With a new year comes a complete makeover for the digital face of Hanover County.
“We’ve come to realize over the years that there’s almost too much information on our website,” said Tom Harris, County spokesperson and a member of the project’s governance team.
County staff started the process by looking at which parts of the site are neglected. Harris said an estimated 1,400 pages and 6,200 PDF files are on the site, but 5,000 of the PDFs were not viewed in the last year. He added that, in a way, there is too much information to view and digest.
“It’s something someone in the county thought was important but the public does not care about,” said Kevin Nelson, director of information technology.
Pages such as employment opportunities and the Sheriff’s Department’s contact information that are popular will make the cut for the new website.
So far, Nelson said the new website is about 75 percent completed and will launch in March.
Despite minor occasional changes here and there, the site has not experienced a major facelift since it was created around 1996, Nelson said.
At this stage in the project, Harris is going through content and figuring out what will stay and what will go.
Currently, information can be found by searching county departments.
“If you don’t know what kind of department has the information you’re looking for, it’s harder to find the information you need,” Harris said.
The new website will be organized much differently. Each section will start with an object of interest for residents or visitors. For instance, one category is called “I want to…” and there will be a drop down bar of a number of selections such as “build a house.” Another category will be titled “living here,” where viewers will find information on Hanover schools, libraries and taxes, for example.
“The goal is to make it a lot easier to use than the current website,” Harris said.
Besides having too much information, another deficiency is that the language and format of each department’s content lacked consistency. Harris said the reason for that was because the county did not have a style format for employees to follow.
There is also a lot of jargon. Nelson said the county hired an expert in website writing to help employees compose content that is short and to the point.
Another issue that will be addressed in the makeover is the look of the website, because Harris said at the moment, it looks cluttered and inconsistent throughout each section.
Another new aspect will be accessibility to the county’s information.
About 15 percent of people view the county’s online platform on their tablet or smart phone, Nelson said. So, when the new site launches, users will be able to access it on their mobile devices instead of needing to be at a desktop computer.
“We want to be able to make sure that whatever device you’re using, you can access the site,” Harris said.
A number of analyses took place before staff decided what direction they needed to go in for the update. Nelson said they discovered that only 7 percent of visitors scrolled down to the bottom of the website.
As a result, Harris said he hopes the new website will be more “resident-friendly.”
But an aspect of the process is public involvement and as it winds down, the county asked citizens to view the new website on various platforms and to provide feedback they can use to address any issues which will begin mid-January.
Nelson added that the way residents access the information could be much different than county staff’s approach.
“It’s important to get the public involved,” he said.