December 21, 2016

The Best Ways Municipal Websites Can Improve - According to Municipal Clerks

TownWeb is always interested in learning how municipal websites can improve and become more valuable for residents. We like to know how municipal clerks feel about their websites; for example, do they find updating and managing the website easy?

TownWeb is always interested in learning how municipal websites can improve and become more valuable for residents. We like to know how municipal clerks feel about their websites; for example, do they find updating and managing the website easy? We figured that there is no one better placed to give us this information than town clerks themselves. And that’s why we asked you directly in our latest survey.

How to improve municipal website

We sent a brief survey to municipal clerks across the United States and received almost 100 responses. Most of the responses were not from our customers, so this was an objective insight into the pros and cons of municipal websites. The aim of the survey was to discover clerks’ attitudes about their websites. Specifically, what they find useful, what they need and would like to have.

The Survey Questions

We asked two questions relating to the positive and negative aspects of the respondents’ municipal websites.

  1. What is one thing about your current website that helped you the most in the past year? It could be anything that you perceive as the biggest benefit – from letting residents know where to register to vote, to viewing agendas and minutes. What are the ways in which the website saved you a great deal of time?
  1. What is one thing that you wish you could improve with your existing website? If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your current site, what would that change be?

The answers we received were very revealing and we’ve classified them into around 15 different categories.

Identifying the Benefits of Municipalities’ Current Websites

For the first question, we identified these top three benefits of having a municipal website:

The importance of having a place to put the minutes and agendas was the most common way that websites have helped municipal clerks (33% of respondents mentioned it). Getting the information out to residents via news and notices was important to 22% of the clerks, while 19% of them felt that election forms and voting information were the biggest benefits of their website.[caption id="attachment_2607" align="alignnone" width="600"]

Town of Washington, WI, News & Notices[/caption]

The ability to provide residents with the most accurate and up-to-date information possible is undoubtedly a huge advantage of websites

One clerk told us: “Citizens use our calendar a lot, the maps we post, as well as pages that list hours for our compost facility/demo landfill, bus schedules, etc. Our ability to be transparent and accountable to citizens using our website is a big benefit.”

Elsewhere, municipal clerks highlighted the following benefits of their website in saving them time and hassle:

Residents rely on ordinance information and clerks can save time by saving them all online

Debbie Chamber from City of Wautoma left this comment:[caption id="attachment_2624" align="alignright" width="163"]

Municipal Ordinances, City of Wautoma, WI[/caption]“I can tell you that our Municipal Ordinances are something we rely on heavily. Nearly daily someone will come in and need to know: setbacks for a fence or to build a garage, can they have chickens in the city, how many rummage sales are their neighbors allowed to have in one year, how many dogs are they allowed to have, etc”. Imagine having calls and emails about these matters on a daily basis?

As you can see, by displaying them online, municipal clerks provide a useful service to citizens and save time that can be spent more productively. The same respondent goes on to say: “We have all of our Ordinances, through Muni-Code, listed on our website. You can search by subject and it will bring up all ordinances related to that subject. It saves us a tremendous amount of time versus trying to look everything up on our ordinance book. We can look them up for people or so that we can use them as a reference, but anyone can look them up on their own computer as well.” The following website features got fewer mentions but were still important:

advantages of municipal websites

Online services and the ability to fill in forms and applications as major benefits of municipal websites

Online services and the ability to fill in forms and applications on the website kept cropping up as major benefits of municipal websites. In fact, online services can cross over into many other categories such as election pages and permit applications. One of our respondents, Margaret Darr from City of Janesville, gave further details about how their website’s online services have helped them:

“Our website is most valuable as a tool for us to provide online services. Our most popular webpages, by far, are those that allow citizens (or employees) to complete tasks online rather than needing to call or come into City Hall. For instance, our three most popular webpages from 11/28/15-11/28/16 were: 1. our property search web page, which links to an online database eGov, allowing citizens to view information on specific properties;

2. our employee access page, which provides links to checking email remotely, checking pay and benefits info and more; and 3. our job opportunities page, where citizens can view job postings and apply.”

Finally, these advantages of municipal websites were mentioned just once:

advantages of municipal websites

Identifying the Weak Points in Municipalities’ Current Websites

There were quite a lot of areas where clerks felt that their websites could improve. The biggest issues we identified from the survey responses were:

Weak Points in Municipalities’ Current Websites

Making the information easier to post and more accessible to the public are major concerns for Municipalities

It seems that making the information easier to post and more accessible to the public are major concerns for municipalities. Sometimes there is so much information that it’s difficult to organize and file online in a cohesive way. It can also be difficult to make it engaging and easy for residents to read. One survey respondent, from City of Janesville, explained:

“My biggest challenge with our website is the quantity of information that we post. You can find almost anything you need to know about the City on our website, but it can be difficult to dig through and find what you’re looking for. Given the diversity of services we offer and the public nature of government, we have a tendency to put a lot of information out to the public. Making sure it’s accessible, easy to read, and engaging is more challenging.” The following issues were also on the average municipal clerk’s radar:

Weak Points in Municipalities’ Current Websites

Having a user-friendly website is a vital concern that could cost you a lot of website visitors if you get it wrong

The design and formatting of the website can be very limiting. According to one clerk (from the City of Wautoma, WI), who admits to having “a very basic website”, and if the funds were available, she would like to create something more “custom and viewer friendly.” She also commented that the City “would love to have a more polished website with loads of information. It would be nice to include information on local businesses or be able to demonstrate how Wautoma would be a great place to open a new business. More information and photos of events we help sponsor (like Music in the Park or some of our Library Programs), or events that are done on our behalf (like the new playground the Kiwanis built for us at Bird Creek Park last summer or the new scoreboard that was donated).”However, the clerk had some fears that are common to most municipalities; namely, how do you maintain a new website once it is designed and the finished product goes live? She continued, “That’s when you really need that magic wand to provide an IT person, or at least someone who is trained in the areas that can be more easily manipulated AND ‘magically’ has the time to keep it up with all the changing materials and informational updates.”These potential improvements got one mention each:

Having a user-friendly website is a vital concern that could cost you a lot of website visitors if you get it wrong. Therefore, it’s good that so many people seem to think they have got this right, but worrying if people haven’t considered it important at all. Site maintenance costs are also important and can really mount up if you don’t have a provider that offers a fair package with plenty of technical and web hosting support.

TownWeb’s Takeaways from the Survey

The staff at TownWeb were pleased to see that we’re on the right track with the services and design package we offer. Considering the main concerns that municipal clerks had regarding the running and maintenance of their websites, we have all bases covered. We recently improved our Content Management System (CMS) so that it is far easier for clerks to navigate and update their websites.[caption id="attachment_2321" align="alignnone" width="400"]

New TownWeb's client Dashboard Manage Municipal Website in one click

New TownWeb's client Dashboard[/caption]

Free and Unlimited Support

We’ve always had training and support covered so that’s never been an issue for our clients. We are one of the only web design companies to offer free and unlimited support. Not only do we offer free lifetime upgrades, but we also offer free daily backups and automatic recovery so that if the worst happens…well, the worst won’t happen! Our free training sessions ensure that municipal staff know how to update their websites themselves and if they ever get stuck, we’re just a phone call or email away.

Managing website in few simple clicks

We are also completely in sync with municipalities regarding the content you put on your websites. Like municipal clerks, we prioritise minutes and agendas, notices, calendars and ordinances. We have a system where our CMS will remind you to upload important documents or tell you if your minutes are missing. All PDFs will be arranged in a reverse chronological order with the most recent documents and updates highlighted first.

Online Services

TownWeb also prioritises online services and makes it possible for residents to fill out forms online and make online payments. This is something that could save heaps of time and paperwork for both the municipalities and citizens. The survey gave us valuable insight into what municipality clerks like and don't like about their websites. It also showed us what they would like and need to have as additional website features. We hope you found it interesting too. If you would like any information about our web design services, please contact us.

Town Web services are approved for use with ARPA funds!