How Is Your Borough Sizing Up?
The very first website went live Aug.6, 1991. Now, the internet has more than 1.8 billion websites, transforming society into one that needs (and expects) speed, security, and accurate information that can be viewed on smartphones and tablets. Local governments’ websites, then, must provide residents with 24/7 access to updated and accurate information.
A website audit is not the same as one from the IRS or the annual one that boroughs complete. Instead, it looks at all the factors that affect a website’s visibility and usability, giving insight into its overall traffic and individual pages with the objective of finding weak points that affect the site’s performance.
Travis Snyder, the web development manager for a website development company in Camp Hill Borough, Cumberland County, explained that there are many tools that can offer recommendations, including how to raise the borough’s search rankings by doing a search engine optimization audit (SEO) for broken links, valid addresses, website statistics, error pages, indexed pages, and site
speed. “A site audit is applicable for all online businesses and improves different aspects of the websites,” he added. SEO is a process of adjusting, developing, and fine tuning a website’s content to increase visibility when a resident searches for the borough by placing the site at the top of the responses a resident gets with a search.
Additionally, this optimization is important for residents to find borough material quickly and correctly. For example, without proper SEO, a resident seeking Franklin Borough in PA may get Franklin Borough, N.J., at the top of their search page.
A mobile-friendly site will automatically adjust itself to a mobile device, creating an optimal and good user experience. Approximately 75% of people use their smartphones for visiting websites, so it’s important to audit the borough website regularly to ensure that pages appear correctly on a phone.
To improve where a search ranks a borough’s website (how near to the top of the search page):
- Repair or delete the broken links that take visitors to other pages, sites, etc.;
- Check for duplicate meta descriptions (these summarize the page’s content with a snippet of it appearing on the search page) as well as the meta titles (text that search engines show to indicate a webpage’s topic);
- Add additional SEO words;
- Check for error pages; and
- Ensure the speed at which pages and other portions of the website work is up to par.
Further, boroughs have a number of options to run a simple SEO website audit by using tools such as ScreamingFrog or Deepcrawl, among others. On top of being easy to use, these tools can highlight what a site is lacking SEO-wise and how to fix it. Or, the borough can contact its web development company for assistance and insight.
Websites should be clear and easy to navigate, including being able to find meeting agendas, minutes, and other borough communications. Promoting events, such as holiday parades, Main Street activities, or any type of celebration can be done easily through an event calendar. However, the information must be updated to prevent website visitors from getting frustrated with outdated or difficult-to-find details. Topton Borough, Berks County, changed its website editor to WordPress, according to Trynda Schoonover, administrative assistant. The borough “wanted to be a place residents could go to for answers that were easy to find. Our site is much cleaner now, looks more professional, and has much more information to help residents find what they might be looking for.”
Business-to-business, including boroughs, best practices and American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance are essential for boroughs to meet the needs (and expectations) of everyone who visits the website. According to ada.gov, images without text equivalents are a challenge for blind or low vision users who may be using a text-to-speech option to “view” the site. Whoever designs the borough’s
webpages should make sure documents are posted in an accessible format along with text color and size that is noted on ada.gov, among other resources. One way to become compliant is for a municipality to call or hire a web development team.
As a web development manager, Snyder explained, that accessible websites are designed using the proper color and font settings, with “alt tags” (on photos and other graphics) and descriptive tags in the webpage’s coding, among other choices to meet accessibility guidelines.
Websites need secure sockets layer (SSL), which is the infrastructure for a secure internet, to:
- Keep user data secure,
- Verify ownership of the website,
- Prevent attackers from creating a fake version of the site, and
- Convey trust to users (illustrated by the closed padlock icon by a site’s address).
Most modern browsers, like Google, require websites to have an SSL certificate in place. This means borough officials should confirm they have such a certificate, and if they do not, they need to contact the web-hosting company to provide an SSL certificate. While not something users see, it’s important that passwords for access to the site’s coding, update functions, etc., are strong and changed
frequently, as well as making sure a firewall is in place. Another way to increase security is to make any logins for the site (whether for staff or residents) expire after a short period of inactivity, along with keeping all the technology updated.
The primary responsibility of a borough’s staff and officials is to serve its residents and all of its constituencies. By regularly updating information, working on accessibility, and ensuring security, a municipal website is one of the most user-friendly communication tools.