For most e-commerce websites it is relatively straight forward to put a monetary value on visitors, and therefore, it makes sense to put an effort into search engine optimization (SEO) to get more visitors. If you are running an information only website it might be a lot harder to find out how much a visit is worth.
This post is based on a talk I gave at a Danish Conference about making the public sector more efficient by having Citizens use digital solutions more. The talk was about how search engine optimization is a part of the process.
Time is money
You've probably heard this saying more than once in your life. In regards to SEO of public sector and information only websites, time is the currency in which we measure our success. Search engine optimization can be used to free hands from doing menial tasks, which should be automated or done by the users on a self-service website. One of these tasks is to answer questions as to where the answer is or should be available on the website.
Make it easy to find the needle
Searching for answers on a public sector website can often be like looking for a needle in a haystack, mainly because of the vast amounts of information on the sites. Using a search engine to find the information will make the task easier, as long as the information is search engine friendly, like finding the needle will be easier if you are using a magnet, but only if the needle is magnetic.
If users can't find the information they need on the website, they will call or show up in person, taking up valuable employee time. These are avoidable contacts which should have been handled through a much cheaper communications channel.
The fruits are hanging low
Using SEO you can pick some low-hanging fruit, because it can make it easier for your users to find what they are looking for, saving them time and trouble. For you there is a direct win in the avoided contact, but also an indirect win in the fact that your users trust in your website will increase and they will keep using it for future request, which saves you time and money in the long run.
The reason I call it low-hanging fruit is that SEO is relatively cheap and easy to get started with, compared to optimizing complex self-service solutions or business processes. The only thing you need to do is rewrite and add information on the website.
Getting a good start
If you have an information only website, you probably also have a citizens service, customer service or support function which handles the contacts from users, who weren't able to find what they were looking for. These functions are where you'll find the hidden gold. One of the best ways to have an efficient website is to make sure it contains the information your user will expect to find. Every day users tell you contact function exactly what they expect to get from you and this is the information you want on your website. So to get started just ask your contact function what users ask them. Be careful how you ask, because the persons who have the information you need are the same persons you are trying to free up to do other tasks, so sometimes there is a conflict of interests.
When you have found out what information to have and highlight on your website, you just have to get it on there in a search engine friendly format. If you want to dive into the technical areas of search engine optimization there are loads of resources on the web ready to help you. One of these is my previous blog post about 'lending the search engines a helping hand'.
One last but important thing, when you are writing the information please make sure you speak the user's language. It won't help you at all if you are talking about a digging device if your users call it a shovel.
Feel free to add you own tips and comments below.