Top Trends in Website RFPs for 2023: What’s New, What’s Exciting, and What Has Us Worried
Like everything else, each year of RFPs brings new trends, new challenges, and our personal favorite, new innovations. We’ve definitely seen municipalities shift over the past year with their features & functionality requirements, CMS preferences, and desire for real user feedback.
Whether your organization is thinking about redesigning your website or improving the user experience on an existing site, the trends listed below may give you some insight into what similar organizations are doing and planning for the upcoming year.
We’ve been analyzing RFPs for over a decade now, and just when we think we’ve seen it all, new trends and ideas emerge. We’re sharing our expertise with you so you can get the website you and your community need and deserve. We’ll also point out some common pitfalls you’ll want to avoid.
3 City Website RFP Trends to Inform Your 2023 Strategy
A bigger focus on analytics in RFPs
This one gets us super excited! One of the most important pieces to your online presence is really understanding why your users are going to your website in the first place and what they are trying to accomplish. Whether it’s Google Analytics or using our proprietary analytic platform, Voice of Citizen™, having that clear view into your website from the eyes of those who need to use it is invaluable. We have definitely seen a large uptick in RFPs looking for in-depth analytics and analysis of their data, which makes sense. You want your website to truly represent the people who live there (or want to visit)! (Check out our article about which metrics we think these folks should focus on for maximum impact.)
Cities Are Deepening their interest in CMS training
We have seen cities and counties all over the U.S embrace training over the past year. Government employees want to make sure they’re covering their bases with training so they truly know the ins and outs of their CMS, and aren’t left unsure of how to use their brand new website once it’s ready. That learning can happen through in-depth training with the firm before or after the site launch or through a user guide/training manual that’s part of the site delivery. In either case, we like seeing this interest in training to head off some of the common problems that can happen after a new site launches. We love talking about the nitty-gritty details of how we can help our clients understand not just how their new site is set up, but why it’s set up that way, and how to maintain it over time to get the most out of their investment.
There is a great emphasis on a project approach
We’ve also noticed an uptick in organizations wanting a more detailed project plan. Organizations like yours with plenty of competing priorities really want to know what their involvement will be with this type of project, and over what timeframe. Whether it’s for focus groups or executive alignment, RFP’s have been clear in wanting the steps that will be included in the project approach laid out completely for them to evaluate. All in all, we like this, because it helps municipalities fully understand the scope and will help them ultimately pick a firm based on what they really want from a partner. The more you know …
Two findings from 2022 RFPs that we recommend you avoid:
Don’t put emphasis on quick turnarounds.
Sure, you can get a new, updated website in a few months. But do you really want to hire a firm that’s going to give you a slapdash website and nothing else? No feedback from your constituents, no board alignment, no branding collaboration with your city/county communications team?
Your website is the key to connecting with your community. Do you really not care if it’s fully representative of the breadth and quality of your services and the people you serve? Unfortunately, we have seen a lot of website redesign RFPs focus on this type of ASAP project turnaround. We suggest you ask yourself if it’s really worth it when you may have to redesign it again in 2-3 years because your “new” site is already out of touch.
Your evaluation factors need to be crystal clear
Evaluation factors in your RFP should not be vague, as this can lead to confusion and ambiguity in the bidding process. The purpose of an RFP is to provide potential vendors with a clear understanding of the project's requirements and expectations, including the evaluation criteria. A well-defined evaluation process with clear and specific criteria helps vendors and firms tailor their proposals to meet your specific needs and ensures that the winning proposal is truly the best fit for the project. Make extra sure that this part of your RFP is crystal clear.
What Will Your 2023 City Website RFP Look Like?
Staying aware of emerging trends in the world of municipal websites is crucial for long-term success. While some trends may come and go, paying attention to them can provide valuable insights into the evolving needs and expectations of communities. By staying on top of trends and embracing innovative solutions, municipalities can ensure they are delivering the highest possible quality of service and leading the positive change in their communities for years to come.
3 trends we love from 2021 RFPs and 3 trends that cause concern
The pandemic forced municipalities to reconsider how they serve their communities online. Cities have had to overcome extended office closures, the need to rapidly roll out registration for testing and vaccine appointments, and an ongoing demand from citizens to avoid physical spaces in favor of online transactions. Providing the ability to not just find information but actually complete transactions through city websites has become a front-and-center concern. We’ve seen this reflected in recent requests for proposal (RFPs), where in addition to the typical reasons for a website redesign (such as outdated or end-of-life platforms or new leadership), the need to provide comprehensive online services has become a common theme.
For over a decade, we’ve analyzed hundreds of RFPs annually for city, county, public library, and other public sector websites, tracking trends and common practices. Some of these are positive; others are out-of-touch with the needs of today and tomorrow. Some make us eager to respond and potentially build a relationship; others make us move an RFP to the bottom of the pile.
If you want to provide your community the best chance to have qualified vendors bidding on your city website project, read on.
2021 Municipal Website RFP Trends
Here’s what we loved about the 2021 batch of city website RFPs:
Clear emphasis on better content.
It’s ironic: Many city website RFPs are for “content management systems,” but they spend little time discussing the content itself. The good news is, we’re seeing a trend towards better content (and not just better content software). For example, the City of Independence, Missouri made content searchability their top priority (page 4 of their RFP) and stated “planning, simplifying, and migrating current content” as key. In years past, the content itself would often take a back seat to the software.
The desire for a better user experience (design), not just a checklist of features.
Overall, we’ve seen increased partnerships between information technology and communications staff, and the result is a more holistic understanding of a website’s goals and functions. This has led to project scopes that expand beyond technology feature sets, and include increased emphasis on site usability, branding, and strategy for social media. This perspective makes it easier to propose solutions that will bring benefits not only for the community’s residents, but for the city staff who leverage and maintain the site.
Real diversity, equity, and inclusion requests.
In the past, we often saw “ADA compliance” provided as a box to check. More and more cities are seeing that online accessibility standards aren’t just a niche requirement or a legal hurdle. Instead, accessibility presents an opportunity to create a better experience for all users and to foster a community that cares for all of its citizens, regardless of ability, bandwidth, language spoken, or other differences.
Here’s what we didn’t love about the 2021 batch of city website RFPs:
Downplaying the need for training.
We understand the need to get a new site live quickly. But a single-minded focus on rolling out the software can negatively impact the humans who need to create useful content for the public. Not only can a rushed approach reduce buy-in from team members who will use the interface every day, but it also risks backlogs and bottlenecks from content having to be “forced” into a system that didn’t consider real-world users’ needs earlier in the process and/or that users may not fully understand.
A kitchen-sink approach to inclusion/diversity/equity.
You cannot maintain genuine digital accessibility over time with tons of technology features alone. Accessibility is also about content strategy and training. Your team needs to understand why things like alternative text and plain language writing are so important and build good habits in order for them to put accessibility tools into practice with success.
Overly complex technical requirements.
Sometimes, less is more. By over-describing how your current system works (and often attempting to replicate it), you can lose focus on the project, trying to make pieces fit together before the new blueprint is designed. Let the vendors show you how they’d solve the problem instead.
Embarking on the RFP process shouldn’t be something you dread. Hopefully, with the help of these pointers from real city website RFPs and our analysis of useful trends, 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.