Facebook for Local Government. It’s all been said hasn’t it?

Preface.

Just  like the article produced on Twitter here, this article on Facebook is not meant to be  a document which tells you all, or teaches you everything, about Facebook. It’s more an overview of what Facebook is, how to set it up for non personal use and to offer some suggestions as to how it can be used in local government .

Overview.
Just like Twitter, Facebook is meant to be  a communication tool.
Mark Zukerberg, the founder of Facebook says…

“The thing we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently.”

That’s a pretty important statement especially when you are talking about a Facebook market of some 750million users in July 2011. One in nine  people on the planet have a Facebook account. The market is simply vast.

In August 2010 Roy Wells, a commentator on Social media said…

7% of the worlds population is on FaceBook.”

But that doesn’t show an even distribution. You can see his break down of usage per country and many other interesting Facebook facts here.

“Yes, yes” I can hear you say. “It’s just kids!” That’s an understandable assumption, but you’d be wrong.

I’ll give you that 2010-2011 saw a 74% increase in the younger demographic age group of 18-24 but there was an increase  of 58.9% in the 55+ age group. The 18-34 age group provide 50% of the users in the UK. That’s a level of engagement that can’t be ignored.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal here, the growth in usage of Facebook by the older generation is discussed. The article is worth a look, even though it talks about the American market, but you all know where America goes we tend to follow, so it’s a fair assumption the percentages shown in this article will be appropriate to the UK  too at some time in the (near) future.

Just how much is Facebook used? 
In March 2010 Facebook overtook Google as the most used web site in the USA.  And it’s the 2nd most used web site in the world. Facebook, its usage and its users is/are ubiquitous*.

* There are places where Facebook doesn’t exist in quite the same way. The author’s daughter is currently working in China and bemoans the lack of any access to Facebook.

Facebook UK

  • As of April 2011 there were 30,168,260 users
  • The gender usage is nearly 50/50.
  • The average user has 130 friends – so news travels fast.
  • The age demographic is as per this pie chart.

Once again, just like Twitter, you can see that by excluding yourself and your information from Facebook you are excluding a huge information channel.

Enough!
OK, OK… enough facts and percentages! However, whichever way you look at it, the use of Facebook is widespread, mind boggling in fact. It’s no use being luddite. Local government officers need to use this channel of communication because their clients are. Simple.

Starting off a commercial (non-personal) Facebook  site.

Syncing with the lingo.

Before we go further; the use of peculiar language on Facebook is the biggest block to understanding what to do and what to expect. “Add as a friend” “like” “profiles” “fans” all have meanings that are slightly out of kilter with those of the average UK based  conservative ( note the small c)  user. I don’t want ‘fans’ but that’s what the follower of a page is called. It’s a bit cloying but you’ll just have to live with it.

If you want more information and clarity, at this link you will find a glossary of terms in common use on Facebook.

Onwards…

How do you get started?

There is a difference between you as a Joe public user and how a commercial users (business or local authority) use Facebook.

Commercial users – and that’s what we are aiming to be here – use ‘pages’ and not ‘profiles’. What’s the difference?

A profile – a Joe public piece of content for non commercial users:

  • will have details at the top like “lives in” and “from” and “born”.

Clearly those epithets don’t apply to a local government site because local government is not a person. It’s an entity.

  • And you will be able to add a profile as a “friend”
    A commercial entity should not use a personal profile.  It is not allowed by Facebook but, that said,  it’s an easy mistake to make.

A Page – a commercial (none personal) piece of content.

  • Will have none of the personal details of a profile and you will be able to “like” that page.
  • Pages have limited access to user profiles.
  • With Pages you can update your status (these will be your posts)  which will then appear in the newsfeeds of  “fans” who have chosen to be so.
  • With Pages you can adjust the settings to allow fans to write on the page wall or not.
  • With Pages you can alter the look and feel of the page, using apps, to be more in line with your corporate ID.

How do you construct a Page?

  1. Go to facebook.com
  2. Underneath the “sign up” green button you will see “Create a Page for a celebrity, band or business”. Click on that link.
  3. You’ll be presented with a series of icons defining your business type. Choose one.
  4. You’ll probably choose “Company, organization or institution”. Complete the required information.
  5. You’ll then be asked to create a Facebook account or choose to use your current one.
  6. Go through the required process  – confirmation e-mails etc -and get to your site.
  7. On the left of your page you will get the basic apps like wall, info, etc

What now?

The basic set up of the page is a little boring so you’ll want to make it look at little more interesting.

  • The first task is to create an additional landing page.
  • The landing page can be more strongly branded using a third party app like those available from Involver.com, pagemodo.com or set it up in iframes if you have some techie support.  I used pagemodo.
    It was very simple, though of course there are some limitations.
  • Call the landing page “welcome” or something similar.
  • If you want people to click on from that landing page you should have some sort of “call to action” (where you want the viewer to do something) like click here to enter a competition or to get a free down load or whatever you wish. You can of course change the content of the landing page when you wish to align with any new campaigns you run.

You’ll now want to adjust the settings to manage permissions, use block lists to block things you may feel you should, set the default landing tab – this is where you use the landing page you’ve created – thus when people come  to your site afresh they will see the zappy little  landing page you’ve made.

You may also like to take a look at the resources section, the apps and the help centre. All interesting and useful stuff and available as tabs or navigation items in your Facebook page.

OK. You have your page, you’ve set the landing page, you’ve adjusted your settings what now?

You first need to get 25 likes. That should be easy as you can get 25 of your staff to like the pages.

Once that’s achieved  the facebook page is up and running and you can do more.

And then?

It’s all down to content. And we all know how difficult that can be.

Using a Facebook page is akin to marketing. It’s all about building long term relationships with customers.

You will need to:

  • beat content fatigue. Use multiple admins (more than one editor) to keep the posts fresh and relevant;
  • be interesting/funny/insightful and useful;
  • be careful how you update a Facebook page. This is not Twitter so 1 maybe 2 posts a day but no more;
  • not ‘push’ your authority too much. ‘Over the top’ selling is not liked;
  • create a social media calendar with your team so you can schedule what you are going to put out and when, especially if you have multiple admin officers for the pages;
  • perhaps create a weekly video, weekly poll, photo share;

And don’t forget the sharing buttons on your own web site. Use your Web site, Facebook pages and Twitter account to drive readership and usage. Remember not everybody has both Facebook and Twitter accounts. And some of those users may never visit your web site.Ensure your web page, Facebook page and Twitter are in sync and working harmoniously. This isn’t easy but it’s worthwhile.

Apps.

There are any number of apps you can embed in your page. Try here . Hundreds of apps for your Facebook page.You will be surprised what you can drive from a Facebook page.

Sundry.

Places.

Use ‘places’ to let people check in. Try giving discount at something like swimming pools for people who have checked in. Or maybe a free cup of coffee at your libraries if that facility is available. You can read more about places/location here.

Insights

When you get over 30 likes ‘insights’ kicks in ( it’s over on the right of the pages when you are an adminstrator). This allows you to get high quality stats,  which will help you to get the best out of Facebook.
You can learn more about the very powerful insights application here.

Finally.

  • Your Facebook page is just like any other of your communications channels. It requires effort. No effort = no good.
  • Using Facebook you can reach your actual customers without being filtered by an editor in the print media channels.
  • You can measure results with insights.
  • You can alter your campaigns easily and cheaply.
  • The cost of set up is free.
  • But most of all Facebook is interactive. It’s 2 way, providing invaluable feedback on what you say and do.
    If that’s not for you then I would suggest neither is customer service. And could you afford to ignore that aspect of your business?

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to local government organisations on things web related.


Contact details:


Peter Barton

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: @lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

Info bites. Some little known. Others blindingly obvious. But all useful.

In this blog:-

  • Does your site accommodate Mobile visitors?
  • What does position in Google search results mean to your click through rate? Does it really matter?
  • Is your site fast or slow and does it matter?
  • Do people read what you have written?
  • Does it matter if content is  ‘below the fold’?
  • Bounce Rate. What’s that and does it matter?
  • Quick tip.
  • Some useful links


Does your site accommodate Mobile visitors?

Mobile use of the web is growing faster than the initial web take up in the 90’s; accounting now for around 50% of web usage. At first that may seem surprising but when you consider the options now available for web browsing; smart phones, TV’s and tablets, it should come as no surprise at all.

Check your analytic software to see what level of mobile visitors you have. And ask yourself are you ready?

n.b. If your site is not accommodating mobile visitors, that’s a major failing.

What does your position in the Google search results mean to your click through rate? Does it really matter?

We all strive to be in the number 1 spot in search results but what if we don’t achieve it? What affect does that have on the traffic from the search results?

The difference between First at 42.13% and second at 11.9% shows just how important it is for your link to be number 1 on that topic. Other results are shown on this pie chart. (I’m not quite sure the percentages stack up with the ranking but despite this the indication is clear.)

Source. http://www.blogstorm.co.uk/google-organic-seo-click-through-rates/

Moral of the story… strive for number 1 spot.

Is your site fast or slow and does it matter?

Some would argue that for a local government site this isn’t as important as for a commercial site where there is competition. The argument being it’s better to deliver good and complete information than it is to be just ‘quick’, and to risk the possibility of inferior or incomplete information.A reasonable argument, however, fast sites are another issue to be  considered in customer service evaluations. Indeed Google downgrades sites in it’s rankings if the pages are slow i.e. over 2 seconds.

For commercial sites the faster the pages load the better the conversion.  A one second speeding up of the page load adds 7% to conversion. So speed is important to our clients.

Do people read what you have written?

My experience of dealing with internal clients showed brevity was not their strong point.

Huge amounts of pointless data, some of which is just ego massaging, is being displayed on web pages. And it goes unread by clients – and that’s who we are trying to satisfy (not the manager of a particular section who wants to tell the world how great he or his team is).

Sadly people don’t read web pages in the way the writers would believe or even hope. They scan for keywords and skim around those. Rarely if ever do they read long text, especially if it’s about you, the council.

Dross and flannel. Skim off the dross and throw out the flannel. Froth and bubble. Scrape off  the froth and prick all the bubbles. It’s just so much pointless verbiage that gets in the way. Cut to the chase and provide the data.

Put yourself in the clients place and say ”what’s in it for me”. Evaluate all your content that way and remember the average reading age for web users is 14 (maybe higher for local government pages because of the market sector but dont assume high levels of literacy for your readers) so keep it simple.

If you want to test some pages to see if you really are interested in customers,  go here… www.futurenowinc.com/wewe.htm put in a url for a page to test whether that’s so.

Does it matter if content is  ‘below the fold’?

75% of clicks occur without people scrolling down! Blimey that’s going to come of bit of a surprise to those 10 page scrollers on some local government sites.

You can test your site to see just how many people can see what parts of your site. Go to  www.foldtester.com to see how much of your page is below the fold and is therefore unseen and by what portion of visitors.

Bounce Rate. What’s that and does it matter?

Bounce rate is loosely the percentage of people who view your site, or a single page if you are set up that way, for whom the landing page is also the exit page i.e. they go nowhere else.Your site did not interest them enough to induce them to dig deeper or browse.

Now this may be entirely appropriate. e.g. you may hav e provided a link to a page with a specific piece of information for a specific set of people. They look at that page and ‘job done’ off they go somewhere else. However, generally, if your bounce rate is above 40% – that’s a sort of average in commerce – then something is wrong.

High bounce rate has been crudely likened to “I came, I saw, I puked.” Graphically cruel but accurate and we’ve all done it.

Quick tip.

Pages with forms embedded deliver better results than those with a link to a form.

What does this mean? Say you had a page where you wanted clients to register to a newsletter. Don’t link out to a complex form requiring a large to medium number of fields to be completed. Put a small form in the top right of the request page with something like…

Register here to receive hot news.

And construct a small form in that box to do just that.

BTW incentives to register i.e. free swim at the local baths etc really lift the percentage of registrations.

Some useful links

This site provides really useful information.

http://www.websiteoptimization.com/speed/tweak/clickstream/

Browser testing

http://browsershots.org/ Tests you site on a number of browsers

Uptime and link testing.

http://www.pingdom.com/   Tests web uptime and performance for your site.

http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html Xenu Link Sleuth. Tests the links on your site.

A/B & Multivariate Testing

http://unbounce.com/ constructs alternative landing pages and provides stats too.

www.google.com/websiteoptimizer does what it says.

Visitor tracking

http://www.clicktale.com/ constructs heat maps of visitor interactions with your site.

http://www.crazyegg.com/ visualise where your visitors are going.

Usability testing

http://www.usertesting.com/ Does what it says.

http://whatusersdo.com/  Usability and user experience testing.

User surveys and feedback

http://www.surveymonkey.com/  Carry out surveys. I’ve used this in the past and found it to be excellent.

http://kissinsights.com/  Feedback from your site.

http://www.4qsurvey.com/ on line survey tool. Free for 15 days.

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to Local Government organisations on all things web.


Contact details:


Peter Barton

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: @lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

I said I wouldn’t but, oh dear.

Socitm  are talking about the next Better Connected being ”top tasks” related.

I suppose telling us what is going to be measured next year is a step forward from past years. They usually spring their  surprise of ‘something new’ on  unsuspecting local government web teams after the BC review and then tell us what we should have done and question why we didn’t. Doh!

Is this ‘helpful’ shift just that, or is it a cynical ruse to get more LG cash into what are allegedly ever shrinking coffers over there in Socitm land.

Rumours, and that’s all they are, abound about diminishing membership at Socitm. I suppose given the shrinking Local Government pound it’s inevitable. Discovering whether these rumours are true is difficult at best. It was nigh on impossible to get information out of Socitm when they camouflaged themselves with a .gov.uk extension to their name (despite submitting FOI’s)  so there is no chance now that they are fully fledged and overtly, commercial. That aside the potential to top up the turnover, by offering paid for seminars on the up coming Better Connected top task agenda, is a chance too good to miss.

In a recent blog by Simon Wakeman  headed “Shabby PR from Socitm’ a comment was made by an anonymous respondent.

Blog by Simon WakemanWhoever is behind that eponymous and anonymous David Jones comment on the Simon Wakeman blog here… hits the nail on the head and goes beyond the topic of Simon’s blog, which was related to Cookies. David Jones says:-

  • “Who appointed Socitm as having the last word in what a council website should or shouldn’t look like, do, have as its content, or even where in the council structure the webteam should sit?”
  • ….what they write in their reviews are all just personal opinions, not objective facts about how the site should be.”
  • “And different reviewers come up with different opinions – one reviewer fails a website because of the location of the A-Z index, whilst another reviewer passes a different website on its A-Z index in exactly the same location!”
  • “Are the council webteams which all diligently obey their Socitm overlords going to get four stars, whilst the councils which are implementing their website according to their own needs going to struggle to even get two?”
  • And he finishes with…“Will this madness ever end?”

Bravo! Well observed and elegantly put.

My experience of taking issues with Socitm and one of their suppliers whilst at Lincolnshire County Council showed  that comment was futile and to no avail. Those blue rinse ladies are not for turning, particularly the cloth eared Mr Greenwood who sees himself as the grand panjandrum on local government web sites. A comment given to me by a less guarded BC reviewer showed the sway Mr Greenwood has on the review.

Are Socitm simply critics or can they cut the mustard when it comes to web sites?
Lets not talk about the Socitm web site as it is now, or even as it was just a couple of years ago. That’s not what we should judge them on. Suffice to say they have never been good at leading by example.

So what should we judge them on? Consistency in measurment is what they should be judged on. David Jones highlights Socitms inadequacies at getting any consistency in what they do…

“And different reviewers come up with different opinions – one reviewer fails a website because of the location of the A-Z index, whilst another reviewer passes a different website on its A-Z index in exactly the same location!”

And that has certainly been my experience.

Better than nothing. Now there’s an accolade.
And yet…yes, I’ll give it to Socitm, Better Connected is better than nothing – after all there is little else.  But to pay so much attention to what is an inconsistent hodgepodge of disparate and subjective opinions from a group of individuals, some of whom actually run web sites for Councils is akin to believing in  the curative properties of snake oil .

Continuing on that theme; if reviewers also run council web sites they cannot be unbiased. Of course if they are web managers, and some are, and they are expert at judging web sites –and if not why are they Socitm reviewers – why aren’t  their own web sites marvelous?  None of it stacks up.
Better Connected is not a measuring process. It’s a finger in the air stab at something solid and meaningful. Not to mention the two fingers in the air to Socitm’s clients.

Some would say you only have yourselves to blame. People do not gather together to make their dislike of the Better Connected review known and they should. There is no community outcry. Why? Perhaps for the very reason the person behind David Jones mentions in his piece…

“I am, of course, posting pseudonymously because I work on a local authority webteam, and do not wish our rating for Better Connected 2012 to be harmed by anything which the Socitm spies might have read here.”

The sad thing is I believe Socitm will be heartened by a comment like that.

Is there life outside of Better Connected?
I am aware there are many who think as I do. They don’t like  the inconsistencies in  Better Connected or even what it stands for let alone the rank commercialism hidden behind the faux objectivity. Each time I spoke at or attended conferences or meetings many voiced this opinion and asked why we slavishly followed Socitm’s view.

Many particularly dislike the practice of sending reports to Directors who may be ill informed, or worse still, Councillors, many of whom have little or no understanding of the technical slant to the report nor of Socitm’s commercial push behind it. And less still of what is achievable within a large knowledge based organisation. And of course many people dislike the contemptuous use of tabloid spun headlines put out by the Socitm comms people. It’s all a bit tacky don’t you think?.
Some years ago I decided in Lincolnshire to ignore what Better Connected said. We chose to ask what our external clients want from us and concern ourselves with how we could achieve that with the information we could get from our internal clients. We didn’t value the opinions of a team of self appointed ‘experts’ with whom we disagreed. I was prepared to argue the point internally and take the flack for it. I made that opinion clear to all. Unsurprisingly we slid in Better Connected rankings. Much as we did in the Sitemorse rankings when we stopped paying them.

Web site of the year awardAnd yet despite this Lincolnshire County Council’s web site was voted Best  Government web site of the year 2011. See here…
So despite not playing Socitm’s game it seems LCC did OK. Complaints from customers reduced with there being practically none about the navigation and the ability to get to information. That in itself was a minor miracle.

And finally.
During a conversation about contradictory comments from the reviewers of our A-Z in consecutive BC reports; when asked why we had been marked down in the second for doing what was suggested in the first, Martin Greenwood said Better Connected was not a document to be followed slavishly. My reply was “then why make the comments in the first place if they are not there to be taken heed of”?
Remind me. What’s the purpose of Better Connected? Barmy, just barmy.

And remember, if Socitm and Better Connected was the all seeing oracle then their report, should you follow it, would ensure your site would be perfect. Wouldn’t that be, commercially speaking, like sawing off the branch they are sitting on? Of course it would which is why it is neither the oracle nor is it necessarily correct in its assertions. And if that’s the case…

Why don’t you see what you can achieve by talking to your clients, if you don’t already, and providing what they want – even if the results don’t agree with Socitm.

After all, who are you building your site for; a set of biased and opinionated Better Connected reviewers or somebody who really uses your site and wants information?

Listen to your clients. Listen to your real critics.

It really is your choice.

To see more on these issues search this site using the phrase ‘Socitm’

And Finally, finally.

After this little trot on my pet hobby horse I’ll put it back in the stable and return to a more sanguine level of comment with upcoming articles on Google analytics, e-mail marketing for local government and the use of Facebook in local government – though not necessarily in that order.

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to Local Government on all things web.

Contact details:

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: @lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

Search Engine Optimisation for Local Government Web sites.

Why do we need to know about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Being in local government you may suppose SEO is of no interest to you. After all, your ‘clients’ are going to come to your site because in your area you are the monopoly provider of  many services; libraries, schools, social care, road repairs etc.

Whilst that’s partly true, in the move towards digital delivery in this ever growing on-line world, providing better access to your data by search engines should be seen as providing better customer service. Besides you must have had internal clients asking why their data is not “first in Google”. SEO is therefore important to you.

What search engines should you optimise for?

  • Currently ( researched in June 2011) 90% of UK searches are carried on Google property.
  • Bing have 4.2% of the market
  • Yahoo have 2.5%

And ASK, though not really a search engine anymore, has 1.2%.

So in the UK there is really one important search to enable and that is of course Google.

Abroad, in Russia, China etc there are many more search engines , some more important than Google in their own country. In the unlikely event you need to be generally seen in other countries – maybe some pages for economic development would be of use but only if they are in the language of the country – then you need to consider how you can utilise SEO for those pages of your site.

What’s happening at Google?

Google is turning into something more than just a search. I cant pretend to know or understand where Google are going. All I can do is see what comes out of Google and think about where that may lead.

We have already seen other Google services; Google Earth, Google Maps , Google+ and much, much more but are you aware there is a shopping experience on Google? It’s not wonderfully obvious, or for that matter, relevant to local government, unless you have products to sell, but the next time you do a search for a product of some sort have a look at the left hand column in the search results. You’ll see ‘shopping’. Go take a look at the results. The supplier has to opt into this service by providing a spreadsheet with agreed content in set columns. You can start to see where Google is going here.

Panda

Panda is the name for a series of changes to Google’s search algorithms, which were put in place in February of 2011, affecting the UK last April. It’s worth emphasising this is a change to Google’s algorithms. It’s not a black list of any sort. Panda algorithm modification is the biggest change Google have made in their history.

Panda changed the world for many people. The main change was the downgrading of sites connected to sites known as “Link farms” or “content farms”( a site which hosts many links and usually trite content about a site or URL). Being connected to by link/content farms is seen as detrimental and many sites were downgraded, some losing as much as 99.9% of their visibility in search results..

You can see an article here on the winners and losers in the Panda re-shuffle. Panda is unlikely to have an effect on local government or even small business visibility.

What is Google looking at on your site in order to define your position in their rankings?

Before you start.

Get the word from the mouth of Google-god. Google provide a really helpful, no, ESSENTIAL,  guide on SEO in pdf form here ..

Download this document to get an insight into just what it is Google want from your site.

Note.
Take heed of the contents of this document. It’s  ‘the 10 commandments’ for your Google-life.

It covers…

  • Create unique, accurate page titles
  • Make use of the “description” meta tag
  • Improving Site Structure
  • Improve the structure of your URLs
  • Make your site easier to navigate
  • Optimizing Content
  • Offer quality content and services
  • Write better anchor text
  • Optimize your use of images
  • Use heading tags appropriately
  • Dealing with Crawlers
  • Make effective use of robots.txt
  • Be aware of rel=”nofollow” for links
  • SEO for Mobile Phones
  • Notify Google of mobile sites
  • Guide mobile users accurately
  • Promotions and Analysis
  • Promote your website in the right ways

Some of this is a bit ‘techie’ but so is the Google process. Get your IT team or your Content management System (CMS) provider to show you how these issues have been covered, or not, as the case may be.

Keywords.
Previous thinking on providing information in the keywords tag is a little outdated. Google doesn’t use the keywords in the ‘keywords tag’ to add much, if at all, to your ranking. Is adding keywords of any use ? I would argue it is, because the activity of producing a keyword list for a page generates a lot of words which can be used in the text and used in the page content they do add to the ‘discoverability’ of the page by search engines. Include as many keywords as possible in the body text of your pages as you write them.

Schemas.
Schema is from the Greek meaning ‘shape’ or more generally ‘plan’.  In web site context it relates more to accepted standards. A number of search engines have agreed on schemas which make content appearing on complying web sites more discoverable – even re-usable.

The web site schema.org provides information on standards and practices. This may be one area for the more technically minded in your organisation to look at.

Domain authority:
Is about the “weight” of your site in terms of its authority.

This is related to:-

  • the age of the site – the older it is the greater the authority (especially if it is kept up to date).
  • Quality of links to the site – the more links of better quality i.e. from sites which have some credibility, the greater the authority of the site. In addition if you have a large number of long tail articles ( articles referring to the full range of content on your site) so much the better.However, cheaply written long tail articles about small issues in your long tail – a sort of ‘pulp fiction’ for search engines – a ploy employed by some SEO companies – are frowned upon. Google are looking at how they can overcome this “tweaking”.(This is not really an issue for Local Government sites, most of which are both old and massive, in terms of customer usage largely developed as a result of monopoly supply of these services in their geographic area; but be aware of the issues.)
    Working with partners and stakeholders.
    The production of cheaply written articles designed essentially to dupe Google – mentioned above – is not a feature found in, or about, local government web sites. However it’s true that good articles written about issues in the long tail of LG web sites are seen as positive. You should therefore consider how you work with partners and stakeholders to publish interesting and useful pieces about content on your site.
    Links.
    Links to your site from external sources should not be simply links to the home page. “Deep-linking” – where you provide links to deep areas of your site – is an essential part of customer service, good manners even. How often have you been frustrated by following a provided link only to find you have been dropped at the front page of a site with 20,000 documents and having to search. Grrr… Deep-linking is good for you and the client.

Remember… No links = no ranking. For local government this is relevant if you want to improve visibility of sections deep within your site.

Social media.
Use social media ( you should be anyway. See post about using Twitter here)  Twitter, Facebook, blogs  etc  to send out links to deeper parts of your site.  Using social media raises Google scores as it illustrates a willingness to engage. Evidence of engagement is good for your “Google-life”.
Note.
There is reputed to be a relationship between Facebook and Microsoft hence Google is none too keen on Facebook results. It prefers to add more credence to your name appearing in Twitter – allegedly.

Low quality content on part of the site can affect the whole site.
Look at your site for signs of low quality. Such as:-

  • Not enough content on a page.
  • Poorly written pages – grammar, spelling, readability. (Google checks these elements).
  • Content copied from other sites. (Google say they can see this).
  • Content that isn’t useful – we’ve all produced it; that ego-massaging stuff about “how good we are and what we achieve blather, blather”. Only good for egos. Not at all useful to the client and therefore a negative.

Note.
Google ignores duplicate pages even from different web sites. Google is looking for original, high quality content. Don’t copy content from elsewhere into the pages of your site. It’s OK to cut and paste elements to illustrate a point but don’t cut and paste whole pages or even sections.

Remember.
In Local Government Content is King. I believe local government organisations should place their ever-reducing resources into providing and sharpening up their content. It’s what clients go to local government sites for after all.  And – in the extreme – if that content isn’t there or is weak then what’s the point of the web site?

Another perspective; SEO for companies is far, far more complex.
Whole books and seminars are devoted to those complexities and nuances. There is little point in covering them here.
Here’s why it’s simpler for local government organisations :-

  • Most businesses do not have the benefit of being a monopoly provider.Local Government organisations do.
  • Most businesses do not have the benefit of providing essential services.Local Government organisations do.
  • Most businesses are not talked about by partners and stakeholders as widely. Local Government organisations are.

Consequently SEO for business is a far more complex and time consuming affair. And one on which the economic health of many a company hangs. Appearance in the search engines at high levels can make the difference between getting the business or not and therefore survival or not. That’s why many companies spend millions on improving their Google-life with SEO techniques and Google ads.

Local Government is fortunate not to have this pressure. Nevertheless local government can learn a lot from the application of good search engine optimisation techniques employed by commerce. It’s after all focused on excellence in customer service and shouldn’t local government organisations be striving towards that goal?

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to Local Government on all things web.

Contact details:

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: #lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff

FOI requests by Twitter are acceptable according to the ICO.

If you are not responsible for the Twitter Account or FOI in your organisation pass this on to somebody who is.

This follows on from our recent article on Tweeting underlying the growing importance of the new medium to your organisation.

It’s now even more important for public sector organizations to provide a Twitter account.

In July’s newsletter from the Information Commissioner Office 28.7.2011 it’s made clear that it’s permissible for the public to use Twitter for a  Freedom Of Information (FOI) Request.

Even more serious is that it’s permissible to make that request using an @mention as Twitter allows the authority to check for @mentions of itself, and so it has in effect received that request, even though it was not sent directly to the authority like an email or letter.”

What this means is a council’s Twitter account is deemed by the ICO to be a satisfactory communications channel and as such should be monitored and managed. Given the clock starts ticking on the day after such a tweet is put up on Twitter, councils should be monitoring those accounts on a very regular basis if some of the 20 working days allowed are not to be lost. If you don’t check you wont see the FOI come in.

Articles discussing this issue here..

http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2011/07/29/can-foi-requests-be-submitted-on-twitter-yes-says-ico/

And a contrary view here…

http://davidhiggerson.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/foi-via-a-tweet-a-silly-flight-of-fancy-surely/

No matter what your opinion the ICO has ruled and you are obliged to comply.

Are you Ready?

Peter Barton
Ex Head of Web and Information Governance (Including all things FOI)
Lincolnshire County Council

Twitter and Local Government. Is it a mismatch?

Preface

This article is not meant as an erudite and all answering document from an expert. It’s meant to be less puffed than that. The writer was a practitioner in producing high quality local government web sites (responsible for the web site which won Local Government Web Site of the year (2011) at a recent award in London) who has since become re-involved  with commercial web sites.
This shift in direction has enabled him to judge Local Government web sites from a changed perspective and to better see some of the elements Local Government can improve upon.
The aim of this article, therefore, is to be more commonplace and worthy. More hands on. And is meant to show how using Twitter can alter the way you interact with your clients, by providing hints, tips and links on how to achieve that.

Twitter and Local Government

Why does Local Government generally shy away from Twitter?

Local Government struggles with Twitter for a number of reasons. I suppose the main being fear.

  • Fear caused through a lack of understanding. Many officers and a good percentage of Councillors have no idea what Twitter is all about. And it follows that you don’t touch what you don’t understand.
  • Fear of losing control of “The Message”. Once the ability to (widely) talk about the authority falls outside of those who control such things there is panic.
  • Fear of things being said authorities don’t want the public to hear(as if they are not going to be said anyway) or don’t want raised.
  • Fear of damage to the Council’s reputation caused by the loose lipped/fingered internal Twitterarti.
  • Fear of the immediacy and enormous power provided by Twitter.
  • Fear of the ability to “group” around a topic afforded by Twitter.

Apart from the first of these fears – and that can be handled by some familiarization with the technology – the other negative fears can, and should, be turned into positives.

What’s a Tweet?
This is not a treatise on what Twitter is or where it came from or, for that matter the ethos behind it. That type of information can be found in clear detail here…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter

Neither is it meant to be a “Tweeting for Dummies”. That book must have already been written.

It’s about the application of social media concepts to the medium of local government.

If it’s an audience you’re after…
Twitter describes itself as an information network. It’s built from millions of conversations carried out in 140 character sized chunks.

Whatever your opinion of Twitter, be it embracing or dismissive, you cannot ignore the huge (and that’s an understatement) potential for your 140 character tweets to have an impact on others, or theirs on you.
If you ran a business back in the early part of the 20th century  you couldn’t ignore the telephone or in the latter part of the century the internet. Similarly you can’t ignore Twitter. And for much the same reason:-

  • business is being conducted on Twitter;
  • the public have a growing expectation i.e. they are expecting you to use current technology because they themselves do;
  • using Twitter can save time and money.

Why you shouldn’t ignore Twitter?

Just look at these stats;-

  • 300million accounts (mid 2011) worldwide with about 5million of these (approx) being in the UK.
  • 52% of users are female 48% male.
  • Over 50% are between 25 and 54.
  • About 1 billion Tweets a week
  • Increasing use by business

People are talking about you.
This is worthy of repetition… it’s an “information network. It’s built from millions of conversations”.

So Twitter is  about conversations. Some of those will be about you or your services. Shouldn’t you be a part of those conversations or at least be listening to what people are saying about you?

It’s not one sided. You can pitch in to correct witless and uninformed comment and add value to the whole by providing solid, helpful information.
You can manage your reputation.

I have long held that  “it isn’t from those who pay you compliments you learn anything. It’s from those who complain about your service”.
The complainers are the users of your service and they are taking the time to tell you what you don’t have right, at least for them. If you can answer those complaints you are likely to turn those same complainers into your biggest advocates.

Previously people might have sent you a letter, 1 to 1 sort of thing. This would have happened, in private, without any damage to your reputation. Not now. Little man has a VERY BIG voice.

Spotting what is being said about you on Twitter couldn’t be easier, though I’ll give you putting things right may not be quite so easy – but you can join in.Tell people you’ve heard what they’re saying and are working on it.  Isn’t this what Customer Service is all about; listening, changing and keeping people informed?

Twitter allows micro, detailed management of your customers view of what you do. All you have to do is listen and respond.

So how is this magic performed?

The Hash Tag #

First, learn how to use the hash tag ‘#’ (alt3 for you Mac users).

You can use hash-tags to follow specific groups, to message specific groups and much more.

There’s a really useful “how to” on Hash-tags here… http://tinyurl.com/6gnx64 in fact http://www.twitip.com/ is a great place to answer those general Twitter questions.

Searching for information.

  • Use hash tag to search for relevant tags.
  • Use advance search at http://twitter.com/#!/search-advanced . It’s a definable search so you can exactly specify, and therefore identify, just what it is you’re looking for. Try looking for your own council. See if there are people talking about you now.
  • Save your searches. If your’e using ‘Tweetdeck’ these searches are saved, displayed and updated for you.
  • Use ‘lists’ to group your interests. i.e. Council name, social care, council tax etc.
  • Search using your saved searches everyday. New stuff is being tweeted all the time. ( you can use Tweetgrid.com to do some of this)

Using these techniques you can gather intelligence, see what other councils, thought leaders etc are up to, watch future trends in your industry but most of all you can …
Listen to and identify your customer needs and complaints.

Developing relationships.

People wont read your tweets and re-tweet your messages simply because the message exists or indeed because they are from the Council. The tweets have to be interesting, amusing even but most important they have to be useful.

On your Tweet you can:-

  • break news;
  • share experience;
  • become the group people go to for advice;
  • provide hints and tips;
  • give information on road closures, school closures and the like;
  • tell people what’s happening across your area in libraries, schools etc;
  • guide users to your web site for current  information say on committee meetings etc;
  • get guest tweeters to tweet e.g the Chief Exec or the leader;
  • ask for questions to ask of the guest speakers;
  • tweet discussion on a local topic of interest e.g. closing a school;
  • Develop the relationships by Championing your customers. Reply to them or  retweet their tweets. Show them you are interested in what they say.

What sort of tone should you adopt on your twitter feed and what about the content? What should you say?

  • The tone of voice should be chatty and informal – think of a local radio presenter.
  • 70% of the tweets should be informal with only 30% dealing with more formal, pushy content.
  • Use the tweets to highlight and link to topic points from your web site e.g. videos content etc.
  • Use keywords from a list which you decide on before you started publishing social media. Something like. “your-council-name”, “local government”, “social care”, “libraries” etc. This is particularly powerful if these are also hash-tags.
  • Make using your tweet a rich experience. Full of interest and information.

Managing and monitoring.

Twitter isn’t like a normal web site where you can monitor use with the likes of Google Analytics. There are however some tools you can use to mange your social media – not just Twitter..

  • Tweetdeck. An all purpose tool, now owned by Twitter, which allows you to monitor multiple Twitter accounts as well as Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
    If you save a search in Tweetdeck, say for  ‘Local Government’, it displays real time information on that search.
  • Hootsuite. Similar in some ways to Tweetdeck but seems to have better reporting facility.
  • Sproutsocial ( monthly cost with this )

Depending just how far you wish to delve into Social Media here’s a few more tools you may find of use.

  • Tweetpivot.com. Discover people who tweet on a range of topics and displays them graphically.
  • Twellow.com allows you to discover twitter id’s for people Boris Johnson for example @MayorOfLondon
  • Tweriod shows when followers are most active so you can write to them when they are there to read your tweet.
  • Twtqpon.com allows the creation of coupons for twitter users. With this you can offer discount coupons for some of your services for people using Twitter. Say a discount at the local baths for twitter users.

Where should the responsibility for this medium sit?

The ideal place is in the comms/PR department with a strong sideways link into Customer Services.

Comms is an ideal first filter for incoming information from Twitter. It’s where messages about the authority originate and is therefore perfect for constructing Tweets and controlling the medium in general.

The strong sideways link into Customer Services is to handle the specific complaints and solution providing.

This is not a medium for web techies. It’s about human communication and customer service. It should not be a web function unless of course web and comms are as one in your organisation.

Nearly Lastly…

Being local government organisations you are going to want a policy for all of this. You could look here for quick policy generation – at least the skeleton of one. www.Socialmedia.policytool.net . It’s not perfect but it can give you a base from which to start.

Really lastly…

Don’t expect instant results  and don’t give up.
Social media is hard work if done properly and it requires a lot of (constant) effort and ingenuity.
Stick at it. It really is worth the sweat and remember it forms an increasing part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) algorithms – more on that not so black art in a piece to come later.

To sum up.

  • We have explored why Local Government seems reticent about joining in.
  • We have discussed the large audience yet macro possibilities of using Twitter.
  • We have seen Twitter is another communications device.
  • We have explored the use of Hash-tags showing their relevance and power.
  • We have seen how using advanced search enable authorities to glean information.
  • We have said that listening is an important part of the Twitter process.
  • We have talked about developing the community and how that can be done by interacting with your clients and complainers.
  • We have talked bout the tone of your tweets and how to manage and monitor your use of Twitter.
  • We have discussed where responsibility for Twitter should sit.
  • We have talked about the need for a policy for your Twitter actions.
  • And we have talked about managing your expectations.

Useful links.

Some of these have been mentioned in the text above.

Crowd-sourced Twitter guide for local government.   Interesting views and observations.
http://t.co/jaFxh54

Don’t’ know what to Tweet, Facebook or Blog. Go take a look here and download the free e-book. Though ideally aimed at  commerce there is a lot that can be learned by the local government social media manager from this treatise.

http://oneforty.com/i/ebook/community_manager_ideas

Policy tool mentioned above.
www.Socialmedia.policytool.net

Risk assessment tool for social media from Carl Haggerty In Devon. It’s a draft but well worth a look.
http://carlhaggerty.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/social-media-risk-assessment-draft

The “how to” on hash tags.

http://tinyurl.com/6gnx64

Twitter Advance search. This is really good.

http://twitter.com/#!/search-advanced

Twitter – the basics and much more.

http://www.twitip.com/

UK Public Sector Web sites – the blog.

https://uklgweb.wordpress.com/

About the author.

Peter Barton was the Head of Service for “Web and Information Governance” at Lincolnshire County Council until December 2010.

Peter introduced many innovative elements into Local Government Web sites many of which have since become commonplace. Advertising for instance.

Peter’s background, prior to Local Government web site production  was in commerce where he started and ran a successful design business for many years. Peter has been involved in web site production since 1992 building the first sites in hand written code.

Peter’s business is a commercial venture  in on-line retail. Quite a departure form local government but a departure which has involved learning about the otherwise hidden intricacies of the web again. This time with a commercial eye. What he now has is a commercially augmented experience of local government web production.  And that’s refreshing and useful.

Peter also provides consultancy to Local Government on all things web.

Contact details:

T:  +44 (0) 1522-878135

M: +44 (0) 7712-578596

E: peterdbarton@gmail.com

Skype: V70PDB

Twitter: #lgwebman – Tweets about local government web stuff