Create a Positive First Impression
According to Google’s research on first impressions, citizens judge a website within fifty milliseconds or less. This impression, good or bad, will have a lasting effect that will cost your municipality money and effort. A lasting bad impression hinders your city's growth potential and community activity. As a city, your goal is to create transparency between your municipality and your citizens. Your first step is your website. As shallow as it may sound, your website needs look good. You want your site to look professional, clean, and shine a light on why your city is the best place to live.
Also, consider the long-term effects of how your website will adapt to change. Can it only be changed by a webmaster? Is it hard to upload images? To continue being a relevant source of information for your city, a website needs updating continuously. If your website is difficult to change, your staff isn’t going to update it and your citizens will never engage with it. There are many companies that create easy-to-update websites that allow even non-webmaster staff to take part.
A study released by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) investigated the security, page-load time, mobile-friendliness, and accessibility of several popular government websites. What they discovered was both discouraging and disturbing. The study found that approximately 92 percent of the websites they evaluated fell short in at least one of these categories.
Make it Easy for Staff
Give your staff control; Empower them by teaching them how to add content, leverage meeting schedules, and edit calendars and local events on the website. Give your staff a website that is intuitive, searchable, and user-friendly. The worst thing to do when you recognize the negative impact on your staff and city from a poorly designed website is to wait. This could cost your municipality time, money, and most importantly, reputation.
If you are considering using a third-party website developer to create your dynamic new website, be aware that the new site may not provide your municipality with the flexibility and customization that a specialized web developer may present. Consider partnering with a company that specializes in municipalities and provides customer service for the long-term. Do the research, find a company that fits, and keep it simple for staff.
The next generation of websites is here and it’s called responsive design. Responsive design supports mobile users by adapting the layout of the site to change as the screen size increases or decreases. This ensures that your user's experience will not change regardless of whether they are searching on an iPad, smartphone, desktop, or a laptop. Be forewarned, many website developers advertise mobile-friendly designs, but it’s possible the mobile-friendly designed is restricted to a responsive home page rather than the entirety of the site. If your updated website has limited responsiveness, this could lead to future complaints and concerns by your citizens.
Increase Citizen Engagement
Do you expect citizens to sift through mountains of irrelevant information and crowded home pages to find an answer to their question? I’ll tell you the truth, they are not going to. They will, however, call into city hall to answer their question and offhandedly mention that your website is terrible which causes your staff time, energy, and most of all, patience. The good news? This scenario is easily avoided with a proper layout and intuitive website design. A well-rounded website will promote citizen self-service so that your citizens will be able to easily navigate the site without having interacted with it before. More often than not, citizens do not understand how governments are organized, therefore it’s becoming increasingly important to offer your citizens easy navigation through search engine integrations, directories, and dedicated landing pages.
It is a known fact that your citizens crave convenience. Search engines are a functional necessity that sets apart the good websites from the bad. A good search engine will feature the flexibility to create filters for your citizens to find the information as quickly as possible. Additionally, your website should enhance your assets. Are you using Facebook and Twitter to update citizens through emergencies? Make sure you have a link to your social media on the website. Does your city have multiple ethnicities? Make sure your website integrates with Google Translate. These features and functions enhance your municipalities transparency which will cut the number of calls and visits to city hall, increase revenue to your municipality, and reduce the staff workload.
It’s certain that surrounding cities already have an intuitive website serving their community, how does yours compare?