Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Use of pay per click to advertise FOI

I've had an interesting reponse to an FOIA request I made to the Cabinet Office about their use of the Overture sponsored results service via for the term "Freedom of Information Act" (see my previous post) that links through to the Directgov FOI page. They have been using the service since July 2005. The request has been met in full: I have been provided with the cost per click details: they pay 10p per click (the lowest bid) and have paid £191 for 1,917 clicks to the word "freedom of information" and £194 for 1,948 clicks to the term "Freedom of Information". It is also interesting to note the conversion rates of 13% and 16% from all searches made. Over 26000 searches were condcuted for both of the terms during the time period. The conversion rates are impressive compared to data for conversion rates for e-commerce sites (see recent research). I also received the page impressions data for the FOI page on the Directgov website which in January 2006 received about 4000 page views. It can be presumed a much a higher number of searches were made via google (which directgov does not currently use for these terms, other terms such as "Council tax" do come up as sponsored google results for directgov though).

I made the request and think it is interesting for a number of reasons: firstly it is first real example of any media advertising for the FOIA in the UK (this is in comparison to Scotland where TV advertisments have been prodcued by the Scottish Information Commissioner).

I feel the data illustrates that the use of the service has been a positive and innovative example of a cost effective way to guide users of the Act to the relevant official information on the topic. It would be good to see it is expanded to Google as well in the future. I would also say that that it illustrates a further issue about how the average user will often start to find information about the FOIA using a search engine as their starting point. It also in points to towards the need for some further research into the use of these services in promoting e-government more generally and the take up of services after the 2005 target for e-enablement. On the conversion rate issue it would merit further research to investigate whether government links gain better conversion rates because the public should have a higher level of trust than with commercial sites.

The number of visits to the Directgov pages in general would appear to be low though (only about the same number or less that this blog tend to get). There appears to be a missed opportunity in making the Directgov FOI pages into more of a "citzen portal" for users of the freedom of information act containing FOI contact links, publication schemes, aggregated discolsure logs etc. Though I am sure there are counter arguements that too comprehensive a central portal could make it too easy for users to bombard departments with questions....

Read the full response (PDF) and see the breakdown of "click through data" (MS word)

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