City launches new website
In the information age, websites have become a city’s most powerful communications tool. The City of Hood River’s newly launched website promises to be a key component to a more effective public communications program prioritized by City Council. Replacement of the decade-old City website creates a more user-friendly experience and improved source of accurate, easy-to-find, up-to-date information.
The locally developed website at a new domain — cityofhoodriver.gov — was planned with more intuitive navigation, modern functionality, and aesthetically pleasing design that is responsive to all devices. A more contemporary site was a recommendation in the City’s five-year Information Technology (IT) Strategic Plan adopted last year, which served as a foundation for the website redevelopment process.
“Our new website is one component of an organization-wide technology improvement initiative that started with the City Council’s adoption of the 5-year IT Plan,” explained Will Norris, Finance Director/Assistant City Manager. “The new website is based on an ‘open-source’ platform and managed by a local developer, giving the City the flexibility to continually update it. I think residents are going to be very pleased with the improved online services we have in the works.”
The IT Plan called for an evaluation of the organization and desired features for a redeveloped online presence that led to a website analysis and plan. The plan reviewed City website analytics to study usage of the old site and research on best practices in municipal web design that informed a description of desired criteria for the City of Hood River website, as well as a review of vendor proposals.
The City engaged the services of local website developer Gorge Web Design last fall to develop and support the new City website in the scalable WordPress platform, another IT Plan recommendation. Gorge Web Design has created websites for other public agencies, including the Port of Hood River and Mid-Columbia Economic Development District.
While the overall goal of the City’s website is to be an informative portal of easy-to-find content, including City services, activities, policies and events, many other objectives were important. Fast-loading times, easy-to-locate high-priority resources, E-commerce functionality and a user-friendly content management system (CMS) for easy updating are among many features. A language translation button and accessibilities for the disabled were also requirements.
The new website replaces a City website developed over 10 years ago by CentralPoint, a web design and hosting company formerly located in Hood River that has since moved and become Lever Pulley Systems. The framework for the old site served its purpose initially, but became outdated, lacking many contemporary features including responsiveness to mobile devices.
Apart from generally improved accessibility, the website also includes several new exciting features. The first is a live chat function that serves as a “virtual lobby”. Website visitors can send questions through an instant message directly to City staff during normal business hours. The new website also now includes City Council meeting audio files, along with agenda packets and meeting minutes which were previously available. Lastly, the entire site is instantly translatable into Spanish or French.
The new website is scalable, which means that functions can be added after the launch. Plans under consideration may include more online fillable-submittable forms, more interactive GIS map capabilities, and potentially video streaming and archiving of official city meetings. Other elements of the City’s IT Plan include technology upgrades and management solutions, some of which may integrate with the new website.
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