The most popular way for finding any information online is through search engines. The search for government information is no different than the search for any other type of information – search engines are the most popular means of finding information. Thus, government agencies should consider optimizing their web sites for search engines. In fact, search engine optimization would ensure that the heavy investment in usability and accessibility improvements of government web sites have not gone to waste.

How Americans Use the Web

Excerpts from various reports by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

  • 63% of Americans, or approximately 126 million people, go online (November, 2003)
  • 88% of those with internet access, or approximately 110 million people, use a search engine to find information
  • 66% of those with internet access, or approximately 83 million people, look for information from a government websites (August, 2003)

How Americans Find Government Information

  • 49% of those looking for government information began their search at a major search engine
  • 29% started their search at a government agency site they had used before
  • 9% started at a site they had heard about through a government publication
  • 7% began at a site recommended by a friend or another source like a newspaper advertisement
  • 3% searched through a portal specializing in bringing together government material such a FirstGov.gov

The most popular way for finding any information online is through search engines. The search for government information is no different than the search for any other type of information – search engines are the most popular means of finding information.

While many commercial web sites invest in search engine optimization, government web sites do not. Government websites have been investing in making their web sites accessible and usable, in compliance with Section 508. A usable website which cannot be found via search engines does not achieve its full potential.

Search engine optimization should be an extension to any web optimization effort. The outcome of usability optimization is that once people are at the web site, they can use it effectively. The outcome of search engine optimization is that people do find the web site. One without the other diminishes the return of investment in optimization activities. To fully realize the potential of communicating with constituents via the web, government websites need to be optimized for both human visitors, and search engine crawlers.