New Delhi: The government will consider the unique monthly visitors of websites and check if they are locally operated before releasing official advertisements to them, guidelines released on Thursday said.

The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry said all online ads from the central government will be routed via the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP), which will empanel eligible websites. DAVP will also fix the advertisement rates. Only empanelled websites will be considered for government advertisements.

According to a ministry statement, websites which are owned and operated by companies incorporated in India will be considered for empanelment. Also, websites operated by a foreign company’s locally registered branch will also be eligible.

DAVP will have to strategically place the ads on websites with a high number of unique users per month to ensure the visibility of advertisements, according to the guidelines.

Unique user data of each empanelled website will be reviewed by the ministry in the first week of April every year.

“The government as an advertiser has a right to evaluate the medium through which the advertisements are given. These ads have to be directed within India--- to Indian citizens, so the ministry has given an apt criteria," said Pawan Chopra, a former secretary at the ministry of information and broadcasting.

The ministry has divided websites into three categories—A, B and C—on the basis of unique users per month, to define the reach of the website and accordingly decide the advertisement rates. For example, a website with a unique user base of 5 million and above will fall under category A, between 2 million and 5 million in category B and from 0.25 million to 2 million in category C.

“The policy stipulates eligibility criteria for websites to get empanelled with DAVP which includes unique users (UU) per month data, which shall be cross-checked and verified by internationally accepted and credible third-party tools that monitor website traffic in India," the ministry said.

The websites can only run government ads via a third-party server engaged by DAVP, which will provide all relevant reports linked with online billing and will be used for verification of bills for payment.

The norms also emphasize DAVP shall be the nodal agency for all central government ministries and departments for advertising through DAVP-empanelled Internet websites. However, autonomous bodies such as public sector units can directly release advertisements, but only at DAVP rates, and to the agencies empanelled with DAVP.

According to DAVP data, the government had spent 842.89 crore on publicity in the year 2015-16 till 29 February 2016, out of which 353.31 crore was spent on electronic media advertisements.

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