Backlink Bartering: How interlinking among government sites can help get our web content found

The following post is expanded from my original post on May 23, 2011, to the Federal Web Content Managers Forum:

As a fellow govie from GSA quoted the other day: “We fellow govies should support each other’s work” and no one more so than those of us working in digital content and the Internet. The most important goal of publishing our content is that the right audience needs to be able to find it first.

Unfortunately, search is consistently cited as one of the biggest complaints citizens have with government web sites. They can’t find your content! Or worse, they don’t know your site or content even exists in the first place so they go to Google or another search engine to start their search.

Besides search optimization of your content and pages and changing to plain language (more about these issues in future posts), one of the key free techniques available to government agencies to make their content more discoverable is increasing the backlinks to the web page where the content is located.

Backlinking is an extremely important part of SEO (search engine optimization), and backlinking among government agencies should be an important part of all government web sites’ content discoverability strategies.

What are backlinks?

According to Wikipedia (whose post is correct in this case 😉 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backlink:

“In basic link terminology, a backlink is any link received by a web node (web page, directory, website, or top level domain) from another web node.[1] Backlinks are also known as incoming links, inbound links, inlinks, and inward links.”

Why do backlinks matter?

Again, Wikipedia explains:

“Backlinks are incoming links to a website or web page. Inbound links were originally important (prior to the emergence of search engines) as a primary means of web navigation; today their significance lies in search engine optimization (SEO). The number of backlinks is one indication of the popularity or importance of that website or page (for example, this is used by Google to determine the PageRank of a webpage). Outside of SEO, the backlinks of a webpage may be of significant personal, cultural or semantic interest: they indicate who is paying attention to that page.”

What value is given to .Gov backlinks in particular?

Of interest to everyone should be how much the private section values a backlink from a .GOV domain URL. Self-professed “Backlink Mogul” howudoin on Internet marketing forum “Warrior Forum” says one link from a .Gov site is worth “50 normal .com backlinks”.

Read his explanation to other Internet marketers of the value of .GOV backlinks as he gives a sales pitch on why to buy backlinks from 25 .Gov domains he has for sale:

“You all know the importance of powerful one-way backlinks from .GOV websites. The reason for their extreme back linking power lies in the fact that only official government institutions can get hold of a .GOV domain name. Due to this, such [official government] websites are considered extremely authoritative by search engines and any website being linked by them would be considered an authority in their specific niche. Moreover, since .GOV websites are updated regularly with quality content, this makes them a highly qualitative and trustworthy neighbor in the eyes of search engines.

In fact, several Webmasters swear that a single .GOV backlink easily outweighs 50 normal .com back links. This is proved time and again by quick boost which a website gets in search results once linked by a .GOV domain name. You can read several such stories in the Main Internet Marketing Discussion Forum. Further, once your website starts climbing the search engine rankings then it will continue to become even more popular due to large number of visitors heading your way.”

Why should all government agencies backlink to other government sites?

So there you have it: if a backlink from any one of our websites to a commercial website is worth so much in improving their search results, what would backlinks between and among government sites do for each other’s page ranks?

If our mission as government agencies is to ensure that our stakeholders can first, find our content at all, and second, trust this content as the true sources of “official” sanctioned content, then backlinking and interlinking among federal agencies should be required, not optional. It is part of our compact with our stakeholders that we are to serve the American people, and helping them find valuable, accurate, and trustworthy content and sites is part of that mission.

It doesn’t mean that every single agency must link to all the others. But it does mean that other agencies who deal with the same stakeholders should backlink to each other, to help customers find “the rest of the story” at other trusted, government sites.

In addition to surveying and looking at the normal cast of interagency agreements and partnerships, another good place to look for federal agencies with whom you have the most affinity is if you are using GovDelivery for your email newsletters is to have them run a report of which federal agencies send you the most new email subscribers and vice versa. If the same customers find both agencies’ email newsletters valuable, then backlinking between the sites would most likely be both relevant and helpful to both your customers. Another method is to look at www.Quantcast.com and enter your agency’s domain and look for other government web sites for which your site visitors show a lot of affinity.

This mutual interaction should extend to social media backlinks, email newsletter “ride-along” banners, and web site banner “swaps” as well.

In the case of the US Government Printing Office Sales Program, we are trying to ensure that other federal agencies’ publications (that they have either printed and are for sale on our online bookstore or turned into eBooks with us for distribution through commerical ebook retailers) can be found by customers interested in published content produced by these agencies. Backlinking among government sites and social media presence whose visitors are mutually interested in each other’s content is a great way to improve the visibility and credibility of the content- and the publishing agency!

By the way, anyone interested in exploring mutual backlinking with the US Government Online Bookstore or main US Government Printing Office site and social media sites like GPO’s Facebook page or Government Book Talk blog or including backlinks in each other’s email newsletters? Contact me at mbartram at GPO . gov.

Michele Bartram

Manager, Promotions – eBooks, Ecommerce and Online Bookstore

Office of Sales, Planning & Development- Publication & Information Sales

U.S. Government Printing Office- Business Products & Services Division

Find me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michelebartram

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Michele – Are you getting traction for this idea? Do you have any examples of similar agencies linking to each other?

Ben Donahower

Agreed! SEO is critically important but I don’t know of many agencies, local governments, etc. that are actively optimizing their sites for search engines, seeking out backlinks, etc.