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Monday 23 April 2007

Directgov games Google, wants help

Interesting ...

I've been alerted that Local Directgov is asking councils to help improve Directgov's ranking on Google, by providing links so that councils can deep-link their websites to Directgov.

Directgov, by the way, offers a "proven successful citizen delivery channel". Yikes.
"Use the supplied 'link text' in the spreadsheet for your text link. This will help to improve the ranking of Directgov in search results which will benefit users by increasing the visibility of government information"
What I'm asked is whether this would impact negatively on the Councils.

The short answer is no, same as linking to anywhere isn't a negative, but - excluding the time involved to do it - it wouldn't be a very significant positive — I would think, I don't do this full-time but I'm racking my brains here.

There doesn't appear to be a quid pro quo. Also, the deep-link is to content which may be bettered elsewhere — there is a developing content market in many areas Directgov covers, so why prioritising linking to them "for more information"? Is it just the link they want, or the traffic?

The thing is, Google is not (just) a machine! It's humans, who you can ring up (these people strike deals y'know). And Google's algorithm is tweaked such that it ranks some sites more highly than others. This is PageRank, with human input.

That was one of the main points Teddie Cowell, of SE specialists Neutralize, made at a Public Sector Forums event in January.

He said that Directgov had a unique opportunity to help councils by talking to Google in order to collectively raise all Council's PageRanks. Teddie demonstrated that there is extreme variance in Council's results.

Here's one of his diagrams;

Average & visits from Google
Average % visits from Google

His presentation is summarised here.

The other — very obvious to experts eyes I'd bet — point is exactly why Directgov need the help of councils in boosting their PageRanks in the first place.

Truth is, they are linked to from very few places for the site that they are. They - presumably, want to boost their Rank in certain areas, so why don't the other - non-governmental - specialists in those areas link to them?

When Google first arrived, this was the key to their algorithm - linking. And who links means credibility, roughly.

That has been well and truly gamed but - thinking of humans again - how does Directgov appear to Google? Unlinked, that's how.

Running a campaign getting links elsewhere (than Councils) would be far more effective, on many, many levels — alongside a better targeted online ad strategy (though at least that's started).

They need to get in with these sort of guys ....

Trend history
directgov upmystreet

Or these

Trend history
directgov mumsnet

Or they could adopt the tactics of Transport Direct, who encourage people to link to their site through providing a very useful Widget.

In the United States Government agencies are working with Google.
Users performing a search think, “ ‘I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and I need information.’ They don’t think about their information sources,” said J.L. Needham, who represents Google’s public sector content partnership. “But if people can’t find something, they blame it on Google, not the government.”

To boost their rankings on search lists, agencies have been working with Google to develop sitemaps, which are Extensible Markup Language-based lists of Web addresses that point to database records.

Dennis Rodrigues, chief of the online information branch for the National Institutes of Health, called the sitemap project a win-win for federal Web sites and search engines. Rodrigues coordinates sites for 27 separate agencies under the health agency’s umbrella.

“I think a lot of the breadand- butter stuff agencies have on the Web sites [was] already carefully indexed,” Rodrigues said. The bulk of searches sent to NIH Web sites are for health problems, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. But it would be harder for someone looking for information on a particular gene or protein, he said. The information would be buried in a database.

Rodrigues said developing sitemaps is more about creating “a better quality of the site’s index and covering all the disparate, eclectic information.” The goal of the project is to boost the quality of search results, rather than the quantity.

“As federal providers, we have a lot of concern about whether or not the public is going to be able to find our information, especially about health information,” Rodrigues said. “We know with the ever-growing volume of information on the Web, it’s easy to become lost in a sea of data.

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