Every government agency website has a unique challenge that businesses do not: your users can be very loosely tied together – often by geography alone. Since your target audience is the community at large (and everyone with a pulse), your website project will have a very different set of critical touchstones to hit.
Government websites are quite literally be judged by a different yardstick! And loudly, too. Remember how Healthcare.gov made the front page for a long time? That’s because as a government agency your digital offerings will be scrutinized for a broad and inclusive feel, accessibility to all, and usefulness of services.
The Audience for Government Websites
The most immediate difference will be your user base. Instead of appealing strongly but narrowly to, say, SUV driving women over 50 who also skydive across the world, your project will be for people of all ages and backgrounds who generally are united by location alone.
In the traditional advertising and marketing world, this answer is both the kiss of death and also the starting point on the journey for many businesses. We as professionals are conditioned to — for all other kinds of organizations — walk you through the process of finding out who really is using your services. But when you are serving entire cities, towns, and states — that all goes out the window. Your customers are often coming to you because they have to. It’s not about building a tribe anymore.
Project Planning Is Different From Day One
So it’s incredibly important that we think about your entire audience starting from the very beginning of the project. The job of most government websites, from city to national, is to give their citizens fast access to important information. People want to know about all of the events, services, and policies that the you offer.
Here is sample list of things that can be done online in my own city:
- Get trash and recycling schedules for my address, including special E-waste and Bulk Pickup events
- View the building codes, apply for a building permit, and view current project permits
- Start, stop, and pay for city utility services such as Water
- Apply for business permits and view business codes/regulations of all types, including sales tax
- See schedules for both city parks (including pools) and special events that the city holds
Give All The Value You Can Afford To Deliver
You can see the pattern emerging above – there are lots of things a citizen can do from their own home at any time. This government agency website is cutting out the legwork that usually comes with dealing with the city. As an avid online bill payer and serial avoider of the DMV (if I can help it), I have to say this is a huge benefit to Scottsdale residents.
Can you imagine how many hours are saved every year by having the building permit application online? How about paying for utilities through the web – the delinquency rate probably fell sharply once folks could pay their bill instantly and without stamps.
Accessibility: The New Bar of Success for a Government Agency Website
When you exist to serve the community as a whole, it becomes vitally important that you can get your message out to as many people as possible regardless of circumstance. Even the elderly lady on the street needs to know when the water main is under construction, or the offices will be closed for holiday, or trash has been cancelled, etc.
Can your website be displayed in large type so that all will be able to read it easily? For readers who use screen readers to speak the text out loud to them, will their software be able to parse each page correctly and fill out forms without errors?
Fast-Enough Loading For Mobile and Slow Speed Users
What about areas with poor internet connection and/or areas where a high portion of users will be on mobile devices? Your website needs to be able to load quickly and work across as many devices as possible. This can be a moving target when third party services are involved (such as a payment portal service, mapping service, etc) but we assess the project at the start and work forward strategically. Accessibility for the greatest feasible number of people is the target we want to hit.
A Government Agency Website Needs As Rich a Featureset As Possible
Even small towns know this: a website that can do a lot of things is money well spent. The economic impacts are so far above the immediate benefits of the services that such a website can provide.
Even Small Towns Can Do It
Consider these questions posed about the services on a website for a town of just 5,000 people:
- How much can we improve utility bill payment collection with online account payment? Can we use this to reduce traffic for clerks at the city offices?
- What’s the economic impact of getting an events calendar online in an easily parsable format that can be picked up by state and other news agencies to promote the events in town? Can we entice more tourists to visit?
- Can we increase business relocation and decrease commercial vacancy with a business real estate database for rentals?
- Does the public know about the rich cultural offerings in town? Linked on the main navigation are all the major museums, theaters, and art institutions.
We want to create a hub for growth, communication, promotion, and expression when building your government agency website. Put the tools in the hands of the people and watch your new digital systems take hold!
Ready to move on your project or have questions? She has answers!
Lauren Grey is a longtime web professional whose focus is building high performing websites for institutions, nonprofits, and business. Grey resides in Scottsdale AZ year round and is available by phone and email. She would be delighted to talk further with you about the project you’re looking to start, give her a shout and request your totally free, no-strings-attached consultation today.