This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog.
Imagine going to a restaurant where you look at the menu and it’s just a list of 100 items. There are no sections of the menu for “Appetizers,” “Entrees,” or “Desserts.” Or maybe the menu is organized around themes that relate to things important to the restaurant like “Fresh from the Farmer’s Market,” “For Vegans,” or “Chef’s Favorites.” That’s nice, but...where are the entrees?
That’s how your citizens may feel about your city’s website. Often, it’s easier to just put information “wherever” on your website or organize it in a way that benefits you rather than the people looking for it. In today’s Internet age, people are scanners, not readers. They’re scanning websites quickly to find the information they want—and they grow impatient when websites don’t intuitively deliver up the information they want.
So how can you make sure your city’s website content connects better with your audience? Here are five questions you should ask about the information you put on your website.
How do your citizens and website users look for information?
The way that people look for information might differ from how you organize information on your city’s website. For example, you may think of organizing information by department. But people may not think that way. Instead, think of people’s needs when they come to your website. For example, you might organize your website information by indicating what’s for residents, businesses, visitors, and job seekers.
How can you organize a lot of topics to make them easier to navigate?
In many cases, city websites often list too many unorganized topics on a webpage that make it hard to find anything. Imagine you’re a business owner needing information and you go to a city’s website. What would they need most? How can you make finding that information easy on the user? It helps when you organize topics into incredibly user-friendly chunks that make it easy for people to know where to go next.
How can you get people to do something?
Encourage people to do something on your website. These encouragements are known as “calls to action.” They may include things like:
- Get started
- Learn more
- Pay your ticket
- Sign up for our newsletter
- Follow us on Twitter
How can you highlight important information while hiding excessive detail? Be careful about providing too much detail, too soon. Think of your city’s website like you’re helping someone at City Hall. Start off with general questions on the high-level pages of your website and then provide detailed specifics as people click deeper.
How can you better organize information on each page? In the introduction, we mentioned that people scan more instead of read. To make your information more scannable, add headings, subheadings, bulleted lists, numbered lists, and links. For example, you might offer an easy to scan list of things people need to start a business. Then, each step can offer a link for people to access more information. Otherwise, people will have to work hard to figure out how to find things on your website—which will frustrate them and makes it more likely they will call you.
When you take extra care in organizing your website, it’s the difference between piles of books on the floor versus going to a public library. At a public library, books are organized by an overall system that’s easy for people to navigate. They can search by author, topic, title, and many other labels, and it’s easy to move around and find what they want. The same needs to be true of your website.
Even if you’re a small city and you don’t have that much information on your website, still take the time to organize the information you do have. You will help your citizens more and appear better organized to potential residents or business owners wishing to relocate to your city.