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Making sure you don’t build a scary monster of a government website

Aug 23
Making sure you don’t build a scary monster of a government website
Government websites are often monster projects due to the volume of information they house. But they don’t have to turn into dreaded monsters of projects that scare staff, developer and intended customer alike.
As a company that designs a lot of government websites, breaking the process down has become second nature at Webcoda. It isn’t an easy thing to master by any stretch of the imagination. It takes a lot of awareness, communication and experimentation to get it right.

Teamwork is fundamental to the process of building good government websites. Members of the web development team charged with doing the work has to communicate well on design, development and user experience. The client has to feel welcome and accepted as a part of the process to share meaningful insights. And the client also has to elicit information from stakeholders and interested parties and their website users to make sure it works effectively.

This is a big process and with a large scale project such as a government website, an involved process that needs to begin on the right footing from the outset.

Here are 5 ways you have to ensure your government website build will be a successful one and that you don’t invite the website of childhood nightmares

Make the path to happiness easy to spot

As we mentioned before, government websites are usually quite weighty. They also have to morph into new websites with changing years, policies and community needs.

The user experience or UX on any large scale project needs a lot of consideration. With a lot of information come common issues such as being able to manage large volumes of content well, site speed, and navigation and meeting the needs of a lot of interested parties. Government websites receive an extra level of scrutiny.
The aim is to build for usage, not to satiate internal goals. But it can be tricky balancing what are good usage principles versus the size of the content or the competing needs across departments, the types of customers and so on.

A monster website for all the people won’t get you very far. But if you think about people in terms of who they are and why they use your website, paths to information and the sorts of logins, features, content and so on they would need starts to crystallise. Just like the monsters in kid’s books, we can spot the difference between the good ones, the bad ones and the ones we should avoid and the ones we benefit from getting behind.

If you can imagine an elderly female looking for somewhere to sign up for an information class, you can start to visualise what she would need to do to get there. You might need to consider if English is her primary language and change the instructions to suit. She could lack confidence when it comes to using the web and need a simple pathway to help put her mind at ease. Or she may be visually impaired and require larger font or special services to help her along the way. She may prefer signing up through a paper form or want a download of information to share with her grandson next time he visits. Perhaps any downloads or helpful content such as video needs to consider she may have a computer that isn’t regularly updated or internet access that is slow.

Whatever the needs of your audience, it’s good to define the person and how they may go about finding information.  It also includes planning out content properly to ensure a minimum of digging and making the experience as simple as possible.  

This is where using things such as personas, creating priority lists for features and card sorting comes in handy.
By spending time to define the people that use your website, working out what pathways they choose to use and creating a website based on their priorities in tandem with internal and external customers, you start to see what you do and don’t need on a user experience level.

Don’t growl at your customers

When managing content for a website, you have to be mindful of scaring away your customers. How you phrase sections of your website and deliver instructions is super important to setting the tone with your customers. It might seem like a good idea to employ formal language to seem intelligent, but for the most part, it only alienates your audience. 

In a government website, it’s incredibly important to remain professional. But it’s equally as important to remain approachable, warm and friendly. It might seem hard to maintain this balance, but there are a few ways you can ace your content while meeting requirements on both sides.

We’re talking Cookie Monster versus the one lurking under your bed.

Here are some tips to setting the tone and language of your website effectively:
  • Ensure you know your style guide and if you don’t have one, take the time to build one. Style guides help with tone, language, phrases to avoid, terminology alternatives, presentation of ideas and other considerations relating to branding. It’s much easier to work from a style guide from the outset and for any future updates. Plus, it stops knowledge being lost when people leave
  • Recognise you are up against preconception and potential stigma. The sad reality of working on government websites is that you know that the audience are picturing a difficult road. They expect information to be hard to understand, buried and potentially misleading. This is because years of fictional portrayal as government as a big, hard to fathom thing that doesn’t tell the whole story lingers in the minds of people. They expect lines, long wait times and a hard time. So choosing language that is hard to understand will only affirm this unfair stigma
  • Keep the lawyers out. Nothing makes an audience feel alienated and isolated than terms dripping in legal terms and phrases that are only understood by other lawyers. The same is also true of internal vernacular, acronyms and any special phrasing and terminology
  • Look to inform and soothe. Channel your friendly style of monster, not the one we dread. Understand the frame of mind someone may be in when using your website. If someone is angry about a fine or scared about a medical diagnosis, they will respond differently to someone looking for parking information. Adjust your tone, voice and user experience to help allay fears and soothe when people need it the most
Once you’ve set (or updated) your style guide and are happy with it, that’s when the fun can begin.

Know the lay of the land with a content audit

It’s amazing how many government websites fail to properly audit content. Yet the content is what supplies information about your services to the audience.

Not knowing whether your content is serviceable for a new website or digital campaign can set a trap for your customers. And it can fail to deliver your message to the very people looking to hear it. This is especially true when it comes to downloadable assets and repurposed content from one build to another.

Not only do you need to write new content for physical change in the web, you also need to stay on top of assets such as:
  • Downloadable brochures and flyers
  • Videos
  • Disability supports such as audio and other prompting mechanisms
  • Diagrams, vectors, maps and images
  • Branding related items such as logos, colours, fonts
  • Name changes for departments, positions and people
  • Version control and dates on posts and documents
 A content audit needs to be robust enough to get you through the website build plus also ensure that any changes in the future are activated appropriately. That means noting down information that has changed or will change in the future as well as seeking alternatives.

It also means having a contingency that includes what to do if a download or video is no longer relevant yet people still need information.

By taking the time to assess your content and flag what the strengths and weaknesses are as well as having a living, breathing content audit document, you can avoid out of date and irrelevant content dragging your website down.

Build for the future

Just like a hospital might end up with mismatched wings or a government building end up with rabbit warren corridors, government websites can have a nasty habit of outgrowing themselves.

It’s understandable.  Government agencies are a fluid bunch after all. Changes with policy, extra funding, additional programs, new leadership and changes within the audience it serves all influence how government websites operate.

The trick here is building to accommodate these sorts of changes.

This is why it’s important to build a website that has:
  • A robust CMS so that content can be updated as needs change
  • Strong branding and style guides so that new pages and posts can be easily created that look part of the process
  • Mapped out content for now and into the future during the design stages
  • Focused on future changes in the audience in relation to technology usage
  • The current and future maintenance budgets for the website at the heart of planning
Luckily, all the websites Webcoda build come with this as a mainstay. It may not be possible to predict every aspect of the future, but we definitely ensure that whatever the future holds, your website can withstand it.

Remember SEO

Every good monster knows what trails to mark so it can come back to the appropriate starting point. In folklore, that might mean the howl or the stony road. In the digital landscape, it’s SEO.

An important factor in all government websites is SEO. Your audience may not be familiar at all with what services you offer. They’ll be using like terms, self researching and trying to make do. This is why a focus on SEO is vital to success. You have to be there and support your audience as they get to know you and conduct research. The only way you can effectively do that is to have strong SEO.

It’s not even about ranking the best in Google, although this sort of visibility helps. It’s about covering off the reasons why your audience need you in the first place in language they would use. It’s about including sitemaps and robots.txt for visibility and making sure everything is appropriately optimised to maximise the chances of finding you.

We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve seen a picture or a place that we can’t remember the name of. We’ve also probably all been in the situation that no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to find it again on Google.

Don’t risk that being your government website.

Spend time choosing keyword phrases, thinking about content, and having a plan to help fortify and expand your keyword range as part of maintaining your website. It’ll make all the difference to searching for content at the search engine level.

Build a government website you can be proud of

Are you tired of angry calls and emails about broken links and paths to information that lead nowhere? Are your staff frustrated by your website so much that they avoid updating it? Do you cringe when you think about having to find something on the website and/or need a download for a customer?

Don’t suffer from having the monster website that not even you like to use. Get in contact with Webcoda and give your government website the old spit and polish today!

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