7 Tips for Choosing a Local Government CMS

Written by Jessica Marabella

How long does it take you to update a paragraph of text on your municipal website using your current local government content management system (CMS)? Ten minutes? An hour or two depending on whether the system is being glitchy? Two days because you have to outsource it to a third-party web programmer with HTML skills? If so, it sounds like you need a new CMS.

If you’re faced with finding a new CMS, but don’t know where to begin, we can help you simplify the search and purchase process. Ultimately, there are 7 key factors that are most important when choosing a local government CMS. Read on to learn what you need, what you should avoid, and what’s a bonus.

1. How intuitive is the core blog publishing functionality?

After your new website is implemented, it’s likely that the majority of editing you’ll be doing will be to add content, such as news articles, photos, and videos. Start by finding out how easy it is to add basic content to your website using any prospective CMS. When you're adding blog content, does the CMS offer real-text editing with basic word processing features, such as the ability to change the font, text size, or color, using a familiar interface? Or do you need to know HTML, Java Script, and CSS just to embed a photo? If basic page editing requires advanced tech skills, then you can expect such a CMS to be too time consuming and technical to offer you ideal flexibility. You need a system that allows you to do your job efficiently, and then frees up your time for other responsibilities.

2. How is site branding controlled?

Your community is a brand, and every page of your municipal website should adhere to your brand guidelines—meaning pages should use a consistent color scheme, font, navigation, style of imagery, etc. To accomplish this without custom designing each individual page, the most valuable CMS platforms will allow for the design of an overarching brand using a behind-the-scenes default style template. Consider it a bonus if a CMS allows you to customize page headers by department, such as parks and recreation, or public libraries.

3. Does it offer built-in search functionality?

It is ingrained within website users to search for what they want. According to Search Engine Journal, 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. Many of your website users are going to want to search for the specific content they’re looking for, rather than scanning menu options to find information. Make sure any CMS you choose offers a reliable built-in search tool. Key factors to ask about when researching internal search functionality effectiveness include how frequently the CMS indexes new content within the site map, if the CMS indexes attached files, such as documents, and how the search feature ranks results. Ask any CMS provider you are considering to provide you with information on these factors to demonstrate the effectiveness of their built-in search tool.

4. How easily can you incorporate dynamic content?

Video is one of the best ways to engage website visitors. It’s one of the most frequently viewed types of content across all websites and social media sites. That means videos need to be part of your content strategy, which means your CMS must allow you to easily incorporate videos into your website, whether you are linking to an external video sharing site such as YouTube, or displaying embedded videos. Consider it a bonus if your CMS allows you to stream live video of community events as they happen. Other types of dynamic content you’ll want to ensure your CMS can easily handle, include surveys or polls, photo galleries, calendars, and facility reservations.

Engage Citizens with Video on the Go with Civic Media

5. Does it offer built-in citizen engagement features?

One of the primary goals of your municipal website is to stimulate citizen engagement in community life, right? Then your municipal website needs features that allow citizens to interact with your administration, and each other. The days of static, brochure-ware style websites are gone. Today, you need a CMS with built-in features that enable multi-channel communications between and among citizens. Some key engagement features to ask about include:

  • Social media integration. Can you easily share news, photos, and updates on your civic social media sites?
  • Community forums. Are there dedicated pages where registeredusers can chat with one another, or post questions and comments about mutually impactful community issues?
  • Polls. Can you solicit direct citizen feedback on topics that matter in your community?
  • Forms. Can citizens submit information to your administration, such as inquiries, requests, or job applications? Consider it a bonus if the CMS’s forms feature can integrate with an ePayment solution.
  • Comments. Can citizens comment on news stories, blogs, and photo galleries, and can website administrators monitor comments and/or choose on a case-by-case basis when comments should be enabled?
6. Does it offer role-based permissions?

Even if you are a one-man communication team, imagine the potential of letting individual departments edit, or even update their own page content. Such functionality will streamline your workflows and ensure better accuracy and timeliness of content. An ideal CMS will allow a single super-user administrator to set various permission levels based on role or department. You may want to give some department managers the ability to edit, but not publish content however, or you may want to limit their ability to update only certain pages.

7. Does it offer urgent notification capabilities or integration?

We consider the last item in our list to be a double bonus. It is the responsibility of civic leaders to inform and educate citizens in times of danger or emergency. Be sure any CMS you choose offers the ability to communicate time-sensitive information, such as breaking news. Consider it a bonus if the site integrates with a government emergency notification system that will allow direct multi-channel messaging of urgent information via such methods as email or text/SMS, or if it integrates with national alert systems, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

Do you think you may be ready for a new local government CMS? Is your current website lacking in any or all of these areas? For a free third-party evaluation of your current website, download our free performance evaluation report. Our report will tell you how your current website performs in categories like mobility, speed, readability, and broken-links.

Website Performance evaluation