This article is part of the SEO for Government Series. You can find the other articles by clicking on the following links:
After having declared the importance of SEO for Government websites, and the impact of being accessible for all citizens, businesses, and tourists in increasing their quality of life, helping them comply with mandatory regulation and many other relevant procedures.
Since many government websites are not SEO optimized, third parties are covering that massive demand for information. Those websites are mainly driven for-profit and have no incentives to provide accurate information. Just having the click is good enough for them, making it difficult for people to find the information they need.
In this brief article, I'll comment on those websites that compete with the government agencies in delivering information.
Competitors for the Government Agencies Websites
Since people are avid to get information from the official source, many actors can bank on their ability to have a better SEO to use the official data but in a higher level of optimization, winning visitors and profiting from them.
This situation can not be understood as a problem at first glance. Since the government's objective is to spread the information as much as possible, what could go wrong when someone else copy and paste the information on their website? Doesn't that allow more people to access that information?
Unfortunately, no. Internet is sometimes like the wild West. Information can be old, inaccurate, or false. For users can be challenging to differentiate what is an official source and what is not, especially when many websites pretend to be updated and trustworthy.
Media websites are known for publishing everything to get clicks. Many media outlets will not publish official, correct information but pieces with opinions or clickbait, making it difficult for some users to understand the difference between factual information and what is not. Also, it is widespread to create "click tunnels," where the information is separated between several pages full of ads and other distractions, defeating the purpose of providing clear and concise data.
Note: I am using a loose definition of the term "media." Some websites can be nothing more than an extremist newspaper with an obvious agenda and are still considered media. Some can appear on Google News or Google Discovery or rank with biased content for queries that require impartiality and official information.
They would take all information from a website and republish it without any concern. Keeping the data updated is expensive and tedious. Also, it is not needed for fulfilling their purpose, which is to get traffic. Many scrapers provide inaccurate or expired data, and many people won't tell the difference.
It is not frequent, but it happens from time to time: people who create websites with the only purpose of trolling users, publishing directly wrong or misleading information for the sake of it. (For the lulz)
Advertising (Sometimes Malicious) Campaigns
Since at first glance there is no "commercial intent," why would someone pay for SEM for queries related to this information? Even there is no business for the government itself, other parties can (and will) bid for some of those queries, many times selling products or services related to the question itself. For instance, accountant services related to taxes questions or insurance quotes when someone is looking for healthcare.
One case, for instance, is shady businesses charging fees for "expediting a procedure" (like getting a birth certificate) when such procedure is free of charge on the official website, and they act as an unnecessary middle-man. Scams like this significantly affect people with less digital knowledge, which often would assume that some payment is mandatory (when it is not).
If there is traffic, there will be competitors
Another element to consider is that competition on the web isn't just from the same country. Many websites can operate from overseas, doing it almost impossible to make them responsible for their content. Again, citizens often won't tell the difference, especially if those website rank high in Google's search results.
In all cases, you cannot just trust third parties for republishing the information from Government Websites, and although you cannot see the potential damage that specific people may suffer, it is a real possibility that you have to mitigate.