December 16, 2003

Site Search for All Agencies, Cities, Counties

It's almost Christmas. Feeling generous, we're providing FREE site search to all Utah State agencies, all Utah counties, and all Utah cities. Anyone, in fact, can use it if they know how to cut and paste a javascript into the HTML of a web page.

The code provides either a horizontal or vertical search box with a drop-down menu. Your visitors can use it to search either your site (the default), all of Utah government, the federal government and other state governments using FirstGov, the Internet using Google, or news using AllTheWeb. For the more austere, there is a simple unadorned box.

Just select your agency and press the "generate code" button to get the code to insert. All kinds of customizations are possible. Just in time for the new legislative session, there is our Utah Legislation Search. Want to quickly search Utah codes, rules, court opinions and more? Then the Utah Law Search is for you. It's not Lexis/Nexis, but its free and its freely available to all the visitors to your site. Want more? How about legislative voting records search.... yes, we could whip that up, too. Want to mix and match? Sure. Want a site search of your department with a drop-down for individual divisions? See the examples that we've done for the Attorney General, Workforce Services and Public Safety.

The site search is provided by Utahgov Search (info.utah.gov) and the code is available at http://gils.utah.gov/generatecode.html. A code correction we did today should allow it be used by users of all Web browsers including Netscape. If your agency isn't listed in the drop down, just click the "my agency is not listed link" and we will email you the code to insert.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Ray Matthews on December 16, 2003 at 06:29 PM | | Comments (0) | Send this story to a friend!

November 14, 2003

UtahGov Search en Espanol

Beginning Monday, November 22, UtahGov Search will include a search of Spanish language information and publications. Just click on "en Espanol and enter search terms in Spanish. You can also bookmark the search url for convenient access.

This search could eventually expand to index all Spanish language documents and publications put online by Utah state and local government agencies. It will also index federal government Spanish lanaguage portals.

If you are a Utah government agency and have Spanish language documents that you would like indexed, just do one of these two things to participate:

Either:

(1) Put your Spanish language pages and/or publications in a subdirectory named: /spanish/ or /espanol/

OR

(2) Indicate your page is in Spanish by using the language metatag. For pages exclusively in Spanish, the tag is: <meta name="language" scheme="RFC3066" content="es">. For pages that are in English and Spanish the tag is: <meta name="language" scheme="RFC3066" content="en-us,es">.

Two additional best practices to make your documents more findable to those who speak Spanish are:

  1. Use Spanish page titles in title tags: Such as: <title>Vivienda y Familia</title> or <title>Vivienda y Familia (Housing and Family)</title>, and
  2. Write a description in Spanish for your description metatag: Such as: <meta name="description" content="Como pagar su educacion">

If this experiment is successful, we have the option of creating a separate catalog with a topic tree in Spanish for documents either exclusively in Spanish or both in English and Spanish language documents.

Please leave your comments and suggestions.

Posted by Ray Matthews on November 14, 2003 at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0) | Send this story to a friend!

October 01, 2003

Making Content Findable Through SEO

Most users arrive at government web sites by using search engines so it makes a lot of sense to prepare content so that search engines can find it. It's so important that there is a cottage industry devoted to the science and art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Here at GilsUtah we've been crawling and indexing Utah state agency and local government websites now for over year and we've discovered some all-too-common practices that present barriers to spiders. We've found that the content of some agencies is almost entirely blocked. In other cases UtahGov Search, Google, and others can retrieve some content, but only after manual intervention.

Here are some common problems preventing public access:

(1) Linking within javascripts. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this. Unfortunately, most of the content of an entire branch of government, an entire department, and many division sites is being missed because of this. The trend seems to be worsening.

(2) Creating urls with question marks. Some database and content management systems create dynamic urls with question marks. While most search engines provide a workaround, the workaround can cause other problems. There are usually ways for webmasters to manipulate their scripts to create static looking html urls that are both search engine friendly and easier for users to remember and bookmark.

(3) HTTPS protocol. Secure Socket Layers (SSL) cannot be penetrated by search engines. Agencies sometimes use this for publications and areas when they don't need to. Limit SSL to your financial transactions and other uses where encryption is necessary.

(4) File naming. You'd be surprised how often content creators include spaces in file names. The search engine retrieves them, but inserts "%20" as the escaped encoding for the US-ASCII space character. Users often find that the resulting links are bad or that the urls have become cryptic and undecipherable. It's not advisable, but if necessary use underscores or other unreserved characters like such as - ! and . instead of spaces and avoid other reserved characters like these: & : = / ; ? + and $.

(5) Directory hierarchies. Some agencies dump their entire content, including images and scripts, into a single directory. You should create subdirectories for administrative functions or programs that naturally lend themselves to being in their own directory. This aids search engine crawling and rule writing.

(6) No site map. It's amazing the number of sites that still lack site maps. Every site should have a site map linked (using a static A HREF link) from at least the homepage. This helps get around the javascript linking problem, and site maps can be used to as crawling starting pages.

(7) Use robots.txt files, appropriately. All search engines respect robots.txt files. If you want directories and files excluded, use robots.txt (or .htaccess protection) instead of hiding resources or limiting them to the innerweb. Be careful, though. I can think of at least one agency whose important services are inaccessible because of an improper use of robots.txt.

What we hope to do in the coming year is to create a dialogue amongst agency webmasters and content creators to come up with best practices for optimizing our sites for search engines. We'll be offering workshops here at the Utah State Library and creating an easy to use and open knowledge base and code library of some nature so that we can share our discoveries and communicate.

Some of this gets technical beyond my experience, so I'll need your help. For starters, you can leave comments here with this story or links to resources that you've found helpful. Please contact us at the Government Information Locator Service with suggestions or to let us know that you're someone that we should get with. You can also subscribe here to receive helpful news by email.

Posted by Ray_Matthews on October 01, 2003 at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1) | Send this story to a friend!