Many of our government agencies have a ton of information (content) that might be helpful to certain people in certain circumstances. But most of the time – to be honest – government agencies have a huge amount of boring content. Yet periodically the right person, having access to that content at the right time, would be a very good thing.
If all of our agencies' content were to be displayed directly on our websites, wouldn’t that be overwhelming? Who could possibly find anything? Instead, we often put a bunch of links to documents on our web pages. We tell everyone the information is on the web – but likely, we know, it would be hard to find.
The new team was told to get my input on their proposed web page. The proposal was basically a bunch of links under banners with category names on them. It looked nice and they were excited. I knew almost no one actually uses this type of page. It is a tough lesson to learn because you have to observe the analytics for extended periods. I liked them and thought they could handle the truth. I told them, “They call content, 'king,' for a reason." This post is about lessons learned from a project I occasionally worked on since late 2012.
The old Minnesota Stormwater Manual was an 885-page document. The link to it was four layers down from the home page. Additionally, the link was in the middle of 10 to 15 other links. All things considered, the manual still received a couple of thousand dowloads.
The updated Minnesota Stormwater Manual uses read-only wiki technology to display content directly on web pages. The updated manual has received over 9.3 million page views and counting. Note: it is a technical manual targeted for stormwater management professionals, not the general public.
What magic gets a technical manual over 9 million page views in only 4.5 years? Here's the trick: The web search engines are able to index the entire content when the content is put directly on the web pages. When the content was in a pdf file, the search engines indexed just the title of the document, not the content.
Once the content is indexed, a search for relevant information can include your site in the search results. The requester does not need to know the site existed, let alone how to navigate around the site. They just looked up a topic and the search engine pointed them to the relevant information on your site.
Search engines are a modern miracle. The search engines seem to know what you want, even when you don’t. For example, I entered, “How many search results do people click on?” and somehow it knew to return an article titled, How many Google searchers go to page two of their search results? The answer= Academic research indicates that 91 percent of searchers do not go past page one of the search results and over 50 percent do not go past the first three results on page.
The search engines are sophisticated. They rank sites that have good relevant information higher than sites that do not. Lots of sites try all sorts of tricks but the actual best way to get your pages ranked high is if the page contains good content. It also helps to link to other pages with good content and have them link to such pages.
The search engines do not give extra credit for clever names or the perfect use of color. Search engines like respected, authoritative information from respected sources which are interlinked. The content – boring or not – from a government agency is generally exactly the type of information they rank highly. When the content is interlinked with other government/academic content, it increases the odds your page will appear near the top of a search result set.
Having lots of quality content really is the magic solution to making it easier for content to be discovered by the right people at the right time. The internet is full of tools to make it easy to find and use content. If your site has good content, displayed directly on web pages and if there is a demand for that information, it will be found.
Content is called king for a reason. Make sure the internet can see your actual content, not just a link.
Finally, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is the goal. While the number of page views might help justify funding, accomplishing the goal of your agency is key.
Paul Leegard is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.