SEO, PPC, and the US government

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I was exploring the FirstGov web site from the US government, and their section on web content, and I wondered how much of our tax dollars are being spent on paid search. I remember seeing some paid ads by the DEA last summer, and the agency is still using Google Adwords.

On the page about search engines, the webmasters provide information to help people working on US government sites add site searches, and they also give a window into future additions on the site, including “Getting found on search engines (search engine optimization).”

I looked around to see if they had anything about paid advertising, and found some guidelines about advertising on government sites, but nothing about using paid search on search engines.

I’m tempted to volunteer some information and assistance on SEO, especially if it could help them to build a more balanced online advertising presence within Google and other search engines (and maybe reduce my tax bill).

By the way, the Drug Enforcement Administration ad shown in the picture above leads to a consumer warning on the dangers and possible illegality of buying drugs online. The link on the US Customs and Border Protection advertisement leads to a 404 error message page (at “”.

Both sites seem to have a healthy presence in paid advertisments for the names of prescription drugs. I’ll check back tomorrow on the US Customs page to see if they noticed that their landing page is missing in action. Sadly, I’m guessing that it’s been like that for a while.

After searching for a webmaster email address, or some type of way of contacting them for about twenty minutes, I found a way to “ask a question” which I used to send the following message:


I noticed that you are using paid search to advertise on Google, and the link being used on your site points to this page:

When I visit the page, I receive a 404 – page not found message.

Either the page is missing, or you may need to make some changes to your advertising campaign.


I hope that reporting this doesn’t get me into hot water with the Customs and Border Protection Department. (I am a third generation US citizen.)

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6 thoughts on “SEO, PPC, and the US government”

  1. Customs is still advertising via Adwords, and still bringing people to a 404 page. I’m trying not to be cynical either, but I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

  2. I will try my best not to be to cynical. They definitely need someone to teach them lessons on ROI.

  3. Interesting. Seems the government and political actors are becoming more and more search marketing inclined. You may be interested to know our provincial parties were using them last election (I followed suit to critique their poor practices lol).
    What’s interesting is whether the FDA and Customs have any way of measuring the success of their sites? I mean, they’re buying ads to share info, so how do you track conversions? Maybe they need to offer a free whitepaper ;)? (And then quiz ppl on it’s contents; ppl who get a 70%+ on the quiz are entered into a contest…
    Don’t you love my creative skills? If the government hires you know, do pass on some of the work 😀 hehe).

    by the way… Vicodin? Prescription meds? You doing anything blackhat by any chance? lol

    Oh, and here r the links to the articles I mentioned:
    Newspaper story (French):
    “” (no longer available)

    My critique (English):

  4. Nice analysis.

    It’s been a year since I wrote this post, and I’m afraid to look to see if they are still running this campaign, with an error page instead of a landing page.

    The choices of keyword phrases were inspired by a friend’s search and discovery of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s campaign.

    I haven’t heard back from them (I did send an email), but it might not be a bad idea to send an email to my congressional representatives instead. Maybe I will take a look. 🙂

  5. Although I think that serps should be automated I also think that this is a strong case for manual intervention having a place within the results as these kind of pages have a clear benifit to society. It is enough to put me on the fence

  6. Hi Jimmy,

    I think that SERPs should be as automated as possible as well, but when it comes to managing paid search campaigns, problems like the ones I’ve described here should be noticed within hours, and fixed within as short a time frame as possible.

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