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Buy In Best Practices for Local Government Websites

by Jessica Terashima
Post Date:10/18/2016

If you manage or contribute to your local government website, chances are you have a good idea of what isn’t working. The site may be hard to update. It might have thousands of outdated pages.

Residents may call and complain that they can’t find what the need or complete necessary processes. It may be un-accessible for disabled visitors. No matter how glaring the problems are, getting buy-in to fund a healthy digital presence can be challenging. How do you advocate for improvements when your leaders don’t see the value or importance of maintaining an effective website?

How Much a Website Matters

When researching this topic we surveyed a broad cross-section of local government professionals to get their take, asking them, “What’s the best piece of advice you would give to someone struggling to demonstrate the importance of the web to their leadership.” We compiled their answer into an eBook that shows several themes emerging.

“A website is the most commonly used go-to tool for customers,” said one local government professional, “if a website is poorly designed, not maintained/updated, that reflects poorly on your business and puts you in a position where customers are going to go elsewhere.” Government agencies may seem like they don’t need to compete with other channels, but if you’d like to be a trusted resource, your website must deliver the goods better than other, less-reliable sources.Littleton_CO_for_Best_Practices_Blog_Post.png

 The City of Littleton, Colorado builds trust with needed resources simply arranged

How Data Can Help Make a Case

Many leaders suggested starting with data to demonstrate how vital the website can be for residents seeking information. One suggested, “To show the importance of web to your leadership, perhaps do a survey through Survey Monkey, or run a Google Analytics report.” Another leader explained, “We’re a city of only 35,000 people. Our website gets 2,000,000 page views per year and our social media activity has a reach of over 300,000 per month. It’s really hard to argue against the numbers.”

How a Strong Website Can Support Government Goals

In addition to providing a trusted resource for residents, an effective website can promote key initiatives like transparency and accessibility. Older sites that are difficult to navigate may fall short on both accounts. One survey respondent explained, “Using the web creates that trust between citizens and the local government. With all the uncertainty in government today, you need to start locally to create transparency.” Even if a shiny new website isn’t a priority for your leaders, a transparent one might be. Carson_City_for_Best_Practices_Blog_Post.png

The City of Carson City, Nevada highlights transparency in their design

 

How a Good Website Can Save Time and Effort

If your website is running smoothly and its information is easy to access, your office will field fewer questions, complaints and requests. One survey respondent suggested. “Present the offsetting cost/time benefits and benefits to the public, such as reduced telephone calls to staff time when FAQs are answered on the web, better coverage as a global marketing tool, faster dissemination of information and updating capabilities for the public and open meeting law requirements, etc.” In addition to cost savings, you’ll likely see an up-tick in the performance of your site. 

San_Marcos_Website_for_Best_Practices_Blog_Post.pngThe City of San Marcos, CA City saw a 370% increase in page views after streamlining website content

How You Can Make a Case for Change

If your agency’s leaders aren’t ready to support updates to the website, focus on the benefits to residents and the bottom line. Remind them that transparency and accessibility are serious considerations, and that the costs for falling short can be significant. Whenever possible use data to support your argument with data– it helps bring clarity to discussions and avoid opinion-based decision making. To read more from local government professionals working to promote a strong digital presence, read the entire eBook of buy-in advice here.

 

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