Virginia Beach city government harnesses the Google

What do residents need help finding on Virginia Beach’s city website?

Let me Google that for you …

Home values, maps and trash pick-up, it appears.

Those three topics topped the list of most common searches during a recent three-week stretch, according to data collected by the city’s new search engine.

The city recently switched from an in-house search bar to Google Custom Search, a service that replicates the tech giant’s search techniques on local sites. All of the city’s pages — including vbgov.comvirginiaaquarium.com and vbpublicart.org — now use the function, and the city says data on them are now easier to find.

Learning what people are searching is also easier.

graphic for google1Between Sept. 8 and 29, users of the new engine searched for real estate assessment data 50 times, the most of any topic. The second most popular inquiry was about maps, at 40, followed next by trash pick-up, at 25. Further down the list were the Seatack Community Recreation Center and waste management, each of which were searched 10 times, rounding out the 13 most sought-after queries.

The Google service costs the city $2,000 per year and covers as many as 500,000 search searches a year, according to Rosemary Gladden, a city spokeswoman. Virginia Beach’s websites average about 240,000 search queries annually, she said by email.

Other than returning more robust results — including thumbnails — the move is part of a 32-step Master Technology Plan, which has also included the launch of three apps this year and calls for city websites to be rebuilt so they are responsive to mobile devices.

The new search-engine “is the essence of the whole plan,” Gladden said, adding that the city wants to make its data more easily accessible to its residents.

“It’s just about making everything faster and better for people,” she said.

Read the city’s news release

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