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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Ads on local council websites?

Lincolnshire have started running banner adverts today on their website, in what they claim is "a nationwide first for any local authority."

They're not the first actually! I was surprised when researching this to see quite a few other councils are already doing them.
  • Flyde is running Google text ads.
  • Nottingham is selling banners (see their media pack- PDF).
  • Hampshire are doing ad packages which includes web advertising. Their sponsorship policy.
  • Weymouth and Portland will be doing sponsorships.

Others are considering it and there's probably some I don't know of.

One thing Andy Key of Hampshire noticed which also rang true with Lincolnshire was that the public never complained - only the council staff. In fact Lincolnshire has reported public applause for imaginative monetisation.

There are other possible revenue streams as well.
  • Linkage from any address has value
  • Income from amazon or other links - for example where you are already effectively choosing one business over another, e.g. Google over multimap etc.
  • Rent out server space for small business/sole traders
  • Recommending and linking to specific suppliers, insurance agencies for example, or in specific sections local attractions like swimming pools other than the council ones
But there are numerous issues. Andy Key posted at PSF about some of the problems they discovered that are involved with advertising on and they seem to be general, across others thinking about it.
  • They found ads on council sites a hard sell, who uses the site? You need solid stats
  • In general, the web ads market is still relatively small, don't expect riches
  • The ads must be content specific - in which case the business section may be the most lucrative
  • Adverts may be sought to give the appearance of a council endorsement, similarly you may end up with potential competitor advertising (e.g. in arts/leisure)
  • Advertisers must be vetted by trading standards
  • You must have a member agreed policy
Other issues and negatives include:
  • Sponsorship will offer more control than auto-generated ads (Google AdWords) which may be inappropriate (similar to the COI experience on Facebook) i.e. 'get a loan' 'debt advice' etc.
  • There may be some potential for a negative impact on web budgets, or web budgets increasingly forced to 'outsource'
  • Like with staff, some members may be strongly opposed - so a resident survey would be extremely useful for any proposition
  • There aren't any Whitehall guidelines on web ads for local government
It's also worth mentioning that I don't recall ever seeing an advert on a US government website - which says something I think.

MK web (Milton Keynes) doesn't carry ads in the 'council channel', but they do use skyscraper ads for council services in the style of the rest of site. This is probably a mistake because users have learned to tune out ads in general - they probably think this draws more attention to services they're cross-selling when in fact it's probably less.

I'd also have a similar issue for the method chosen in Lincolnshire. They're animated, rather than static, banner ads which I think does detract from the content. Thank god for AdBlock.

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