If you’re amongst the 500+ local councils in Australia, your website is likely a key communication channel. You’ll use it to provide timely updates about local events, share details on ongoing government projects, and list important contact information.

But your council website is only as effective as people’s ability to discover it. That’s where SEO comes in.

In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of SEO for councils like yours. It will cover:

  • What SEO is
  • Misconceptions councils may have about it
  • The importance of SEO for Australian councils
  • How Siteimprove can support your SEO efforts

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation” and describes the process of trying to make a site rank better on Google and other search engines.

Generally speaking, SEO efforts can be divided into three major categories:

  • Technical SEO: This deals with improving the technical setup of your site, like making it load fast, streamlining its internal page structure, optimising it for mobile devices, and so on.
  • Content (or on-page) SEO: This is about the actual content that goes on the site, including the copy, the headings, image alt tags, etc.
  • External (or off-page) SEO: This focuses on reaching out to third-party sites in an effort to get them to link to your pages, thereby increasing your site’s authority in the eyes of Google (and others).

In practice, all of the above areas work in combination to determine how well search engines access, crawl, index, and rank your council website.

Common misconceptions about SEO

Despite search engines like Google being major drivers of website visitors, most people still have misconceptions about what SEO entails.

It can be natural to treat SEO as an afterthought or a one-off task. This is especially true if you’re an otherwise well-known government entity like a council in Australia.

See if these three misconceptions apply to you.

1. “We already rank well for all the important keywords.”

It could well be that your council website covers all of the main categories you deem important. After all, you’ve probably done lots of initial research when first launching the site. Maybe you’ve even split the site into different topic areas and created a helpful top-level navigation menu that reflects these. Your job is done!

But here’s the thing about the world of SEO: It doesn’t stand still. The way people search and the terms they use are constantly evolving. New keywords become important while older ones fall out of use.

If you’re only working with a static set of queries you’ve previously identified, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to stay relevant. More than that, you risk disappointing customers who turn to your council website for answers.

Focussing on SEO lets you stay ahead of the curve. By constantly monitoring the emerging search trends, you can identify new queries to address. Beyond that, SEO also informs the way you actually approach these queries.

The search query someone uses can often tell you a lot about their user intent and expectations. Are they looking for just a quick answer or a detailed analysis of an issue? Do they use expert terms or are they new to the topic?

The best way to create relevant content is to monitor and address each search query in a manner that your visitors expect. For instance, if they want to see a “list of local projects,” your page should reflect that by using bullet points or separate headings for each project.

SEO can be an invaluable tool for understanding your users. That’s why doing your keyword research on a regular basis is a must for any council website that takes its customers seriously.

2. “We don’t have any competition.”

This may seem like a solid assumption. After all, you’re the only council for your specific area. As such, it’s only natural that your website will be the first stop for anyone looking to research local council-related topics.

Right?

Not necessarily. You may not have other government bodies to compete with, but anyone writing about topics related to your work is a search competitor. This includes news outlets, lobby groups, activist organisations, bloggers, and so on.

In the worst case scenario, you’re allowing someone to post misleading or outright wrong information about council projects without offering your own version of it.

Remember that search engines won’t automatically give your pages top priority. Google favours websites that provide relevant, in-depth content on a given topic. So if your council website only has a few sentences about your new environmental initiative, Google may prioritise another website that discusses the initiative in great detail.

Similarly, you may not be the only council in Australia addressing a specific subject. For instance, country-wide regulations affect all councils in equal measure. In such cases, another council’s page may show up for local searches related to yours. Your customers will end up visiting the wrong site, which isn’t a great user experience.

Claiming your spot in search with detailed topical pages is therefore a must.

3. “People know how to contact us in any case.”

It may be true that residents and other customers have your contact details. However, this fails to take into account the benefits of having the information they’re looking for available via search.

First, by providing detailed answers that can be found via Google, you’ll reduce the number of people who contact you in the first place. If they can find a clear, thorough answer online, they won’t need to call or email you. This decreases the time and money your council will be spending on answering people’s inquiries.

Second, not everyone will take the step to proactively contact their local council. They may just want a quick summary of an issue. These people might settle for whatever information they come across online, whether it’s accurate or detailed enough. You owe it to them to have the right answers available via search.

Finally, you want search engines to always display the most recent contact details. Outdated contact information will often find its way to the search results. People using these old details will struggle to get in touch with the right department. Dedicated SEO efforts will help you make sure that Google picks up the most updated contact numbers and email addresses.

Why is SEO important for councils?

You’re now familiar with the most common misconceptions about SEO.

It’s time to look at the many benefits SEO can have for Australian councils.

1. SEO eases the user journey and improves UX

As mentioned, analysing the terms people use when they search for information often reveals a lot about their intent. In turn, this helps you design a better user journey that closely matches this intent and the users’ needs.

To start with, knowing the search intent lets you develop the right content in the first place. Often, each user query may call for a separate page or article to address it.

Once you have the necessary articles in place, SEO can help you further fine-tune the journey by showing you how people prefer to access the information or navigate your site.

Do people often add “FAQ” to their searches on a given topic? Then you might want to add a question-and-answer section directly to that article, instead of keeping the answers in a separate support area of your site.

As a council, you probably use some government jargon and terms that regular users might not know. This can make your content difficult to understand for the average visitor.

By focussing on SEO and doing your keyword research, you can uncover the way people actually talk about the topics you’re dealing with. Then you can incorporate your customers’ language into your site content, making it far more user friendly.

Few things frustrate users as much as clicking on irrelevant or outdated content and visiting a page they didn’t need. By keeping SEO in mind, you’re making sure to create a positive user experience and avoid causing such frustrations.

2. SEO can expose gaps in your content

It’s not uncommon for people to navigate to your site in search of information, only to be stuck once they get there. Even if they know you’re the right government body to solve their needs, you may be failing to provide them with the content they’re looking for. In such cases, you’ll often see people using internal search fields or clicking on irrelevant links and navigation elements.

To avoid this, you should constantly identify gaps in your content and create new pages that will rank well on Google. This way, people will land directly on the most relevant page instead of roaming aimlessly around your site.

To start with, you can focus on looking at the following:

  • Low-ranking pages: If you see any important keywords for which your pages rank too low (or not at all), you must address these first. This will usually entail creating new pages or writing content that’s more detailed and better addresses the user intent.
  • Pages with high impressions but low click rate: In some cases, your pages will actually frequently show up on Google, but people won’t click through to your site. This often happens when your meta title and description aren’t good at capturing a user’s attention or addressing their intent. Your meta is often the only first impression you’ll get to have on a search results page. Make sure to use it to your advantage.

3. SEO helps improve readability and accessibility

Search engine algorithms often rely on markup protocols like Schema and elements like ARIA labels to get a better understanding of your site. This form of structured data lets website owners label the different on-page elements, making them easier for search engines to identify.

The benefit of using these labels is that they help Google correctly categorise your site’s content and evaluate its context. As a result, your content becomes more likely to show up for relevant search queries, increasing the visibility of your site.

An additional benefit of using labels and structured data is that they help users with disabilities navigate your site. Many of these users rely on assistive technology (e.g. screen readers) to make sense of the site. In turn, this technology needs different page elements to have the right labels attached to them.

As such, by focussing on SEO and optimising your site for search engines, you’re automatically making it more readable and accessible to your visitors.

4. SEO can help tourists find the right information

Does your council website encourage tourists to visit? If so, you’re likely competing with alternative destinations in other councils or areas. Whoever wins the SEO game will often attract more tourists.

There’s no shortage of, say, Outback towns to visit. So if your outback council is not showing up on Google for tourism-related searches, tourists may just turn their attention elsewhere.

Keeping an eye on relevant tourist queries and making sure that you address them better than competing councils is the best way to get noticed.

How Siteimprove can help

SEO can be tricky for newcomers to get started with. You’ll often have to use multiple third-party tools to get the right information about relevant keywords, competitors, your site’s performance, and so on.

To make things easier, Siteimprove has developed an all-in-one tool to take care of your SEO needs. This lets you manage your SEO efforts through a single dashboard.

Siteimprove offers the following SEO features:

  • Keyword discovery: Find relevant keywords and spot content gaps (keywords that you’re not currently addressing).
  • Keyword suggestions: Identify new keywords with good ranking potential (high search volume and low competition.)
  • Content similarity: See which of your pages are competing for the same keywords. This helps you avoid keyword cannibalisation and suboptimal pages showing up on Google.
  • Internal searches: Get insights about what keywords and terms people use when searching internally on your site. This lets you develop better content to address user needs.
  • Competitor analysis: Find out who your organic competitors are and see how your site stacks up against them.
    Activity plans help to customise and adjust your SEO workflow, allowing you to engage with all aspects of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to meet your website goals and challenges.

Choosing the right SEO tool for your organization’s needs is the key to turning one of the most demanding digital challenges into a manageable task in 2021. Download this eBook to discover everything you need to know to make a well-informed decision, when choosing the SEO tool.