Tag Archives: Search

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Bookmarks for August 11th through August 18th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Google jokes

One of the things I like about Google is the way they try and inject a bit of humour into what they do. Being funny is a key part of internet culture, and Google’s occasional light-heartedness is a welcome break from other more po-faced tech companies.

Here’s a couple of examples:

1) Recursion

Search for ‘recursion’ on Google, and see the suggested result. It took me a couple of seconds to get it…

recursion

2) ASCII art

A real one for the geeks this. Seach for ASCII art on Google and see what happens to the logo…

ascii art

3) Anagrams

Search for the word anagram on Google, and it offers this suggestion – ho! ho!

anagram

4) World Cup

This one came to my attention today via Google’s Matt Cutts, who posted this to Twitter:

Matt Cutts

And here it is:

gooooal

Nice one!

Bookmarks for April 11th through April 16th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • A New Approach to Printing – “a service that enables any application (web, desktop, or mobile) on any device to print to any printer.”
  • Governments and Citizens: You Don’t Own Your Tweets – This is a really interesting piece on ownership of online content.
  • Beauty is the new must-have feature – “I’m predicting that we’ll start to have a non-functional requirement around making beautiful experiences when we build systems, and that we’ll be rubbish at it when it happens.”
  • Follow Finder by Google – “Follow Finder analyzes public social graph information (following and follower lists) on Twitter to find people you might want to follow.”
  • Enterprise 2.0 and improved business performance – “Despite growing evidence, which I’ve presented here and elsewhere, there still remains for many people a real question about the overall ability of social software to improve how organizations get things done.”
  • calibre – E-book management – Really handy (for a Kindle owner, anyway) open source, cross platform ebook conversion tool.
  • Why does government struggle with innovation? – “If innovation is becoming a core attribute required by government organisations, merely to keep up with the rate of change in society and the development of new ways to deliver services and fulfil public needs, perhaps we need to rewrite some of the rulebook, sacrificing part of our desire for stability in return for greater change.”
  • The Biggest Obstacle to Innovation – “There are many candidates for the biggest obstacle to innovation. You could try lack of management support, no employee initiative, not enough good ideas, too many good ideas but no follow-through just for starters. My nominee for The Biggest Obstacle to Innovation is: Inertia”
  • Lichfield District Council – Open Election Data Project Case Study – “An early adopter Lichfield District Council has been actively sharing a range of local data for some time. In March 2010 the Council was the first authority to make its local election results openly available as part of the Open Election Data Project.”
  • Google Docs Gets More Realtime; Adds Google Drawings To The Mix – Me likey!
  • YouTube – SearchStories’s Channel – Make your own Google search story video – like in the Superbowl ad. Cute.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Great blogging on #localgovweb

Two great blog posts recently on the ever thorny issue of local government websites.

Firstly, Al Smith recounts his experience managing the refresh of Newcastle City Council‘s site. A remarkably honest and open appraisal of how it all went, and Al’s own role, it’s a great read and one for any local gov web manager to take a look at.

Secondly, Carl Haggerty – who is on blogging fire at the moment – has written a really thought provoking post on web strategy. He says:

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

Great examples of blogging being used to share experience, knowledge and ideas. More of this, please.

Bookmarks for March 16th through March 18th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Google and China

Cripes:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

via Tom Watson.

Update: Tom has thoughtfully blogged this too.

SEO for non-experts: what you need to know

Why do so many councils have such a poor online presence? I’ve written before about some of the missed opportunities, such as here, but for me the puzzle is as much “what should a council do?” as “why don’t more of them do it?”

Part of the explanation, at least from the councillor side, is average age. Councillors are on average near retirement (58.3 in 2006), which means not many have either grown up with the modern internet age or worked in firms created by it.

The challenge then for the typical older councillor is to have enough knowledge to know what their council could or should be doing and to have some idea of whether or not its staff and contractors are doing a good job.

In some areas councillors are usually good at this; for example, councillors are often intensive email users and well placed to tell whether or not an email system is up to scratch.

Search engine optimisation is an area at the other end of the spectrum – often over-looked by councillors and often not done well by councils. So what does a councillor need to know?

What is search engine optimisation (SEO)?

SEO means a bundle of work in order to make a particular website come out near or at the top of search results when someone is using Google or another search engine.

Why does SEO matter?

For councils, it matters for two primary reasons. First, people often use Google as their jumping off point to find information. With search results, almost no-one clicks on results that don’t come up on the first page, and even on the first page the number of people who click on a search result declines rapidly as you move down the page. So if you’re not on the first page you miss out on getting people coming to your website.

Second, councils often provide information that the public don’t immediately associate with the council. Tips on how to live a greener lifestyle are a good example, Many councils put a lot of effort in to publicising this sort of information, but most online members of the public won’t think, “I’ll see what the council has to say about saving on my electricity bills”. Instead, they go to Google and look for information generally. If you want the council information to be found and used, it has to come up high in the search results.

What does SEO involve?

Most SEO work falls into a research phase and then three areas of activity.

The research phase involves working out what the key information is that the website wants to get over (e.g. recycling information) and then the phrases that the public use when searching for such information (e.g. do people talk about “waste” or “rubbish” or “refuse” when looking for such information?). Firms such as Google provide very detailed information about people’s aggregate search habits for free, so the end result of this search should be a specific list of topics and terms which the website needs to perform well on.

Tip one for councillors: ask to see the list of terms the site is being optimised for. If it doesn’t exist, then either the website team is neglecting SEO or they are doing it poorly. The list may be informally in several people’s heads, on a post-it note or in an email somewhere. So you may need to add some extra judgement about how methodical the work has been and whether that suits the size of council and the budget given to online matters.

The three areas of work then are technical, copy and outreach.

Technical works means the way web pages are coded and the content on them marked up. Some ways of producing web pages are liked by search engines, other ways hide their content from them. This is perhaps the hardest area for a non-technical person to judge. My to three tips, based on what is most often got wrong if people aren’t thinking SEO, are:

  1. Look at the photos and see whether they have any “alt” text set (this is the text that appears if you hover over the photo or right click on it, depending on your web browser)
  2. Are the headlines on the page marked up with H1 HTML tags? Don’t worry if you don’t know how to check this; it’s pretty easy to do, so just ask someone who is a bit familiar with creating websites!
  3. Do the web addresses for individual pages contain real words or are they long technical strings? E.g. http://www.MyCouncil.org.uk/655804231 will do less well in searches for recycling than http://www.MyCouncil.org.uk/recycling-news/update

The next area of SEO work is copy: does the text on the site regularly and prominently use the key words and phrases identified from the research? Pages should still read naturally, but they can be written in a way that uses the key terms more rather than less.

The third area is outreach, or “link building”, i.e. getting other websites to link through to yours. The more links you have, the better the site does in searches – though to stop abuse, search engines give more importance to links from well respected other sites. External tools can be a bit hit and miss in the number of links they list, but try going to Google and search for link:www.Islington.gov.uk changing “Islington” to your council. You can then do this for several other similar councils and see how the total number of links Google lists compares.

Improving SEO

Checking these areas should give a councillor a good idea of whether their website team is on the ball at SEO, doing it poorly or just ignoring it. Based on that, an appropriate follow-up at the senior level with council staff can be made.

Senior council staff may or may not understand SEO too! But with these answers both sides of that conversation will know whether more detailed follow up is needed down through the organisation – and how to judge whether any follow up really produces results.

Good luck!

Mark Pack worked for the Liberal Democrats 2000-2009, ending up as their Head of Innovations. During that time he often trained councillors on how to make better use of the internet. He’s now at Mandate Communications (www.YourMandate.com) and blogs about politics, history and technology at www.MarkPack.org.uk. He’s on Twitter at @markpack.

Add LGSearch to your browser

LGSearch

LGSearch is a search engine for the UK public sector that I developed quite a while ago. It’s built on Google Custom Search, and isn’t particularly clever, but is rather useful.

Anyway, inspired by Simon’s recent efforts on behalf of DirectGov, I thought I would make it easy for Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 users to add LGSearch to the list of search engines they can access from within their browsers.

Simply click here to install LGSearch, or visit this page to find out more about it.

Create your own Firefox search plugin

The search box on the FireFox toolbar is a pretty useful thing, giving you quick access to various search engines and other sites, like Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia. It’s based on a Mozilla project called Mycroft (that being the name of Sherlock Holmes’ brother) and if you have a browse around, you’ll find plugins to enable you to search loads of different sites using that single box on your browser.

Well, I found out today just how damn easy it is to make one of these for yourself. You don’t even need to know any XML – the format used to code the plugins – just fill a form in on the Mycroft site. I did this to create a search box for DavePress, which you can install by visiting this page.

The form is simplicity itself to complete, with only one tricky field, which is where you specify the URL to use when carrying out searches. Here’s a tip for WordPress users, you need to input:

http://yourblogurl.com/index.php?s={searchTerms}

For a less-than-five minute job, you’d be mad not to. Might be a useful thing for local councils, government departments etc to do to make their stuff that bit more simple to find.