Lure visitors to your site on the cheap

Wood's Web marketing wisdom


Hold focus groups to clarify the site's audience

Use plain language

Publish customer quotes as testimonials

Use mailing lists and online discussion groups as multipliers

Post a link that says, 'Send this page to a friend'

Use keywords as metatags

Send press releases to trade and association media

Tell employees first

Network everywhere

Chart outreach efforts against site traffic statistics

Send information about the site to federal executive boards and associations listed at www.feb.gov

Join the Federal Communicators Network at www.fcn.gov

Make agency-related photographs downloadable as desktop wallpaper and screen savers

Put information in employee training and orientation programs

Have employees, particularly those in public affairs, add the site's uniform resource locator to their e-mail signatures

Have IT staff set the agency home page URL as a default on new PCs

Print pens or pencils with the URL for distribution at conferences

Experiment with setting up a favicon, a 16- by 16-pixel image that brands the site's URL when saved to a favorites list in Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 and Mozilla browsers (see favicon.com)

Make sure the site is listed at firstgov.gov

Pat Wood, FirstGov's usability adviser, says there are lots of free or inexpensive ways for agencies to promote their Web sites.

FirstGov adviser reveals her tricks

It doesn't take costly advertising campaigns to draw more traffic to agencies' Web sites.

Pat Wood, senior adviser for usability in the General Services Administration's FirstGov Office, has drawn up a list of free or low-cost ways to market government Web sites. Attendees at the recent FedWeb 2002 conference in Bethesda, Md., added their own suggestions to lengthen Wood's list from 59 items to 93.

First and foremost, Wood urged, know the public and the product.

Agencies can run a focus group without prior approval from the Office of Management and Budget as long as fewer than 10 people are surveyed per session, 'and then you will have a better focus group anyway,' she said.

OMB granted blanket approval to the Federal Consulting Group, a fee-for-service Treasury Department organization, to do customer surveys for agencies, she said.

But before starting any marketing campaign, Wood urged agencies to study their sites for ease of use and efficiency. She recommended the www.usability.gov site run by the National Cancer Institute.

'A lot of things can get circulated very fast via e-mail,' Wood said, cautioning against using a customer testimonial without obtaining the writer's permission, although it's OK to use unattributed phrases.

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Wood noted her favorite testimonial about firstgov.gov: 'I discovered this site on Sunday, and I haven't slept since.' Then again, she added, some testimonials are more like, 'This is the worst site I've seen all year.'

Try this

Some agencies offer subscriptions to parts of their sites or e-mail newsletters, or frequent updates to keep visitors coming back.

A representative from the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service said it took just five days to collect 1,500 e-mail addresses at www.ers.usda.gov/Features/farmbill from people who were eager to receive updates about the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

Wood advocated paper marketing, too: printing business cards that are easy to pick up at conferences. Employees also can be marketing resources for a new site if the Web team promotes a site in agency newsletters or, say, hosts an unveiling event with balloons and refreshments for workers.

Plus, there's professional help available to agencies, Wood said. Many feds don't know that the Federal Supply Service maintains a schedule for marketing, graphics and communications vendors, she said. The schedule gives agencies quick access to consultants.

James Vaughn, government and policy director for AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Government Guide site, said any site listed on the AOL members' welcome screen will draw millions of views daily. The welcome screen pops up each time one of the 30 million AOL members logs on.

When AOL's welcome screen mentioned an Education Department Web site, Vaughn said, the IT staff saw so many hits the next day that it thought the site was under a denial-of-service attack. AOL also makes its government resources available to nonmembers at www.governmentguide.com.

He suggested that agencies consider asking commercial portals to run free public-service announcements touting their sites.

Wood said the 75-page Communicators' Guide for Federal, State, Regional and Local Communicators, published by the Federal Communicators Network, offers advice about working with media, strategic planning, Web writing, effective marketing, public speaking and newsletter production. Online copies are available at www.fcn.gov.

Of eight marketing experts whom Wood recommended, four are feds: David Starck of the Bureau of the Public Debt's marketing office; Marci Hilt, project leader of the communicators' guide and a USDA public affairs specialist; George Selby, supervisory marketing specialist at the Census Bureau; and Chris McFerren, who manages e-mail distribution lists for GSA.

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