Friday, May 22, 2009 An Experiment in SEO and Social Media

You've seen a lot of posts from me regarding the social media activities of other agencies. Never have I highlighted an endeavor from my own organization. Well, this post changes everything! Here's the backdrop:

Throughout its history, the Graduate School has always adapted in creative ways to the changing needs of government. A few weeks ago, several colleagues and I gathered to discuss the ways in which the Graduate School could support agencies as they grapple with the need to respond efficiently and effectively to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Several people planned to make direct contact with agencies to learn about their training needs. We also intended to use traditional media (brochures, magazine ads) along with a dedicated space on our website, well-placed banner ads and an email campaign to make them aware of our relevant course offerings.

Then I said, "Why don't we see if is available? If so, let's buy it and build a website that will strive to be the top hit in a search on those words." My remark caught the attention of a senior executive and she moved right away to champion the cause. Within 24 hours, we purchased the .com, .org and .net domains. A day later, we secured the participation of another member of our team who had created a similar website (our Pacific Islands Training Initiative referenced in this GovLoop Member of the Week profile for Anita Arile) to assist with the build. By the end of the following week, our President and CEO Dr. Jerry Ice expressed his openness to producing a video for the project. Four weeks later, I am proud to report that is live! It represents what I would deem our first full foray into the use of organic search engine optimization and social media tools.

There are 10 lessons learned from this project that I would like to share with you:

1) We started with a clear business need that tied to our mission. Our goal was established from the outset: help government agencies at all levels (Federal, state and local) to find the training that will enable them to respond successfully to ARRA. This goal tied directly to our mission, which is "to develop people and to make government more efficient and effective."

2) We had a champion and organizational support from the highest level. When one of the Graduate School's senior executives decided that this project should happen, it moved forward swiftly. She secured the project charter, removed road blocks, pushed the process and elicited executive buy-in. Even our President and CEO became involved, indicating that this kind of project was a priority for our organization.

3) We had 3-4 committed team members. I had a vision for creating the website, but I knew that I did not have the technical background to make it a reality. That's when we called upon an employee at our Hawaii campus to help. Knowing that he had a busy schedule which included trips throughout the Pacific where he would have limited bandwidth, we defined the project parameters (both time and scope) and divided the tasks based on our strengths.

4) We drew inspiration from a best practice website. Just before we launched the project, I had been admiring Neighborhood America's website. In particular, I liked their ability to provide a lot of information in a small space with an accordion-style menu on their home page. We didn't copy it completely, but you can see its influence on our design. Imitation is the highest form of flattery after all!

5) We kept it simple. When you arrive on the site, you are greeted by the smiling face of our President and CEO along with a video message. The rest of the site provides quick access to the real information that people were seeking when they arrived. No extra pages. No bells (but maybe a whistle or two).

6) We tied it closely to our organizational brand. You'll see that the main banner at matches the header on our primary website. Throughout the process, we worked with our marketing and communications department to ensure that we preserved our overall branding with font, colors, and other aspects drawn from our main Web location. We also used the same language and content that was created for our brochures and other print media. It saved time and ensured that we maintained harmony.

7) We drove traffic to our main site. Rather than creating a stand alone Internet presence, we knew that our primary objective was to encourage visitors to view our main website. Every single link (with the exception of the social media sites) invites guests back to our main location. And every page opens in a new window for easy navigation back to in case another curriculum area catches a visitor's attention.

8) It's not perfect. One thing that made me fret a bit was the fact that our social media sites (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo) did not have much content. We could have waited to go live until all of the potential content was in place, but we recognized that this project represents just the beginning of our efforts to have a more comprehensive Web presence. In fact, we have sparked energy around the School and are getting great photos and video content that we are posting soon. (So stay tuned!)

9) We used meta-tagging and social media to improve SEO. Admittedly, this is not my strong suit, but our Website design guru used meta tags to increase the likelihood that the site will be found by search engines. Our goal is to be the top hit for a search on (you guessed it!) "recovery act training." It would be great if we could be the top hit for variations, but we optimized it with a relatively singular focus. Of course, we are also using our social media tools to improve SEO by posting links at sites with heavier traffic and excellent search rankings.

10) We plan to measure the project. Finally, we installed Google Analytics on the site so that we can track visits and determine if we achieved our objectives. We plan to check every two weeks for the first three months, then monthly thereafter. Perhaps I will have a success report in a couple months to share with you here!

Have your projects followed a similar pattern? What other ideas and lessons learned would you share for your Web-based endeavors?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I feel like there is a scarcity of good marketing today. Good marketing means which can convert the leads into sales. The only marketing that has moved me in the last couple of years is Social Media Optimization.