FirstGov is not a sufficient resource for search engine marketing of a government website.

Just because government websites have monopoly on .gov domain names, it does not mean they have monopoly on providing information about certain government-related subjects or locations. Unlike the case with yellow/white/blue pages where the way to differentiate between government and commercial information is by the color of the pages, on the web things are much more seamless.

Whether they realize it or not, government websites do compete with commercial sites in providing information and should, just as commercial sites do, invest in search engine optimization — beyond listing with FirstGov!

Trying to sell the idea of search engine optimization to government website managers is of course nothing but trivial. Perhaps the most logical approach is to link the benefits from web usability optimization and those from search engine optimization. dotGov webmasters are familiar with website usability at least from the requirements of the U.S. Section 508 (and similar ones in other countries.).

The outcome of usability optimization is that once people are at the site, they can find and use the information within it efficiently; the outcome of search engine optimization is that people can find the web site to start with. As I wrote in my blog, investing in website usability but not in search engine optimization, reads like carelessly avoiding the return on investment in web optimization. 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.

Of course, the ultimate case for government websites’ search engine optimization is in the statistics of how people find government information online:

As the Pew Internet & American Life Project shared in one of their reports, 49% of those looking for government information began their search at a major search engine, while only 3% searched through a portal specializing in bringing together government material such a FirstGov.gov.