If you want to build a successful government website or do a rebuild on one you already have, review this list before you review plans with your website vendor. You’ll be glad you did!
A successful government website puts users first. This is true for all websites, but when it comes to government – where every touch point with your constituents matters – it’s especially important to ensure that visitors have a good experience and that you’re serving your audience.
Websites are outward facing, and can sometimes be the only interaction the community has with your office. Visitors to the site will have certain expectations of functionality and overall experience based on other sites they visit regularly. A bad user experience will frustrate visitors and could reflect poorly on your organization.
1. Establish Clear Objectives for Your Website
Planning for a website project requires setting goals and defining the site’s purpose. Before making any big changes or starting to build a new website, begin by clearly defining what you want your website to achieve.
Without clear objectives, content will be unfocused and could result in a poor user experience.
Do you simply want to provide visitors with information? Do you want repeat visitors who engage with your content? Ask yourself exactly how you want visitors to use your site and the experience you want them to have. Keep those objectives top of mind as you develop your site.
2. Start with a Sitemap
A sitemap is a list of pages that helps Google and other search engines find content on your site. It’s a quick, easy-to-follow overview of your website, providing text links to every page, showing users and web crawlers where they can go.
The sitemap is important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Using keyword phrases on your sitemap will help pages on your website rank higher in search results.
Along with showing search engines how your site is organized, the sitemap also provides valuable “metadata” for each page, such as how often pages are updated and changed, or how important a page is relative to the other pages on your website. This all plays a role in improving SEO.
3. Government Websites Require Responsive Design
Mobile use grows every year, and more people access the internet today via smartphones and tablets than they do from a desktop computer. Responsive design simply means your website needs to look good and operate well on a mobile (often smaller) device.
Responsive sites include these features:
- All text is automatically re-sized and re-located for easy viewing
- Links and buttons are large enough to click
- Re-ordering of content to allow for vertical scrolling
- Videos play easily with the entire screen in full view
With a responsive design, visitors have a consistent experience on your website no matter how or where they access it.
4. Open a Data Portal
Using interactive maps on your website is a powerful way to inform and engage your community. This is because there’s a growing public demand for online information and you can support constituents by providing easy-to-navigate, interactive maps.
By using data integration via a top mapping platform, you can proactively provide the reliable information your community wants and needs. This eliminates the communication barriers between your office and the public. And it saves your office time by no longer having to field multiple requests for information.
Using an open data portal you can:
- Provide updates on local services, amenities, news, and events
- Publish property, agency, and community information via user-friendly maps on your website
- Engage directly with constituents to enabling ongoing communications
5. Generate Useful Content for Your Community
Successful government websites become a go-to source of information for the community by creating highly useful and relevant content.
Take a critical look at the kinds of information your community wants from you. That’s where you can start mining for content ideas. For example, a community calendar that is updated daily with meetings or other relevant community events. Or an FAQ that helps to explain new infrastructure improvements taking place in the community.
Also, be sure to regularly update your content. Many government websites are guilty of leaving outdated content on their site, and this is frustrating for website visitors.
6. Comply with Federal Government Mandates
Your website must comply with all relevant federal laws, policies, and regulations. These can change often and with little notice. Be sure to regularly review federal mandates regarding government websites to ensure your agency isn’t unwittingly in breach of current policies.
7. Include Language Change Capabilities
Your constituents may include a population who are not native English language speakers, and they may struggle with fluency. A successful government website enables language change capabilities. This is a simple software program and can be used to represent nearly any language in the world, or several languages if needed.
8. Regularly Review Website Metrics
Finally, it’s important to measure your success. Website metrics will tell you everything you need to know about your site’s performance. And the answers will be invaluable in helping you determine what is and isn’t working.
Questions to measure success:
- How many people are visiting your website? What are their demographics?
- Once visitors find your site, do they stay or leave after a second or two?
- How much time do they spend on each page?
- What are the most popular pages?
- What are the least popular pages?
These questions (and many more) can be easily answered by reviewing your metrics using a tool like Google Analytics. Plan to have someone on your team or your website vendor, review and report on your website metrics bi-weekly at the very least.
A successful government website is critical to establishing a positive image and opening a communication channel with constituents. Investing in your website shows the community that you care about serving them through helpful and regularly updated information.
Follow this checklist to help your team establish a website that operates well, serves your visitors, and gets better over time!