Don’t Try Building a Contact List from Local Government Websites

If you’re a local government marketer or salesperson, you need list of local government officials to market or sell to. Duh!

Unfortunately, many of you try to do this by gathering names and contact information from local government websites. Those who’ve tried know that it’s immensely frustrating.

And based on our first-of-its-kind research, we know why it’s so frustrating.

It turns out that, on average, only 46% of local government decision-makers can be found online with basic contact information (name, title, phone, email). And if that news isn’t bad enough, even if senior officials are listed on local government websites, finding them can be tricky in some cases.

Here’s how we’ll break it down for you:

  1. How many local governments have a website? (Obviously, without a website to go to, you’re out of luck.)
  2. For local governments with a website, are the correct senior officials listed? (If not, you’re out of luck again.)
  3. If the correct officials are listed, does the listing include title, phone, and email? (If not, well, you know.)

How Many Local Governments Have a Website?

To begin with, not all local governments even have a website. In fact, only 81% do, which is surprisingly low. That means if you’re relying on “web-scraping” to build your list, your list will be incomplete no matter how much time you spend.

We know this, because at Power Almanac we track contact information for senior officials from more than 21,000 local governments throughout the US. We cover 98% of all local governments with populations of 1,000 or more.

The 81% average masks considerable variation by population, government type and location.

As one might expect, local governments representing populations less than 5,000 are considerably less likely to have websites than their larger peers.

The biggest surprise in the data is the small percentage of townships with websites – only 43%, compared with more than 91% for all other government types.

There is also substantial geographical variation.   Governments in the Midwest are much less likely to have websites than in other regions.

Most of the web-laggard states are in the Midwest.

A Quick Note about Our Methodology for Finding Officials’ Contact Info

It’s not enough for local governments to have websites.  To build your list of local government decision-makers, senior officials need to be listed on the websites with contact information.

To estimate the likelihood of finding the correct senior officials online, we analyzed a random sample of 520 decision makers from our database, looking only within the 81% of local governments that have websites. We chose 40 senior officials at random from each of the 13 roles we track (listed in the chart below).

Note that we already know the correct identity and contact information for these officials from our ongoing phone-verification process.

We then scoured the local governments’ websites to answer the following series of questions for each of these 520 officials:

  • Is the correct official listed on the website?
  • If yes,
    • Is his or her title correct?
    • Is a phone number provided?
      • If yes, which phone number – direct, department or main government number?
    • Is an email provided?
      • If yes, which email – direct, department or main government email?

Are the Correct Senior Officials Listed on Local Government Websites?

Among those local governments with websites, about 85% of their senior officials (heads of their respective functions) are listed on the website (and are correct).  However, the likelihood of finding an official varies considerably by role, as broken down in the chart below.

CAVEAT:  The percentages shown above are likely to be higher than your experience.  That’s because we went to each site already knowing the right name to look for.  But you won’t.  And using titles to find decision makers is iffy at best in local governments .

Surprisingly, the Heads of IT are the least likely to be found online – perhaps because they are among the most sought after by vendors?

Others with a low presence are the Heads of Buildings (Permitting/Compliance) and Fire Protection Services.  By contrast, virtually all the Top Appointed Officials and Head Clerks in the sample are listed on the websites.

Is Contact Information Provided?

Assuming that:

  1. The local government has a website, and
  2. The senior official is listed on the site…

We wanted to know:  Is the official’s basic contact information provided (title, phone, email)? Is it complete?  Is it direct (to the official?)

We were pleased to find that when the senior official was listed, their job title was quite accurate – correct in 98% of cases.   However, as noted earlier, we don’t recommend using job titles of local government officials to predict their roles or responsibilities.

A phone number would seem to be very basic contact information, but is omitted for 15% of local officials.  Moreover, if a phone number is provided, it typically isn’t a direct number, but rather a main government number (45% of senior officials) vs. 34% direct line, and 20% department phone.

Email is more valuable than a phone number for marketing purposes but is omitted for 26% of senior officials. Fortunately, if it’s included it is much more likely to be direct to the official than with phone numbers.

Putting it all Together

Putting it all together . . . the probability of finding the correct official with complete basic contact information on a local government website is summarized in the chart below. Nationwide, across all local government decision-maker roles, the probability is 46%.

The chart below provides a rough estimate of finding complete contact information online for each of the 13 roles we track.

  • The hardest to find complete information online:  Heads of Police, Fire Protection and Public Works.
  • The easiest:  Head Clerk, Top Appointed Official and Head of HR.

Even When They’re There, They’re Hard to Find

For those of you intent on crawling websites, the news gets worse. If an official is listed on the site, finding them is often not a straightforward task.  Some local government websites have hundreds of pages, with widely varying organizational schemes.

In fact, we found officials’ contact information on at least five different sections of local governments’ websites:

  • A page for the official’s department
  • A government-wide staff directory
  • A government-wide contacts page
  • Buried in minutes of meetings
  • On the home page.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that government websites have earned a bit of infamy for bad design, broken links and outdated information.

A Better, Cheaper, Faster Solution

Fortunately, Power Almanac provides a more accurate, complete and cost-effective alternative to searching (often fruitlessly) through thousands of local government websites.  That’s because we gather 100% of our data by calling every local government every 6 months, not web-scraping.

We’ve done the list building for you, so you can spend your time achieving your marketing and sales goals.  Delegate the drudgery of list building to us.  You’ll spend less time and money, get better results and eliminate a lot of frustration.

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