Can you believe that in 1991, there was just one website up and running on the internet? The content primarily talked about the world wide web and how to use it. Today, there are about 2 billion websites, but only around 400 million of them are active. Large numbers of those websites belong to various levels of governments at the federal, state, and local levels. Here’s a look at why government websites are important.
In the early days of website development, government websites were a bit of a novelty. They were nice to have, but web developers weren’t really sure what content to put on them. In those days, governments commonly used their websites as a means for branding themselves. With the ability to change the design of the site by adding photos and graphics, governments could provide a visual story of their area and the services it provides.
Today, government websites still depict the flavor of the area and its people. The difference now is that government websites have many purposes. A government website is a landing place where citizens can learn about the government’s history, organizational values, codes of ethics, and information about elected officials and other public servants. Another difference is that today’s citizens are more likely to look for information about government services online than to pick up the phone and make a call to get information.
The Purposes of Government Websites
Government websites are now just more than pretty sites to look at. They provide many useful purposes. The important things to keep in mind are that citizens look to government websites for information that’s useful, timely, informative, and up to date. How does your government website measure up to the following purposes?
Ease of Obtaining Services
Constituents know that if they have to call their government office, they’re likely to be on hold for a long time. They’d much rather visit your website and pay their utility bill, apply for a building permit, submit a service request or report a hazard. Your website is purposeful when citizens can accomplish these things quickly.
As the number of websites grew, so did their designs. Most governments wisely kept their websites simple with most of the information at the top of the page. That’s because most people viewed web pages from a desktop computer. When mobile devices gained in popularity, users quickly got used to the idea of scrolling. Give your government website purpose by using a responsive design that automatically scales and reformats the web pages to fit smaller screens.
Searching for Information
Google has taught citizens well how to use search boxes. Most people are capable of typing in a question or a few keywords and be taken where they need to go. Many government websites even put a search box on their homepage in a visible place. Use designs that are intuitive and user-friendly so that people can find what they need quickly even without knowing the structure of the government.
Keeping Citizens in the Loop with Social Media
Today’s governments need to think past Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The White House joined SnapChat in 2016 with the goal of meeting people where they are. People pay attention when govt news comes to them. The latest social media sensation for governments is Snapchat. Do you know that Snapchat surpassed Twitter in 2016? SnapChat also surpassed Instagram in 2018.
More than 60% of smartphone users from age 13 to age 34 use Snapchat. Around 40 million Snapchat users are of voting age. Millennials who subscribe to Snapchat are more likely to go to the polls than millennials as a whole. SnapChat and other forms of social media are a great way to get information out to voters.
Live Help and Chat Bubbles
One of the reasons citizens would rather search your government website for an answer than to place a phone call is because they don’t want to have to wait on hold for long periods just to get an answer to a simple question. That’s the benefit of adding a chat bubble to your website during normal working hours where citizens can get a quick answer to a simple, but important question. The states of Mississippi and Nebraska can open a chat window on their state government sites and chat with a live staff member. Alabama citizens can even text state staff when they need help.
Technology now gives us the benefit of detecting your geographical location. This is a useful feature for state and federal governments that cover large geographical areas. The homepage for Mississippi asks visitors to choose their location from a drop-down menu. The next page takes them to the location of hospitals, state parks, post offices, and other state buildings and locations. In California, the state government site uses location data from smartphones and tablets to pull up information tailored to their location. Citizens there can easily find nearby state parks, fishing spots, and access fish-stocking schedules.
It’s becoming more common for state and local governments to permit residents to subscribe to email or text-based reminders and alerts. In Orange County in Florida, citizens can sign up for a service that sends them notifications for severe weather, traffic conditions, evacuations, and other emergency events.
Residents of Louisville, Kentucky can sign up to receive notices for activities or other information they want to have. By inputting their address, residents can find garbage and recycling pickup days and get alerts on around 400 city topics. The service has proven quite successful as it now has over 90,000 digital subscribers for various notifications.
Real-Time Video-Recorded Council Meetings
Community by Diligent software encourages accessibility, inclusivity, and collaboration between the council and the community through a multi-platform website where citizens can view council meetings in real-time or see the recorded version later. Citizens can also use the portal to apply for boards and commissions or retrieve documents that are approved for public access.
Community by Diligent also creates efficiency in local government because it helps to streamline council agendas, meeting preparation, meeting minutes, and other processes.
For several decades it was enough for governments to have any semblance of a website. Today, government websites are not only necessary, but it’s also essential for them to have a purpose and for their purposes to adequately serve the needs of their constituents.