If you follow Google’s step by step custom search engine wizard you can have a search engine setup for free in a matter of minutes.
Your search engine can
- Index one web site, multiple web sites, or specific web pages from within a site
- Host the search box and results on your own web site; and
- Customize the colors and branding to match your existing web pages
Being a government agency you can opt to not have Google ads on the search results pages.
The Google Custom Search API Developer’s Guide documentation on Getting Started walks you through the creation of your first custom search engine.
The Western Australian government’s portal is using Google Custom Search
Screen shot showing the Western Australian Government's use of Google Custom Search
Experiment with Google Custom Search and see what you can do with it – you need a Google username and password to use it – if you don’t have one just set up a Gmail account and you are half way there.
Where do you start when you are asked to write a design brief for a government website? The usual place – Google! I hunted around for examples and decided this was how I was going to structure mine.
About the site – what is your site about – how and why did it come into being. Why is it here? Does it support a government policy, or is it a corporate site for a government department?
Provide some background about your site. Things you might consider including:
- Competitor sites – who are they – provide links
- Current marketing activities – do you provide any newsletters, news feeds, what are the services the site offers?
- Current features offered on the existing site- such as subscription to newsletters, membership facilities, email a friend etc
- Current traffic levels – eg., visitors, visits, page views, bounce rate, search engine referrals, average time on site,
- Technology used – what is your existing CMS, hosting platform etc – if that is relevant.
- Target audience – including any real demographic data you have collected along the way
Current issues with the site design – what is wrong that you know needs fixing, changing, sprucing up, etc.
- Goals – what do you want to achieve? Do you want more subscribers to your newsletter, more members? Do you want to make the site functional and easy to use? Do you want to keep your existing visitors returning?
- The Web site Design – what standards should it comply with? Should it comply with the W3C web accessibility guidelines – do want to follow WCAG 1.0 or WCAG 2.0? Should the site look like it belongs to a family of sites? Do you want to specify a CMS or do you want the designer to do that? Do you have specific graphics or photos that must be used? Do you want to use a 3 column or 2 column layout or aren’t you too fussed about that? Do you want to use flash or not? Must not compromise the search engine optimization of the existing site!
- The Newsletter Design – do you want to design a newsletter layout which compliments your new web site design? It would probably make sense to do them both at the same time, so that when you launch with your new design, the newsletter will match the site.
There are probably a myriad of other things you could include. Please add your comments on what you would include in a web design brief for a government web site.
Governments are often notorious for announcing campaigns and publishing press releases without optimizing content on their websites to enable visitors to find information to back up the campaign announcements.
So I was really pleased to read this great article by Augustine Fou at Clickz the other day called "How to use search to calculate the ROI of awareness advertising".
This article hit the nail on the head about what Government should be doing: ie.
- make sure the website or content sections on websites are set up before releasing the press release. A classic Victorian Government example was the announcement of the Bushfire Royal Commission. Everyone wanted to read about the Royal Commission from the official source, yet it took a number of weeks for this to happen. When they did release the Royal Commission website, they appeared not to take out a Google AdWords campaign to support its release. As you can see from this screen shot, the ABC is really well optimised for bushfire royal commission, and the government is not.
- make sure you search engine optimise your website so that the specific information which is announced is easily linked to from the press release, so that the visitor can easily find the supporting information they are seeking – government should be a lot better at doing this than they are in reality (read my earlier article entitled: "How to increase traffic to Government websites with press releases");
- ensure you are using an analytics package, such as Google Analytics (its free and fully integrated with Google AdWords!) to establish how successful or not the announcement, banner ad, search engine marketing and so forth, really is. Putting campaign tracking on your email newsletter links, or on links from press releases or ads you want to track will give you great information to analyse the return on your investment.
Hopefully this will change when one day governments take the web as seriously as they do their television, radio and print campaigns. Until then, how do you work out the return on investment for your government online campaign ……?