The Levers of Discoverability

January 23, 2020

Did our clickbait work? The use of attention-grabbing, intriguing, or even shocking headlines to lure readers to click on links is a clever trick used by marketers to increase advertising revenue by driving large numbers of Internet users to their sites. Our intention is quite different: we wanted to draw your attention to this purely digital and rather reprehensible phenomenon as a way to introduce the second chapter of our new online resource, Digital Literacy in Six Easy Chapters on the topic of discoverability. We suggest the following four excellent tricks—never mind the clickbait—to give your online content greater visibility.


Defining the Concept of Discoverability

Concerns around the discoverability of cultural content on the Web have been the subject of several debates in recent months. As a concept, discoverability is “the degree to which something, especially a piece of content or information, can be found in a search of a file, database, or other information system.” The idea is particularly important when it comes to the visibility of diverse cultural expressions when pitted against content that’s promoted or supported by the usual Internet giants. During the international symposium Accès et découvrabilité des contenus culturels francophones à l’ère numérique  (Access and Dicoverability of Francophone Cultural Content in the Digital Era) held in Montreal in the fall of 2019, a large number of participants spoke of recent upheavals in the music and audiovisual industries. As outlined in this article written for the RAIQ, we can conclude that within contemporary art and artist-run centre scenes, the digital upheaval has actually provided new opportunities for creativity, dissemination, and the cultural life of our communities. We are open to experimenting with new tools and new ways of doing things based on our objectives, interests, skills, and willingness to learn.

But the concept of discoverability itself isn’t set in stone. In their theoretical and practical guide on the subject (available in French only), database librarian Josée Plamondon and the Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault use the term “discovery” rather than “discoverability.” This choice reflects a desire to reduce terminological ambiguity and encourage broader adaptation of the concept by more people.

To illustrate the kinds of actions we can take to improve discoverability, Andrée Harvey and Véronique Marino of LaCogency, together with Josée Plamondon, have illustrated the concept by dividing it into four main “pillars, or levers”.  These levers include strategies that target either humans or machines, and apply to either short or long-term uses. The four levers are further outlined here:




human + short term

Promotional activities are not exclusive to the digital realm, but may be expressed in new forms on the Web. In fact, discoverability can be implemented in real life work in the real world to make new people aware of the activities and missions of our organizations through events such as exhibitions, panel discussions or networking cocktail hours with peers and like-minded groups. Some may also organize contests on social media networks, for example, by holding a draw (for show tickets, books, etc.) and inviting people to participate by tagging their friends in comments or reposting the event. Such practices can broaden our reach by accessing the personal and professional networks of our members, friends and subscribers.



Digital Marketing

human + long term

Digital marketing activities also take traditional marketing processes and apply them to digital environments. These include the purchase and placement of ads and promotional campaigns on social media. Web infrastructure has also enabled the development of programmatic ads, which benefit from advances in recommendation systems and data collection of Internet users’ behaviour and interests.

Interested organizations can learn about ad platforms from Google, Facebook, and Instagram. Canadian non-profits can register with Techsoup and the Google Ad Grants service to access USD $10,000 of in-kind advertising per month for text ads.

It’s also advisable to take time to develop and periodically evaluate your social media communication strategy by remembering the key concepts of relevance, authenticity, and consistency.


Search Engine Optimization

machine + short term

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a set of practices designed to improve the ranking of a page or website in a search engine’s list of results. These practices must constantly adapt to search engine modifications. This might include, for example, paying particular attention to the coherence of key words that are used throughout a website, page layout that follows html markup conventions (structuring content by using the title tags <H1> et <H2>), and the strategic use of hyperlinks to other pages on your site or to other websites.

Several free or low-cost resources are available to help you with your optimization activities. Many cultural organizations have a WordPress website, and the platform offers several SEO extensions. You may want to familiarize yourself with the most frequently used extensions and their specificities, and then compare each option to choose the one that best suits your needs.

YoastSEO is a popular, user-friendly extension with a free basic version that offers a range of tools to evaluate and optimize WordPress content. It also allows the addition of Schema structured data, which we will cover in the next section.

Google Search Console is a tool that measures a website’s performance in terms of how it ranks in Google’s search results.

Online Broken Link Checker is a tool that analyzes hyperlinks and locates broken links so that they may be quickly replaced with existing URLs.


Metadata, Structured Data, Linked Data

machine + long term 



Metadata is data that describes or contextualizes other data or files.

For example:

  • Much metadata is information that is automatically associated with the digital files we create. For instance, an Excel document’s metadata could include a name (Budget_2020-2021), a creator (Employee X), a date of creation (2019-11-25), a format (.xlsx), etc. 
  • Metadata can also be associated with any other type of data or content. An artist-run centre’s database, for example, may contain the names of its members, the date they joined, their current status, etc.

Web content that is described by accurate and machine-interpretable metadata is identified more easily in specialized database search results (e.g. a museum or library collection), on a website, or by a search engine. For this reason, make sure that the metadata of the images or videos you place on your website reflects their content: e.g., a specific title (not “image003”), exact attribution, or a creation date.



Structured Data

Structured data is a concept that is primarily associated with Schema, a markup tool developed by a consortium of search engines (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Yandex) to organize and treat information on a web page. Technically speaking, it’s a vocabulary that can be used in different programming languages, including RDFa and JSON-LD.

As mentioned earlier, a few extensions such as Yoast SEO and Schema Pro support the addition of certain schema tags on sites developed with WordPress. This can be beneficial for organizations that have a WordPress site but don’t have regular staff with programming expertise.

 Those who wish to further explore the concept and technology of structured data can do so with Google’s structured data testing tool and structured data markup helper.


Linked Data

Linked data, finally, is a concept that relates to semantic web technologies. The main idea is to assign a uniform resource identifier (URI) to each dataset distributed on the web by using standard machine-understandable descriptions that allow that dataset to relate to other groupings of data. But implementing the technology is complex and may require collaboration with national and international partners. The Europeana portal is a good example of a linked data project serving the collections of European heritage institutions. To find out more about this concept, follow the development of initiatives such as Savoirs communs du cinema (an initiative of the Cinémathèque québécoise), and Linked Digital Future (from CAPACOA, the Canadian Arts Presenting Association).

Note: A  Web Conference on similar topics  (offered in English) called “Dancing in the Web of Data: A How-To-Guide,” will be held on January 29, 2020.


—> Previous brief : Blockchain Technology Explained.

—> Next brief : Open Data.


ARCA and l’AGAVF have teamed up to invite Isabelle L’Heureux, the Digital Cultural Development Officer for Conseil québécois des arts médiatiques (CQAM), Regroupement des arts interdisciplinaires du Québec (RAIQ), and Le Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec (RCAAQ) to present six articles on the subject of digital literacy. The objective of this content is to increase the digital potential of communities working in the visual arts in Canada so that they can assess and seize  opportunities for creation, dissemination and organization brought by digital technologies. The articles are featured in our monthly newsletter, running from December 2019 to May 2020.