SEO for Government: What Does Your Local Government Web Site Offer Visitors?

I’ve been asking myself how local governments could use their websites to help them govern more effectively and save money. The question led to this post.

Building Bridges in Communities

Reading through one of the local weekly papers in my area I noticed a large public notice announcing a public hearing for the replacement of a bridge leading into a nearby town from one of the major north-to-south roadways that provides a main access point into the center of that town.

The announcement provided a fair amount of details about the bridge project and the meeting, as well as a phone number to find out more and to get a copy of the written plan for the renovation of the bridge. It also included an email address which you could use to send comments about the plan. But something was missing…

What was missing was a web address where readers could see the plan online, download it, and possibly post comments for others to view. If that written plan was placed online, people with an interest in the plan wouldn’t have to call and take up the time of someone sitting at a government desk. There wouldn’t be a need to spend money on postage and copying costs mailing the plan out to people who could otherwise view it online, or have people come into their office to view the plan in person.

Putting that plan online would likely increase the amount of people who would actually view the plan, and provide feedback that might materially affect the project. So, why isn’t it online, and why didn’t the notice include a web address?

I’m not sure of the answers to those questions, but I have been reading in my local weekly newspapers about how harshly the economy is affecting the budgets of towns and counties in the region. I’ve seen plans to cut the salaries of employees, send workers on unpaid furloughs for weeks, raise property taxes, and remove programs and community services, including cuts to school programs.

I’m also not sure how many people read that notice about the bridge in their local paper, or skimmed past it since it was placed in the paper as an ad rather than a news story. I’m not advocating that local government stops publishing public notices like that one, but instead I’m trying to stress that the web offers an opportunity for towns and counties to become portals of up-to-date information about what goes on within their communities, building bridges to residents and people who might be interested in what happens within their boundaries.

Why should a town or city have a web site?

There are at least two major reasons why local governments should have web sites. The first reason is for the web site to act as a communication channel to reach people interested in information about the region, including news, events, and regulations.

The second reason for a town or city to have a web site involves being able to do more with less; less money, less workers, and less time.

While most government offices are only open a certain number of hours a day, and days a week, a website is usually always on and available. Audiences for local government web sites can include residents, visitors, potential and present employees, vendors and contractors, business owners and developers, and others.

I went through about 70 local government websites in Virginia, and came up with a list of examples of the kinds of information that a local government web site might contain.

Many of those sites offered information and application forms for different kinds of permits and licenses, keeping people from having to visit in person for those documents. A number of sites offered ways for citizens to become the eyes and ears of their communities, providing ways to report broken street lights and traffic lights, missing street signs, potholes, environmental problems, and even criminal activity. Most of the sites provided news and details about upcoming community events and meetings, and local attractions and landmarks. Some offered safety, security, conservation, and environmental tips for residents and businesses.

A local government web site can be a central information hub for business development, community action, government action and employment, and services available to the public. Here are some of the different kinds of information, services, and opportunities that I found on my survey of local government sites:

  • Adopt a road programs
  • Agricultural services and resources
  • Animal control problems
  • Annexation of property
  • Architectual design standards
  • Area attractions and museums
  • Assisted living information
  • Awards and Recognitions
  • Beautification projects
  • Biking information
  • Building and zoning regulations
  • Business directories
  • Business inspections
  • Business relocation information
  • Business startup information
  • Campground locations
  • Cemetary locations and information
  • Census and population information
  • Child identification programs
  • Church locations
  • City events vendor programs
  • City management information
  • Cleanup campaigns
  • Clubs and organizations
  • Community centers
  • Community watch information
  • Contact information for government departments
  • Court and criminal justice agency information
  • Crime reporting and alerts
  • Daily crime bulletin
  • Demographics and statistical data
  • Dog tag requirements
  • Drainage projecs and maintenance
  • Election information
  • Emergency alerts
  • Emergency preparedness information
  • Employee resources, including regulations, handbook, compensation, training guides, hotlines
  • Employment opportunities and application forms
  • Environmental protection tips and projects
  • Farmer’s market locations and times
  • Fire hydrant adoption
  • Flood plain maps
  • Food pantries, bill payment assistance, and shelters
  • Freedom of information requests
  • Genealogy research information
  • Government meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes
  • Guide to local artists
  • Historical records
  • Holiday schedule
  • Home improvement programs
  • Home safety and security information
  • Housing information (HUD)
  • Hunting and fishing requirements and permits
  • Important town documents
  • Information about local businesses, economic development, and Chambers of Commerce
  • Information about present and past Mayors, Council members, and Government Managers
  • Inspection requests
  • Leaf, debris, and bulk item collections
  • Library locations and hours
  • Links to other nearby government web sites
  • Local airport information
  • Local community events
  • Local media
  • Local weather
  • Locations and information about police, fire departments, post offices, and hospitals
  • Maps
  • Marriage licenses
  • Meeting facitilities
  • Mosquito and Bug control
  • Motor vehicle information
  • New resident information
  • News releases
  • Noise ordinances
  • Online energy audit
  • Online government videos, podcasts, and RSS feeds
  • Parenting class registration
  • Parking information
  • Parks and recreation information
  • Permit application forms
  • Permits for signs
  • Pet adoption
  • Photo galleries
  • Press releases
  • Privacy policy and security policy
  • Public comments and feedback
  • Public computer access locations
  • Public transit information
  • Real estate assessments
  • Recreational class registrations
  • Recycling bin locations and information
  • Registering as a government vendor
  • Reporting concerns
  • Reporting damaged sidewalks
  • Reporting dead animals
  • Reporting environmental problems
  • Reporting grafitti
  • Reporting missing street signs
  • Reporting potholes
  • Reporting street light outages
  • Reporting traffic light outages
  • Requests for proposals and bidding for items such as radio services and generators
  • Reserving facilities
  • Resources and activity information for kids
  • Resources for people with disabilities
  • Resources for senior citizens
  • School locations and educational opportunities
  • School registration
  • Services offered by local nonprofits
  • Shopping and dining information
  • Sister city partnerships
  • Snow removal information
  • Social services information
  • Soil and water reports
  • Street maintenance information
  • Surplus property sales
  • Tax information
  • Tax relief programs
  • Town history
  • Town newsletters
  • Town or municipal ordinances
  • Town plans
  • Traffic cameras
  • Trash pickup schedules
  • Utility payments and information
  • Vehicle registration information
  • Videos
  • Vision statement
  • Visitor information
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Water conservation tips
  • Yard sale and garage sale permits

What does your local government site offer to its visitors? Did I miss somethings that you would like to see on the pages that your town or city publishes?


Author: Bill Slawski

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