By Gwen Campbell and Holly Kaufhold
Our city website is often the first introduction people get to the City of Victoria and, by 2018, we realized it was not serving our community well and was in dire need of an overhaul.
It was visually outdated and built on an old platform, limiting design and site structure options. In addition, we didn’t have specific staff members responsible for website maintenance, and staff turnover resulted in a lack of understanding of the site structure and functionality.
Over time, the site had developed several problems, including broken links, confusing navigation, and excessive links needed to reach desired information.
So, we decided to redesign the website with two major goals in mind. We sought to improve both ease of access for users — direct links to popular pages, simplified menus, and less clutter — and ease of maintenance for staff.
The new home page helped improve the user experience, providing several features to speed users to their destination:
- Six large icon buttons, linked to the most frequently visited pages, are prominently displayed near the top of the page. These buttons also display at the bottom of most interior pages, just above page footers.
- The large Search bar is highly visible, making it easy for users to search with keywords.
- “I Want To” is a handy feature for users to perform common actions such as applying for a permit or paying a utility bill.
- “Newsflash & Events” remains on the home page, with visual clues added. The community events and government meetings are listed on one calendar in that section.
- Also, the most popular site section, Parks and Recreation, now has its own landing page with direct links to park information, recreation program registration, and more, reducing the number of clicks. There is also an icon button on the home page that links to the Parks and Recreation landing page, making it easy to navigate to.
The new platform and streamlined menu structure make for a better experience not only for users but also for staff charged with site maintenance. The new site is easier to maintain because the content management system is more intuitive and flexible.
We also now have two staff members who serve as site administrators. One is the site manager, the other manages the Parks and Recreation pages, and they back each other up as needed.
For the website redesign, we decided to stick with our current web provider, CivicPlus. They created the project plan and did the technical development, and city staff made implementation decisions and wrote content.
We looked at CivicPlus’ recently designed websites for public agencies and those of local jurisdictions to identify the elements we liked and didn’t like. After reviewing website best practices and our own site analytics, we presented global navigation and mega-menus to city management and key internal users for their input. CivicPlus designed the visual and structural layout, modifying the final design based on our feedback.
We hired a professional photographer to build a photo library for our website and other communications vehicles.
Accessibility for people with disabilities was another essential component of our redesign. Accessibility features are integrated into our vendor’s platform, and we learned how to support accessibility in administering a dynamic site.
Since we launched our new site in March 2019, website analytics show improved ease of user access. Overall, site traffic has increased 19%.
We tackled the main source of excessive clicks by creating the Parks and Recreation landing page. On the old site, there were 18 most frequently used pages, eight of which were for Parks and Recreation, but only 12% of site visitors navigated directly to those pages. On the redesigned site, 56% of site visitors navigate directly to Parks and Recreation.
The new site is also more dynamic. We are able to easily fix problems and evaluate new ideas to determine if they are appropriate and fit within the site structure.
The city has received great feedback about the new site from councilmembers, residents, and others. In addition, the website won a 2020 Northern Lights Award from the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators. You can visit the site at www.ci.victoria.mn.us.
Gwen Campbell is communications and human resources manager and Holly Kaufhold is parks and recreation supervisor with the City of Victoria.