Inside D.C. entertainment

TheatreWashington's first hurdle: Google

September 27, 2011 - 03:11 PM
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TheatreWashington, the region's new theater umbrella organization, faces a real 21st-century problem -- its name cuts straight to the point of what it does: It's about Washington theaters, for crying out loud! Unfortunately, plugging that name into search engines delivers showtimes at Washington movie theaters, the websites of some popular Washington theater venues, and DC Theatre Scene, which reviews plenty of Washington theater productions. (Bing — if anyone uses it — is much kinder to the org. Google assumes you mean separate words; forcing the issue gets you a lot closer.)

While it's not a Rick Santorum-level problem, TheatreWashington, which sprouted from the Helen Hayes organization, is acutely aware of the search-engine issue. "It's because our website isn't live yet," says Alli Houseworth, TheatreWashington's director of communications and audience development. The TheatreWashington placeholder site that's up now, Houseworth says, doesn't contain the metadata that searchbots love to chew on.

The permanent site, which will launch soon -- Houseworth is not promising when; there's a lot of testing yet to do -- has been coded "using all of our Helen Hayes stuff," she says. It will have a show-finding function that will send lots of traffic back and forth between the TheatreWashington mothership and its member theaters. "If you think about it," Houseworth says, "there’s going to be a link for every theater, every show, every box office, and that’s not counting any links that we’re gonna put in ourselves."

Google doesn't reveal what's under the hood of its algorithms but says that links are one of the 200-odd metrics it uses to determine where a site lands on its results pages (where the searcher lives counts, which should help). Houseworth says the name is already showing up in her Google news alerts (see you tomorrow morning, Alli!). Keeping track of Twitter mentions, she says, is a lot more involved, something a person who works at a site named for a popular expression for uncertainty understands very well.

"I can't really create a column for 'Theatre-space-Washington,'" says Houseworth, who looks at Twitter via TweetDeck. "It's hard to filter through that."

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