Municipal websites are an essential resource in this digital age – they provide vital information for local communities, not only when it comes to events and updates, but also in times of emergency. If you’re trying to put together a municipal website, here are five tips to make yours engaging, functional and practical.
Ask citizens what they want from their municipal website
A municipal website is built to serve the community – so it stands to reason that you should ask the local community for their input when creating the site itself. Invite residents to come and join a discussion about their community, and talk about the kind of information that they believe will be most useful to this. Ask residents whether they’d benefit from being able to pay transactions online, or whether they still prefer to do this in person. Ask whether residents would appreciate a town history section, or an area where they can explore local leisure activities. Solicit opinions and use them when you’re mapping out your content plan.
Don’t overcomplicate things
Remember: we might live in a digital age, but not everyone has reached the level of online familiarity as others. Some still find using the internet a challenge, and you don’t want to throw more obstacles in their way by creating a complex and intricate website. Keep it simple – the content of the website is the most important thing when it comes to municipal sites. Make it easy to add and update content, and ensure that above all, it’s compatible and responsive for use on different devices.
Plan for the future
It’s no use building the website and leaving it at that. You need to have a plan in place for the upkeep and maintenance of the site. A website manager should be in place, and there should be an allocated budget for the website to ensure it remains online. Every person working on the site should know their roles and responsibilities, and there should be a distinct approval process in place so that nothing appears on the site without being confirmed by the manager. You don’t necessarily need to staff the website with technological whiz-kids – but ensure that all of those who will be manning the site understand how to use it and how to address problems if things go awry.
Transparency is important
Many municipal websites have a section where residents can read the meeting minutes from council and committee meetings which have taken place. This creates a sense of transparency, and only boosts engagement among citizens. Consider building a section like this for your own site.
We live in a world driven by data – and if you’re not leveraging data to make improvements, you’re missing out! By setting up some analytics features and tools on your municipal site, you can generate further feedback and information about how residents are using your site. Perhaps, six months down the line, you discover that a certain section has hardly been visited, or you find that residents aren’t staying on certain pages for very long before they hit ‘back’. This arms you with the information you need to make changes and improvements – your citizens will surely thank you for it.
When it comes to web data, we are in the midst of a second major transition: one that is significantly impacting the ability of economic developers to identify targeted leads using their websites.
The first transition happened a decade or so ago when location searches moved online and economic developers shifted to move their data and lifestyle information to the web as well. It quickly became apparent that the quality of a community’s investment attraction website was the top differentiating factor in the first phase of a site selector’s search.
This is the second transformation – unmasking, understanding and recognizing the value of the traffic you are working so hard to drive to your website, and then translating this new data into real leads.
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All economic developers understand how important it is to publish data on their websites that will attract and inform site selectors. There are many examples of Economic Development organizations that have excellent websites: visually engaging, interactive, full of relevant information and providing viewers with all kinds of useful data.
Great websites theoretically drive great traffic and great results. But which Economic Development organization knows who actually views their engaging visuals, interacts with their website, reads their information and scours their data? Not many.
While many EDOs have come to understand the value – in fact, the necessity – of using the web to display data and seek out interested audiences, many have not yet realized that the role of websites has evolved (once again) to a new advanced level.
This newest evolution means that investment attraction sites are no longer just conduits for broadcasting or answering questions. Website analytics now make it possible to turn the same excellent websites into generators of investment leads – Now, isn’t that good news!
If you are in the business of attracting or retaining business for your community, chances are your customers – whether site selectors, business owners or creative people who invent new products and services – are active on social networks and sites.
How widely are such sites used in the economic development world? We don’t really know, because research just can’t keep up with the rapid changes. The most often cited statistic is that 57 per cent of members of the International Economic Development Council surveyed by the IEDC and Development Counsellors International (DCI) said they were using social media tools. But that was in 2009, a lifetime ago in Internet years.
More recently a survey of 3,800 marketers from all industries, carried out for the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report published by SocialMediaExaminer.com, found that 83 per cent of respondents said that social media was important for their business. The survey also found that the Number 1 reported benefit of social media marketing was generating more business exposure (reported by 85 per cent of marketers), followed by increasing traffic (69 per cent) and providing marketplace insight (65 per cent).
Economic development organizations, too, probably employ social media to an almost universal extent, but they are missing out on one of its most essential benefits – finding out about themselves.
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Not long ago, the prime purpose of an investment attraction website was to provide convenient and comprehensive information to visitors, wherever they were. That purpose is still there, but the bar has risen for today’s economic developers.
What counts now is not just web communication, but results. The first purpose of an investment attraction website in 2013 is to generate measurable results in the form of leads.
Your website is the first stop for prospects
The website is the first place that location professionals and business leaders go for information about a community and its economic assets. That makes a website one of the best resources for generating qualified leads, assuming the website is able to identify who those visitors are, where they came from and what they are looking for.
Free tools such as Google Analytics are available for understanding your website’s traffic and can provide useful information up to a point. They can show traffic volumes and direction but the data is aggregated and so does not translate into investment attraction leads.