What should a city website do?

Principles and goals for city websites

City websites are not just a tool for broadcasting information, but a space for interaction, feedback, and resident participation. Through thoughtful design, regular user research with real residents, and continuous improvements, municipal websites can be a pleasant experience for residents to get information and conduct business with government.

City websites should:

Be universally accessible

City websites should work for everyone. The information and services on your website should be available to all users, including those with disabilities. They should be easy to use, easy to understand, be available in the major languages spoken by your community, and usable on different devices and browsing technology (i.e. older web browsers).

Start judging your website’s accessibility by asking:

  • Does your site offer content in all major languages spoken by your residents?
  • Is your site responsive to assistive technologies?
  • Does your site provide a consistent experience to desktop and mobile devices? Higher bounce rates on mobile might indicate your site is not mobile responsive.
  • Is your site’s content written at an appropriate reading level?
  • Is your color scheme accessible for people with color blindness?
  • Is your web traffic coming from all over town and in different languages? A lack of traffic from all over town could indicate areas to improve citizen engagement.

Establish a sense of place

It’s important for your website to be official, provide up to date content, and act as the authoritative place for conducting city business online.

Assess your site’s authority by asking:

  • How many pages do you have on your website?
  • Are pages being updated to stay current, or retired when they are no longer needed?
  • What is the ratio of content on your homepage that is actionable vs. outdated or not a distinct user need? If your homepage does not direct people to the most commonly searched for information and services, you might consider moving your content around to make a better user experience.

Provide digital services

City websites should be the government, not just provide information about the government. Residents should be able to do anything they can do at city hall on your city’s website, at any time, at any place and on any device of their choosing.

Start assessing how well your city provides digital services by asking:

  • Does your site offer digital services?
  • How long does it take to complete each service or transaction?
  • What is the completion rate (start and finish) of the services that your site provides?
  • What is the breakdown in transactions happening online than in-person (in City Hall or over the phone)?

Treat residents with dignity

City websites should be respectful of residents’ time and offer a simple experience that works. When sites are easy to use, residents can quickly find what they’re looking for. It should always be easy and simple for your users to give feedback. This creates a space for government to learn how to make the site a better experience for users.

Start judging how your site respects its users by asking:

  • Are there feedback loops on your site to better understand users’ experience? (i.e. surveys, comment boxes, email address, etc?) By asking users about their web experience, you will get qualitative answers that explain your site’s analytics.
  • What is the tone of your site’s content? Is it bossy? Patronizing?
  • How many clicks does it take for a user to find what they are looking for? Typically, if it takes more than three clicks to reach something, you should re-evaluate your site’s information architecture.
  • Can users find what they are looking for at all?
  • Can residents do what they want to do online?

Be resilient

City websites can be unavailable because of hardware problems, server maintenance and overload, coding errors, or other unpredictable reasons. You should have a clear plan on how to address these problems when they happen, and how to communicate them out to your users.

Questions to start judging your site’s resiliency:

  • When your site is most heavily trafficked?
  • How often is your site down?
  • How do you communicate to your residents when your site is not working?
  • What is your plan for fixing web errors and malfunctions?
  • What is the tone of your error messages?
  • If digital services are currently unavailable, does your site provide alternative ways for residents to perform the transaction? This might include a phone number or a physical location.

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