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Best Practices for Building a Municipal Website

For small to mid-size cities, building municipal websites that are effective and engaging can make all the difference. An awesome site is mobile-friendly, secure, fully accessible, and has clean user navigation – but where should you start?

This guide will review the best practices in building municipal websites so that you can be on your way to designing a site that brings your community together and gives them access to the information they need.

Why Do You Need a Municipal Website?

Before we start reviewing what features every great municipal website will need, you must understand the importance of having a well-designed site, to begin with. 

For starters, municipal websites are what connect local decision-makers to residents and the community. Think of it like your home base for sharing the information, events, and other relevant updates that the public is looking for. 

Proactively sharing details about public meetings and current events are just part of what municipal websites are designed to do, though. For example, it should be a hub where people can find online forms and applications – and FAQs about how to fill them out – to reduce the workload of your local officials.

Similarly, it allows you to present your municipality in the best light. Showcase what makes your city or town unique to attract more tourists and attendees to your big events. This can even be an opportunity to connect with businesses and investors and encourage them to come work in your area!

As you can see, building an effective municipal website is essential to doing all these things and more – but how often do you feel that way when you visit one of these pages yourself? Most people visit municipal websites to get access to information and core services. They also expect to have a good experience while doing so.

However, most government websites are lacking the basic design structure and features that make the user experience seamless and productive. Most sites need updating so that they can be more comfortable to use and visually appealing too.

It can be challenging to build a municipal website because they are much different than private ones. What information should you include on the main landing page? Is there additional transparency needed to enhance the user experience? What about functionalities like mobile compatibility? Are there additional security measures needed?

Considering the following best practices when you start designing a municipal website can help answer these questions and improve your overall development strategy.

Build a Clean User Navigation

If you take anything away from this guide to building municipal websites let it be this: you need to focus on designing a clear user navigation and intuitive workflows. 

You may be wondering, what exactly does a user-friendly website look like?

For starters, user-friendly websites deliver an excellent user experience. The idea here is not necessarily to look cool or stylish – instead, the focus should be on ensuring that anyone who visits your website can easily find what they are looking for.

Users shouldn’t have to dig through navigation menus and hyperlinks to answer their questions or access information. To facilitate this, you should add all vital services and notices right on the homepage of your municipal site.  

Add a news feed, carousels, or blocks to display everything your community needs to know in a prominent place. That way, people don't have to dig for details about upcoming events or recent news. Setting this up will also boost engagement and encourage more visitors to your website. 

Another thing to consider is incorporating FAQs or reference guides. There is a good chance many of your visitors have standard questions, like where to find forms and contact information. Give them guides that are easy to understand so they can accomplish their key goals. You could even make instructional videos to help them further understand local government processes!

Users don't want to shop or browse, so convenience should be a priority when building a municipal website. They want answers to their questions and access to crucial information that only the municipality can provide. 

Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • How easy is it to find forms like permit applications and public records?
  • Are details about public meetings available and simple to find?
  • Can community members sign up for news updates and event reminders?


Again, your goal should be to improve the functionality of your site and maximize the user experience. Review web analytics regularly to learn more about what visitors are doing on your website, what content they are accessing, and how long they spend on each page.

This analysis will help you understand what areas of your site may need a redesign or additional attention. 

Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

It's no secret that your residents and community members are always on their mobile devices. That's why you must optimize your municipal website for use on smartphones, tablets, and other similar devices. 

Mobile-friendliness ensures that your audience can access the information they need regardless of where they are browsing the site from. There is nothing more frustrating for users than a website that doesn't load or scale properly when they try to access it on their mobile device. 

Responsive web design is the most valuable strategy when building mobile-optimized municipal websites. This technique allows your content to automatically adjust its size and layout to fit perfectly on whatever device the visitor is using!

It is much more effective to leverage responsive design than it is to create an entirely separate website for every kind of device. 

When you think about building a mobile-friendly website, you should also consider social media integration. Adding integration features that let users share events, news, and other content to their social media pages is a great way to engage with your community and raise awareness about what is going on with the local government. 

It is a helpful resource for your social media and marketing teams too – they can use that integration to share content directly on your municipality Facebook page!

If you are curious of how to build mobile optimized websites, check out our guide.

Web Accessibility is Key

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, municipal websites should make accommodations to ensure accessibility for all users. Local government websites are also subject to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, so every effort must be made to remain compliant. 

So, how can you make web accessibility a priority? The idea is to ensure that the content on your website and the interface itself are accessible to people who rely on assistive software and devices due to all types of disabilities. 

Your website should eliminate any obstacles that would make it difficult for impaired individuals to navigate your site. For example, the text on your landing pages should be compatible with screen readers that help those with visual impairments understand your content. Similarly, consider how users can integrate consoles, voice orders, and other assistive technology. 

Other factors to consider are features like your search box. Even if you provide buttons and quick links for easy access, many users will prefer to rely on the site search tool. It is more convenient for a lot of people, so take time to ensure that it works with autocomplete, fuzzy search, result suggestions, and other optimizations. 

Considering accessibility during the website building phase will ensure that every user in your community has the sale level of access to your municipal site! If your municipal website isn’t following these best practices to ensure accessibility, then you are not complying with ADA requirements. 

Don’t Forget Website Security

Incorporating tight security is another best practice for municipal websites. Cybersecurity is more important now than ever, with hacking and data theft continuously on the rise. As such, your local government website needs to offer uncompromised security.

Think about it – you can’t risk data manipulation in areas of your site that include official announcements, or data breaches that compromise online forms submitted by businesses and individuals. You must also build in features that support regular backups, HTTPs, and strong password requirements. 

A safe content management system, or CMS, can help you mitigate these risks - and reduce the chances that hackers can steal information from your site. An effective CMS will help you manage other strategies, too. These include your disaster recovery plan, recovery time objective, and how to address DDoS attacks. 

Partner with a Digital Agency

As you learn more about the best practices for building a municipal website, it becomes clear that there are many factors to consider when designing a great site. The best thing to do is get in touch with a local government agency website developer that can help you put what you have learned into action. 

Their experts have experience building effective, user-friendly, and accessible municipal websites so you can focus on what's most important: serving your community.

Allow them to leverage their tools and resources - so you don't have to start from scratch and so that you can design a site that will cater to all the needs of your local government.

Ryan Pelicos

Marketing Coordinator

Ryan is a passionate storyteller who thrives on challenging the status quo. He is an avid researcher with a keen analytical mind able to strategize on technology, sales and marketing decisions by analyzing data and behaviours across various industries and technologies.

Ottawa

135 Laurier Ave. West, Suite 100
Ottawa, ON K1P 5J2
TEL: 1 (877) 257-6746

Saratoga Springs

153 Regent Street
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
TEL: 1 (877) 257-6746