screenshot of Washington State DOT site with advertisement

Website ads help support Washington state’s DOT

In an effort to mine untapped sources of revenue, some states have started putting advertisements on their websites. Washington state’s Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT)  launched a digital advertising pilot project in January 2011 running monthly banner advertising packages on Web pages featuring ferry and vessel watch schedules.

A year into the pilot, WSDOT started working with Municipal Media Solutions, which helps businesses create custom advertising packages on popular traffic and traveler information pages, some of which are managed by governments.

The website ads are now generating $7,000 a month in revenues, said Tonia Buell, WSDOT’s project development and communications manager for public-private partnerships, in an article on Government Technology.

From 2011 through 2013, the pilot generated an average of $4,672 per month, not including $75,000 in start-up costs, funds of which were provided by the legislature, Buell added.  

With WSDOT’s success, Washington’s state parks and lottery are seeking permission to post ads on their sites, according to the Bills are currently in Washington’s House and Senate to allow the agencies to sell ads on their sites.

Originally the ads on the WSDOT website were static images that were manually uploaded to the site. But now, the agency uses software that can tailor ads to audiences and track unique visitors. The ads are related to travel- and traffic-related information, Buell said, and have click-through rates as high as .34 percent. Buell said she has more plans for the future, including monetizing mobile apps and tailoring ads to visitors interested in specific locales.

The General Services Administration prohibits advertising on federal public websites registered in the .gov domain. To comply with federal regulations, WSDOT only posts ads on its .com sites. Other states working with Municipal Solutions have ads on .org sites they manage.

On, GSA recommends government entities not link to sites in a way that appears to endorse commercial products and services and to ensure that the sites are relevant to the agency's mission.

Other government entities already selling website advertising space include the Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Tourism Commission, California Travel and Tourism Commission, the Chicago, Ill. Cook County Assessor’s Office, Trip Planner and Regional Transportation Authority as well as the Alachua County Property Appraiser in Florida and the Boston Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

While many state and local governments are looking at website ads as a way to generate new revenues as they continue to face slashed budgets, many question whether government sites should have ads at all due to the appearance of conflict of interest and favoritism, among other reasons. 

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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