About Alan Ferguson - @alanfergs

Alan is Web Manager for Central Bedfordshire Council. Alan has worked in local government since January 2007 and was previously Marketing Manager in the ferry industry. This took Alan from his home town of Belfast, via the Isle of Man and eventually across the Irish Sea to England in 2007.

Google broke our shop window

Your website home page is your shop window – remember that old chestnut?

Get it on the home page….

It must be on the home page….

Can we get a link from the home page….

Home page, home page…what happened to you?

The shop window has been shattered. Google came along with a huge breeze block and smashed it to bits when you weren’t looking.

Actually that’s not true, we’ve been watching our home page slowly get smashed in by Google for years. Which is fine with me! Remember the days of council home pages with 200+ links (some still have them!)?

It’s why it gets rolled out at conference after conference – Google is the new home page. Well that…and saying ‘agile’ even if you don’t have the first clue what it means. Like the way I managed to get that into this blog post…agile, agile, agile.

I’ve just been analysing our website statistics for June. It is the usual suspects in the top 10 with the home page top. Interesting that last month, the page views for the home page dipped beneath 15%. It just brings me on a to a small point that we regularly face with service areas about the prominence of their content.

We (digital folk) get it…but try telling everyone else

It used to be a very regular request to get information flagged up on the home page as ‘customers cannot find our information’.

But this is a lot less relevant these days, given the statistic I’ve just quoted. Yes, it’s still the biggest hit page on the site, but its far from the be all of getting your content in front of the customer’s eyes.

Google is your home page

So true. We get over 65% of our traffic from Google search. If your content isn’t appearing on Google for the key phrases you are targeting, then the home page is certainly not going to come to your rescue.

This is exactly the message I will be taking to meet with one of our service areas tomorrow. To educate them to think beyond slapping a link on the home page / in the top level navigation, sitting back and patting themselves on the back.

How good is our navigation?

This brings me on to the navigation on the site. One area my stats cannot give me anything on is the use of the navigation. I know how many people go to the main Council tax page.

What I don’t know is how many made it to that page using the right hand navigation on the Central Bedfordshire Council website.

Bit.ly to the rescue!

On our website, I have replaced every direct link in our right hand navigation with a bit.ly link instead. I am going to leave this until September, then measure the impact for August. What I want to see is the volume of traffic for the page in the navigation, and measure how many came from using the navigation as a percentage of the overall traffic. I’m putting my cards on the table and guessing an average of 7%? That’s a finger in the air guess. That’s exactly what I want to remove – guess work. So, thanks bit.ly for coming to the rescue.

But why?

Curiosity? Actually do something with it?

Bit of both! No more seriously its to do something with it. It will further help banish the myth that the reason customers cannot find service area content is because they are not listed on the home page or in the navigation.

We built our navigation based on the most popular pages and matched this with the most popular search terms. So we pretty much know that it works, but we also see that the most popular search term is still ‘planning’ even though it’s clearly listed in the navigation. People love to search – both off and on site.

So I will use this to educate web editors and service owners when it comes to reviewing their website content. The number one test is finding it on Google.

Alan – there are easier ways to prove this!

I know. But, I have to fudge things a little due to the way our statistics package works as we’re not using Google Analytics. This does limit how easy it is to prove why I believe navigation is well behind Google when it comes to finding your content. But hey, I might be proven wrong come September!

Will we go for a search dominated site instead?

This was raised at Socitm’s building perfect council websites conference last week how big a risk it is to drop one of your routes to content e.g. navigation / A to Z (though I know A to Z traffic is down to <4%). Fylde is a powerful example of stripping back a home page and when I spoke to them the message was a very strong one – its working.

But to get there I’d want to see a more powerful search engine on our site which can look at multiple domains and also show best match results. Yes, all that can be done if you have the budget, the time and the love on internal search. Ok, I’ve at least got the love at the moment! Let’s wait and see about the rest.

Thanks for reading.

T: @alanfergs


Building perfect council websites 2014

These are my top takeaways from the Building perfect council websites 2014 session held in Birmingham on 10 July, 2014. I’m just going to give a snippet of my views as I am sure the presentations will be on the Socitm website soon!

Stakeholder engagement

The day kicked off with Phil Young – Head of Online at Transport for London. When developing the TFL website, they engaged with a wide range of key stakeholders from the beginning of the project and met with them every two weeks to explain the progress. There were numerous referenced on screen e.g. RNIB. So important to get them on board early to get a strong steer on what their user needs are and also act as advocates for the programme.

Internal search

If a customer can’t find info on your search is it their fault for not knowing what to look for?

This was a question posed and the simple answer is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

This is how James Coltham summed it up: Let’s be clear on this one… If your website users can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s YOUR fault, not theirs.

Your customers search in a wide variety of ways. Find out what they search for using your log files and please read this book – Search analytics for your site by Louis Rosenfeld to find out how to make use of the information and improve your internal site search performance. I have spent a lot of time working through the principles of this book and share this at the BrightonSEO conference last year. Have a look at my video for more information – An untapped resource for optimising your website – Alan Ferguson , Central Bedfordshire Council.

User experience testing

Lots of mentions of this all day long with a good session by Carolyne Mitchell. Carolyne will post on Twitter some links so give her a follow. What I’d say is that user experience testing doesn’t have to be expensive and you can easily learn how to do it. I went on a great day long usability testing training session with Webcredible which was worth every penny. Check it out and if you go on the session let me know what you think. We can share ideas!

Time share your skills

Get away from the desk and meet people and share experiences and how you can collaborate to improve your sites. Also, here is my idea which I have been beating the drum about – but too quietly!

I know about internal search, I know how to improve it – fast. I’ll show you how to do it and in turn you give me your skills in return. Have you nailed SEO for your site – I know a fair bit but don’t claim to be an expert when compared to the skills of a dedicated SEO expert.

Is there something on our website we could be doing better? I don’t care what you share with me, as long as it adds value to our site, and in return I will help you sort your internal search. Interested? Email me – alan.ferguson@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk.

Go to BrightonSEO

OK a few points here. First off, don’t just go to public sector conferences. My favourite web conference is BrightonSEO. It takes place twice a year, and its free. But you have to subscribe to their mailing list to hear about tickets as they sell out in ten minutes.

Listen to the Site Visibility podcast

Its the best Internet Marketing podcast going. Because of that, it attracts top speakers. Listen from the first to the latest and I promise you you’ll get something from every episode.

Read these two books

These are nothing to do with the web….at all. They are amazing examples from around the world about thinking differently and problem solving from a legend of the advertising industry, Dave Trott. Here are the books:

Dave Trott – Creative Mischief

Dave Trott – Predatory Thinking

And if you get a chance, go and hear this guy talk. By far, the best speaker I have and likely ever will hear.

Get the developers out

I get to go to a few conferences a year, which is great. One I was at recently had Phil Rumens talking with GDS about open source and stuff which was way over my non-technical mind. But he was talking about sharing code and its stuff our web developers need to know about – not me. We need to let these guys lose to develop their skills not kill every ounce of creativity by chaining them to their desks. Kevin Jump pointed this out to me yesterday. He said in his experiences at Liverpool, one of the really enthused web developers was delivering 10 times more (OK might be a bit exaggerated).

Check your website – yes, you

We were looking at missed bin collections the other day and came across Kirklees website which has an option to collect ‘body parts’. Really? Yep. That and bloody bandages – and no, that’s not me swearing. We covered the points of failure and getting through them in the GOSS session. Again, I will leave it to them to add to the Socitm website.


Follow the folk I have mentioned on Twitter. Learn from them and share your experiences. I know that seems really obvious, but again don’t restrict to just public sector bods. Think what the private sector are doing as best practice and adapt to suit your website.

Like I said, I didn’t go into detail about the presentations. There’s probably more you will get from these so feel free to let me know what you thought of yesterday’s event.


Alan Ferguson@alanfergs
Web Manager for Central Bedfordshire Council

Simplifying website navigation

Running a council website means working across an amazing variety of public services. And quite rightly so, everyone believes their service is the most important.

But the public think otherwise, and they give their opinion in how they use our website. Forget the 80.20 rule. Our site has around 80% of traffic across the top 10% of pages. The usual suspects are there all year round:

  • jobs
  • planning
  • bins
  • school admissions
  • roads 

So, we build our navigation around this. We look at what the customers are looking at, and what they are searching for. Search terminology tells us the exact phrases they use and we build the navigation using these.

We call a tip a tip and not a Household Waste Recycling Centre.

The top 140 search terms make up 20% of the total. So work on these and change the navigation to suit.

We did, and in one month searches for council tax dropped by 80% just by making this more visible in the navigation.

Never forget the basics and you’ll be on a winner.

Alan – @alanfergs

Email marketing | MailCamp12

In May 2012, Alan Ferguson was invited to speak at MailCamp12, which was held in The National Audit Office and organised by Steph Grey of Helpful Technology.

The event is designed to share stories and tips on effective email marketing, newsletters and alerts for the public sector.

Alan spoke about the success Central Bedfordshire Council were having with their email marketing which was launched in January 2012.

Here is Alan’s talk.

Internal search – an untapped resource

It’s about time started blogging again. So where better to start than a piece about my recent talk at #brightonseo.

This talk was inspired by the book, Search Analytics for your Site, by Louis Rosenfeld.

Why focus on Internal Search at an SEO conference?

I have been working on perfecting the Central Bedfordshire Council website search for around 14 months. We use a simple search engine, called Zoom. This gives us log files for all searches carried out on the site. I take this information, check if the customer is seeing what they should and if not…I fix it.

Check out the presentation for a bit more detail on how I do it and the benefits for sorting out your internal search engine.