EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Aug. 29, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Driven by the desire to make their website content more meaningful to residents, the cities of St. Louis Park, Minnesota and Santa Cruz, California recently partnered with the online government experts at Vision to refocus their content strategy and send their content editors back-to-school with Vision's content coaches to learn how to write more effectively for the web.
"When it comes to local government websites, content is king," said Ashley Fruechting, Vision's senior director of marketing. "Even the most visually stunning website will not be effective if the information within it is difficult to find and hard to understand. Creating a content strategy does not happen on its own. It requires concerted effort from everyone who is contributing content to your website. Unfortunately, many local government websites have become overloaded with information, written in legalese and organized from an internal government perspective."
St. Louis Park Learns to Write like People Talk
The St. Louis Park team leveraged Google Analytics, resident surveys and Vision's in-person user testing to redesign their homepage and reinvent their website navigation. Vision provided coaching on how to write and organize successful content, and conducted an in-depth 4-hour training session on plain language for the 35 staffers from a wide range of departments, including Inspections, Community Development, Police and Public Works.
"We wanted to take a hard look to make sure whatever content was on the new site served our customers because what people expect from a website has changed a lot over the past several years," said Jacqueline Larson, St. Louis Park communications and marketing manager. "We needed to weed out unnecessary and redundant content, and wanted staff to rewrite it as clearly as possible to get rid of the bureaucratic language and fluffy stuff. In the past, we talked a lot about mission and reasons why we have particular ordinances. The fact is, the public doesn't care about all that… they just want to know where they can plant a tree."
Fruechting said the key to effective content is bringing the right content, in the right amount, to the right person, at the right time. Helping local government leaders determine what is the right content, and create it in plain language that is clear and easy to understand are at the heart of Vision's Content Strategy services.
Following best practices outlined in Vision's content strategy training paid off for St. Louis Park. When it launched its new website earlier this year the page count was reduced from 2,845 to 500 pages of information that visitors can understand the first time they read it.
Vision Content Training Helps 100+ Content Editors in Santa Cruz
Like many cities, prior to partnering with Vision virtually none of Santa Cruz's website editors or "super users" who handle the bulk of departmental content updates had any specialized training in content development. Content developers in departments with high traffic pages attended Vision's analytics session and "How to Write for the Web" training classes to help them refocus their departments' pages.
Joyce Blaschke, public information officer for the Santa Cruz Police Department was especially impressed with the training segment that focused on citizen personas. "The exercise really drove home that different generations will use the website in different ways," she said. "It helped us simplify the steps needed to get information, eliminate acronyms and cut our department subpages by more than half."
Jessie Soto of the Finance Department agreed. "The training helped us realize how difficult and clunky a city government website can be for people on the outside. Feedback during the training session helped us improve one of our most visited pages – fees, taxes and licenses – and made it much easier for people to go in and find what they want."
The new Santa Cruz website launched this summer, but a team of nine super users continues to lead the effort to streamline its pages and content.
Free Resources Now Available
To help local government agencies keep plain language and content strategy top of mind, Vision has developed a single-page "Content Strategy Checklist for Local Government Websites," available as a free download at http://info.visioninternet.com/content-strategy-checklist. In addition, Vision's "Hands-on Guide to Content Strategy," which provides a step-by-step guide to create content that boosts citizen satisfaction, is available at info.visioninternet.com/content-strategy.
"The benefits of making your information easy to find and understand are far-reaching," Fruechting said. "It demonstrates your commitment to transparency, fosters engagement and leads to improved communication with citizens. It also can promote cooperation between departments and boost the overall image of your community."
For more insights or to schedule a free consultation with Vision, please visit visioninternet.com/inforequest or call 1-888-263-8847.
Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., Vision is a national leader in government website design, development and hosting with more than 700 government, non-profit and education clients in U.S. and Canadian communities with populations that range from less than 1,000 residents to more than 5 million. For more than 20 years, Vision has created cost-effective solutions that increase government efficiency, build transparency and promote interactive communications with citizens. For more information, please visit www.visioninternet.com.