Know the Purpose of Your Website

question mark imageWhat is the primary purpose of your government website? It’s good question to answer or revisit as you begin a redesign or review of your website content. Once your staff agree why you are creating website content, it is easier to define what belongs online and how to present it.

Purpose starts with your end users

Ultimately, I believe the purpose of a government website is to serve the needs of individual members of the public who visit – to help your citizen activists, your business people, your occasional visitors accomplish what they want to do.

Government websites should identify an overarching purpose, and also be clear about the purpose of each page of the site. Knowing why your content exists will help you develop – and limit – content so that it is most valued and efficient for your end users.

But you have city, strategic, and business goals, too. Your website needs to balance your internal goals with the needs of your end users.

Design for your website’s purpose

If your purpose is to help people do their government business online, your site might emphasize online payment and form options.

If your purpose is to foster civic engagement, you need to first be clear about what people care about, and how they want to interact. Make meeting information easy to access, post current opportunities for public comment on your Home page and relevant topic pages (not everyone lands on the Home page), use social media for two-way interaction.

Perhaps you want to promote economic development? Make it easy for prospective businesses to find the information and permits they need – and make it clear what other agencies are involved. Whatever you do to promote business, make it sustainable. An outdated list of “available properties” does not make your city attractive.

You government website isn’t

When you know your website’s primary purpose, you can de-emphasize secondary goals. Your website isn’t:

The online equivalent of an organizational chart. Information about every department and its structure may be valuable, but it is not what most people come to you for.

The only repository of public records. Of course, many government documents do belong online. Archives of council minutes and other public documents make information easy for the public to access, saving staff time in filling records requests. But don’t scan original documents so the signature is online just to make it official – that is both unnecessary and turns your text into an image – a very unfriendly way to present online information (accessible to people with disabilities, not immediately translatable into other languages, less clear text to read in general).

The only source of information on your topic. Be careful to focus on what you do and what you know as a government agency. Link to other organizations when they are the authority. People visiting your website have the World Wide Web at their fingertips – let search engines help them answer the rest of their questions.

Be sure to know what your website is. Having a sense of purpose provides both motivation and direction – in websites and in life.