Government agencies know their websites are the first essential step in providing digital services to a community. Yet municipal websites are often regarded — and treated — like rattletrap cars. Old, damaged, and neglected, they run just well enough to allow citizens to get from point A to point B.
In a day and age when people have high expectations for other digital services and interactions, government websites can be subject to profoundly negative double standards. People expect to easily find the show they’re looking for on Netflix. But how surprised are they really when they can’t find hazardous waste collection day on their local government website?
When you’re at the point of designing or redesigning your website, you need to aim for much more than giving the old vehicle a nice paint job. You have a critical opportunity to honestly evaluate your digital approach and tools. Only then can you raise and meet your citizens’ expectations and create meaningful engagement with them on your website.
Why Government Organizations Fail To Meaningfully Engage With Their Citizens Through Their Websites
Municipal websites fail to engage meaningfully with citizens because they are taking the wrong approach and relying on the wrong digital tools.
1. The Wrong Approach
Some government agencies take strategic digital approaches that are no longer useful or relevant, like:
- “Build it and they will come.” This approach assumes that when you invest in a product (like a“better” website), your citizens will find it, appreciate it, and want to keep using it.
The “build it and they will come” approach may work when your website is the only place that citizens can go to view particular information (like where they can pay a municipal water bill, for example ). But government websites have to do more than passively present information. Websites have to actively offer ways for citizens to access services and make payments.
- “Spray and pray.” E-newsletters epitomize this approach. E-newsletter blasts that are neither targeted nor linked appropriately to your website do more harm than good. A generic outreach can end up being ignored or deleted — and is therefore no outreach at all.
Beware of digital tools that allow you to automatically post content to your website and social media channels. This kind of spray and pray software feature may appeal to a well-intentioned instinct to thoroughly post information to everyone. But it doesn’t address the need for meaningful, measurable engagement at any real level; in fact, it achieves the opposite.
2. The Wrong Digital Tools
The traditional analytics tool you rely on may actually be undermining your website users’ success. Sure, Google Analytics can provide plenty of data about your website. Page views, bounce rates, and session duration: these traditional metrics are industry standards. But these three metrics simply aren’t as relevant to government agency websites unless you know what to look for.
The number of hits on your site or the number of page views is not a good reflection of how engaged your citizens are. In fact, these numbers can be deeply misleading. For example, more pageviews could mean individuals are struggling to find what they are looking for due to poor website content creation or poor information architecture.
Conversely, your site pages may have less views because users simply can’t find them.
To Improve Citizen Engagement With Your Website, First Measure It With the Right Tools
When you design your website with Interpersonal Frequency, you’ll begin with the right approach: one that seeks to understand the true digital needs of your community. We provide the right tools to gain citizen engagement, and we will quantify that measurement and success.
We’ll help you plug into simple, low-cost ways to understand both what your community is looking for from its municipal digital presence — and who is missing out on the information and the services you provide.
Voice of Citizen®
Your agency needs government-geared metrics that tell you where citizens are succeeding, where they’re getting frustrated, and how they feel about their overall interactions on your site. Knowing where you are currently is the only way to build digital engagement.
We call these metrics “user success” and “user satisfaction,” and they’re at the heart of our proprietary analytics platform. Voice of Citizen® (and Voice of Patron® for public libraries) enables government sites across the country to learn what’s working on their websites, what’s not, and where they can effectively intervene.
The Voice of Citizen® qualitative survey asks visitors two all-important questions during their time on your website:
- Were you able to complete the purpose of your visit today?
- If not, why?
These questions are simple, but the answers can shed light on complex problems with the ways users are navigating and engaging with your online services.
Basic surveys are direct ways to elicit feedback from citizens about how they are using your website, what obstacles they encounter, and how they would rate the success of their visits. Surveys also allow you to gauge interest in features that don't exist yet on your site.
Communicate With Partner Organizations
Engaging with partner organizations and nonprofits who also work with the communities you need to engage is vital. We can help you conduct listening sessions, run usability tests, and talk with customer service personnel within your county who engage directly with citizens who have questions or concerns.
In addition, Voice of Citizen® gives us community research from across the nation, so we have a strong understanding of what communities need from their governments.
Create a Citizen-Centric Engagement Funnel To Track User Activity
Once you’ve shifted your approach and used these tools, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of what your community needs from you. The next step? Tracking levels of engagement on your site. The conversion funnel analogy (or sales funnel) from the commercial space can be instructive and relevant to government websites. It provides a way to think about driving website visitors to the desired action of increased engagement. The funnel represents 3 levels of engagement:
- Top of Funnel (“Unknown Visitors”): Page views represent visitors (essentially anonymous members of the community) for whom you may have no insight on. This is typically a subset of the population of your community.
- Mid-Funnel (“Known Visitors”): In the middle of the funnel are subscribed or identified visitors — individuals who have opted-in for an email or SMS update. They may also follow you on social media channels.
- Bottom of Funnel (“Active Visitors”): At the bottom of the funnel are deeply engaged community members who participate with the website. Bottom of funnel users are sharing with others in the community relevant resources (imagine a kids’ story time at a local library being shared amongst parents) or informational alerts (a road is closed, a vaccine clinic is popping up).
Success is moving visitors from the top of the funnel — anonymous pageviews — to something more personalized, like completing a transaction (paying a tax bill online, when in the past they may have mailed it in) or providing feedback (completing a survey about their experience using a service).
Foster Meaningful Citizen Engagement With With A Trusted Partner
Driving citizens around in a rattletrap should no longer be acceptable to government websites. Citizens deserve digital access to what they need at the moment they need it. When you choose a partner like Interpersonal Frequency and measure and track authentic, two-way website engagement, you can be assured that they will.
Let's talk about how to get started.