Google wants you

GCN Insider | Trends & technologies that affect the way government does IT

In the past few months, search engine giant Google Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., has been meeting with government agency Web managers to try to persuade them to make their Web sites more accessible to the search company's data-extracting spiders.

The search giant is having difficulty with agency databases, noted John Lewis Needham, development manager for Google.

While static Web pages can be easily indexed, material locked into databases can be more difficult to probe.

In most cases, database material can be only accessible through Web forms. At least 20 percent of all government information is locked into these databases, Needham estimated. 'For users who start and end their search for government information on a search engine, that information is effectively invisible,' he said, noting that Web surfers usually see such paucity as Google's failing, not the agency's (hence, Google's interest in the matter).

Needham has been advising agencies to create sitemaps (GCN.com, GCN.com/713). A sitemap is an Extensible Markup Language-based list of Web addresses pointing to the database records. Google's crawlers can scroll through a sitemap located on the agency's site and easily add the results to its own massive heap of information.

As you might have guessed, the downside to sitemaps is that you have to create a unique address'or to be more precise, a query structured as an address'for each database entry. So to participate, you'd need at least one handy Perl hacker who could write a script to update the sitemap whenever a new database record was added.

For agencies, such work could increase their visibility. Citing a July 2006 study from ComScore Research, Needham noted that 70 percent of visitors to the National Institutes of Health were directed there by search engines, whereas only 4 percent of the visitors came directly to the site by simply typing in the Web address. Making your site better known to Google can help your agency better reach its intended audience, he said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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