June 22nd, 2009 | Published in Google Public Policy
Given the tremendous volume of information online -- more than 1 trillion unique URLs and counting -- the ability for users to search for and find relevant content is critical. This couldn't be more true for the tens of millions of pages of content stored on government websites. Unfortunately, many agencies make it difficult or impossible for search engines to index their sites and make information available to citizens who are searching for it.
In response to President Obama's call for ideas on how to open up the government to its citizens, Google put forward recommendations last Friday in which we point to two simple steps government webmasters can take to make sure that search engine queries lead users to the right websites and hopefully, the right answers.
First, agencies can adopt the Sitemaps protocol, which allow search engines to crawl websites more intelligently. Most search engines offer free Sitemap generator tools -- check out Google Sitemap Generator.
Second, agencies can review their robots.txt files. Many agencies currently block large portions of their websites from search engines with robots.txt files, sometimes unknowingly. By reviewing and selectively using these files, webmasters can easily open up large amounts of content to citizens. Free analysis tools like Google's robots.txt test can help webmasters identify which pages are accidentally being blocked.
The next stage in the campaign for open government will come when the Administration encourages agencies to publish their most popular, timely, and relevant data on their websites and data.gov. Static, obscure, and dated information is not useful to citizens who want data relevant to their everyday lives, nor is it helpful to third parties who want to build tools that citizens can use to understand that data.
As it works towards its goal to bring greater transparency to government, we hope that the Administration continues to take the steps necessary to make government information more easily accessible to citizens on the web.