I really set the cat among the pigeons when I noted the existence of a Directgov internal blog (which subsequently disappeared). I sort of regret mentioning it now; although it was a bit daft of them to hope it would remain a secret, I’m happier for knowing that some of them are experimenting with tools like blogs.
Beneath one of those posts, Paul Canning wrote a pretty damning comment on Directgov generally. He backs this up today with a review of their efforts (or otherwise) as regards search marketing. With evidence (which mostly holds up, although I’d question some of it), he rightly describes it as ‘not very efficient and either ill-advised or ill-directed’:
‘Search is the gatekeeper to Government services online, but in failing to take up Search Marketing with any seriousness government is abandoning citizens to the market for their advice at crucial moments. This is even more important when – as a result of a wider failure around linking – government advice does not show up automatically or with any consistency at the top of organic results.’
Absolutely. If anyone ever saw the presentations I regularly gave to Government Communications Network staff, you’ll recognise my point here: government finds itself in a competitive information market. It used to have a monopoly in terms of availability and authority. Both of those disappeared several years ago.
But I will come to Directgov’s defence in one respect. Paul wrote in my comments: ‘Just working with Google to boost eGov PageRanks would do more to send traffic to online services, many times more, than the entire multimillion pound ‘branding’ mess they’re running.’ There’s some merit in his comment, but it misses one important aspect. A key audience for the Directgov branding effort is the Civil Service itself.
The UK population sees one government, not twenty-odd Whitehall departments. But that didn’t exactly stop those Whitehall departments developing their own web presences, and usually several of them. Creating a content-rich Directgov was entirely the right thing to do. But to survive and thrive, it needs the engagement of the public sector – and to do that, it need profile. If a bit of real-world advertising helps in that regard, I don’t consider it a bad thing. There are better ways to spend public money, true. But without this spend, I hate to think how much more would be spent developing new, unconnected web presences.