SEO Auditing Your Local Council Website: Whittlesea, Wyndham and Casey

How important is Search Engine Optimisation to local government?

Traditionally, SEO is considered an effective way for businesses to drive online traffic. As local councils do not have to compete for the services they provide, SEO is rarely a priority when updating their websites. But would implementing basic SEO improve their sites and therefore make them easier to use?

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the councils in Melbourne and perform a basic SEO audit on their websites.

Starting with – the City of Casey, Wyndham City and the City of Whittlesea.

I should highlight a few things before I get started; this is by no means a complete SEO audit, just a brief snapshot to provide some basic insight. It should also be noted that very few websites are as complex as those belonging to government departments.

In short, SEO on these things is not easy!

But here we go…

For the purposes of the audits I will be looking at five general criteria:

  • Speed
  • Mobile Experience
  • Off-Site Authority
  • On-Site Optimisation
  • Schema Implementation (Markup language to assist in optimising search results)

 

City of Whittlesea

The City of Whittlesea is located in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, about 20 kilometres from the Melbourne GPO.Council website
 

Speed

According to GTMetrix, the City of Whittlesea home page scores 72/100 for Google Page Speed and 73 for Yahoo’s YSlow. Not a bad result but it’s worth working towards an improvement.

Image weight is a huge drag on speed and despite the low score, the home page comes in at only 645kb which is exceptional for a council website.
 

Mobile

This website fails Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. With Google’s ranking factor update due soon, this leaves the City of Whittlesea site vulnerable to a hit in search rankings.

Google Page Speed allows us to grade the speed of a website from a smartphone. Whittlesea scores 60/100 which is not great but a good effort considering they are serving a full desktop website.
 

Off-Site

Domain Authority – 48
MozTrust – 5.44
Referring Domains – 104,483
Google+ Local – Present but not optimised. At time of writing 262,396 views.
 

On-Site Optimisation

Home Page Meta Title – City of Whittlesea, Melbourne, Australia
Home Page Meta Description – N/A
Pages with Missing Meta Description – 729
Duplicate Page Titles – 108
Pages with Duplicate Content Issues – 115
Broken URLs (Returning 404 Error) – 0
Broken Internal Links – 1
Broken Images (Images that do not appear anymore) – 16 images across 11 pages
 

Schema Markup

No Schema implementation present.
 
 

Wyndham City Council

The City of Wyndham is located in Melbourne’s outer south-west, between 12 and 45 kilometres from the Melbourne GPO.Council website
 

Speed

The fastest of the three sites with a Google Page Speed score of 83 and 74 for Yahoo’s YSlow.

Given the size of the site (a whopping 2.16MB), the most obvious and easiest improvement would be to reduce the amount and size of the images. Implementing browser caching would be a big bonus for Wyndham.
 

Mobile

The Wyndham City Council website passes Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test with a separate mobile website. This is a limited version of the full site to improve the speed and navigation experience for mobile users.

Wyndham uses a consistent url (www.wyndham.vic.gov.au). Browsers detect the device being used and serve the relevant site – mobile or desktop.

Despite the separate mobile site and a high desktop speed score, Google’s Page Speed score on a smartphone is only 40/100. We would definitely recommend improvements to this.
 

Off-Site

Domain Authority – 48
MozTrust – 5.53
Referring Domains – 101,483
Google+ Local – Present but not optimised.
 

On-Site Optimisation (Home):

Home Page Heading Tags – Seven heading tags (Should be no more than 1). Of these six are wrapped around an image which Google can’t decipher.
Home Page Meta Title – Home at Wyndham
Home Page Meta Description – N/A
Missing Meta Descriptions – 287
Duplicate Page Titles – 4
Broken URLs – 3
Pages with Duplicate Content Issues – 19
Broken Internal Links - 12
 

Schema Markup

No Schema implementation present.
 

City of Casey

The City of Casey is located in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, between 28 and 60 kilometres south-east of the Melbourne GPO.Council website
 

Speed

The City of Casey website scores 72 for Google’s Page Speed and 63 for Yahoo YSlow. The home page is really heavy at 1.89MB but there is little gains to be made by optimising the home page images. In this instance the browser has to make 109 separate requests before it can render the page, almost double what is considered ideal. So this is where we’d start.
 

Mobile

The City of Casey site also passes Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test with a separate mobile website.

Casey chooses to serve that separate mobile website on a different sub-domain (m.casey.vic.gov.au). This is not uncommon but it does place them at a disadvantage because authority to the domain is diluted between the two.

The site scores 58/100 for smartphone devices using Google’s Page Speed Test. This would be something to address before Google’s mobile update.
 

Off-Site

Domain Authority – 50
MozTrust – 5.68
Referring Domains – 101,483
Google+ Local – Present but not optimised and a duplicate page exists. The Google+ page has had 630,671 views at time of writing.
 

On-Site Optimisation

Home Page Heading Tags – No H1 tag
Home Page Meta Title – Home – City of Casey
Home Page Meta Description – The City of Casey is a local council in the south east of Melbourne, Australia.
Missing Page Titles – 34
Duplicate Page Titles – 652
Missing Meta Description – 829
Broken Internal URLs – 31
Pages with Duplicate Content Issues – 158
 

Schema Markup

No Schema implementation present.
 

Summary

There are some consistent issues between the three councils, which can be addressed fairly easily.

Mobile and speed are two usability factors that are absolutely critical for search performance. I love responsive websites but when dealing with a lot of content, a separate mobile site is easier to implement. For this reason, I believe Whittlesea is well-placed with their set-up.

However, all three councils would benefit from improvements to speed. This can be achieved through updates to technical code development and browser caching.

You would expect local councils to have a strong off-page profile and all three deliver in this regard. They all have substantial referring domains (links) linking to their sites and despite this, maintain a strong Moz Trust score. The one consistent disappointment with all three is their Google+ Local pages, which are a strong component of any SEO strategy. None of the three had optimised their pages and I assume they were created by Google using White Pages data. The City of Casey, which has had over 600,000 views, has missed a great opportunity to engage with users or send traffic to the website.

The on-page optimisation of a council site is one heck of a task to get right from the outset and to maintain. With so many services provided, there are a lot pages added, removed or updated by various people in numerous departments. So it’s not that surprising that all three have serious issues.

It also doesn’t surprise me that none of the councils have implemented Schema Markup. This is also a missed opportunity; council websites have a wealth of information that could be utilised by Schema and make a huge impact on their search results.

It makes sense for local government to implement SEO, as they exist to serve the community. Part of that service is to make the task of searching for information as quick and as easy as possible.

 

Tools Used

Majestic
Moz
Raven Tools
GTMetrix
Google Page Speed
Google Mobile Test
Screaming Frog
Google Structured Data Testing Tool

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