Do federal .gov websites need SEO?
Hello! And thanks for listening to SEO tips today.
If you’ve been following my tips for a bit, you might have picked up that I like helping federal (.gov) websites with their SEO. I created the digital marketing plan for HealthIT.gov and supported its organic traffic growth for three years with my team at Ketchum, and then helped them recover from a traffic loss due to a website transition years later. I’ve also worked with the National Cancer Institute (Cancer.gov) and NOAA Fisheries (fisheries.noaa.gov).
So I’ve picked up a bit of experience working with federal websites. One day I was posting for advice about an issue in a Slack group, and another member got very upset that an SEO was assisting a .gov website – they thought it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
This attitude (I believe) is due to the incorrect assumption that federal websites can rank for their mission-focused topics without any help. Or that Google gives .govs some type of free pass when it comes to ranking in Google search.
I’m here to tell you that it’s just not true. I know this from personal experience and from talking to various Google reps around any .gov “boost.” And they just recently confirmed that High domain authority with backlinks does not guarantee high rankings.
When HealthIT.gov launched, it was a brand new .gov, and it needed to garner the right type of links and signals to rank. Luckily we were supporting the site with a national media campaign. However, it still took about four years to rank for all of its top topics, and technical issues that occurred during its redesign resulted in traffic losses for those topics.
On some of the other federal sites I’ve worked with, I can see that they don’t rank for the topics they would like because their organic traffic competition for those terms are corporations with 100+ teams of SEO working on perfecting and promoting the perfect content. Or the federal site doesn’t have the subject matter expertise in a specific topic to rank.
And don’t get me started about the mobile apps I’ve seen. Federal sites have multiple levels of internal staff and outsourced development teams involved, and often different consultants managing their social media promotion. They are slow to adopt new technologies or upgrade old ones (think Flash on sections of their site that are just not working), and they have crawl issues due to parameters or faceted navigation that I’ve seen cripple servers.
They are large enterprise-level sites and multiple stakeholders and writers – they definitely need SEO. Many of them have not even determined what they *should* rank for or “own” in search.
In my utterly biased opinion….
They desperately need SEO support as they have quality content often that Google wants to reward with ranking, but no strategy to get there or technical issues standing in their way.
Our taxpayer dollars are paying for the generation of their research and content – wouldn’t you want it quickly found by the American citizens looking for it? Don’t you want to see the appropriate .gov content when you are searching for it?
So the next time you hear someone say that .govs don’t need to work for their rankings, let them know that it is not valid. And if you hear of someone needing help with a federal .gov website, send them my way.
Thanks for listening.
Come back tomorrow for another SEO tip.
Listen to the previous episode: Emotions and SEO
Subscribe and listen on your favorite podcast app