(This article is the third installment in a three-part series.)

Quality information is the vital element that determines a successful municipal web site.

The first two installments of MuniNet’s Striving for Online Excellence series address the functions and characteristics of today’s best municipal web sites. But at the very crux of a top-notch web site is the content it offers. Quality content defines a web site’s purpose and effectiveness, and determines whether visitors will return for repeat business.

A decade ago, the typical local government web site offered some type of communication from the chief executive officer or elected official, budget materials, perhaps economic development information, and a department directory.

As time went on and web sites became more sophisticated, opportunities for interaction – whether to pay a fine, request a service, or apply for a permit – increased.

Now, we have come to expect greater depth and breadth when it comes to content. Posting budget information is good, but when a city like Scottsdale takes it a step further, that’s great. Scottsdale not only publishes its proposed and adopted budget, but also provides an opportunity for residents to provide budget input, a snapshot of the City’s financial trends, City Council Budget Subcommittee recommendations, and a collection of links to related financial information.

Quality content encompasses materials that are:

  • Accurate? If information is posted to the web site, it had better be correct!
  • Purposeful – Whether to inform, educate, inspire thought or action, provide instructions or assistance, or even to entertain, content is there for a specific reason.
  • Relevant? A municipal web site audience can be very diverse, and therefore the scope of content ought to be wide-ranging, but the tie-in to local government or civic affairs should be clear.
  • Current? fresh information is helpful, stale information is not. No further explanation necessary!
  • Cutting-Edge? Content that goes beyond the ordinary and mundane keeps a site interesting, and encourages visitors to come back for more!

Several municipal web sites stand out because of the extensive, high quality content they provide. Some of our favorites include:

Seattle – a longtime MuniNet favorite – is one of the best municipal web sites when it comes to content. Offering something for every visitor or purpose, the site can be likened to an upscale mall, featuring many “boutiques” that specialize in specific areas. Every section of the site is geared to a specific audience or purpose, but with consistently high quality and presentation, grouped together in intuitive collections. By following links, visitors can delve as deeply into a given area as they want.

One handy feature on its home page allows visitors to follow links to more information on current city issues – e.g., the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the “Dirty Dozen” road repair projects. Local information, from traffic reports to maps to upcoming city events, is also easily accessible from the site’s home page.

Bursting with information, Wichita’s home page sends one clear message: “If it relates to city government, you can read about it here!” Comprehensive, but not overwhelming, the web site provides information about the city’s new housing policy, upcoming events, food safety, area history, current local construction projects? and more. Visitors can conduct a court warrant search, complete an accident report, and access city employment opportunities, to name a few e-services available here.

Indianapolis offers information about the consolidation of local law enforcement agencies, neighborhood-specific newsletters, programs and initiatives, guides to parks’ day camps and public schools, calendars, newsletters, and the list continues.

San Diego is another city that stands out for its comprehensive content. Whether information for businesses, tourists, residents, or others, this site provides content that ranges from crime statistics to capital improvement project updates to financial reports and affordable housing.