5 Things to Remember When Choosing a Web Design Company for Your Municipality – A Complete Step-by-step Guide
One municipality website was hacked, without the town board’s knowledge, and was promoting Viagra for 5 months …
The decision on which web-design company should create the municipality website can either make your life as a clerk much easier for years to come or it can bring a lot of frustration with technical issues, malicious hacks, hidden costs and calls with complaints from angry residents.
Fortunately, all those headaches can be easily avoided with a well-designed website, one that can be extremely easy to update, useful to residents and require little or no technical support in the future. In this article I will convey what characteristics you should look for when choosing a web-design company for your municipality as well as how to avoid possible risks and dangers that can come up with the website in the future.
1) What does a municipality website need to begin with?
To choose the best company, and the best solution, we must first determine its purpose and functionalities. You will need to determine what day-to-day responsibilities you, as a clerk, will have to complete in support of the website and how to make it as easy as possible.
The aim of the website should be to give transparency to the public, keep the residents informed about what’s happening in the municipality, allow visitors can see the calendar of events, and to check which matters are discussed at meetings. This is why it’s important that you can update the website and manage the calendar yourself, without in-depth technical knowledge or calling the web-design company every time something needs to be changed.
People are not looking for eye-candy visuals – they want functionality and simplicity.
2) Think about safety before it’s too late
Websites are similar to living organisms. Online sites need to be “sustained” to live; the internet is like a vast, ever-changing ocean, if you do not keep up with all the updates, your website becomes easy victim to all the predators lurking just below the surface: hackers, spammers, bots, malicious programs, and general malcontents.
Most people do not realise the risk of getting hacked until it is too late. From our experience, this risk is very real, and very common. Here’s an article we wrote about possible threats to municipalities websites with extreme but real examples
Bot – software application that runs automated tasks over the internet.
The company you choose needs to provide ongoing support, keeping your municipality’s website secure from all the potential dangers. Monitoring and updating the site is essential to solving issues concerning usability and safety.
3) Is a local web-design company really a better choice?
Hiring a local web-design company sounds like a logical decision. If you can knock on their door it would seem like they can be trusted more and will always be there to help with support, however…
Will they support the website once it’s done?
In reality, the motivation of a typical web-design shop is to create websites, not to support them. Their objective is to get the website ready and move on to the next client, maintenance is not their priority.
Some companies try to train their clients to handle everything by themselves. “We’re going to show you everything you need to know, so you’ll never need us again”.
They assume the project will go smoothly because it is easy for THEM, therefore it should be easy for everyone, including a clerk who is busy juggling the demands of a town board, answering calls from residents, handling complaints, and perhaps even working a different full time job. But what usually happens is that the website goes out of date and the municipality’s employee has no idea how to get it work. What happens when the clerk would like to add a new menu or change the calendar, but they forgot how to do it, where to click, and what to look for?
It leads to a big mess that someone will have to clean up, and they will not do it for free. Local web-design companies often charge as much as $50-$120 per hour for support and you have to wait for days until their staff fix the issue, all the while the website is inaccessible by the residents who want to find relevant information.
Do they know what municipality website needs?
Local web design companies build websites for restaurants, churches and shops in the areas they operate. Perhaps they’ll do it for some lady down the road who owns an e-commerce site selling soaps, or someone who runs a small pool-cleaning business.
It means that local web design businesses operate on a small scale. There’s a high probability they’ve never done a municipal website before. When asked about experience, they could say something like “Oh yes, we have years of experience. We’ve seen a couple of municipal websites before, so we’ll put together what we think is best”.
Are you really sure you want to hire someone who has next to zero experience with municipalities?
A company that creates website exclusively for municipalities will know their needs and most common problems and requests! They can launch your website quickly and efficiently. And when it is launched, it will contain all the essential elements that a municipality needs and a standard web-design shop would never think of, like dynamic calendar events, PDF support, instant notifications, visible and easy-to-get-to meeting minutes and agendas.
Companies familiar with municipality support should have enough working staff to answer your support tickets and handle any problem you encounter in a timely manner.
4) Look at the price structure and future support costs
When it comes to prices, there are two things you should take into consideration:
1. Find someone who charges less for the design, but offers a monthly or yearly plan for the continuous support and hosting. It will mean they are serious about support and have dedicated staff that will help you right away.
2. Avoid businesses that charge additional fees for every support ticket or consultation.
Web hosting – it’s a service that allows individuals and companies to have their websites accessible through the internet. Web hosts provide space to store all your website’s pages.
Prices never tell the whole story
Small, local web designers are often freelancers who charge higher fees for setting a page up… because that’s a one-time thing for them. It could be, for example, 2 thousand dollars for creating a webpage and only 200 dollars a year to host it on some external site.
Sounds fair? It seems like a good deal at first, but try to think of all the long-term consequences.
When a freelancer is done with your website and has it running, there’s a high chance he will not be available to help you with keeping it alive and updated. Local companies are only focused on short term goals: they get paid, help you get started… and after that you can only count on minimum feedback and support. Their limited resources are committed to the next project, not supporting already completed jobs.
5) When it comes to safety, don’t cut corners
Think about this for a moment: There are some very intelligent kids in your town. Maybe one is in college, knows something about computers and says he can put up your page pretty cheaply, and his annual fee to keep it going is only 100$. Seems great?
Now imagine when your site goes down and you cannot reach your website designer. Perhaps he does not answer your phone calls, went back to college, or, if it’s a small business, does not have enough support staff to help you. Now you need to contact some third party to put the website back up and try to restore the lost data.
Not only will the whole process cost you more in the long run, but can also reflect badly on the town board.
Finding the perfect web design company is no easy feat, but if you’re still looking for a trustworthy and professional web design team that specializes exclusively in municipalities, you might have just found the perfect candidate.
Tailor-made solutions for municipalities with Town Web design
It’s pretty simple. We know what works, because we have been working with small municipalities for a very long time. People hire us because of our expertise and specialty, they stay with us because we never leave our customers on their own by providing constant support and feedback.
2017 is our 10th year in business, with over 400 customers served.
Town Web Design has worked with dozens of clerks in many cities and states across the country, we provide technical support no matter where you are. It makes no difference if your municipality is located in some secluded region on the edge of civilization, or in the middle of a buzzing metropolis.
That is why our experience lets us build usable and intuitive websites, tailored to your residents’ needs. We have deep knowledge on posting information concerning elections, ordinances, or anything else government related, we have dealt with it numerous times.
What can we offer?
Free and unlimited technical support with live remote-training – if you are stuck, need help, or just cannot understand what you are looking at, we are there to help. You can call us with any technical question or we can schedule a remote training session to clear up all the confusion. Constant website improvement – we monitor and keep your website updated. Our staff makes sure your online-data stays hack-proof and does not crash every time you try to update your agenda.
Customized website design – we try to adapt to the character and theme of your municipality, designing your future website based on your preferences. Not only will it be visually appealing, but most importantly – intuitive and user-friendly.
Simplified posting minutes of and agendas – Town Web Design saves your time by helping with your municipality struggles – we organize the website so posting can be done in only fifteen seconds. Convenience is key.
Delivered notifications and subscriptions – our system lets you send emails and notifications to your residents quickly and effectively. You will not have to waste half of your working hours on tedious and mundane tasks.
Managed hosting – we hire other companies to handle all the technicalities related to storing your website’s data. That way we can focus on your municipality and its problems.
Data loss prevention and backups – we keep the older versions of your municipality’s site so, in case all hell breaks loose, we can restore and roll them back.
If you want to get more details about Town Web Design, check our website. Contact us and get a full price range for all the services we can offer.