we live in.

So is it all working? Well, let’s just say the signs are good. The words “multimedia training” return my site pretty high up the Google rankings, applications on the MSc course related to the content have increased, my multimedia Twitter account has about 400 followers, and my recent newsletter already has about 50 subscribers.

Of course, marketing is not the only point of open education resources. For organisations such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Open University, open education resources have very little to do with marketing; rather, they are a by-product of institutions’ strategies. But for many institutions, making open education resources pay for themselves will be key as funding dries up. My feeling is that if we can give our content the right exposure, we might all find that we are sitting on a goldmine.

Russell Stannard is principal lecturer, University of Westminster, and winner of the Times Higher Education 2008 Award for “Outstanding Initiative in ICT”

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