Your government organization wants to offer information on your website that will help and support your citizens. But are those citizens finding the content they need? People are used to being able to quickly search and find what they need online, and their expectations for government websites should be no different. After all, if they can’t find what they need, you’re playing right into the stereotype that government bureaucracy is slow and uncaring. That’s not the truth, but it can certainly be the perception.
Connecting your citizens to the information they need on your site is easier said than done. You may be fielding questions by phone or in person about information that is on our site — yet users can’t seem to find it. And that’s time consuming and frustrating for both your staff and your citizens, especially when budget and resources are tight.
The solution? Implement a content strategy that bakes in essential SEO (search engine optimization) best practices.
Curating your published content for SEO ensures it is searchable, findable, helpful, and relevant to your citizens. And you don’t need to learn any overly-complicated or technical guidelines. Productive SEO strategies — when part and parcel of effective content writing — can help your citizens find the information they need, when they need it.
Does Your Municipal Website Make a Good First Impression in Search Results?
Chances are that people begin connecting to your municipal website by typing terms into a Google search. Queries like “How do I pay my real estate taxes?” or “Where do I buy a dog license?” may serve up your municipal website. Whatever appears in the search results will form a visitor’s first impression of your site. And of course, you want it to be a good one.
Two elements can be written with SEO in mind and are important for a positive initial impression: your site’s title tag and its meta description tag.
1. Title Tags: Descriptive Copy That Links to Your Website
Your website’s title tags act as the links to the website. Title tags should be:
- Descriptive of the page the visitor will land on. You should prominently display the name of your municipality; scanning searchers may choose another result if they don’t immediately see what they are looking for.
- Written to a length of no more than 65-70 characters, including spaces. Title tags can be longer with no penalty, but search engines often truncate the result.
- Written by human beings. Title tags shouldn’t be relegated to an automated publishing function that is managed by technical personnel. Use words and phrases a person would actually use in their search. Then have your content team review and edit them — just like any other content.
- Unique — and on all pages. Since each of your site pages serves a purpose, that purpose should be reflected accurately in a unique title tag. You certainly don’t want to negatively impact your page ratings by duplicating or neglecting title tags.
2. Meta Description Tags: Thoughtful Copy That Compels Choice
A meta description tag is a snippet of text that describes and summarizes on-page content; it’s an opportunity to provide additional information for the searcher. Carefully written meta description copy prompts visitors to choose to click to your website.
Meta description tags should:
- Be written to a length of no more than 150 characters, including spaces. Descriptions can be longer, but search engines will truncate the results, which may leave off important information.
- Briefly summarize the page the visitor will land on. It's wise to include your municipality's name in the description — along with other keywords that speak to the page’s content. Make meta descriptions clear and actionable so visitors know exactly what they’ll find on the page.
- Capture your organization’s voice and tone based on your style guide. The meta description is a key part of a visitor’s first impression. Take the opportunity to choose words to help differentiate your organization and welcome potential visitors.
Beware of cutting and pasting meta descriptions across your site, particularly for key pages. Search engines recognize repeat meta descriptions. So where most important, make meta descriptions unique and compelling.
Your Government Website’s On-Page Content Can Help or Hurt SEO
Search engines may pull a snippet from the main on-page content instead of your meta description tag to display in search results. Typically, that copy is sourced from the first one or two sentences on the page.
Bearing this in mind, your content writers and editors should ensure that the main page heading (often called an H1 heading or tag) and opening sentences are keyword rich and descriptive. The H1 heading and the first few sentences of content on the web page serve to anchor the visitor and confirm to them that they are in the right place.
Search engines also pay attention to how much time visitors spend on individual pages. You’ll want to reduce the chances for a ping pong effect — when visitors quickly leave your page to return to search results. The search engine concludes that your content did not meet the expectations of the searcher.
You can reduce the ping pong effect by:
- Using headers and sections to break up on-page content. Set up relevant content that can be easily skimmed; walls of text generally send people back to search results.
- Avoiding content in PDF form. If visitors are using a mobile device, have a poor internet connection, or simply don’t have time to read a long document, they’ll likely leave the page. If you must include a PDF, provide the ability to preview what’s in it.
Your content team should always follow municipal content creation best practices. It’s the surest way to make sure those first few on-page sentences pack a powerful SEO punch.
SEO Keyword Quick Tips for Municipal Websites
Fortunately, you don’t need to invest time or budget to do intensive keyword research to boost SEO. Your site’s title tags, meta description tags, and on-page content will all benefit from these simple keyword tips:
- Talk to your call center. What are people asking for or complaining about?
- Use phrases Google suggests when you begin typing something relevant to your site into its search box.
- Look at the related searches Google provides at the bottom of the page after you perform a search.
- Pay attention to the “People Also Ask” block in Google search results.
- Use Quora to discover questions people have about their local governments.
- Consider free tools like UberSuggest, Answer The Public, or MOZ keyword explorer.
When you do initial keyword research using one or more of these tips, you’ll gain some understanding about where you might be missing opportunities. Making even small improvements could result in a giant step forward for your SEO.
SEO Strategies Build Trust with the Communities You Serve
Your municipal government actually has a lot of control over your site content and the way you are perceived by visitors. When you develop an SEO-empowered content strategy, you help your citizens connect and engage with you in a positive way — and build trust in your organization as a whole.