Governments offer services to the local community, and often they are promoted through their website. However often these services are buried, or may even not make it onto their website, and will languish on a notice board somewhere.
Building Bridges in Communities
People are spending more and more time online. What is more, the amount of time people spend “browsing” is increasing, as people are using mobile browsers and sitting on a train waiting to get home.
Google gives prominence to .gov domains, and local governments could use this opportunity to promote the activities that are occurring in the local community. However often most government websites have very little information on them except opening times. If they do have information on local activities, it often sits buried beneath several layers of pages, requiring any user (and search engine) to dig deeper and deeper to find the information they are looking for.
Putting information on local projects online would likely increase the amount of people who would actually view those projects, and provide feedback that might materially affect the project. Very few government websites in Australia allow feedback in any form, which probably stems from a fear that people will say inappropriate things.
Local governments should not stop publishing public notices in the library or in the paper, however websites offer a very good opportunity to grow the audience and the offering. Modern content management systems now allow you to run multiple websites from the same back end. Those websites can be optimised to promote their local services, or the local meeting minutes. At the moment, our local Lane Cove website has the meeting minutes buried three pages deep, and are only searchable manually. If I do a quick search for the information held in those minutes, these pages are not even found on the front page of Google.
Why should Australian towns have a web site?
There are two reasons why local governments should have web sites. The first reason is to communicate and promote information about the region, including news, events, and regulations. The second is to have a web site that allows the local government to do more with less; less money, less workers, and less time.
For a start, the local governments should encourage feedback and commentary about proposals. A quick look at the councils of Blacktown, Leichhardt and Lane Cove show that even for the most casual of events, like a basketball tournament or the womens six aside competition, none of them offer any sort of Q+A through a feedback form. All the information is buried in PDFs to be downloaded and most pages have very little content on them. If this was a client of ours, we would not be surprised if people are not reading the information. For one PDFs are harder for search engines to index, for two we know that people don’t download attachments and for three you are automatically excluding anyone on a mobile device.
Local governments could also automatically hook in to social media. Most modern CMS systems allow some sort of integration to Facebook and Twitter. Local councils could use these to get people to share or comment in other places online. Encouraging the local community to use their council’s website and the information within would increase the participation rates in local councils. None of the councils we looked at had any form of social media integration.
Another aspect of modern websites is that it is easy to capture membership information such as an email address. It would be easy to send out notifications to the local population on changes to their area if people were encouraged to sign up to some sort of newsletter. It would not have to be a lot of information, and now councils could just update locals when there is new information on the website or when there is something important.
Time to move in to the current century
In the least, local government websites should employ some form of SEO to optimise the information they provide. It is not really showing up in searches, and you have to dig around to find any information. Whether this is deliberate or not is unclear.