This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog.
It’s fun to get excited about ambitious website goals—a new website, a new online payment function, or a photo gallery highlighting your tourism or downtown development. Or maybe you’re so focused on day-to-day operational activities that you haven’t taken a look at your website in a while. Either way, it’s easy to neglect some obvious things that make your website—and your city—look bad.
Remember, your website is often the most common way that people get a first impression of your city. Whether or not you’ve recently redesigned your website, there are a few common mistakes that cities don’t realize leave a very bad impression on citizens, future residents, potential visitors, and businesses.
Here are six quick, low-budget ways that you can immediately improve your city’s website—no matter how old or new.
- Broken links. It’s annoying for people to come to your website, click on a link, and see an error page. Remember that your citizens and people researching your website are often looking for specific information. When they don’t find it, it’s like hitting a dead end. Broken links are usually caused if you’ve added or deleted pages over time but haven’t updated the links. Go through your website—especially your main pages if you’re time-strapped—to check for broken links.
- Outdated information. People get disappointed when they come to your website to see that the last news item was from 2011, a department’s contact information is for someone no longer at the city, or an advertisement is for an event that took place six months ago. You lessen trust by not actively keeping up a vital, worthwhile website and it may suggest that the city is asleep at the wheel. Keep important information up to date and take down information after it’s no longer needed.
- Misspellings and poor grammar. We hate to bring this up but a simple review of many city websites reveal a staggeringly high number of glaring misspellings and poor grammar. It’s worth the investment to pay for the services of a good writer and editor if someone on your city staff isn’t trained to do it. You may not think that typos are a big deal, but studies show that poor spelling and grammar ruin the credibility of a website.
- Too many “Coming soon!” items for too long. It’s okay to set up a website and have some “Coming soon!” notices for maybe up to three months after you launch. But we see many websites with “Coming soon!” notices for years. It’s embarrassing and frustrating if a page never gets uploaded with content or your city council never gets pictures next to their names. Either upload content within a reasonable period of time or just take a page down if you’re not going to show any content on it.
- Calendars with nothing on them. A citizen gets excited to see that you have a calendar. They’re ready to jot down the dates and times of meetings they are interested in, and…nothing. A blank calendar. If your website displays a calendar, use it. Populate it with city council meetings, public events, and other items of interest. A calendar is probably one of the most useful tools that your website provides but you need to maintain it.
- Too many items to choose from. A website may give you control over what links you want to provide, but be careful. Many websites offer too many link choices on the top or side of the page. Would you want to sift through a list of 52 random links to find what you want? Or would you rather quickly look through a list of 10 links that clearly organize information into understandable buckets? Think about how information is organized on your website in order to help people find what they want.
So, if you’re worried about budget for a new website, first take a look at your current website. Do you have any of the glaring issues listed above? These are extremely low-budget items to fix that have an immediate, big payoff. Remember, you’re always on audition. People are researching your website for a variety of reasons. The difference between getting more tourism dollars, an additional business relocating to your city, and more residents moving to your city versus losing them may be that first impression.
Once you fix the problems listed above, it’s just the beginning of really harnessing the power of your website.