Saturday, June 23, 2007

10 easy things elected officials can do to make their web sites less embarrassing

1. Stop referring to the past as if it’s in the future.
Most sites are not updated frequently (or at all) after the election. At the very minimum, you should give election results and thank your supporters (even if your campaign was unsuccessful). If your campaign was successful, scrub your site of any time-based references so it doesn’t look out of date when you don’t update it. Want extra credit? Tell people how they can find out about what's going on now that you're in office.

2. Respond to your email or get rid of the link.
If you or someone in your office isn’t responding to your email within 48 hours, you need to set expectations on your contact page. If you’re not responding to it at all, you’re losing a great chance to build a relationship with someone who actually cares about what you’re doing; before you tick them off, just remove the email link.

3. Get rid of the calendar.
You’re busy. But an empty calendar on your web site sure doesn’t reflect that. If you’re not going to update your calendar, get rid of it. (The same is true of any area of your site you aren’t updating: if you have an “in the news” area that’s languishing, use it or remove it.)

4. Make sure every person who fills out your volunteer form gets a prompt response.
Do this even if you’re not currently in the middle of a campaign; this is not about you, it’s about them. They found your web site, filled out your form and want to help. Thank them and give them some expectation of when things will heat up. (And heck, while you’re at it, why don’t you recruit them to send emails in response to offers of volunteer help?)

5. Give your press releases a home on the web.
You—or someone in your office—are already doing this work so expose more people to it (and start building a library of your accomplishments) by making them available (preferably not as pdfs) on your site.

6. Make sure your links go to the right place.
Really. You’d be surprised how many political sites include broken links or calendar buttons that link to a volunteer form. Ask a volunteer or a kid to go through and click every single link. And then fix what’s broken.

7. Remove or resize photos that are too small to see whose hand you’re shaking.
The mere presence of photos does not make your site graphically interesting.

8. If you must link to pdf files, warn your readers.
Adobe’s pdf format is a convenient way to distribute materials, but it’s not very web friendly. If possible, include the pdf as html so web searchers will find the info when they surf. And if it really makes most sense to link to a pdf, indicate it as such with a simple (pdf) embedded in the link.

9. Spell check your site, then grammar check it.
Because it's so easy to publish to the web, many folks are tempted to skip the spelling/grammar check; don't fall into this trap.

10. Get someone to update your site so constituents have easy access to news about what you're doing.
Oh wait, that's way beyond making sure your web presence isn't an embarrassment; I'll cover this one (in great detail) later.

--Louella Pizzuti

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