[Updated 17 September 2012]
This is a follow-on and a bit of a tangent from Marian Pierre-Louis’ post “Is It a Bad Time to Become a Professional Genealogist?”
I commented on her post and I’d like to follow-up on a few points.
The first item is that there is no lack of good educational material available to the curious and new genealogists. The difficulty, though, is that it’s hard to find that information with a simple search on one of the search engines like Google. Commercial parties like Ancestry, Inc., it’s ‘subsidiaries,’ and other less-than-interested companies are hogging the visibility with their advertising.
I’ve practiced professional genealogy off and on for a several years. I advertised once in Everton’s now-gone magazine. I’ve had pages on ‘free’ sites like AccessGenealogy (which doesn’t provide space anymore). I’ve had my web sites. I have two blogs (the other one is mostly for technical writing and editing issues, though). I’ve also been a bookseller on sites like Amazon, eBay, and Biblio.
What I’ve learned from all of this is that getting the word out in an extremely noisy environment like the Internet is hard. Very hard.
Making a living as a practicing professional on a no-budget budget leaves little time for things like marketing and advertising (yes they are separate things). The things we work with as professional genealogists are what people are looking for. We have to share what we have with them to make our clientele aware of what we do, what we have done, and what we can do.
One example from my past efforts was to do some research in a small newspaper collection and post it online. It was a show piece. It was also the main attraction to my site. Unfortunately, it was also the only part of the site people looked at, most of the time. The work-around I came up with to make my own professional presence (my services) visible on those pages was to add references to it with the content. The reminders were sort of like those irritating little advertising boxes that search engines use.
The effort it took to make those little reminders, though, was more than the little attention it brought to the rest of the site, where my services were described. I crafted those pages, the entire site, by hand. It takes skill and effort to design and build a good web site, something most genealogists, let alone professional ones, don’t have time for.
The alternative, I think, now, is to mix the educational content in with the hard content (the newspaper extracts, for instance), and explain in detail, at the top of the page, above-the-fold, as it were, what the reader is getting. Also mixed in, of course, is the preferred citation format for the material, with you, the professional genealogist, as the source—with a link to the rest of your site, or your e-mail address. Below-the-fold, or after the reader presses the page-down button, is the content they were after. Personally, I’d not have any pictures or other graphical non-information at the top of the page, just the content as described.
The main thing here, though is to keep the content focused on the hard data the reader is looking for without overwhelming them with yourself. Judicious use of keywords in the content makes or breaks a searcher’s success in getting to your site. Overusing keywords or other content will just drive the search engine, and thus the potential client, away.
Another thing to try is adding links to sites like the APG’s, and the BCG’s, regardless of whether you are members of those groups. This shows that you care about what you do and have respect for quality work. It also raises those sites in the search engine rankings, benefiting professionalism in general. Using the Mills citation standard, and referring to that as what it is, also makes an educational point. (As an aside, the Ancestry citation format is awful, and shouldn’t be used.)
Making your presence known elsewhere also helps. Read other peoples’ sites, contact them, and see if they might mention your site. (They might or might not) Read blogs and comment on the posts. Most blogs have mechanisms to include your e-mail, blog, or website, address as part of your comment without you having to enter it manually in the comment. These links to your site raise your site’s visibility in the search engine rankings. The (educational?) comment benefits the other person and their readers, and the link to your site benefits you.
Raising quality genealogy awareness on the Internet is hard. It takes effort, not just your own, but others’. Do what you can, maybe using the ideas in this post, and hope others do the same. That’s all it takes.
© 2011 N. P. Maling – Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research