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Four bits of advice for new LocalGov websites.

 John Fox recently posted designs for the new Sheffield City Council website on Google+. I applaud anyone who does this and opens their designs up to critique and criticism; it can only produce a better result for the end user. A discussion followed which prompted me to come up with the following four bits of advice if you're creating a new Local Government website:

  1. Treat Google as your home page. Prioritise the SEO work above things like including top tasks on your home page. At least twice as many people will come from Google than visit your home page.


  2. Treat every page as landing page. Assess the tasks one might need associated with this particular service, wherever they might be on the site and whoever might provide them, and link to them.

    For example, if you want to build an extension on your house you'll need to know about Planning Applications and you'll probably need to know about Building Control which are generally in the same areas of a council website.

    Less likely to be in the same category is information about a skip licence. You might need to know about noise pollution or air pollution. You might need to know when the local tip is open and whether you can take certain materials there.

    Treating every page as a landing page will give you an overview of the services and information the viewer might need from the whole of your organisation.


  3. Offer themed pages that live outside the general structure of your content but bring together pages. Be clever and don't group things simply because they happen to start with the same letter, in an A- Z.

    Group things because they have common elements, may be used by similar demographics or are part of a similar user journey. Someone searching for "disability" might be looking for information from Social Care, but equally they might want help with finding employment, a blue badge, help with waste collection or something else.

    Make all this information accessible from one page.


     
  4. Treat your site as collection of re-usable objects, not a bunch of web pages.

    Ensuring you use RDF or similar metadata where applicable will mean that people don't have to visit your site to find out what they need in some cases.

    Visitor numbers alone are not indicative of a good service and this will actually reduce avoidable contact to your website by making your content even easier to find and re-publish in other digital media.

It's not until you start to consider a true polyhierarchical structure, coupled with the ability to syndicate your content you'll start to move your website from rigid set of pages to a fluid set of objects relating to services and information your organisation provides.

We'll be using these principles in our Alpha (alpha.westberks.gov.uk) and I'd welcome any feedback on this work in progress.

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