As more and more municipalities move towards having a presence online in this digital age there are a few common stumbling blocks they make in their effort. Municipal staff are experts in town administration not necessarily web design and online marketing. In the over 10 years that MarketingModo has been helping towns, cities and boroughs throughout the country get established online here is a list of the top 10 common mistakes municipalities make when trying to establish themselves online.
They Only Have A Facebook page
Many municipalities try to get away from the issue of not having a website by having a Facebook page. Having a Facebook page as well as other social profiles is a great start but it isn’t the end all solution. Facebook was made for engagement and not having a website to back up your social media presence severely effects your credibility. Just think of the cities and towns that you want your municipality to be like. Do they have a website? I guarantee you they do so it is time to start thinking of moving beyond Facebook you having a website of your own. I know the first thing you will say. “It’s expensive to have a website”. I disagree. Granted a few agencies do charge astronomical and unwarranted amounts for website design which pretty much knocks the smaller towns out of the clientele. At MarketingModo we can create municipal websites for as low as $1000-2000 for a basic site – well within the budgets of most municipalities.
Having An Outdated Website
For most towns and boroughs, the first step many taking in getting online is a website. However, the process for developing and maintaining the site is the first mistake. They put together a website quick without a plan for maintaining it and it quickly becomes dated both from a content perspective as well as design perspective. Having no website is bad but having a website that looks horrible is even worse. I totally get why this is the case. Sometimes these smaller towns and boroughs simply do not have the budget for a big name agency to come in and build a custom site from scratch so they end up doing it themselves or having a local web designer do it. First off, municipal officials or staff that try to do the website themselves are just asking for trouble. Most are not experienced in web design and honestly you have more important things to do such as managing your municipality. Secondly, a local web designer is going to likely be a freelancer or a local agency that knows just enough to be dangerous. We have redesigned a number of sites that were designed by web designers that knew just enough but not enough to prevent the site form having code bloat, being unsecured and entirely lacking in on-page SEO. Lastly, the municipal staff as I said earlier, have other things to worry about. The task of managing the website usually ends up in the lap of the town or borough secretary who has enough on their plate as it is and usually this person isn’t savy on CMSs and website content so adding new and valuable content usually goes by the wayside. The end result is always the same. A website that looks 20 years out of date, lacking functionality and now municipal staff have to manage the website in addition to all of their other tasks. Your number one goal is to grow your municipality from a population and business standpoint, a junk website is going to hurt you in both of those regards.
Not Being Online At All
Usually the most common issue I see is that municipalities do not have a presence online at all. No website, no social media nothing. It goes without saying that in the 21st century you NEED to be online regardless if you have a population of 200 or 200,000. I typically see this issue with smaller towns, cities and boroughs that don’t think they need to be online. Big mistake. I can guarantee that over 90% of your residents have internet, even more have a mobile phone – this means that they are online. Are you? Having a website online means that you are where your residents are and even more importantly, where future residents are. I can tell you from my own personal experience of having to move a few times throughout the Mid-Atlantic region that when I am investigating a potential new home the first thing I do is search online and if that place doesn’t have an online presence I automatically check it off the list. In my opinion if they don’t have a site online they are likely to be backward thinking and everything that I would likely have to do with the municipal government would require trips to the municip0al buildings or taking the time of a municipal secretary. Your site doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles either that a major city would have. Just the basics of telling the world who you are, your local government, events and how your residents can find certain information such as when the garbage pickup is scheduled. A good looking website can put your town in front of millions of new businesses and residents who may want to relocate to your area, increase engagement with your existing residents and help take some of the pressure off your municipal staff from answering questions or providing forms.
Piggybacking Off Of The County Website
Another tactic that we have seen in municipalities that try to have an online presence within going all out and getting their own dedicated site is piggybacking off of the county website. 99% of county governments in the United States have a website and most offer a directory of the municipalities in the county with basic information such as municipal contacts, emergency service numbers, etc. The problem with this approach is that the website is focused on the county, not you and the information provided is usually extremely limited to some administrative information. A dedicated website allows your municipality to have total control over your own online presence, you can make changes whenever and as often as you wish without relying on a county webmaster to do the work for you within their limited capabilities. Additionally, a dedicated site for your town, city or borough allows your community to place itself first and foremost in the eyes of the visitor and not as a secondary thought (if you are lucky) to those coming to the county website. The county site should be a supplement to your website, not a placeholder for your site.
Using A State-Sponsored Web Design Agency
A few states have realized the importance of making sure that their municipalities have a digital presence, this as well as dwindling tax coffers, have led a number of these states to form their own municipal web design agencies where the government will charge a small amount to create a website for a municipality. The problem with this approach, as amicable as it is, is that the municipalities pretty much get what they pay for. Most municipalities we work with are not happy with the designs provided as well as the maintenance of their sites. Making simple updated can take days if not weeks and you have a small allotment of hours per year in which you can make changes.
Paying Too Much For Website Design
The number one problem with municipal web design is the price which some web design companies specializing in this area charge these local governments. We are talking $10K minimum for a bare bones website. Custom websites, especially basic ones do not have to be that expensive. Surely, $10,000 websites are possible in this area if you want tons of customization and custom functionality that has to be built from scratch but most small towns, cities and boroughs don’t need all of that. Your budget is too important to waste it on a $10,000 redesign that can cost only $5,000.
Not Promoting Local Events
The beauty of small town America lies in its parades, festivals, carnivals and other municipal events. Whether you want to promote a parade on Main Street, a Council Meeting or a Winter Festival, a website is the best way to do so outside of social media. Even people outside of your town but within the region can easily find your events and attend with a search optimized website. Data has shown that towns that promote their events on a website see an over 35% increase in engagement in the first year alone. Many municipalities use their site strictly as brochures for the local government. Many of them even lack information on local emergency management services! While the administrative information is certainly important you need to use your website as a tool to promote your local events to drive attendance and engagement. I’ve heard of many instances where someone leaving in the area first hears about an event in a nearby town that they did not even know was occurring on the town’s website.
Not Promoting Local Businesses
Businesses are the lifeblood of any municipality apart from it’s citizens. The taxes brought in from local businesses as well as the vibrancy they create in your town cannot be understated. Yet, many municipalities don’t promote their own businesses. Small town businesses have been having a rough time thanks to big box retailers, give your town’s local businesses some attention by having a business directory on your site and let your visitors know that these businesses exist and are waiting to serve them.
Not Keeping Residents In The Know
I have been told that this is the most important reason as to why a municipality needs a website and yet it is often a common mistake many make when going online. Your website and other digital presences provide a channel to keep your residents in the know about local events, weather, news and more. Extreme weather effects all of us, snow in the north, tropical storms and hurricanes in the south, drought, fire and flooding in the west. Municipal websites provide residents with key information on weather. Wouldn’t it be easier for your town to put up a notice that all vehicles have to be off the streets in anticipation of a major snowstorm so you can do plowing or would you rather tow dozens of cars just to get the streets cleared? Notifications don’t have to be all about weather either. Let your residents know about construction that is tying up traffic downtown, jobs that are now available in the municipality, town events, the list is endless and while social media is also a good channel for these, we found that the notices can get quickly lost in the discussions occurring on social media where a site the content can be up for as long as you wish and your site can become a valued resource for your residents on municipal updates.
Trying To Manage Your Website On Your Own
Managing a website takes time, usually time the municipal staff don’t have so they get to it when they can. Your digital presence suffers as a results. Most municipal staff aren’t experienced in site design and management nor should they be. Their specialty is municipal administration, not website design and maintenance. As alluded to earlier, when you try to take on too much with people who are not trained in the area, your digital presence will stagnate and suffer. This is why many municipalities turn to companies such as MarketingModo to design and maintain their municipal and local government websites.