Website Design for Municipalities
Municipalities are continually tasked with accomplishing more with less. As budgets are reduced but taxpayer demands and expectations increase, municipalities must find new ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness. This requires creativity and maximizing every resource possible.
One tool that many cities, townships, boroughs and other public entities either do not use to its fullest potential or use at all is a website. A properly designed website can deliver the following important benefits:
• Increased staff efficiency
• Improved taxpayer satisfaction
• Enhanced municipality initiatives
• The ability to promote municipality events for free
• The capability to communicate emergencies immediately
A website loaded with useful information such as contact information, hours, directions, applications, forms, meeting agendas, meeting minutes and instructions can significantly reduce the number of phone calls and visits that government agencies receive.
Similar to the increased staff efficiency, improved taxpayer satisfaction is generated by reducing the need for residents to call or stand at a counter to get the service and information they need. Furthermore, municipalities with effective websites differentiate themselves from municipalities with no websites or older websites. A good municipal website can help attract new residents.
Websites can be used to enhance an initiative. Want to incorporate or expand a recycling program? Post information on the website outlining the details and instructions. Want to receive feedback from constituents? Put a form or questionnaire online and ask for feedback.
Just as businesses use the web to promote their company, products and services, municipalities can use the web to promote local events. A website with current content can be a great tool for residents to know about upcoming events such as community events, parades, town hall meetings and fundraisers. Unlike other forms of advertising, websites and social media are free.
Events such as weather warnings, amber alerts or other emergencies can be immediately communicated on websites and social media.
These are all great features with many tangible benefits. However, questions are often raised about how much volume actually visits a well-run municipal website. A great case study is Oakland County, Michigan.
In 2014, Government Technology magazine recognized Oakland County, Michigan for its digital engagement of it constituents. Here is an overview of what the county’s website delivered:
• Approximately four million visitors.
• Over 11 million page views.
• The download of over 860,000 documents.
• Generation of $17.8 million in revenue from online transactions.
• Taxpayer savings of $2.8 million.
• 23,000 pages are responsive to account for the roughly 30% of traffic that comes from mobile devices.
For some municipalities, just having a website is not enough. Consider the State of New York, who overhauled its website in 2014. By having a new website design that is responsive, the State’s website visits increased as follows:
• Unique website visitors increased from 244,597 in 2013 to 606,063 in 2014
• Page visits increased from 313,730 in 2013 to 1.1 million in 2014
Just by improving a website, municipalities can see a definitive increase in the amount that constituents rely on that website.
The number one improvement for most websites to make it to become responsive, which means that the site delivers a great user experience whether the web visitor is using a computer, tablet of phone to view the website. How important is a responsive website design to a municipality? A story posted in the Harvard Business Review in 2013 by Pew Internet stated that:
• 55% of Americans said they used a mobile device to access the internet in 2012.
• 31% of these mobile internet users said that was the primary way they access the web.
There is a belief that minorities and low income adults are not mobile web users. The Pew Internet study refuted this claim with the following data:
• 51% of black Americans and 42% of Hispanic Americans who used a mobile device to access the internet say that’s the primary way they go online.
• People whose household income is less than $30,000 per year and people with less than a college education are also more likely to rely on their mobile devices for access – about 40% of people in these groups say they primarily use their cell phone to go online.
This data proves that regardless of a municipality’s demographics or income, a responsive website is absolutely necessary.
Now that we know that a website is needed, how should it be structured and what should it include? While the answers to these two questions will vary depending on each municipality’s needs, there are some generalities to follow.
From a structure standpoint, user experience and the flow of information is extremely important. Not everything and every department can be on the home page. It is important to design the site so that pages contain useful information that easily found but without pages full of clutter. Having menus and drop down boxes to give visitors options will dramatically improve the user experience.
As for what to include on the website, here are some ideas that will apply to most municipal websites:
• Pages with updateable content, plus the ability for the staff to directly add additional pages. This is important for time sensitive or important information that needs to be added or updated.
• Slideshows and multiple photo galleries.
• PDF downloads including;
• Meeting agendas
• Meeting minutes
• Ordinance info
• Event fliers
• Facility rental availability
• Newsletter signup
• Contact form
• Contact info for admin, officers of various departments and boards
• Anonymous tip submission to the police department via an online form
• Current weather
• Integration of social media links (we set up Facebook for Butler Township and explained use)
• Resource information for residents including:
• Trash and recycling
In summary, a well-designed, responsive municipal website can be a great investment that returns improved efficiency, constituent satisfaction and free advertising for a municipality. In the case of Oakland County, Michigan, the site delivered $2.8 million of taxpayer savings.
Just having a website is not enough. As witnessed by the State of New York, an optimized responsive website can significantly increase the amount of traffic visiting the website. The importance of responsiveness will continue to increase as more and more citizens transition their internet usage from computers to phones and tablets.
MIBS TOP has experience working with various cities, townships and boroughs to design, develop and deliver great municipal websites. When the time comes for your municipality to seek bids for a new municipal website or an update to your current website, please make sure to include the professionals at MIBS on the bid list.
About MIBS TOP:
MIBS TOP is the best website development company in the Pittsburgh area. We currently have staff in Cranberry Township, Butler and New Castle and are looking to add more staff in other parts of the city. Thankfully, we all have cars and valid driver’s licenses, so if you are not specifically in one of those areas, we can still work with you!