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What to Expect When You Launch a New Municipal Website
By Ashley Fruechting, Senior Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships for Vision
It’s been months in the making, your agency’s beautiful new website is ready to go, and how do you feel? Like you just ran a marathon? Few projects involve as many stakeholders and internal interests as a website redesign, which is why completing the launch can be a real effort, even if everything goes smoothly and you’re totally prepared.
At Vision, we launch websites all the time in partnership with our customers, but the re-launch of our corporate site gave us a chance to walk a mile in our customers’ shoes. On March 28 our new site debuted, along with a new brand identity that embodies our “vision” for the future of our company. It was exciting and exhausting, and gave us some inspiration and insight on the process we wanted to share.
Make Sure Everyone’s Prepared
What may be an exciting new beginning for you could be a scary plunge into the unknown for your colleagues or citizens if they don’t know what’s coming. Use your current site and social media to get the word out to residents that changes to your site are coming – and what the improvements will be. Make it a campaign and lay the ground work well in advance. The City of San Angelo, Texas for example, created a coordinated effort for weeks on Twitter and Facebook talking about the new website, including sneak peeks at the updated design and new features. That way, when the launch rolled around, residents felt more prepared for the changes. Check out this handy website launch toolkit for additional marketing tips.
Don’t forget to spread the word of the redesign within your own organization – to each and every department – especially to those who contribute content to the website. The more engaged and involved they feel in the process before the launch, the less they will feel the need to point out shortcomings after the launch.
The Launch is Just the Beginning
Switching over to a new site, often with a new CMS, involves lots of moving parts. Instead of thinking of your site launch as the finish line, it helps to think of it as a start if a new phase that still requires care and attention. Make sure to allocate time for you and your team to look through the new site and check that everything looks and works as planned. Does the new content you wrote make sense? Are all departments using the same naming conventions? Does the navigation allow people to find information easily? Be prepared to make tweaks and small fixes, especially in the first few days. You’ll also want to prepare for ongoing improvements to keep your site fresh and functional.
You’re Going to Get Feedback
Whenever you make a big change to your website, you’re going to get feedback – from residents, elected officials, friends and colleagues. Some of this input will be helpful and constructive, some will be… well, less helpful. It’s important to open your organization up to comments and have a process in place to go through them, so that you can be sure your new site is doing a good job. Cities like Sandpoint, Idaho actively solicit feedback on their new website, which helps residents feel like their representatives care about their opinions and concerns.
More importantly, when confronted with feedback, don’t immediately react and make changes. Go back to the data behind the decisions you made to help assess its validity. When the City of Rancho Cordova, California went through the redesign process, they relied heavily on the insights gained through community surveys, heat map analysis and more to make informed decisions about their site’s navigation, content and design. Armed with this information, they were able to assess what feedback was purely subjective and what could truly help improve the usability of the website. Be prepared to be thick-skinned, because it’s tough to please everyone. Your data can help you sort through the noise and find the right path for future improvements.
You’re Never Really Done and That’s Okay
Make time to reflect on the process you just completed – what went well, what could have gone better – as well as setting concrete plans for future improvements. In every large project there are some requirements that by necessity fall out scope. Make sure you keep track of these items so they don’t fall off the map altogether. A lot of this has to do with mindset – think of your website as something that’s always evolving, not a project that’s complete. If you share this mindset with your team and leaders, it will help keep improvements at the forefront as you move forward.
Remember and Commit to What Really Matters
In the end, the success of your website launch boils down to how well it serves your community. Does it provide added value? Does it make necessary processes easier to complete, and important information easier to find? Involve your residents before, during and after launch so that their voices can be heard and reflected in the content of your site. And be prepared to evolve, change and improve as time goes forward.