Google Courts U.S. States' Web Sites

Google Inc. and four U.S. states have partnered to improve the amount of data Google indexes from their Web sites and makes available to users of its search engine.

Google has provided free training and advise to webmasters from the states of California, Utah, Arizona and Virginia regarding topics like the creation of site maps and the use of Google's Custom Search Engine service, the company and the states will announce Monday.

Although the improved sites were well architected, their webmasters hadn't focused much on optimizing them for search engines like Google's, said J.L. Needham, Google's manager of public sector content partnerships. "These people have search religion. Their site search tools are well designed, but they lack awareness of the site as a search engine target," Needham said.

Publishers of commercial Web sites are more aware of search engine optimization, because they generate revenue from online advertising and it's in their best interest to get good placement in search engine results. Not so with government Web sites, Needham said. Consequently, Google believes there are many public pages from government Web sites missing from its index and in general from the indexes of other search engines. This has led to the creation of a mini-industry around the online sale of public government information, data that instead should be easily and freely accessible via search engines and government sites, Needham said,

The four participating states generally chose to prioritize optimizing Web sites with information they consider to be particularly useful to end users, like information about education, jobs and health.

For example, Arizona's initial picks include sites with information about licensed child care centers and nursing homes, state jobs, licensed real estate agents and building contractors. "We're very impressed with the early results of this partnership. The citizens of our state will have access to more state government information that's more relevant to their daily lives," said Chris Cummiskey, Arizona's chief information officer.

Cummiskey expects to add more state agencies to the effort, and that the knowledge will also trickle down to webmasters in counties and cities. "The cornerstone of this is increasing accessibility of Web information to the public and knocking down barriers that exist [between our sites] and the commercial search engines," Cummiskey said.

Along with Monday's announcement, Google will set up a site with information on how webmasters from the public sector can optimize their sites so that more information can be indexed by search engines. Google hopes more public sector webmasters will join this program.

A site map is a file that webmasters put on their sites to help the search engines' automated Web crawlers properly index Web pages. Google, Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are backing a common protocol to provide a standard format for site maps. Google's Custom Search Engine lets publishers put a search box on their sites that only returns results from specific sites, as opposed to including results from Google's entire Web index.

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