Your website is the foundation of your government’s services and customer service. A good website makes it easy for people to get things done and this increases public trust in your organization. In this post, we’ll provide 6 tips for government website projects and why they are critical for your project’s success.
1. Help people do things
People come to your website to accomplish tasks. They want to do something.
- I want to build a fence in my backyard.
- I need to pay a parking ticket.
- I want to complain about my neighbor’s barking dog that won’t stop.
Or, sometimes they need information to help them do something.
- Is there a playground in my neighborhood (because I need to get my kids out of the house)
- Where can I drop off hazardous waste (because I want to clean out my garage)?
- What time are visitor hours at the jail (because I want to visit an inmate)?
During your government website project, focus on and prioritize creating content for your services.
Create a service inventory
Prioritize your services on your website and make them easy to find. Start by making an inventory of your services. For each service, include:
- Who needs it and why
- Supporting tools and information
- Goals and desired outcomes
Create action pages
An action page helps someone accomplish a task, like applying for something. Make an action page for each service.
Use a structured format for each page that includes:
- Need to know (cost, deadlines, processing times, penalties)
- Before you start (information someone needs to gather or things to do before)
- Steps (numbered steps with instructions)
- What’s next (information about what happens after, like how long it will take to process)
- Get help (who to contact if they have questions)
Some services require multiple action pages or other webpages, depending on the complexity.
2. Use plain language
Plain language helps you convey complex information. It helps your readers understand and get what they need quickly, with fewer questions and less confusion.
Everyone writing, reviewing, or posting website content should learn about plain language.
Benefits of plain language
- People know what information means the first time they read it
- Services are easier to use
- Forms are easier to complete
- Information translates better into other languages
- Fewer people call and email with clarification questions
Key elements of plain language
- Organizing information logically with headings and lists
- Using simple and direct words instead of acronyms and jargon
- Using a conversational tone with pronouns and the active voice
The use cases for plain language extend beyond your website. By learning how to write with plain language, your staff will also write better staff reports, emails, memos, and other communications.
3. Prioritize accessibility
When you make content accessible, you make it better for everyone. 1 in 4 Americans are living with some type of disability. Over 10% are living with a cognitive disability like dyslexia, attention deficit, or autism.
Digital accessibility is always evolving and compliance standards change over time. There are technical aspects to code that your website vendor needs to stay on top of, like keyboard tabbing and aria labels.
What your content editors need to know
As content editors, there are several things you need to know to make sure your content is accessible. Some examples include:
- Accessible fonts, text, and style
- Plain language
- Logical, hierarchical headings
- Descriptive alt text for images
- Color contrast ratios
- Descriptive link text so people know where it will take them
- Audio transcripts
- Closed captions on videos
4. Build and support your team
The most prevalent problem we encounter in government website projects is people not having time to work on the project. They often have competing priorities, too many meetings, and not enough blocks of time in their day to focus.
There is no easy answer to this but the reality is this: if you want a good website, you need to make it a priority and the project team needs time to work on it.
Here are some strategies:
- Empower the project lead so they can hold people accountable to getting the work done.
- Create a team agreement to set the stage for a successful project.
- Hold working sessions where people can work on the website. These may need to be in meeting rooms with laptops, so people are not distracted by phone calls or people stopping by their desk.
- Give people permission to mute notifications on Teams or Slack when they are working on the website so they can focus.
- Find out if something specific is getting in the way of them working on the website and see if you can reassign tasks.
If you are a team of 1 or struggle with capacity, we can help!
5. Work with the right vendor
Most local governments don’t have in-house developers to support custom built websites (for good reason). There are a number of vendors that provide content management systems (CMS), hosting, and other services to support your site. You are then responsible for the content.
It’s easy to overpay for subpar services. Your vendor should show a deep understanding and commitment to things like digital accessibility, security, and continuous improvement. Their product should be easy to use and help you structure your content.
6. Always get better
A new government website project ends with a launch, but your website is never done. Make sure you have mechanisms for continuously getting feedback and making improvements.
- Review your site’s analytics
- Promote a simple website feedback survey
- Ask people about their experience using the website
Meet with your website team regularly
Meet monthly or quarterly with everyone who has editor access to the website. Use these meetings to review site analytics, discuss feedback, share what everyone is working, and reinforce best practices.
Share your progress
Anytime you ask for feedback, it’s important to report out about what you did. An easy way to do this is a regular update with a list of what you’ve done and are doing to improve the site.
A great government website increases public trust and confidence in your organization. To do this, you need great content and a website that works for everyone.
Services should be easy to find and understand. The site does not need to be flashy or cute – it needs to work. Focus on the essential, keep it simple, and get it right.
Get in touch
Schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you find a great website vendor and build a successful new website.