The City of Alexandria website helps connect residents, visitors, and businesses with the information they need – simply put. Information can range from upcoming city council meetings to permits for builders. The cities goal for the website is to make sure people can find what they need quickly and easily.
The website is at the top spot on Google for “Alexandria MN” so for many people the city website is their first impression of Alexandria. The new website needed to make a stronger first impression providing great visuals, modern typography, and a fresh color scheme. Once visitors landed on the site, the cluttered menu and homepage layout made it difficult for them to navigate and often what they wanted was buried deep in the page structure. To make matters worse, there were no analytics available to see how visitors were using the site and what content they wanted to see most. Lastly, management of the existing site was becoming a burden to the city team. They wanted a more streamlined backend interface that was easy to use so that the work of keeping content current could be shared across departments instead of the sole responsibility of a few.
Website Design And Development
Before we jump into developing or designing, we always start with a thorough discovery process. Stakeholder interviews gave us a lot of insight but we really needed visitor usage data.
Google Analytics and Webmaster are always a solid starting point for collecting usage insight. We installed both of these tools on the old website to gather a a few months of data. Along with these tools, we used heat maps on a few of the key pages to see where users were clicking.
Between the analytics data and heat maps, we were able to gain insights on how users engaged with the website. Being able to see the most used content and how visitors found this content allowed us to provide shortcuts on the new website reducing user clicks.
After the new site launched, we added a more comprehensive search engine that provided an amazing extra feature; failed searches. This ‘failed search’ feature shows us when visitors search for a keyword phrase and don’t find what they intended. Reviewing this data regularly allows us to match up keywords with the correct content so the search results continue to get better and better.
On the backend of the website there needed to a more intuitive post type organization structure. We created content types (i.e. custom post types in WordPress) for minutes, agendas, events, departments, policies, and much more. Breaking content down into these groupings help segment data.
To help further, we added custom fields that were applicable to each content type. For example, all department pages had fields for their address, phone number, and social media channels. These fields were then connected to custom content templates on the frontend. Adding new content would now mean simply filling out a form on the backend and the content would automatically appear in a consistent and beautiful format on the frontend.
The next step was to add custom taxonomies (i.e. a fancy word for groupings). These taxonomies could be as simple as a category or more custom, like tethering departments to multiple other content types. For example, a department page could now pull in the staff for that department and related files automatically.
Tying into the Community Calendar
The new Alexandria Area Community Calendar is the go-to resource for events in Douglas County. It was already pulling in new events directly from feeds on the Alexandria Tourism website and AAHS website. The new city website came with the added benefit of an iCal feed for the calendar. Now the city events could seamlessly populate in community calendar. One less thing to manage!