2012 Georgia National Guard Website White Paper For any given communication medium, it is necessary to identify how to leverage the channel to optimum effect. As Lasswells model of communication indicates, a communication professional’s cardinal task is to configure who says what to whom in which channel to what effect. Starting in January 2010, the Georgia National Guard (GNG) Public Affairs Office (PAO) incorporated an ambitious and far- reaching strategic communications plan, which sought to sync organizational words, actions and images with one another, with a sophisticated and comprehensive online outreach program. Central in all of this has been the Georgia Department of Defense’s official website: www.GeorgiaGuard.com.From the offset, the GNG PAO identified its public facing website as a “hub” of information. Each ofthe Georgia Guard’s various online channels – as well as the satellite online presences of ourancillary units and organizations – has been integrated with the website in such a way as to facilitatethe overall strategic communication efforts of the Georgia Department of Defense – allowing theorganization to sync command messages across all channels and communities.There is no major subset of public information about the Georgia Guard which cannot (directly orindirectly) be ascertained through the organization’s external website. We realized early on that thepriority was to leverage pre-existing resources so as to provide the maximum possible amount ofquality information.This wasn’t just going to be an online billboard for “sticking” public affairs products and stories. Itwas going to be a one-stop shop for all public, salient information about the organization. With allthat information flowing to and through the website, and with all the third party links, it then becamenecessary to design the website in an easy-to-navigate manner, to place things in an intuitive way…to provide all the information anyone might reasonably need to know about the organization withoutoverwhelming them or burying what they wanted to find.This has been, and remains, no easy task.The Georgia Guard website remains an ever-changing animal – constantly evolving to make analready exceptional site more appealing and more effective. From a complete redesign, includingnew iconography and logos and a banner, to a revamped menu bar, to the new article previewer onthe homepage, to a complete overhaul of the site’s inner workings which allowed for cleaner andmore uniform text formatting throughout the website – GeorgiaGuard.com has pivoted from itsformer status as a little-known pin board for PAO stories, to the organization’s esteemed flagship forpublic online information.
Of course GeorgiaGuard.com is most frequented by Georgians, but it attractsThe Public Affairs Office did not even maintain a public facing website until March of 2009. During traffic as well internationalthat year, the website totaled just 43 articles, press releases and updates during 2009 (or – from deployed 4.3 posts permonth). With a new strategic communication vision in place at the beginning of 2010, the website interested Guardsmen andhas seen an explosion of content – with 172 additional news stories, news releases and special eventspartners. internationalupdates in the past year alone (or 14 posts a month)! That’s more than a 300% increase in the contentgenerated and posted to the website annually. Website traffic went from a few hundred hits a monthin 2009, to a monthly average range of nearly 26,000 views in 2012 (which is 125% more than thetraffic we saw even last year!).The articles posted to the website feature appealing imagery, relevant hyperlinks, and embeddedvideos (when applicable). The link from each story produced and posted on the website is, in turn,posted to the Georgia Guard Facebook fan page where individual updates generated just under threemillion impressions in 2012 alone. Needless to say, the stories that the Georgia Guard PAO hasalways spent countless manhours producing, are now each generating thousands of views, as opposedto hundreds.Most every state Guard agency has a website to post stories, of course. What makes the GeorgiaNational Guard page unique and exceptional is both the look and functionality of the websitecombined with its outstanding search engine optimization (SEO). Despite having an outdated portalengine and no professional webmaster on staff, the Georgia Guard website is among the best lookingin the National Guard. But instead of simply leaning on a slick, expensive interface (which we couldnot afford), or a graphic designer (which we do not have), or a webmaster (which we also do nothave), we focused on purpose, underlying principles, fundamental online outreach strategies, andclear command messages to transform the website into the command information channel we neededit to be.The transformation has been a success.
Of courseGeorgiaGuard.com ismost frequented byGeorgians, but itattracts internationaltraffic as well – fromdeployed Guardsmenand interestedinternational partners.
A close analysis of Google Analytics and Google Ad Words metrics indicates the GNG website isdominating its keyword market, drawing in thousands upon thousands of organic viewers fromrelated keyword searches. Indeed, our website is the first non-paid-for Google result for “GeorgiaNational Guard” and a host of other relevant key word searches. Given that Google constitutes 80%of the search engine market share, and there are (according to Google ad words) nearly 10,000monthly global searches for “Georgia National Guard,” we can estimate that our website’s premierSEO placement generates for us the lion’s share of those monthly click-throughs.This is significant because it allows the organization to have more centralized control (a la commandmessaging) over what people discover and ultimately think about the organization. Of course wehave other web presences (on various social media and other online channels) that compete for thetop spots in related search results as well. This means that, of the first websites that appear in a givenrelevant search result, the Georgia Guard homepage and many of the other channels we manage aremost likely to appear at the top of the list of results (the ones most likely to be viewed by peoplelooking for information about our organization). This is the epitome of “controlling your brand,” andit’s a surefire litmus test for any successful online strategy.A quick analysis from HubSpot’s website/SEO grader (before it converted into a “marketing” grader)indicated that the GNG website ranked in the 93rd percentile of all websites in the world and that itscopy read at a graduate level. One key element in generating traffic and improving SEO – across all Georgia Department of Defense channels – has been the seamless integration and syncopation of different types of content onto different channels. Basic traffic metrics show that YouTube holds more than 43% of the market share for online videos, and Flickr holds a significant portion of market share for sharing photos – positioning these two websites as the prime candidates for hosting Georgia Guard videos and photos, respectively. Instead of hosting videos or photos directly to the website alone (or doubling up work and splitting viewership by posting the same files to both the website and to social media), we embed applicable videos straight from YouTube onto the website and hyperlink all our story images to their Flickr counterparts. Doing this not only reduces the burden on our server and our staff, but it also drives traffic between our channels, thus optimizing our overall online reach. Other features on our website include a live feed from our Facebook fan page – where we post all the latest news, images, videos and updates about the organization. This widget, located on the right side of the website (regardless of which page you happen to be on) ensures that even those who do not have Facebook accounts have exposure to the high- quality updates posted there.Just below our Facebook widget is the NGB news widget – which helps ensure that NGB commandmessaging has a prominent placement on our premier command channel.
The website, of course, has separate sections for news, archived news, news releases and specialevent updates. Each of these is fed into an RSS feed which can, in turn, be subscribed to through theGovDelivery service – a service Georgia was one of the first states in the Guard to start using. Todate, more than 1,000 individuals have opted in for our e-mail updates. These are opt-ins, mind you,not addresses we manually added to a distribution list.At the bottom of the website and on the far-right section of the menu bar, we have prominentlyfeatured links to our internal communication channels. At the top of the page, we’ve taken greatstrides to include as much salient information as possible in our newly designed menu bar. The“news” tab displays a host of command publications and websites as well as a link to all the olderinternally produced news stories. The websites tab features a multitude of resource which haveproven useful to our Citizen-Soldiers and their families, and our multimedia tab features a variety ofcurrent and archived multimedia.The “press” tab features a chronological listing of Ga. DoD news releases, and the biographies of theexecutive leaders of the Georgia National Guard. These biographies are more in depth than most anyprovided by other military organizations, featuring not just a one-page bio of the individual, but alsoa link to all the videos, photos and news stories in which the individual has recently appeared as wellas links to that leader’s most recent speeches and op-eds. This provides the press, and anyone else,
with the fullest possible context with which to positively view our leaders. To that end, the bio of ourAdjutant General is the second most viewed page on the website – second only to our “contacts”page.The community relations page helps to streamline the approval process for special events support byproviding all the necessary documentation and guidance one needs to make such a request. Alsofeatured in the community relations tab is a link to the public events calendar, a listing of pendingspecial events within the organization, and a link to a comprehensive list of military discounts.The speaker’s bureau stands as a tangible resource for the many officers and enlisted Soldiers who goout into their communities to speak about the National Guard, on behalf of the National Guard. Notonly have we provided a host of resources and tips on how to write and deliver a speech, but aplethora of example speeches written by the PAO and delivered by Georgia Guard commanders isavailable as well.The history tab links to the various sources where Georgia Guardsmen can go to learn about thesignificant and storied history of Georgia’s Citizen-Soldiers. The contacts tab hosts the mostcomprehensive list of primary office lines ever made publicly available by the Georgia Guard, andthe home page tab offers links to both the disclaimer and the most recent annual reports. A new inclusion on the website in 2012 was the “employment” tab, which – itself – links to a newly constructed “Guard Your Business” microsite focused on helping our unemployed Guardsmen find gainful employment. From that microsite are two subpages, one for employers looking to hire Guardsmen, the other for Guardsmen looking for work. There is an abundance of other resource links provided both in the drop down menu of the “employment” tab and on the microsite page itself. Another new inclusion is the “command updates” tab, which serves as a host to the Adjutant General’s direct line to public communication. Because traditional Guardsmen often have difficult accessing our IT-run internal network, our Adjutant General wanted to provide a place for them to go to get an immediate update from leadership. To that effect, we created an RSS of content that shows all the “command updates” in one, neat list.All of this comes together to help make GeorgiaGuard.com the central hub for information and newsabout the Georgia National Guard. These are just a few of the reasons – both quantitative and
qualitative – as to why the Georgia National Guard’s website and the content it hosts are worthy ofpraise.
qualitative – as to why the Georgia National Guard’s website and the content it hosts are worthy ofpraise.