Five Do Nots of Government Website Design

Written by Mark Friesen

A user-friendly government content management system (CMS) means non-technical staff are capable of building and editing web pages—an essential component of a high-touch citizen communication strategy. The power and flexibility to edit and update your government website is also an important responsibility. Every update you make to a page or content item reflects upon your community’s brand—the very essence of what makes your city, town, or county unique. That means that any images, text, or integrated functionality that is not optimized for digital output may inadvertently fail to represent your community in the best light possible.

To ensure every update, edit, or addition you make meets government website design best practices, review our list below of five things you should avoid while updating your website.

1. Do Not Use Low Resolution Photos

Save any photos as .jpeg or .png. These file types are optimized for displaying photographs on the web. Also, be sure to pay attention to the file size. Ideally, photos should be small enough that they load quickly, but of a high enough resolution that they appear crisp and clean and not fuzzy or pixelated. The goal is to find the right compromise between file size, and resolution. As a best practice, photos you upload to your website should be no larger than 1MB. This best practice is true even for full-screen background, or “hero” images. These too should be less than 1 MB. 1980 pixels is the recommended width for a background image, but with today’s tools, you can still keep them less than I MB without compromising on quality.

To reduce the size of your photos, without sacrificing quality, you can, as a first step, reduce the resolution. Most computer monitors will only display at 72 dpi, however may photographs, especially those taken by professional photographers or with high-end digital cameras will be output at 300 dpi. Reducing the resolution of a 300-dpi photo to 72 dpi shouldn’t damage the quality of its appearance while displayed online, but should still give you an optimally sized image that load quickly for users, both on desktop and on mobile.

If you do not have access to photo editing software, like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, there are free online tools available to compress the resolution of your photos, without losing quality. Here are five services that allow you to compress images:

2. Use High Quality Photos of Your Community

One of the biggest web design trends we’ve seen so far in 2017 involves the greater use of custom, expressive, unique photography. Choose photos that represent your real-life community and everything that is unique about it. The ability to incorporate custom imagery into government websites has been extremely impactful in earning citizen praise and appreciation for the websites that have implemented a more authentic approach to imagery. Hire a professional photographer in your community as a full-time staff member or as a freelancer, and task him or her with routinely capturing engaging, dynamic photos of your community, local events, and citizens, all year long. Check out how Greene County, Ohio beautifully depicts its community using high quality local photography.


If you’re worried about not having the budget, or resource to continually take your own custom photographs, solicit submissions from citizens. Your community undoubtedly is home to many photography hobbyists who would be honored to see their local photographs displayed on their municipal website. If the only options available to you are a stock photo, or a custom, but low quality photo that will not display crisply and cleanly, choose the stock photo.

To learn more about the biggest website design trends in 2017, click here.

3. Do Not Forego Mobile Responsiveness

80 percent of Internet users own a smart phone, and 47 percent own a tablet. Given the widespread adoption of mobile technology, and the amount of time the average American spends accessing content using a smartphone or tablet, local governments must have a strategy for optimizing the experiences their citizens will have engaging with their local government website using a mobile device.

Your mobile-savvy residents expect to be able to find the news and information they need from any mobile device, no matter where they are. According to a 2012 study, in a 30-day period:

  • 35% of mobile phone users used their device to solve an unexpected problem that they or someone else encountered.
  • 30% used their device to decide whether to visit a business.
  • 20% used their device to get up-to-the-minute traffic or public transit information to find the fastest way to get to their destination.
  • 19% used their device to get help in an emergency.

If you haven’t made the strategic decision to optimize your current municipal website for mobile, make it a priority in 2017.


4. Do Not Allow for Broken Links

The flexibility to update, modify, and delete pages within your CMS can help you create an engaging digital citizen experience, however, if you’re not careful, it can lead to broken links that could damage your website’s credibility and hurt your search engine rankings. If you delete a page within your CMS, or change a URL of a page that has already been indexed by search engines, bookmarked by citizens, or shared on social media, you’ll end up with a broken link.

When a user attempts to load a page with a broken link, they’ll receive the dead end of a 404 error, telling them that the page they are trying to load does not exist. The result will be a frustrated citizen who may feel less inclined to visit your municipal website in the future. In addition, search engines such as Google and Bing that reward pages that prove to be relevant and useful, will rank websites with broken links less favorably—meaning lower on their search engine results pages.

eBook: Guide to Local Government Analytics

Make sure you and all your website administrators have received training from your government website designer and CMS provider on how to create URL redirects in your CMS. Ideally, choose a CMS that will allow you to identify, and correct, broken links and make that step part of your monthly website maintenance as a precaution.

To find out how your website performs relative to broken links and a variety of other quality factors, click here for a free, third-party website performance report.

5. Do Not Let Content Go Stale

A key to your civic engagement and content management strategy should include the regular and consistent production of content and updating of your local government website. In today’s society where citizens expect on-demand news and updates, they will expect their local government website to showcase the latest information. If, instead, citizens visit your local government website and see a promotion on your homepage for the annual town Easter egg hunt, but what they really were looking for was information about next week’s Fourth of July fireworks display, they’ll be less likely to come back to your website for reliable news and information in the future.

Understanding that for many local governments budgets, and staff, are lean, to help you manage time sensitive content without constant manual intervention, choose a CMS that will allow you to schedule time sensitive information to post, and then be archived (but not deleted as mentioned previously) at pre-scheduled days and times.

Click here for more about the importance of continually producing relevant content for your municipal website.

If you’re ready to follow these best practices, start with an assessment of your current local government website. Click below to get a free third-party evaluation of how your current municipal website performs in categories like mobility, speed, and broken links.

Free third party website performance evaluation report