How to Write a County Website RFP that Attracts Best-in-Class Vendors

September 12, 2022

Office worker smiling with a colleague while discussing new business idea

Because your time is valuable and you want to find the right partner for your county government website redesign project, you need to be efficient with your vendor search. There are some easy ways to make your redesign RFP (request for proposal) or RFI (request for information) stand out and get results.  

Since Interpersonal Frequency only works with government organizations, we have deep insight into the unique aspects of this process. We only bid on a select handful, and we’ve noticed some important characteristics that can make a website redesign RFP stand out —or make us pass it by. 

Because we believe there’s no better way to learn than from real-life examples, you can even download the full RFPs for each example mentioned here, complete with our embedded analysis.  

If you want the best chance of qualified vendors bidding on your County website project, read on. 

What We Loved in County 2021 Website RFPs:

Counties are recognizing the importance of the citizen user experience and content in the design process.

Previously, counties focused primarilyon a website software tool and how county website employees could use that tool. We have started to see more mentions of usability and a desire for citizens to have a good experience with the website (beyond a pretty web design), not just a good experience for county site administrators. 

Unfortunately, this positive trend was largely visible in RFPs from larger counties. For smaller counties, a focus on technical, back-end questions remains more common. But we hope to see this trend shift in the future as all government entities become more aware of the importance of an easy and effective end-user experience. 

Accessibility (ADA / WCAG 2.1 / Section 508 compliance) is no longer taking a back seat. 

Building a website that is usable by all has thankfully become a priority. We are seeing increased mentions of the need to ensure content is available in multiple languages, and even some mentions of testing the content and accessibility of the website to meet widely accepted standards.

An honest recognition of the challenges counties can face in wrangling their many different departments.

Consensus seems to be that providing a unified experience for residents to access county services and information through a centrally managed system is key, even when a county may have multiple elected leaders who are separate from the County board. The days of a single county having dozens, or even hundreds of different websites (including microsites) on different software platforms are thankfully ending. Managing that type of set-up is finally being recognized for the security and logistical nightmare it is.

Finding ways to convince all the stakeholders from different county departments and branches to work together can be challenging; relatively few counties have regular projects that bring people together across departments. But a good website redesign vendor will not only be able to navigate that situation but also make the most of it to push the entire organization forward.

What We Didn’t Love in 2021/2 County RFPs:

An emphasis on gimmicky tools without good content. 

A tool alone can rarely solve a problem. For example, many counties want chatbot type software, but fail to understand or even acknowledge the work it takes to get digital content in shape to make such new interfaces work well. Too many county website RFPs still emphasize tools over content.  

We understand the origin of this perspective. Any software you’re going to invest in needs to be easy to use. But more than 50% of visitors on county websites come from an organic (i.e., Google or Bing) search engine result, and no amount of SEO (search engine optimization) can overcome poor quality content. Having good-to-great content is a prerequisite for having an effective, useful, working, award-winning website, starting from the moment your end user types a term or question into a search bar.

Lack of data on who is — or isn’t — using your website. 

Many counties haven’t bothered to do a simple poll on their website to see who’s coming to their website, what’s working and what’s not. In fact, the major reason counties undertake a website redesign is simply to refresh the visual design. But investing in a pretty new “skin” is perilous if you don’t also understand what’s working for your site visitors and what’s not. There’s still too little insight into how citizens are using these digital tools; and these are the people for whom you’re building this new site. Mentioning that the visual interface is outdated just skims the surface of potential issues your RFP could be digging into. 

Where’s the meaty information about your residents’ online struggles or the populations that you could be serving but currently aren’t? Too few county website RFPs mention their underserved communities, which can often be the communities where there is the potential to make the biggest impact with a new, easier to use, more accessible website with digital services. 

No budget data.

Too many counties still think that withholding budget data will get them the best deal possible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Giving out approximate budget ranges helps competent vendors make judgements about whether their solutions can fit what you are looking for or not. With this lack of transparency, it’s no wonder the average county received 20-30 RFP responses, many from firms which were wholly unprepared to take on the challenge of a major municipal county’s website redesign process. (We know this to be true because RFP submissions are publicly available information, and tracking these trends helps us find the best partners for our work.) 

Red Flags in 2021 County Website RFPs:

Counties that are building their own websites. 

Would you build your own house? There’s a major difference between maintaining and even developing on an existing site platform versus building your own county website from scratch. It’s one thing to add to an existing site after getting some help on the user experience or design. But we’ve seen an uptick in counties that have competent web developers on staff who are attempting to build a new website in house while maintaining the existing one, contracting out only the user experience design piece for the project. Although it is technically feasible to do this, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. (We won’t name names, but we have seen counties attempt and fail at this.)

Planning to move content from the existing software to a new software platform wholesale. 

Would you buy a pretty house with a rotten foundation? Content is the foundation of any county website — it works in harmony with the transactional tools the website can provide. But rot begets rot. Even the smallest counties we work with have thousands of documents and often hundreds or even thousands of pages of content. Since most county websites are redone only once or twice a decade, this is an important time to review what you’re putting into your beautiful new site. Sure, you can just move your junk from one location to the other, but if you choose this path, are you really serious about serving the interests of your community? Worse, we see counties make excuses about how local or state-mandated retention laws compel them to keep a decade or more of content and files online. But the truth is, there’s a way to archive old information without making citizens have to wade through it when they search for the latest information.

Before You write Your Website RFP, Reconnect With Your Purpose.

Rebuilding your county website can feel daunting, but it’s also an opportunity to make a major impact across your entire community. Embarking on the RFP process shouldn’t be something you dread. Hopefully, with the help of these pointers, you can craft an RFP that will not only attract highly qualified vendors, but also energize your organization as you look toward future improvements and upgrades.