The Top 4 Reasons Government Website Redesigns Fail

December 22, 2023

Stressed business woman in the night city.

In the world of government website redesigns, there's a silent fear that often looms large but goes unspoken. It's the fear of failure. Failure could mean that the project never gets off the ground or the timeline stretches far beyond the original vision. Failure could also mean that after an extensive and resource-intensive redesign process, the outcome won't be substantially different than the starting point. The new site might look marginally prettier and work a bit more smoothly, but the underlying governance and software issues that necessitated the redesign will persist. 

This fear is not unfounded. It stems from the recognition that change is essential but that it's not always easy to achieve. But it also shouldn’t be paralyzing.

What distinguishes our most successful clients is their ability to face their fears proactively. They confront them  head-on, and as a result, they emerge with not just cosmetic improvements but profound transformations. How do they do it? They avoid these 4 common pitfalls.  

1. Lack of Buy-In from Leadership or Executive Team

Successful government website redesign projects have a single executive sponsor who champions the cause at the highest level of the organization. This individual possesses the gravitas to speak to the board or elected officials, rallying their support and communicating the importance of the project. Having this champion ensures that the project is more than just a technical endeavor; it's a strategic initiative with a clear vision and backing.

Tip: Support Your Executive Sponsor with an Empowered Project Manager

An Executive Sponsor should be equipped with a single, empowered project manager. This project manager should have the authority and resources to lead the project effectively. Their role is to steer the ship, ensuring that the project stays on course and is delivered on time and within budget.

Successful project management involves identifying potential roadblocks in advance. This includes issues like launch dates, vacation schedules, approval requirements, and input from elected officials. Anticipating these challenges allows you to develop strategies to overcome them without causing unnecessary delays. 

For the best experience, do this work before you write an RFP. 

2. No Change Management Plan

Change is inevitable during a website redesign project. Government projects often span a considerable duration—personnel changes, emergencies, and new mid-project initiatives all occur. To avoid turbulence, it's vital to have a change management plan in place. 

Failing to plan for staffing changes, and assuming that some project team members will rotate, can be a costly error. Expect new team members who must be onboarded swiftly and efficiently to maintain project momentum. Maintain a summary of the project, key stakeholders, and project process documents in a centralized location accessible to the entire team. This ensures that those new team members can quickly get up to speed and maintain project continuity.

Additionally, avoid introducing new approval stakeholders to the project later in the process as this can lead to delays and cost overruns. These new stakeholders will lack context on previous decisions, as well as have missed windows to share foundational information. To ensure a smooth approval process, it's crucial to involve all relevant stakeholders from the outset.

Tip: Think Beyond the Project Implementation

After launch, a new website means new daily habits and operations for your entire organization for the next three to five years. The more you can do to inform and prepare project teams, and who they impact, the more successful adaptation you’ll have over time. It’s one of the main reasons you should look for a vendor partner who will help you build a sustainable content team. 

3. Underestimating the Importance of Content

Your website without content is just an empty shell. Your website with unorganized content can be just as bad. For example, content based on an organization’s department structure is not formatted for how citizens will naturally seek information.

As part of our redesign for Johnson County, KS, we created one entry point for paying all county bills or fees, even if different departments are contracted with different payment platforms. This simple “How do I…” menu had a huge impact. Before the new site launch, online payments averaged just over 2000 per month. They are now receiving over 19,000 online payments a month. That’s over 8x the previous rate without changing any features or platforms.

Don’t wait until late in the project to address content needs or assume it can be easily migrated from the old site to the new one. Rarely can content be transferred without a thorough review and, often, a complete overhaul.

To succeed, you must get ahead of your content needs early in the process. This includes:

  • Appointing a core team with representatives from IT, communications, and the executive team who are empowered to make decisions.
  • Identifying and engaging key department reviewers and stakeholders early, securing their buy-in.
  • Recognizing which departments may require additional support for content development or migration due to staffing or other constraints.
  • Establishing a clear approval process for different aspects of the project, be it design, content, or functionality.

Tip: Review Content During Discovery and Definition of Your New Site

You don't want to bring over old and irrelevant content. But you also can't just throw everything away and start from scratch—it's simply not realistic. The only way to find the right content to bring over is to complete a thorough review and make strategic decisions that will best serve the people who rely on this information being available. Do this work at the beginning of the project and partner with a firm that knows how to build and train on a government-specific approach to content strategy.

4. Neglecting SEO and Mobile Optimization

In today's digital landscape, ignoring SEO and mobile-friendliness is a grave oversight. Over half of government website traffic is sourced from public search engines and mobile devices. Failing to factor in these elements from the project's inception can result in a missed opportunity to engage with your audience effectively.

Tip: Reframe Your Project Goal Toward Accessibility, not just Aesthetics

The key to better serving your communities is to recognize that it's not just about aesthetics; it's about making meaningful changes that improve the user experience and the efficiency of your government website. As a public space, your website needs to work for everyone. This includes mobile users—and not just those with the latest smartphones—who make up over half of regular government website visitors.

Government website redesign projects are significant undertakings, and the fear of not achieving a substantial transformation is a valid concern. By heeding the advice of successful clients, such as having a strong executive sponsor, empowered project management, and a proactive approach to content, you can ensure success. You can transform your government website into a powerful tool that serves both your organization and the communities you exist to support.  

Interpersonal Frequency can help make that success happen. Learn how.