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Has Google replaced your website?

If you perform a search for your organisation’s name in Google, you may be directed to a new results page containing links to the main sections on your website accompanied by a site search box within Google.

IFPRI entry on google results

Google will drive your potential user directly to their page of interest without passing through your website home page.  This of course improves as your complete site is indexed in Google, a process which can be controlled by the creation of a Google site map.

And now onto the So what? part.

At IFPRI, we have found that over 30% of visitors to our website are coming from Google (compared to only 7% of visitors entering the site through our front page). Once we accept that our homepage is no longer the main conduit directing traffic to our site, we need to rethink how we work with the web. For example, many users now bypass our front page altogether choosing instead one of the landing pages under the section headings or going directly to documents of interest from the Google search results.

The organisational website struggles even more when it comes to featuring all the activity the staff have in social media (web 2.0) such as presentations loaded onto Slideshare, videos on Youtube and tweets on Twitter and blogs. This is not bringing into account the presence the scholarly world has created using Google Books and Google Scholar. In contrast, the Google results page features them all.

These findings have convinced us to change our outlook toward conceptualizing the role of our website in connection with Google and other search engines that are now playing a bigger role than ever in directing users to the content they are looking for. In particular, we highlight the following 6 changes to our approach:

1)      Every page should now be considered a “landing page.” By indexing your whole site, visitors come directly to the page or file they are looking for without ever coming through your organizational home page so linking to other relevant content from each and every page becomes more important than ever.

2)      No site search is as good as Google in many users’ eyes, so whatever you try with your site search, you need to pay particular attention to how Google search results for your site are being displayed.

3)      You need to use other web publishing platforms in order to heighten your profile in Google and other search engines. Google promotes YouTube results over others so having an online presence in Youtube has become more important than ever. And, if you consider each video as its own landing page, you should always remember to link back to your organizational website from YouTube and other web 2.0 services (e.g., blogs, Slideshare, Twitter, etc.).

4)      Google AdWords allow you to control where your organisation will appear in the new subject portals (Google search pages on specific topics now act as a mega-portal).

5)      Google’s Custom Search Engine (CSE) product brings the benefits of Google to your own site search. If you can’t afford the time to manually index your entries on YouTube, Slideshare and other social media platforms, you can get Google to do it for you by including these channels in a customized search box appearing on your website. See our first attempts here.

6)      Boost the visibility and accessibility of your scholarly content by include your books and monographs in Google Books and let  Google Scholar crawl your articles and publications site.   

In conclusion, the website is still essential but we encourage you to rethink the role of your institutional website. Namely, we now envision our website’s primary role as the institutional repository that requires putting related materials in context- i.e., linking YouTube videos and Slideshare presentations to relevant publications and research theme pages on our website. Perhaps our various online platforms are fast becoming a series of interconnected mini websites that present our work in various formats to the different audiences of potential users. And now more than ever, it seems essential to “be present at the right place and at the right time” when a it seems that Google will be a main entranceway for directing them to our diverse online content.

And now more than ever, it seems essential to “be present at the right place and at the right time” when a potential user seems to search the web, Google will be directing them to our diverse online content.

Chris Addison


Ten actions to take from our latest web marketing campaign


Following the result that most of our visitors come through email or direct publicity we have been looking more closely at how our email “New at IFPRI” is used by the recipients. Looking at opening rates and click through rates we can get an idea as to the interest in the different materials. We have found the increased click through rate from images versus text and more interest in shorter materials.

Action: increased focus on email campaign, analyzing and changing formats.

Social Media

We were surprised to see how quickly social media is building an audience for our materials. Evidently different products are more suited to the audience than others, hence the video was widely retweeted on Twitter, whilst the book itself less so. It was also critical to make best use of tags to attract new audiences, to follow more people with the IFPRI twitter account to build followers, and to attract retweets from larger or key audience accounts.

Action: include lessons learnt in the social media guidance under development

Video/Multimedia materials

The success in the video product in attracting more users and raising awareness shows the importance of considering multimedia products. We are increasingly developing presentations to explain new findings, products or services. Key to this is hosting these materials where the user is looking for them, we therefore make extensive use of YouTube and Slideshare.

Action to develop explanatory materials as presentations or interactive products.

The Website

With everyone emphasizing the importance of web2 and social media tools for web communication it was interesting that our results underscored the value of the website in bringing an audience to IFPRI products. We have learnt from the keywords used to access the site and the focus on the topical interests of the user rather than the organizational structure of the site.

Action: We have developed more topics pages on the website (our work in focus) and developed a series of options for users to subscribe to content by topic (RSS).

Facebook and Linked In

Analysis of visitors to Millions Fed showed the importance of Facebook and Linked in for attracting a targeted audience.

Action: Continued development of LinkedIn to attract alumni of IFPRI and development of Facebook to capture a younger audience.

Quoting reach rather than just numbers of visitors

We discovered in the course of the analysis the value of quoting our visits as a proportion of the overall internet population of a country. We would like to develop this idea and compare with others.

Action: Compare statistical analysis of IFPRI reach with other development organizations working in agriculture and food policy research.

Dialup and low bandwidth

We found that dialup connection is still used to access our site but only from Germany, India, the US and Australia. We will continue to ensure fast loadtimes, and caching of our materials.

Action: We are looking to provide more guidance to low bandwidth users, and promoting more email delivery rather than a very low bandwidth version of the site.

Access by mobile phone

We found that very few people view the site with a mobile phone.  But are investigating further whether this is because we don’t offer a mobile interface.

Action: In a similar approach to above, we would prefer to promote the use of feeds and email for accessing our content on mobile phones.

Measuring success

By our own standards we were very successful in raising awareness of the product and the strategy of using more social media and web2 tools to get the message out clearly worked. However in terms of readership of the final product, other web-based publications produced during the year were more widely read.

Matching web activities to a communications strategy

Communications strategy

Reviewing how our web strategy matches our communications strategy has provided some interesting insights into how we can use the web more effectively. The use of the web needs to address the key requirements raised by the four components of the overall communications strategy.

In the first element the quality of research can be measured by the use of a number of web based tools, for citations, comments and uptake. The Quality of the communications may be split into two components; the quality of the product (content, style, format), and the quality of the promotion (process).

The web provides many opportunities for the storage of content, not just physically on the website, but increasingly on repositories elsewhere. Videos are stored on YouTube, presentations on SlideShare and photos on Flickr. These don’t just serve as places to store materials, but are places where people search for materials and so promote as well as providing access to content.

The stakeholders are looking for information on the web in different ways. Potential contacts can be identified on the web for individual campaigns; they have their own communities of practice online. They can be reached through our existing site, by email, but increasingly through social networks.

The fourth component of the strategy is focused on how to reach the stakeholders, not only through IFPRI’s own efforts directly, but also through intermediaries, be they the media, the growing band of infomediary organizations or through individual champions or thought leaders.

The Web presence
To build a web presence to fulfill these requirements we need to look at the roles we need to play. These seem to fall into seven categories:Building the capacity of staff to use and publish on the web; Setting up systems to capture content; Publishing this information on web platforms; using social media to publish and promote to different audiences; indexing our materials so that they can be presented in context and easily found; disseminating content through feeds and email and promoting our products through inclusion in other sites, directories and infomediaries.

Web platforms
The web platforms include the Website, Portals, Blogs and Group spaces. We build these services on the same platforms ensuring possible integration of content and ease of maintenance. The portals address very specialized audiences and so vary considerably in their functionality. They are usually a hybrid between an online service and an e-publication. With such a diversity there are new challenges for featuring content across platforms, integration and cross searching.

In addition to normal marketing activities we have used a number of more automated methods of promotion, such as indexing in Google using sitemap, blogsearch, google scholar and OAISTER through the production of OAI files. Registration in infomediary directories and sites is another route being developed in line with the communications strategy.

Social media
Through using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn new communities of users have been reached and by integrating these services through the use of feeds we have new ways to disseminate information about events, publications and projects. The Youtube and Slideshare accounts host our videos and presentations and bring visitors back to related information on our website.

Indexing becomes essential as web materials are no longer held on one server, nor are they only viewed through the website. Each page, video, document, presentation or article needs to be indexed so that it can be presented to all the potential audiences through their preferred interface.
The indexing is essential for three reasons:
Being found/Promotion:Therefore for those users reliant on Google, the work done by the library in submitting all publications to Google scholar is essential, the sitemap from the website and the feeds from the site all ensure that our materials are found.
Sending/Dissemination: The indexes are used to generate feeds by topic, country or type, with the potential to deliver to audiences through a range of systems, via Twitter, by email, through web pages, embedded in a blog, viewed through a newsreader.
Providing a search interface: The indexes used provide act as search engines with metadata to control the quality and relevance of results. This can also present lists by keyword or tag, to present lists of materials through the main website.

In addition to the email newsletter New at IFPRI, we have worked to reorganise materials around topics and countries. For the thematic pages we have also used the taxonomy to produce feeds. RSS and email subscriptions have have been consolidated in one reference page for subscribers at http://www.ifpri.org/rss

Social reporting: Lessons from the Rights and Climate Conference

Here, finally the lessons from the social reporting experience we had at the Rights and Climate Conference in Oslo last October. Our objective was to create a live account of the conference, so people could access and search all materials (including power points, videos and photos). A second objective was to allow interested people who could not attend in person to comment and ask questions.


  • Reporting from the conference is much faster. The summaries of the presentations were usually posted within 30 minutes following the sessions and included links to the power points and other related material.
  • The blog is much richer than many of the traditional conference reports, you usually get several months after an event. In addition to the sessions summaries, all the presentations and related briefs and other materials, the blog contains links to related news, short interviews, commentaries from people who could not attend the conference, and photos from the event.
  • Unlike traditional reports this format allows people to participate and shape the outcome of the conference and it allows people who are not there to participate.


  • Sessions summaries and commentary were posted directly on the blog, which also become the central place linking to all other content;
  • We also posted running commentary, questions, and information (including logistical information) for participants;
  • Presentations were posted on Slideshare;
  • Photos were posted on Flickr;
  • We posted videos to Blip.tv;
  • News were tagged and bookmarked on Delicious; we posted our own press releases on the blog and broadcasted them in other media outlets.


1. We had too little wo(man) power. Our conference had about 100 participants and we were two to blog the sessions. We had help to take pictures and conduct a few interviews, but had to take care of a lot of the small things like collecting an uploading the presentations which is very time-consuming. Those who live-blog or summarize the sessions should not have to do anything else!
Here are the things that need to be done:

  • Live-blog or summarize the sessions;
  • Conduct interviews;
  • Collect quotes;
  • Take pictures;
  • Collect and post presentations;
  • Collect and post photos and videos;
  • Search and tag relevant news stories.

Depending on the size of the event one person can obviously take care of a couple of these. To minimize the amount of people you need to hire, you can train some participants beforehand. We would have liked to involve participants more, but ended up doing many of these things ourselves. One essential thing is to make it easy for participants to contribute (e.g. email in comments), but you can also integrate with the conventional reporting and use note takers to post to the blog.

2. Start discussion on the blog and other media before the conference (2-3 weeks) and help people to already contribute. Prior to the conference, we only used the blog for logistics, but not for content.

3. A good internet connection is crucial to upload all the materials and to allow participants to contribute.

4. Be aware

  • Is the blog open or closed? this will influence how much participants will be willing to share; sensitive subjects will not be discussed if participants feel their commentary is not private.
  • Rights to content (photos, ppts): make sure you have the rights to display all the content.
  • New tools can be dominated by few people who use them. Just as with offline conferences (or maybe even more so), you need to support the voices that would normally not be heard. This relates to peoples comfort level, but also to their skills (computer literacy), and to their connectivity.

Additional ideas for the next conference:

This list comes from our own discussion following the conference but also contains many useful ideas, I picked up from a talk by Chris Addison:

  • Build a participants wall; take pictures as people arrive and post them on a wall;
  • Create Conference proceedings from blog (cut and paste);
  • Ask participants to interview each other (need to have a few (cheap) cameras on hand for this);
  • Get non-F2F attendees to send in questions/ comments/ expectations before the event;
  • Integrate twitter as it is very easy to post and conversations develop easily. If you work with twitter make sure you define a unique tag (or hashtag) for your conference so others can follow the related updates more easily.
  • Use wikis or online whitepads (e.g. etherpad) for working groups. Some of these will allow remote participants to contribute so they can not only follow the discussions but also add comments and questions.
  • Communicate your conference tag to participants so that can use it for other services, such as Flickr or social bookmarking (e.g. delicious)
  • Use tools such as http://www.coveritlife.com for live-blogging.

Also from Chris’ presentation here are a couple of conference reporting styles. You will most likely use a mix of these:

  1. Central reporting – contractual;
  2. Facilitated reporting with guidance: a few selected participants and organizers will be responsible for reporting;
  3. Social reporting/ commentary: always happening, e.g. Back-to-Office-Reports; just need to find ways to tap these sources of information and commentary about your conference;
  4. Integrated content production – need training to build literacy otherwise a few are likely to dominate.

Technical lessons:
The Rights and Climate Conference blog is hosted on wordpress.com, which had a couple of limitations for our purposes: the statistics are not good enough as you cannot see a geographical breakdown; people new to the platform had to get used to menus and interface, and wp.com does not allow emailing in posts, which makes it more difficult for non-tech participants to contribute.
For my part, I used ecto (a blog editor) to post my updates, since I was afraid that I would lose content blogging on the web-interface in the event of connection problems. Using ecto worked well for me, but it might also not be the solution for everyone. I do like Windows Live Writer for computers running windows.

Other Examples:

Experimenting with Social Media for Change

I just posted some background on an online event I am helping to organize to the SustainableTeams blog.

The conference will happen this coming Saturday (May 9, 2009) and is an experiment in realtime virtual collaboration and will try to answer the question What tools and principles do we need to help change to unfold? Social and technological development as means for better organizations, and a better world.

Go to the Change Management Toolbook to register and to find out how to participate. Another way to get news and follow the conference is to tune into twitter hashtag #rtvc.

Why researchers should embrace social media

Great introduction to social media, and why everyone should take advantage of these tools by Simone Staiger.

Let’s Really Go Online! The Potential of Social Media for Improving Organizational, Project and Personal Impact.

IAALD also wrote and interesting commentary on social media for agricultural research.

Conference Blog: Rights, Forests and Climate Change

The program I work for, CAPRi, is supporting the Rights and Resources Initiative and the Rainforest Network Norway in the organization of an international conference on rights, forests and climate change in Oslo next week.

To give our network members, who cannot participate in person, a chance to hear and be heard we created a conference blog at www.rightsandclimate.org. The blog will thus not only serve as the knowledge repository where we post background information, presentations, sessions summaries, short interviews etc., but we hope that it will generate a side discussion as well.

The conference blogs Climate and Health Challenge Dialogue (great idea to post arguments in the form of short quotes) and Taking Action for the World’s Poor and Hungry People (thanks to Pete for sharing his experience in running that blog) helped a lot in preparing this event. An invaluable tip by Beth Kanter is to use a blogging software to be less vulnerable to failing connections.

Let us know if you have any other tips, dos or donts for us and if you are interested in the topic make sure you check out the conference blog and leave comment.