2. Providing relevant and usable information

Help people understand the issue you’re seeking input on

Once you have identified the people you want to reach, you need them to understand the issue you’re seeking input on and how they can participate. The web is increasingly the primary place people expect to find information, take action, and communicate with government. When making information available, you should ask questions like:

  • Can people easily understand the issue we’re discussing?
  • Can people easily understand how they may be affected by the issue?
  • Can people easily understand the process for making decisions on this issue?
  • Can people easily understand how to get involved?
  • Is the information about this issue or topic comprehensive and up to date?

How to provide relevant information

1. Prioritize what your residents need

Residents come to your website to get specific answers. Most of them don’t want to scroll through a long list of project documents and outdated press releases. Do research to understand what your users need. Then, provide actionable and understandable answers to those needs at the beginning of your website. Once you have a working prototype, do more user research and testing to check that your website is easy for people to use and understand.

To understand what residents are looking for:

  • Talk to residents before you start writing content. Find out what they currently know and what questions they have about the issue.
  • Use Google Trends to understand the words people are searching for related to your issue.
  • Do regular user testing sessions to check in with people on how they are using your content and how they navigate and understand it.
  • Use user-centered design to develop a clean, consistent visual layout, navigation and content strategy.
  • Use Code for America’s free City Analytics Dashboard tool to see how users navigate your website, in real time.

2. Write for the web

Good web content is accurate and easy to read. It also is displayed differently than a technical document or report. Writing for the web means:

  • Keeping information brief and to the point.
  • Using plain, simple, jargon-free language.
  • Structuring pages to work clearly across a variety of platforms and devices.
  • Publishing information in the most commonly spoken languages in your community in addition to English whenever possible.
  • Publishing information in open digital formats, like HTML, instead of proprietary formats like PDFs. Open digital formats make content more accessible across more platforms, including mobile devices which are often the primary way residents access the Internet. They also make it easier for others to share your content.

Learn more about content strategy:

3. Keep content up to date

In is important to ensure that your content is timely, relevant and accurate. People get frustrated and lose trust in websites if content is out of date or wrong, advertises events that already happened, or has broken links.

To keep your content up to date:

  • Regularly check your analytics data to understand which pages become more or less popular over time. Some tools to monitor your website’s activity include:
  • Website activity trackers, such as Google Analytics
  • The City Analytics Dashboard for a constant live view
  • The federal government’s analytics dashboard which is open source
  • Remove information that is no longer accurate. Remove old, irrelevant, pages regularly
  • Publish content on current issues; monitor social channels, local blogs and news sources to see what relevant conversations are happening and join in.

Signs of success

The information you publish is useful and relevant when:

  • Your written content is produced in HTML by default.
  • Your content is accurate, timely, and regularly reviewed.
  • You are using analytics to help decide how your website is organized
  • You have clear criteria around when to update, archive, and delete content.
  • Your content is free of jargon, written in plain language, and at an 8th grade reading level.
  • You are publishing content in the most common languages spoken in your community, in addition to English.