(This article is the second in a three-part series)

Style, Pizzazz, and Innovation Separate the Ordinary from the Extraordinary

In Part 1 of the Striving for Online Excellence series, we outlined several functions that today’s best municipal web sites serve: to empower and educate citizens, increase government accountability, provide financial information, deliver services with increased efficiency, encourage communication, and attract business and tourism.

In addition to accurate and thorough content (to be addressed in Part Three? stay tuned!), the exemplary web site offers reader appeal through the use of graphics or other multi-media applications, intuitive organizational structure and helpful navigational tools. It offers fresh content and other features that catch the user’s attention, and invites them to return for repeated visits.

Freshness? Whether news or other updated content, today’s top-notch web sites are anything but stagnant. One of the greatest advantages of having an online presence is the ability to continuously provide fresh information.

  • Las Cruces, New Mexico has city headlines taking front-and-center stage on its lively home page. Here, residents can read about current and upcoming events, traffic updates, and televised news conferences – to name a few. Just under this box, Las Cruces lists the day’s local government agency and committee meetings.
  • At the top of its web site, San Diego highlights a different city agency, service, event, or web site feature each week. In doing so, the site never appears stale, and online visitors get to learn something new about the city on a regular basis.

Reader appeal – Today’s online visitors have been spoiled by the constant raising of the bar when it comes to graphics, multimedia functions, and navigational tools on web sites. More often than not, most of us DO judge a book by its cover – and first impressions count!

  • While chock full of comprehensive information and resources, Seattle, Washington’s web site appears anything but cluttered. The site exudes sophistication, and offers many state-of-the-art features – including video-on demand and translation into 26 (!) languages.
  • Too much color and design can be distracting, while too little of either risks being boring. Richmond, Virginia finds the perfect balance on its home page, which is colorful and lively, yet clean and very well organized.
  • Fort Myers, Florida provides webcasts of its local access television programs – news, city council meetings, documentaries, and more through its web site.
  • Make it their very own: Maricopa County, Arizona includes a feature on its web site that allows visitors to customize their Maricopa County home page based on their zip code, city or street address to view their local news, weather and district information – complete with links to local representatives and tax data.

Ease of Navigation – Because of the vast amounts of information available to us, we like it to be organized into digestible pieces which can, in term, increase our efficiencies. Clear menu options and site search engines can help quickly pinpoint specific information, while site maps clearly delineate the range of content included within the web site.

Many web sites now offer “quick links” to most popular pages. In the earlier years, most municipal web sites were organized by department or agency; many – it not most – have now shifted to a user-centric system based on the user’s anticipated needs.

Part Three of this series will examine the content qualities of outstanding municipal web sites.