A few months ago I wrote about how we're using search analytics and SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation for all the non-robots out there) to make sure that people get the right answer quickly when they look for government information using search engines. Well, the SEO landscape has changed recently, and the work being done to make GOV.UK good from a user perspective also helps our content to rank well in external search results.
Disclosure – this post is very Google-centric. It’s not the only search engine out there, but it does account for about 90% of all UK searches. So optimising for Google is a good place to start.
Google loves us...
Google likes authoritative sites, and treats most government sites as trustworthy and important. In search results we're like the parent figure; we might lack the cool, enticing appeal of commercial sites, but we provide reliable help and advice when you really need it.
...but not unconditionally
But if we don't use the same language as our users, provide relevant services and information, or have other sites linking to us, Google won’t rank GOV.UK highly.
Sometimes if you search for a topic that government will have the definitive answer to, potentially misleading answers will appear higher than us – not a good look.
Take this example, a search for what is the VAT rate, and you'll see that the official answer is beneath an incorrect answer on another site.
This is the kind of thing we're trying to fix.
Google's been a-changing
Google recently sent panda and penguin out to DESTROY THE LINK FARMS. They wreaked havoc, and banished the nasty spammy links from the golden heights of Google results.
Maybe I should explain. Google has made updates to its algorithm (think of this as the scanner that determines the value of each web page) to weed out poor-quality websites that have used sneaky SEO practices to rank highly in search. These updates are known as Panda and Penguin. Google want to serve up good websites in their top results, and now they can do this more effectively.
We’ve worked hard to optimise
Panda and penguin may have got a lot of SEO practitioners hot under the collar, but they're good for GOV.UK. We're not trying to rank highly to sell sell sell. We care what people are looking for, not just what government wants to say. We've put a lot of effort into creating a great all-round user experience. This just so happens to fulfil Google's best practice requirements, which are that sites:
- are easy to use, navigate and understand
- contain actionable information
- are well-designed and browser-friendly
- contain high-quality, trustworthy content
We’ve also shaped our user needs with search data right from the beginning and done a lot of keyword research along the way to really get into the detail of what people want. Add to that the SEO best practices that help us to rank well in search, and also improve the user’s journey:
- titles, meta-descriptions and slugs that are short, keyword-filled, and descriptive
- focussed related links on each page, informed by user data and editorial expertise
- content that's not duplicated unnecessarily
But as with all things digital the proof will be in the numbers – we're gearing up to measure our effectiveness post-launch, and iterate, iterate, iterate.