Have you ever visited a neighboring municipality’s website and thought to yourself, “Wow, why doesn’t our site look like this?” Government websites have a tendency to be outdated, hard to follow, and let’s just be honest — boring. We get it. There’s a bunch of necessary information that needs to be included and lots of different departments and individuals you need to cater to. But the right approach to design and user interface can marry these foundational needs with the needs of your community and an updated, appealing look and feel.
In our experience working with cities and counties all across the country, we’ve uncovered ten key “trouble spots” that can lead to an outdated, disjointed, “boring” website. If you want to keep up with the county next door, or just maximize your own investment in your website, here’s where to start.
10 Common Areas Where Municipal Sites Get It Wrong
- Unresponsive Design: You may be shocked given it’s 2023, but many municipal websites are not designed to be mobile-friendly. Everybody should be able to use their phones or tablets to pay their water bill. Unfortunately that’s not the case, which leads to a poor user experience and reduced engagement.
- Lack of user-centered design: A website that is not designed with the needs of its users in mind can be confusing or difficult to use. Your citizens shouldn’t have to stop and think about how to interact with a page or move through your site.
- Outdated content management system: Using an outdated or cumbersome content management system can make everybody’s life difficult. Your staff may not be able to figure out how to quickly add an emergency alert or update content about a new process, which of course ends up affecting your citizens.
- Poor navigation and organization: It seems simple in theory, but websites should be organized logically — based on the people who will use them most. Residents and visitors alike will be quick to exit from the site if they don’t find the information they need in a timely manner, even if the organization echos your organization’s internal methods
- Weak search functionality: Our data demonstrates that a majority of users rely on a search function to get the information they need. An enhanced search option can even help users find information that’s actually aligned with their needs, even on a site with thousands of pages and PDFs.
- Lack of clear calls to action: If your website does not have clear calls to action like buttons or links to “Pay Your Water Bill Here” or “Find Board Meeting Agendas,” it can be more difficult for users to know where to go or what to do.
- Outdated design: Believe it or not, an outdated design can lead to reduced engagement, even if your content is up-to-date. Working to incorporate a uniform look and feel across your site can re-energize the connection with your community.
- Lack of accessibility: If a website is not designed with accessibility baked in, users with disabilities may be completely left behind.
- Poor performance: It sounds like a no-brainer, but a slow website, whether that’s page loading or other performance-related issues, will have users bailing before they even have a chance to form an opinion about your site’s content and interface.
- No social media integration: A significant portion of your users are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., making this integration necessary to deliver information and engage with your audience.
6 Recommendations for Improving Your Website
- Mobile-friendly design: It’s a fact: More people (a solid majority) are accessing the internet on their smartphones, making it important for municipal government websites to be designed with mobile devices in mind. This includes using responsive design techniques to ensure that the site looks good and is easy to use on smaller screens, as well as optimizing content for faster loading times on mobile networks.
- Improved accessibility: Making websites more accessible to users with disabilities is becoming increasingly important, as it should be. Municipal government websites are no exception to this, so you should be designing a site with assistive technologies like screen readers in mind, as well as providing alternative text for images and other non-text content.
- Refreshed site design: We know that your website needs to serve complex and wide-ranging user needs all while keeping information easily accessible. This doesn’t have to mean your site design should take the backburner. Simple design refreshers like updating the header/footer or changing menu options can keep your information clean and simple while adding a refreshed feel.
- Enhanced security: Cyber threats are everywhere lately, making it important for municipal government websites to prioritize security. This includes implementing measures such as SSL encryption, regularly updating software and plugins, and following best practices for password management.
- Digital citizen engagement tools: Tools like online forms for reporting issues or submitting ideas, interactive maps that show information about the community, and social media accounts for sharing updates and engaging with residents (all while building on the website as your “home base” and source of truth) are not just nice-to-haves but expected by your community. By providing these types of resources, municipal governments can improve communication with their constituents and increase transparency.
- Data visualization and analytical tools: Sharing data can also enhance transparency and build public buy-in. For example, a government website can include interactive maps that show crime rates, traffic patterns, or other types of data. By providing this information in a visual format, governments can help residents make informed decisions and better understand the issues facing their community.
At Interpersonal Frequency, we created the Voice of Citizen® platform, which uses a sophisticated survey platform to ask a statistically valid representative sample of your users a handful of carefully crafted questions. For example: What are you here to do? Were you able to complete the purpose of your visit today? If not, why? We combine this qualitative data about your users’ needs with quantitative clickstream data (user behavioral data as they interact with the website) to create a full picture of how your users interact with your site. Because Voice of Citizen® is installed on sites across the country, we can also benchmark your data against an extensive database of similar online users for best-practice recommendations.
Small Changes Can Lead to Big Results
Pursuing even one of these suggestions is sure to improve your user engagement and can help the look of your site by bringing a new vibrancy and meaningful content. We know that managing municipal websites can be daunting, but zeroing in on the areas where you might be lacking can provide a roadmap to maximize your online presence and your constituents’ ability to use your site for essential interactions and engagement. Interpersonal Frequency can help - let’s talk.