If you’ve read as many RFPs as I have, you will start to see a trend of similar items requested. Many cities and municipal agencies are looking for someone who will help them build a new website that’s accessible and user-friendly. Whether it’s a state government website, a local government website, or a municipal website, some features are crucial to your success. In this article, I will cover 6 of those features that are important to your productivity.
A Quality Content Management System
This is the most significant feature needed. The foundation of your website will make or break how well you can serve your community. When the pandemic hit, many agencies rushed to get something launched or update what they had to respond to the ever-growing needs of their community. Having a quality Content Management System will save you so much time and energy. One of the best out there is WordPress. The reason is that WordPress is one of the most used CMSs in the world. Currently, it powers over 28 million websites or above 40% of the websites worldwide. Basically, 1 in every 4 websites you visit is using WordPress. Don’t confuse WordPress.org with WordPress.com. Both are the same software, but the dot com version is a service built by the founders of WordPress. The dot org version is the software you must install and configure on your own hosting server. For the purpose of this discussion, we are referring to the dot org version. In my experience, WordPress is one of the most user-friendly CMSs and highly flexible. Many developers shun the idea of using WordPress, but it’s why the growth of WordPress is so rapid. Even with naysayers, I’ll always pull for WordPress. I’m so confident in using WordPress that I’ve written about some of the myths about using WordPress and provide you clarification as to why they exist.
WordPress is extremely powerful. You can create many different features within the CMS. A few of the awesome things that you can do are:
- Agenda Management
- RFP/RFQ Postings
- Staff & Business Directory
- User Role Access
- Alerts & Notifications
- ..and a whole lot more!
Secure, Performant, and Quality Hosting
If you are building a house, you would want to live in a great neighborhood, right? The same thing applies to your website. If you’re going to build a great website, where you choose to live (your hosting) matters. The decision for where you decide to host your website varies on your budget. Unless you have unique needs, a quality Virtual Private Server (VPS for short) will do. Most hosting companies that you see offer a budget hosting option, which works for small sites. Stick with the house analogy, using the cheap hosting plan is like living in an apartment. In most cases, it is affordable and convenient with amenities. The drawback is the shared usage of utilities (server resources for hosting). When one thing goes down on the server, everyone is affected. This scenario usually plays out this way: a site on the server ends up getting hacked for not maintaining their website regularly. Your site ends up hacked because the malware the other site exposed you to can now access the rest of the server. The same thing happens when you share utilities, and someone uses up more than their fair share. Resources get strained, and everybody is unhappy. Does this sound pleasant at all? No.
This is why I recommend using a VPS (similar to a townhome). While it does not give you 100% control over the server, you still get the isolation of having a dedicated server (a single-family home). With a VPS, you have the freedom of an isolated environment, but it still shares some resources with other servers. If the same scenario happens above, you will not be affected. Using a VPS is still affordable (averages ~$20/month) and just as secure. Each site that I host resides on a VPS, and we have never had a problem.
A Quality Form System
If you are like me, I hate paperwork. Whenever I have to fill out an application or form, I hope there is a digital version. I don’t have that great of handwriting, and I can type faster than I can write. Plus, if you make a mistake, it’s easier to backspace than use WhiteOut (do people still use this anymore?). Better yet, having a quality form system for you can speed the process up for a lot of grunt work AND reduce human error if set up correctly. Imagine how many times someone has filed a license application and gets denied or delayed because of an incomplete application? If that example made you mad, you understand. Using a quality form system on your site will allow you to do the same thing. Still, you can put safety measures where the filer can’t complete the form until all elements are filled in and correctly. Imagine how much less work you would need to do if this was in place? Another cool thing about having a quality form system is that all the submissions are sent directly to whoever needs to see them. No more visitors are mailing or dropping them off to the wrong person or address. Do you see where I’m going?
Using forms on your website will speed up a lot of work and reduce human error. You can use forms for many different things such as:
- Class Registrations
- Event Registrations
- Community Polls/Surveys
- Contact Forms instead of emails or calls
Blog or News Announcement Section
We all live life in continuous motion. Things are constantly changing and evolving. You must stay informed of what is going on around you. The best way to do that on your website is to have a section dedicated the informing your community. Along with it being beneficial, in most cases, it’s legally required. I’ve worked with some government agencies in Texas, and one of the laws here is called the Texas Open Meeting Act. In a nutshell, it requires meetings of governmental bodies to be open to the public and require public notice. Suppose you have a form system in place. In that case, you can collect emails in a newsletter signup form, and anytime meetings are announced, send out a newsletter blast to your community. The same goes for your news or blog section. If any think pieces or local construction notices the community would benefit from knowing, having this section is excellent to include. Another great point is frequently asked questions or sought information. Imagine if someone is looking for a specific piece of info and you already had a news article created. Instead of explaining it in detail, send them the link, and you can go back to what you were doing. Problem solved. Also, coordinating with local news channels is a great reason to have a news or blog section. If reporters are looking for new content or need information about a project, send over the link to the article. You don’t have to double do the work. Doesn’t that sound like the news you can use? (Don’t judge me)
Accessibility is King: Does your site meet WCAG, ADA, or Section 508 Standards?
One of the hot button legal issues in the internet space today is making sure your website is accessible to those with disabilities. Legislation is being amended regularly as this topic is being discussed. It is vital to make sure your site meets strict government regulations for accessibility. You want to cover yourself for federally-required Section 508 as well as WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA compliance in the United States. In Canada, the accessibility standard is based on AODA. Some ways you can fix your site to be accessible are:
- Check the color contrast of text to ensure it is sufficiently legible
- Color Blindness monitoring to how it appears to 8 different types of color blindness
- Alt-Tag Manager for Images
- Regular monitoring for new content
You do not want to be on the wrong side of a lawsuit when what could be done is very simple.
Having the Right Team to Support You
This may not sound like a website feature, but it’s definitely something you should consider. You can integrate every piece of software under the sun on your website, but if no one is there to help you when things don’t go right, what will you do? Recently, I wrote about hiring a quality consultant for your RFP. Now that you have built what you are looking for, you must have a quality team to support you. Websites are pieces of software that display content from a database. Over time, those pieces of software will need a tune-up or maintenance similar to a car. When your vehicle needs a tune-up, do you DIY or go to a mechanic? Well, if you are like me, I’ve changed out my brakes, but that’s another story. You should see a mechanic because they are paid for their specialized knowledge and skill. The same goes for the support team for your website. Having someone you can reach out to at a moment’s notice is a lifesaver. You will forgo the hiring process to bring on a webmaster (that’s if you have the budget to do it). You will also keep your sanity by not trying to fix things yourself via Google or YouTube (StackOverflow is better anyways; if you know, you know).
One of the scariest things that can happen is trying to change or update something on your website, and it suddenly crashes. When I was an intern earlier in my career, a client’s website crashed at 2 AM, and it was that agency’s biggest client (insert panic mode). Luckily, it was a quick fix, and of course, I saved the day (not to brag). But imagine if you were in that predicament with no one to turn to and can’t begin to figure out how to fix it? That’s why I always say, ‘leave the pro stuff to the pros’. Having a support team right by your side is always needed. You have a community to serve, and we are the experts to help you do that.
This is not a definitive list of features but some of the most important ones. I could write a million more, but I believe this will set the foundation of what you need to be successful.
If you have any other ideas, feel free to shoot them my way, and let’s discuss your thoughts.
All the best!