When it comes to municipalities and websites I find that there are roughly three categories. The first category is a municipality that has an awesome website and uses it often to keep its residents in the know about local events and city/township/borough news. The second category is a municipality that has a site but it doesn’t look like it has been touched in over a decade. When someone lands on that type of site the first impression is not exactly what a local government would want it to be and typically what they have on the site is cookie cutter fluff with some onsite errors (if they are lucky it is only a few). The third category is a municipality that is totally stuck in the past and believe that they do not need a website because no one would use it. (Believe it or now I have heard that excuse a few times).
Why Your Town Needs A Municipal Website
I think in this day and age, a township, borough or city absolutely needs a website – a good website. I’m not talking about an expensive website. I’m talking about a “good” website, which does not have to be expensive. The younger generation and even the older generation to a degree expect a website for their local government. Far too many municipalities rely on Facebook alone to get the word about to their residents. Before I explain what exactly a “good” municipal website is let me give you another example of why they are needed. For the past few days, the northeast has seen a major blizzard. Some local towns with websites uses those sites as channels to tell their residents about the actions that they were taking to prepare for the storm. A number of local towns and cities even declared a state of emergency due to the weather and forbid the use of vehicles on roads duet o the conditions. The towns with websites were able to effectively communicate these updates for everyone to see. They would also followup with posts on social media. In the end, all their bases were covered from a communications standpoint. Other towns, far too many in my opinion, either did not update their sites to reflect any updates, only updated their followers on Facebook or had neither in which case, good luck for the residents to find out anything. As a web designer and marketer I found this infuriating because my own borough had neither a website nor an active presence on social media so anyone living within that borough had no clue that a state of emergency was declared and that cars were requested to be off the streets to allow plowing. In the neighboring city, which had a website (thanks to MarketingModo), its residents were fully up to date on all news and updates on the storm. My find point is if you have a website – use it, if you don’t -get one and use it.
Top Must-Have’s For Your Municipal Website
So, now that I have ranted a bit as to why a town needs a website, and I mean any town even if you only have a few hundred residents, let me give you the top items that you need to insure that you have a “good” website.
A Fresh Up to Date Design
You would be surprised to see how many municipal websites that I have come across that look like they were designed in the early 1990s. Come to think about it they probably were and than ignored. Your website is your first impression to anyone searching for your township, city or borough online. Do you want that first impression to be crappy? I don’t think so so please make sure you have a good looking site that doesn’t look like something out of a 1996 high school computer science class.
Links to Social Media
Like it or not, social media is expected, even for municipalities. Social media such as Facebook is a great way to connect with the younger generation and Pinterest is a great way to show off the visual beauty of your municipality. I have seen extremely small townships in the middle of no where with active and engaged social media channels. remember that over the years, neighborhoods have gone away for the most part unfortunately so many people turn to the internet to establish a sense of community which is why municipalities do very well when they get active on social media. Once you establish yourself on social media, make sure that you include links to your social channels on your website so you can get more fans and followers from those who visit your site and don’t forget to promote your great new site on social media too!
Alerts for Emergency Notices
At some point in the future, your municipality will undergo some sort of emergency, whether severe weather, an accident, etc. I have seen too many sites that just stay static with no updates for years, in decades in some cases. That’s worse than not having a site. The purpose of a municipal website is to provide information and resources to your residents and vital information has a habit of changing more often than once a year. The snow storm example that I used above is only one example. If you have a site but need all the streets on your main street moved so you can plow it and you don’t put that up on the site than you are doing yourself and your residents a great disservice. Having an area on your homepage or sidebars for alerts is key to providing updates that your residents need to know. These alerts don’t have to be just for emergencies either they can also be used to inform residents to stay clear of certain streets if there is roadwork or a parade. Just timely information that your residents need to know.
The municipal sites that I have seen usually have a section for forms such as a building permit or complain form. Usually these are only in PDF format. Do you realize how much of a pain in the rear that is for some of your residents? You have to download the PDF, either fill it out online and email it back or print it out, fill it in and either drop it off or email it to your municipal officials. I guarantee most people are doing the latter method which is ridiculous. Web design and usability has advanced to the degree that we can provide online forms which people can fill out and submit in a matter of minutes. This isn’t’ some forbidden technology dropped off by the Greys. You have the ability to do this now. I can tell you from personal experience that in nearly every case where MarketingModo has developed a new website for a municipal government that within one day (two at most) they have people submitting forms online. Give your residents a hand by making sure you have online forms in addition to PDF versions. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.
Contact Info for Municipal Officials
You would not believe how many municipal sites I have seen that lack any contact information whatsoever. Not even a phone number in some cases. When you are designing your website or are having a municipal website designer such as MarketingModo do it for you make sure that a contact area is included. This includes not just a form for people to use to reach out to municipal officials but also phone numbers and email addresses for key people in the municipal government. This will take some pressure off your township/city/borough secretary as contact will be routed to the person that it needs to go to. If you prefer having a gatekeeper, that is fine but make sure to include her contact information instead.
Info On Local Events and Things To Do
Providing information on local events and things to do is probably one of the most overlooked areas on a municipal website. Granted, providing information on municipal administration and who they need to contact for specific needs is important but, so is showing off the culture of your town. YOU don’t want your website to be so formal as to only have local government information. Give it some fun as well by providing information on local events. A small town’s greatest asset is its culture. You won’t get as true a slice of Americana as a small town’s festivals,fairs and events. My hometown of Pittston, PA has their Tomato Festival every year. It has become a symbol of the city. You can bet that Pittston has the Tomato festival mentioned on their site as they do other local events. The web is a great way to put the word out about your events and increase participation. I know of many examples of events that I would have never known existed even though they are taking place less than 20 minutes away if not for the web. Furthermore, a city is made up of small businesses. These need prominent placement on your site as well. If you visit pittstoncity.org as an example you will find at “Things to Do” section in the main menu. Visitors to your town will appreciate this as much as your local businesses will the free publicity. Your “Things to DO” don’t just have to include events and businesses to shop at or restaurants to eat in but also activities for other types of people such as outdoors enthusiast. Pittston has beautiful trails in the nearby hills as well as a river that sees fishermen and kayakers alike. Pittston’s site mentions activities for these audiences as well. Find out what people come to your community for or can come for and put it up on the site.
Resources for Residents
A municipal website’s primary function is to provide useful resources for the residents of the municipality. What resources do they need? Well, that depends on your residents doesn’t it? The standard resources people look for in my experience are information on municipal authorities including contact information, information on local taxes and fees, calendar of garbage and recycling pickups, information on building and zoning permits, access to the various municipal forms they might need such as right to know, main contact form, event request, information on emergency services, bulletins and notifications during emergencies and event information. Those are the basics that I have seen but as I said above, it can vary and include many other items. I would recommend you review the city/township/borough’s email to see what requests you have received and ask your municipal secretary as to what people call in looking for. That will give you a great start on gathering the resources your residents are actively looking for.
Resources for Local Businesses
Businesses are extremely important for a municipality. Businesses mean more foot traffic in your community as well as more tax revenue. You would never guess this if you looked at some municipal sites. A fair amount of these sites don’t mention businesses at all: neither the businesses already in the community or how to set up a new business in the municipality. When I first started MarketingModo this was an enormous pain point for me because I could not find any information on what local licenses I needed to start a business. I have seen and have worked on a number of sites that had an amazing business section on their site which included all the information an entrepreneur would need to start a business in that municipality. Municipalities should encourage new business development within their communities and not just for tax revenue purposes but many studies have shown that the more businesses that a town has, the happier the residents are because now they have the choice to do “locals hopping” rather than relying on big-box stores. Small towns are looking to revitalize their downtown areas and this is is a great way to start.
Emergency Services Information
This should be a no brainer but, if you only take one thing away from this article than let it be this. Please make sure to include information on your emergency services. I’m talking fire department, police, ambulance, etc. Now most people know enough to call 911 in an emergency but there are many other non-emergency situations where contact information for a town’s emergency services is needed such as if your police department is running a donation drive for a new k9 unit or your fire department is looking for volunteers. Besides, these people who make up your emergency services put their lives on the line to protect and serve your community. A little recognition of that fact may be warranted.
I’ve been told by a number of city and borough administrators and managers that the number one question they receive is “What is the local tax rate?”, I’ll admit when I tried to look up what my local taxes were I couldn’t find a thing. With this in mind, I would highly recommend that you include a section on your site dedicated to local taxes. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy just a brief overview of the municipality’s tax rate and how to pay it is probably sufficient and sometimes the smallest things reaps the greatest rewards and appreciation in web usability.
Don’t Leave Your Website In The Hands Of Amateurs
This is the number one issue that I currently see with municipal websites. They try to go super cheap and the site ends up in the hands of an amateur web designer who knows just enough to be dangerous or with a local web agency that once again knows just enough to ruin your site but charges insane fees for mediocre work. I have seen many so called “Professional” sites done by local agencies that would make a real web designer laugh. Most don’t even include basic security so the odds of these municipal sites becoming hacked is extremely high. MarketingModo specializes in municipal website design and all of our websites have the latest security functionality installed. Even better, with our monthly maintenance plan we will keep your site functioning and secure why you focus on municipal administration. Don’t leave your town’s website in the hands of amateurs, call the municipal website design experts atMarketingModo today at 844-370-1875 to discuss your town’s website.