Google algorithm change may mean less traffic for some government websites

Google has performed another major tweak to its search algorithm, and this time analysts predict that some government agency websites might be among the losers.

Google announced it had implemented the “freshness” algorithm update on Nov. 3, which analysts say is expected to affect about 35 percent of all Google searches. The goal of the change was to highlight the top search results with the most recent information.

Winners can expect their websites to rank higher in Google search. They include many brand and news sites, as well as Twitter messages, blog postings and other websites in which content is updated frequently.

Websites with infrequently updated content are likely to be lower down the list in search results. That may include some federal government websites which, in the past, may have been updated weekly or less frequently.

“The sites that lost in this update are more of a grab bag. Many of them are government websites or less time-sensitive news organizations,” predicted Jon Mitchell in a Nov. 7 article on Read Write Web, a digital media news service.

A number of federal websites may fall into that category, especially those that appear to be updated less frequently. For example, the Veterans Affairs Department’s website for GI Bill information was last updated on Oct. 3. The Center for Disease Control’s Public Health Library and Information Center website has not been updated since March 2010.

A list of winners and losers was published online in a Nov. 6 article by the Searchmetrics, which said Google’s freshness update had twice the impact of its Panda search engine algorithm update earlier this year.

The Searchmetrics list showed a somewhat mixed picture for government websites.

Searchmetrics analysis indicated that the New York State website (state.ny.us) lost 26 percent of its visibility due to the recent update. The New Jersey website (nj.gov) lost 15 percent.

On the other hand, another New York State website, NY.gov, gained 40 percent in visibility, and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics gained 12 percent, Searchmetrics said.

Government agencies that wish to maximize traffic to their websites under the new Google algorithms might wish to heed advice from Jessica Ward, account executive at Punch Communications.

“For PR practitioners and agencies alike, media and consumer- facing content must be optimized against trending topics to enable the freshness results to comply,” Ward said in a news release. “Up- to-the-minute content, such as that on social networks, blog posts and website comments are also likely to be featured more in search engine results pages as well as sites which add new pages and fresh content regularly.”

Google executives explained that the change reflects the heightened speed of information.

“Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today’s world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old,” Google said in its announcement.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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