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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Government pays for online search
Screen grab of Directgov
Directgov brings together all public services information
The UK government has started advertising on Google in order to tempt more visitors to its website.

Directgov, the government's flagship website, was launched in March but has not attracted the numbers hoped for.

The government is teaming up with paid-for listing providers, Google, Overture and Espotting, to draw attention to the site.

It is the first time the government has used a pay-per-click service to promote the Directgov site.

Positive feedback

The system allows the government to buy keywords. When search queries match those keywords, short text adverts for Directgov are highlighted.

The aim is to get the website featured on the first page of results, unless competition for certain keywords makes that too expensive.

Paid-for links have proved a good way for businesses to drive targeted traffic to their sites. The government will only pay for the ad when someone actually clicks through to Directgov.

In the past, the government has used search engine marketing to promote specific departments.

Initially the government will home in on three key target groups, families, the disabled and motorists.

"These groups are more likely to go to the site for practical things such as finding out about child benefit or renewing a license," a spokesman for the Cabinet Office told BBC News Online.

Increased traffic

Directgov was launched in March as a replacement for the UK Online portal which was not attracting a large number of visitors.

So far feedback has been positive, say officials.

Take-up of online government services in the UK is generally quite low compared to other countries
Ian Cuddy, eGov Monitor Weekly

"People seem to like it a lot more than UK Online," said the spokesman.

"The information is there for them rather than them having to go to another website and know the difference, for example, between the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise in order to get the information they want," he said.

Since the start of the pay-per-click marketing campaign three weeks ago, traffic has increased from 471,000 to 589,000 unique users.

"Obviously we can't say that is all due to the campaign but millions of people use Google and the others and if that is where they are, then it is an obvious place for us to be too," said the Cabinet Office spokesman.

There "isn't a large budget" for the scheme, although officials could not offer exact figures.

"This will probably be the most cost-effective marketing campaign the government has ever launched," said Ian Cuddy, editor of eGov Monitor Weekly newsletter, which revealed the campaign.

"Take-up of online government services in the UK is generally quite low compared to other countries.

"The government has realised that to get full value from its huge IT investment, it needs to boost public awareness of e-services and market the benefits so more citizens will want to use them," he added.

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