Search engine optimisation and search marketing

Been sweating over writing a few articles in the last few days but can’t seem to summon up the inspiration to complete them – website rationalisation and more thoughts on consultation will have to wait for another day – when along comes Paul Canning with an excellent article about the importance of search marketing for government and where DirectGov is getting it wrong. An essential read.

I’m no expert on search marketing. I understand the basics but we don’t spend money on paid for search in my department. What we do, and are very good at, is natural search – also known as search engine optimisation. This the art of ensuring your keywords, descriptions, metatags and content are optimised so that people can find your content easily – and so your content is ranked higher by Google et al (note: lack of technical skill ensures this is a Mickey Mouse description, please don’t heckle..).

I’m firmly of the opinion that people don’t seek out our site (or its predecessor) to find out information about what the government is doing about a particular policy. Instead they are much more likely to stick the relevant term into Google and find our pages that way. Gerry McGovern talked about this issue recently in his newsletter. This argument often shocks my customers (policy wonks) who can’t understand why somebody wouldn’t spend hours idly surfing government websites to unearth information about some arcane policy responsibility. As Paul says:

this is how people find government services. The vast, vast majority online and a rapidly growing majority for Google.

As more government information and services online move to DirectGov and Businesslink over the next few years (as a result of website rationalisation – something I promise I will write about shortly), it appears that search marketing will become more important – not just for the DirectGov/Businesslink centre but for departments eager that the information and services they are responsible reach the widest audience. Paul goes on:

“Search is the gatekeeper to Government services online, but in failing to take up Search Marketing with any seriousness government is abandoning citizens to the market for their advice at crucial moments.

This is even more important when — as a result of a wider failure around linking — government advice does not show up automatically or with any consistency at the top of organic results.”

I’d be interested to know, do any Government departments employ or retain paid for search specialists. How do they concentrate their spend? I need to find out more about this stuff – last time somebody started trying to flog their services down the phone I thought to myself ‘No money anyway and only really relevant to commercial organisations’. Seems only one of those thoughts was right…

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  1. I’ll offer this for starters. I do know of one Whitehall department which was paying an SEO consultant, who eventually called for a meeting to ask ‘look, you’re paying us to do something, but we can’t entirely work out what it is.’ Oops.

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