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?

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33 thoughts on “SEO for Government: What Does Your Local Government Web Site Offer Visitors?”

  1. I agree, Bill.Local government websites should give the community a lot of information and give themselves a more friendly and approachable nature by doing this.Though it is good that they notify people of potholes, which as a cyclist, is vital information! Something I would add to this list is recreation centre opening times.

  2. Agreed Bill! I don’t know why more communities don’t put more work into their local websites. They obviously spend tons of man hours on other things that are far less productive!

  3. Hi Websearchworkshop,

    Being approachable and informative is one of the keys to how effective a local government site can be. I’ve started looking at how many of the local sites I’m monitoring have some kind of analytics code showing on their sites, so they can see who might be looking at what, and it isn’t many. Thinking that’s a good topic for a future post.

  4. Thank you, Kimberly.

    I find myself surprised when I visit some government sites and just can’t find what I’m looking for, whether that might be because it’s just not included, or it is but just is very hard to find. Hopefully more will find the value that their websites can bring them. I agree with you completely that getting their communities involved, and giving them a chance to provide feedback is one of the best things that they can do.

  5. I can’t tell you how many times I have been disappointed when attempting to locate important info on a gov website. You’d think that they would understand the need for community support and involvement as well as the potential to save cash & man hours. Hopefully, over time, gov websites will take note of the sort of outline you’ve mentioned and make everyones life a bit easier.

  6. Good analysis of Local Government websites….I wanted to do same things in India.

  7. Thanks so much for the comprehensive information! Our township has a web site. I emailed them a question once and never got a response. That makes me feel like they are either under-staffed and have no one to answer the email or they just don’t care.

  8. Our landlord has added a form to their site you can use to submit request for repair and work doing on the property. This is really useful and I think something that the council could do to reduce calls, accepting input through online forms is uaully more efficent than talking to people on the phone I find

  9. Everyone has overlooked the fact that if there was a more streamlined format for local governments, then they would require less people to work for them which in turn would reduce there annual budget allowance that they so dilligently spend on digging up completely perfect sections of road and putting back together, usually just before the end of the financial year! We can only hope can’t we.

  10. Hi Rahul,

    Thank you. If you do start analyzing Indian government sites, please let me know. I would be interested in hearing what you discover.

  11. Hi Emily,

    Sorry to hear that you didn’t get a response. Questions and feedback from visitors to a site can often be very helpful to the organization behind the site. I know I’ve taken questions sent in by email from a number of sites, and used them to make the sites better. That you took the time to send in a question means that you care about the topic that you were writing about. Have you tried to follow up with another email?

  12. Hi Jimmy,

    Using a web site like that, where you reduce the amount of work your staff needs to do through things like interactive forms and question answering can be real victories. Thanks for the example. There were some forms like that on some of the sites I looked at, but I wish there were a lot more.

  13. Hi John,

    I know from personal experience, having worked within a State Court system for a good number of years that there’s always something that will take up time and effort no matter how much you might streamline the work that you do. The challenge is to work smarter, so that you can do more work with less people. Given things like hiring freezes, enforced unpaid furloughs, and early retirements, finding ways to make government more efficient and effective isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity.

  14. You should be able to get the information you want from government sites in your area.They should make it more interacting i think.

  15. Hi Khalid,

    It would be really helpful for government sites to provide information that people really need, and it can be a real cost savings if governments can make much of that information available online. Yesterday, I noticed a couple more public notices in my local paper for public hearings by the county I live in, and I know that there’s more information about the subjects of those hearings on the County’s web site. Instead of providing a link to the pages on those topics, they included their address and phone number, and asked people to call or visit in person.

    While I think those are both good options, if they had added another sentence saying that people could learn more on their web site as well, and provided a URL, they really would have been doing themselves a favor. I may try to bring that up at their next meeting.

  16. Well I think that government sites are just the same as any other site tbh. I mean common all sites offer some information that helps its visitors and clients but tend to miss out other parts of information etc that visitors may find to be of much more help.

    IMO government sites are doing an ok job just as any other site does and yer they may need to add more to the sites in our eyes but how are they to know exactly what it is we want to see from a government site?

  17. Hi Nath,

    One way that government sites might learn more about what we want to see from them is to provide easy to find feedback forms on their pages to ask people visiting those pages. Another is to carefully monitor web analytics to see what kind of information people are looking for on their pages, what what kinds of information they might be trying to find through things like site search.

  18. Where I live the local government update their site once every 2 years or so. I can still read about the elk that got hit by a car a little over a year ago; no updates ever since. If they knew the importance of updating their site and actually filling the site with good information, maybe people would actually come here. There have been a major “crisis” here for several years with people moving away from this small town and no one moving TO it, and they cant figure out why that is. Ok, before moving to a new place maybe you want to check if there are jobs there, and check what the community have to offer. This site have no such information. I think it`s a simple as this: they do not understand the importance of online presence.

  19. Hi forbrukslan1,

    It would be great to see updated information on government web sites. I’ve been looking at 121 local town and city sites and 95 county web sites in Virginia, and some of the sites contain very up-to-date information while others don’t appear to have been updated in months or longer, including sites that show “up to date” news on their front pages. Some do appear to understand how much their site can add to their communities. Others don’t.

  20. Government sites I think that not give that much on SEO The ones from my country I refer, they are not that good made that’s to bad.

  21. Hi Bit,

    Some government sites seem to be better than others when it comes to SEO. What I’m seeing in a number of instances is that many local government sites, on a town or city level, seem to rely upon web design companies that built their original sites years ago, and may not really understand a need or focus upon SEO. Hopefully at some point they will.

  22. Like everything with government, they are reluctant to adopt new technologies or techniques (such as SEO, which isn’t new, but new to them) simply because of the additional paperwork burden. No matter what solution the authorities are presented with, they will always be hesitant to try it – so one must do a darn good job in convincing your local township they need to do beef up their on-site SEO and allocate budget money.

  23. Hi Clinton,

    Some government websites do use new technologies and techniques, but many don’t. I’m not convinced that the reason is a fear of paperwork, because an intelligently crafted site can cut down on both paperwork and the time it takes a government office to perform some tasks. For example, sites that allow people to pay their traffic tickets online can reduce the workload of a government office considerably. Likewise, allowing people to either print out forms for different services or file online can reduce both requests for those forms and the actual need for paper versions of the forms.

    I think the biggest roadblock at this point is that many don’t yet see the potential savings and value of how a web site can make it easier for them to do their jobs.

  24. It seems that a lot of the counties where I live (FL) have taken an interest in providing lots of services on their sites. I cant say all have adopted the paperless approach, but the sites we regularly uses are fairly robust and provide lots of useful, current information. I would like to see that trend to continue and hopefully it will. Being a jacksonville home repair business, we receive many calls for repairs and it is very nice to be able to pull up property records and other information before, during and after a job or estimate is completed.

    Florida seems to be doing decent job (at least in our county) of utilizing technology to their advantage. Jacksonville is after all about 800 sq miles, so nobody wants to drive all the way downtown if we don’t have to.

  25. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for sharing an example of where things sound like they are being done right in many ways.

    The savings that can come to an area that covers so much ground have to be tremendous, to both the governments and the individuals and businesses that use them.

  26. hello bill,
    for us here in austria its usual that each city or village has its own gouvernment site and if you have a company or a shop or may be a sports association they place a link to your website like a link collection. So you cah get a free backlink to your website and be part of the community of the gouvernment. but at the end there are so many links out that they don´t weight much …
    but in my oppinion its an absolutly must have in link from your local gouvernment

  27. Hi Manfred,

    Interesting that Australian local government sites take a linking approach that seems very different from those in the US.

    I guess there’s the possibility that both want to avoid being seen as favoring one business over another. This could mean either linking to everyone, or linking to no one. Australia seems to have taken the first approach, while the US follows the second.

  28. Sorry Manfred,

    I had Australia on my mind – just read about Google Maps developer Lars Rasmussen leaving Google (and Australia) to join the Facebook team in San Francisco.

  29. Hello Bill,

    You have come-up with a great topic. It is absolutely true that most of the Government sites has less information than other local sites in the same field. But now in year 2012, we can see that Government has been modifying their sites to keep them more informative for users. What do you say?

  30. Hi Lalit,

    I think there’s been a little bit of improvement in some of the searches I do, and some of the sites that I see, but not much.

    Most government sites still do a poor job of making the information they publish on the web difficult to find and difficult to use.

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