Do you stress over your website’s content? You aren’t alone; a lot of the information on the Internet needs help. Every day we are discovering new ways to make government website content more useful, functional, and maintenance-free.
Users visit your website to find information, but sometimes it’s hard for them to find. CivicPlus utilizes a four-step approach to make our clients' government website content more user-friendly to citizens and users as they scan a page looking for information.
Use lists and tables
Follow best practices
The example to the right hasmany of the most common errors we see. There’s too much clutter, bolding, capitalization, “clicking here,” and mundane material. If you visited this page, would you want to read through the information to find what you need? Or, would you just pick up the phone and call someone or try to email someone?
By utilizing the concept of modules, adding headings, breaking content into tables and lists, and using best-practice formatting, we can turn this tedious block of data into an extremely useful page.
Step 1: Modules
At CivicPlus, we utilize modules for standardizing presentation of specific information into an easy-to-find and consistent location. Modules can help you organize photos, staff member directories, parks and facilities listings, documents and many other important items on your site.
Modules can be one of the most powerful tools on a website because they help organize information, increase functionality, and make information more usable for citizens. They are also the easiest way to update content.
Create a standardized area for placement of contact information, quick links, FAQs, news, and more on your pages for consistency so that both you and your citizens know where to look on any page for the respective information.
Notice how the FAQ, quick links, and contactinformation moved into their own area to the right? This column will allow information for all departments to be consistent throughout the website, maximizing usability for citizens.
This column area serves as a consistent location for this modular type of information. If users can’t find what they need in the regular content area, they can always look to the module - or feature - column for other important information.
Step 2: Subheads
On CivicPlus websites, we use subheads to break up page content into more usable chunks. In general, subheads make scanning text easier, allowing users to determine if the information they need is on the page within seconds of arriving there.
Now that we’ve separated out our module information into the feature column, we can begin cleaning up the actual content for the page.
If every page on your website made it easy foryour users to find information, don't you think they'd come back to your site the next time they needed something?
Use subheads on your pages and notice the cleaner, more streamlined content this produces. Between the use of subheads, modules, and the feature column, isn’t the page already looking better?
Step 3: Lists and Tables
When you have a lot of short segments of information, it can look strange to have them spaced out on a page. Paragraphs with lists of information often look intimidating and hard to read. We have a solution for you: lists and tables. By utilizing ordered and unordered lists, as well as tables, cluttered information turns into a helpful section on a page.
Ordered lists (aka numbered lists) are utilized for step-by-step processes, such as troubleshooting an issue or giving directions to a location. Unordered lists (aka bulleted lists) help organize things: items on a checklist, people, tips, responsibilities of a given position, dates, and any similar information. In the example below, the multiple dates related to real estate taxes are bulleted out to draw attention to them.
When the items on a list directly correspond to other information, tables come into play. A table allows corresponding information to be laid out at least as beautifully as a list. When creating your content, keep an eye out for information that is repeated over and over with small variations - often this kind of info is best suited for a table.
Following along with our example content, wesee that there are several different types of penalties and interest depending on when you pay your assessment. The penalties are the items to list out, and the dates correspond to the different penalties.
Bulky and cluttered content can be distracting, unhelpful, monotonous and annoying. In fact, this type of information scares people away. Lists and tables organize the clunkiest content and makes scanning more pleasant.
Step 4: Best Practices
Have you ever searched on a page for a phone number, thinking it must be there somewhere, yet not quite sure where? Or, how about a link? Do all-caps sentences annoy you? All of these questions have to do with best practices.
All of the steps so far (modules, subheads, and lists and tables) are CivicPlus Best Practices. These standardize aspects of a website so they’re consistent throughout the site. This step gets into specifics of formatting and word usage.
Preventing Content Stress
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know exactly how your content should be formatted when inserting it onto a page? It all comes down to one word: consistency. Consistency is your preventative tool in fighting against confusing and unprofessional government web content.
Be consistent with information types (e.g., using a module for FAQs) and formatting. On any given CivicPlus site, all phone numbers, operating hours, contact information formats, street identifiers, numbers, job titles, pictures and punctuation — along with much more — is all formatted consistently site-wide. With this done, citizens know what they’re getting and know they can trust the information to be helpful and usable.
Remember that first page we saw? Rememberhow boring and hard to decipher it was? Who could blame someone for turning away from that?
Now, take a look below at the page we standardized. In four easy steps, we turned content that took a lot of energy to sort through and made it easy for your website user to locate what they need.
The Difference Matters
Technological improvements occur every day and the Internet is growing exponentially. For these and many other reasons, it is important for your website to be able to compete with the hundreds of other ways to obtain information.
The reason information started being displayed on the web was for convenience. There is no need to depend on operating hours or to take the extra time out of a busy schedule to go somewhere. Cluttered pages like our first example will be turned away from and replaced with Google or a phone call.
Yet, there is no need to feel pressure when developing content for the web. Content development doesn’t need to be stressful. By following our four simple steps, helpful and highly usable content is easily within reach. Your process will not only be quicker and more efficient internally, but readers will thank you, too.
Just remember, like our content example:
By using modules that link to our feature column area, we were able to organize the contact information, FAQ, and external resources.
Subheads categorized the page information, making it easy to access different subjects in the page’s topic. Lower level subheads direct the eye further down the hierarchy of information.
The list and table organized what cluttered information was left, since it was more appropriate on a page than in a module.
Best practices for all formatting keep the site consistent and make it easy to add more content in the future.