How many times have you looked for information related to the covid dispositions in your city? Tax information? Tourist facts or places?
And how many of those answers were given by an official government webpage? Ideally, a user would like to get the official information as the answer, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
There is a myth among the SEO industry that Search Engines somehow protect government websites and allow them to rank regardless of their technical issues, lack of well-structured content, or poor user experience. This is not true. Government websites are like any other, and they need to follow the established guidelines to get traffic.
Search Engine Optimization for government websites is one of the most complicated and challenging SEO scenarios you can face. Many of the most common ideas about managing, implementing, and measuring an SEO project are inadequate for these cases, requiring a different mindset to be successfully executed.
We believe this is too relevant a topic not to be more widely discussed. However, we haven’t found much information regarding working SEO for this type of website. Most articles repeat the same basic SEO principles (such as “use keywords and create a sitemap”) but with little or no guidelines or advice to understand what makes these types of sites different, as well as the most common challenges that you probably will face.
Type of Government agency sites
These websites can work at different levels and sizes, from country-level to state or city. In any country, you would expect several government-owned websites for different purposes. For this article, we’re referring specifically to:
- Websites created and maintained under the supervision of a state or government-level entity, having no commercial or branding focus. In other words, websites that are not selling things (products, services, advertisement space) and are not trying to “build a (commercial) brand” for future monetization.
- Public websites or public sections of these. Websites or sections that require a login or are somehow actively avoiding being visible to users are not part of the SEO scope.
- Websites intended as a “single source of truth” providing the most updated and accurate information available to the public.
- Any top-level domain. Typically, the “.gov” extension is related to government sites. However, they can use any top-level domain or subdomain. In many countries, they don’t even use the .gov extension.
- Multinational agencies, like UN-related entities, can also sometimes be considered in scope.
Reach & Impact: The Why
Working for government sites could have the most significant reach you can imagine and profoundly influence the lives of millions, and that is something you should not take lightly.
These are a few examples of how important it is to consider this kind of website with SEO in mind:
- Social subsidies
- Unemployment benefits
- Healthcare & Vaccination Programs
- Tax benefits and guidelines
- Travel restrictions or requirements
- Official documentation (passports, national IDs, public records)
- Real-time information about natural disasters or emergencies.
This information can impact people and businesses depending on how well it performs in search engine page results. Think about the person who couldn’t find the news about a specific healthcare benefit or someone unable to make a necessary trip in the middle of the pandemic because they couldn’t get the correct information.
An SEO specialist can easily overlook the consequences of it. Since they’re not “commercial incentives” and easy to measure, it can be challenging to understand how such websites perform. You can know about visits or impressions, but it is not simple to tell if the website fulfilled the informational need.
This is the level of responsibility that comes with working on a Government-related website, and that is why it is so essential to think about it from an SEO perspective. The information should be easily found and accessed, regardless of the user’s device and educational level. That is way harder than it sounds.
Technically speaking, every person in a country could be a potential user. All adults of a country will visit the website of the Tax Collecting Agency (IRS in the USA, SII in Chile, AFIP in Argentina, etc.) several times a year. The same applies to businesses. This demand for information puts pressure not just on performance, but on clarity of language, usability, and accessibility.
Where to start
We now have some context about what SEO is for Government Agencies, the scope in those sites, and the reach the sites have. Let’s now dive into some key points that your SEO strategy for these kinds of sites must take into account if you want your citizens to find the right information from the most trusted source (aka, you).
I – Be clear and have a keyword strategy: As we saw before, as almost every citizen is a possible visitor, we should write with as much clarity as we can, trying to find how people look for information and capture that insight to see if the government cites the answers. A great keyword strategy is the first step. You should create content directly targeting those searches.
II – Quick updates: As we mentioned, people look for information in real-time. Media sites are often the ones who post non-official information that could generate misunderstandings in an effort to get clicks. That’s why the government agency, as the official source of information, should post information as soon as it’s confirmed. First, to be on the top of Google, and second, to start positioning themselves as a good source for users.
III – UX: You can not just assume that your “important” users will have a specific device, operating system, or browser. Top-notch performance, fast websites, and efficient rendering (if needed) are part of the equation. If you care about digital inclusion, especially for people with a lower income, you have to design with low-price devices and slow networks in mind.
IV – Service continuity: You need to prepare the website for high loads at specific moments. Some events are easy to spot beforehand (tax season, for instance), and others appear suddenly (such as natural disasters).
IV – Use FAQs schema: Much of the information people are looking for could be answered directly from the search pages. With proper SEO optimization, the official content could have high rankings and be shown and in the rich snippets results.
It’s time to act
Government agencies often don’t give the importance their official sites deserve, spending a lot of money in publicity campaigns to spread their message to the citizens, using a technical vocabulary, and having sites with a terrible user experience. We can prevent this by implementing an SEO strategy to improve their reach to the whole country. In the end, this will help the site become the official source, not only for Google, but also for the citizens, helping them to find the information they need when they need it.