Local City and County Governments in a Digital World: 11 Recommendations for Municipal Website Projects

Websites for counties, cities, public schools, and townships often fall short of expectations. Their layout and navigation are clunky and outdated. Web pages don't receive timely updates. Community information and documents are handwritten or scanned from old paper documents, poorly organized, and difficult to find.

Why do municipal sites struggle? There are often several factors at play:

  • “We don't use the internet, so no one else does either.” Civic leadership positions are often filled by an older generation of residents that may underestimate the value of an online presence, which leads to websites that aren't given very much budget or time.

  • “I know a guy.” Municipal websites are often built by local residents with little to no real experience. Rather than finding experts to build a powerful community asset, someone's “Cousin Joe" is hired on the cheap to provide the organization with an Internet presence.

  • “It just needs to work. Who cares how it looks.” Good design takes a back seat to utility. In this case, a badly designed site isn't merely ugly, but difficult to use, making the usability of an ugly site questionable. Design is more than window dressing. It speaks to how much you care about the residents who have to interact with your municipality through the site.

  • “I don't have time.” City employees are busy folks, caring for community services, street maintenance, public health and 101 other things. In all of the busyness, no one is assigned to manage the site, so it falls behind. This leads to a website that is never up to date with the latest resources, which leads to residents not using the site, which leads to less care about managing the site well.

  • “Well it makes sense to me.” Site navigation is built with organizational flow charts in mind rather than a consideration for residents who have no insider knowledge. Local governments deal with a lot of paperwork and red tape. Residents may not understand why certain documents are located with departments that may seem unrelated. The site aims to satisfy internal standards rather than serving the residents the site exists to serve.

Your city's website doesn't have to be this way.

A great municipal website will make your whole community look classier to outsiders, will serve residents with timely resources and, most of all, will show that you care about your constituents.

Are you ready to take a step in the right direction?

Here are some ideas to help turn things around:

  1. Begin by admitting that your municipal website stinks.

  2. Seek out real web development professionals to help develop an invigorated, useful web presence. You'll know an expert by their portfolio and by what people say about them.

  3. Sit down with living, breathing residents in your community and find out what they really need from your website.

  4. Spend a little more time and money on good design. Design here is less about having a colorful, flashy home page, and more about having a site that is intuitive, inviting, and represents your municipality’s image. Pay particular attention to how easy to use your new design is.

  5. Take steps to integrate your website into the overall flow of your local government. This might mean uploading important documents to the site that everyone can access as a matter of course, or creating an internal staff intranet site to help aid internal communication. The more leaders and employees use their own site, the more vested they will be in its success.

  6. During the development of your new site, look for a system that allows for multiple people to manage the site easily. A solid website management system will provide different layers of website control, with lower level employees only gaining access to their respective sections of the site.

  7. You can expect more than 50% of  people who visit your website to be using an iPhone, iPad or Android device, and these numbers are only going up. Develop a website that works well on large desktop screens and small smartphone screens. The key here is having a website that is easy to click with a mouse, and tap with a finger.

  8. Intentionally put someone in charge of managing the site, and see that they are provided with the resources needed to learn how the site works, and how to manage it well. A good web development firm will not only build a website, but provide you with training, educational resources, and personal guidance.

  9. After you've put someone (or ideally a group of people) in charge of the community website, establish a standard of best practices. This standard could include everything from font choices to how news is presented, and what language you use to communicate to residents online. These standards will help keep your website looking consistent and professional between multiple staff members.

  10. As often as possible, convert print forms into online fillable forms. When users can submit information through your website, rather than printing off and mailing in a form, you not only save on paper, but increase participation because you have eliminated the “hassle factor”.

  11. Similarly, move payment of taxes and fees online as well. Online payment will simplify the process for fee payment, which will lead to increased revenues and time saved chasing down late payments.

Are you in need of a revamped community website? We can help! By providing an experienced team to walk with you every step of the way, Ethode can help you create a government website that is inviting, professional, and serves your community well.

To get started, take a moment and complete our online quote form. We look forward to serving you!

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