Friday, July 18, 2008

Should there be paid advertisements on Australian government websites?

The Investments blog posted a thought-provoking post a few days ago, asking Should Government Websites Be Allowed to Post Google Ads to Offset Deficient Budgets?

This was based on a question put to 'Father of the internet' and Google head evangelist, Vinton Cerf, who was asked at an eGovernment seminar,
"if he thought that there was a way for Google to have special “Google AdSense” for government websites. He smiled one of his famous smiles and indicated he liked the question very much."
This post went on to raise the point that certain advertising may be appropriate on government website, related to not-for-profit support organisations and services that help users of government services.

The hosting of these ads would provide a revenue stream for government sites, helping to offset their costs. Ads could be carefully placed with a disclaimer to ensure it was clear to visitors that these were advertisement and manage any legal issues around endorsement.

It is an intriguing concept, and not entirely dissimilar to how CSIRO commercialises intellectual capital or agencies such as ABS have monetised their reports and products.

Now I'm not the first to suggest this be considered for Australian government sites.

Net Traveller author, Tom Worthington, made a slightly different suggestion in a post on January 2007,
Governments may not wish to have paid commercial advertising on their web sites, but perhaps they could have internal government advertising. Each government web page could have a space reserved for advertising. Normally this would be used to promote government initiatives and publicize web sites (in effect the Government's own Google AdWords). The reserved space would also be used to advise the public of emergency information (emergency information is an area where Federal and State Australian governments do poorly online and as a result are placing the lives of citizens at risk).

There is also at least one government site in Australia already featuring paid commercial advertising., owned and operated by the Brisbane City Council.

This site features ads for services such as Seek and RSVP as well as other advertisers.

Looking around the world, there are other examples of the acceptance of advertising on government sites.

US experience
In the US while there is an overall policy that government sites should not feature paid advertising, exemptions can be granted, as detailed in, the guide to managing US government websites.

I've found evidence that advertising has government sites in the US offering paid advertising for at least four years, as evidenced by this article in Slashdot on 27 July 2004, Advertising Hits Arizona County Government Website,
Maricopa County, home to 3.4 million people in the Phoenix metropolitan area, has seen their GIS website "become an every day tool for realtors, developers, mortgage and title companies, appraisers, inspectors, attorneys and many other professionals associated with the real estate industry." As a result, they are now accepting bids for Web advertisements. As the county is one of the best-run in the nation, this could set quite the precedent.
The Maricopa County website is still delivering paid advertising to Phoenix's citizens today.

UK experience
In the UK there is an even more pragmatic approach.

Within the UK Cabinet's guidelines for web site management is included a guide for buying and selling advertising and sponsorship space which states;
Advertising on the web is envisaged as being a revenue stream for government websites. It can reduce the cost of providing government information and services, which saves the taxpayer money or results in better quality services and faster delivery of information and services on-line. It is a perfectly legitimate thing to do as long as the guidelines are adhered to.
This guideline was first written in 2002 and remains in force today, six years later, indicating to me that there has not been any major backlash by citizens towards advertising on government sites.

What do you think?
So what do you think of the idea of placing paid advertising on Australian government websites?
Would it be appropriate for your website?
Would a revenue stream help raise the profile of your site in the department?


  1. Hi Craig - I think it would be an excellent idea to allow advertising on government websites as long as it was reasonable and relevant to the content on the government website. These days government web managers are scrambling to find money to innovate (even to just stay alive) and this could provide an enabling revenue stream. Time for government to get with the program and get out there.

  2. Ilooked into this a few years ago, and found that there was limited use of advertising on government websites and what little there was provided a tiny return for the effort involved.

    Of course, that was before the Era of Adsense.

  3. AdWords). The reserved space would also be used to advise the public of emergency information (emergency information is an area where Federal and State Australian governments do poorly online and as a result are placing the lives of citizens at risk).


Bookmark and Share