How to get the most from your website ......

 

Contents

 

The Internet
How can a website benefit your organisation or council?
Promoting your website
Who do you want to reach?
Launching your website
Ongoing local promotion
Integrate your website into community life
Promoting your website further afiled
Submit your website to search engines
Search engine placement
Keeping your website fresh

 

The Internet 

 

From humble beginnings the Internet has grown into the most valuable free information tool known to mankind. Millions of people around the world are using the Internet every second to communicate, research or entertain. Personal computers are becoming part of our everyday life. Most office workers will have a computer and more and more homes have them – often within their main living space. 

The Government sees the Internet as a vital tool for connecting and communicating with the public and within the next five years many Government services will be delivered primarily online.

Now you have built your own website, it is vital that you keep it fresh and relevant to your community and let people know it exists.

How can a website benefit your organisation or council? 

A website offers your citizens a simple means of finding out what your organisation or council is doing and is a way of communicating with a wider public.  

Local citizens and those living elsewhere can easily find information on issues and the community. Your website makes your organisation accessible anytime, night and day.  

A website can build an increased sense of pride in the local community if it is regularly updated and kept relevant. Anything from meeting dates to photographs of the local fete can be published – a well thought out website can provide a central focal point for all community information. Have a look at 'What are the benefits of having a website' to see how it can help your organisation.

Promoting your website

Once you have built your website it is important to promote the website address (URL) for example, www.essexinfo.net, to your local community.To help improve the content and relevance of your website, make sure you have included a feedback mechanism. This helps to build a sense of ownership among local people who will start to feel that their opinions and comments are heard. 

essexinfo.net has some recommendations for you to promote your website, but before you do, ensure that you have thought about the following:

  • target audience
  • scope of website
  • content
  • feedback
  • update processes

Who do you want to reach? 

Early on your organisation or council needs to agree to and understand the following points:

Target audience – who do you want to reach?

  • your local citizens
  • visitors and tourists
  • former residents
  • members
  • all of these

Scope of website – is it intended just to give out information or will you be gathering local information as well? 

Content – website developers use the phrase ‘Content is King’, it is vital that you keep the information on your website fresh, relevant and up-to-date. Think about the structure of your website so it is easy to use. Invite others to contribute content as this will encourage them to spread the word about your website. Photographs of local events are interesting for visitors and citizens alike but remember to keep them small so they don’t take too long to load on the screen. 

Feedback - it is important that website users are able to contact you to comment on your website:

  • to contribute to information
  • to comment on content (for example planning applications or local issues for councils
  • to let you know what they think of your website

Update processes – ensure that you and your visitors know the process for updating your website:

  • Does one person do all the updating?
  • Is there a cut off date for contributing content each week or month?
  • Do different people update different parts of your website?
  • Who is in charge overall?  

Launching your website 

When you first launch your website, it is important that as many people as possible have its address. Some councils put a leaflet through every door to announce the launch. 

There will be people locally who are nervous of technology and the Internet so it can be helpful to hold an evening demonstration of what is available on your website and to find out what else they would like to see included. If you have local internet access in the village hall, pub or school offer a session on how to use your website. This is especially important for parish and town councils. 

You could hold an event and then post photographs up on your website to encourage people to take a look. You could think about a competition – maybe asking a local business to donate a prize or launch a local campaign from your website.  

You do not have to do anything to formally launch your website; you may prefer to just introduce it gradually via newsletters and notices. 

Ongoing local promotion 

Once you have launched your website it is important to put your website address in as many places as possible. Councils might consider producing a poster or a flier that could go:In the Parish magazine

  • On the Parish Notice Board In shop windows
  • Through letterboxes
  • In the local library
  • In the local Tourist Information office

 Be imaginative... several councils have put their website name on the Village Sign.  Think about using the Internet and encouraging other local websites to link to you:

  • County Council
  • District Council
  • Parish Council sites
  • Umbrella organisations
  • Existing community websites
  • Local society or group websites
  • Local business websites
  • Church website
  • Your County Association of Parish and Town councils

You can have a useful links section on your website to link to other relevant websites (see the section in this booklet on Using Search Engines and the Internet). 

Integrate your website into community life

The aim is to have as many people visiting your website as possible and to achieve this it is important that your website becomes a key part of community life - similar to the Parish or Community magazine or the cards in the local shop window. Your website will become a place where people go to look for information. 

If you are holding a local meeting then publish the agenda and the discussion documents on your website. If you are holding an event, publish your website address on the bottom of all the posters – people can look at photos or find out about funds raised on your website.  

Having a pantomime, a concert? Promote your website address on the programme – you could even have video clips on your website for those who missed it. 


Planning applications are easily promoted via a council website, you can collect comments and discussion there as well, and link to the District Council site where people can view the plans. 

 

Running a local campaign? From your website people can print off posters or fliers and find out the latest news. Put your magazine online – this could save money from postage Your website can be fun as well as informative – it is important it appeals to all generations.

 

One village invited local people to create works of art and had a Tate Modern competition... photographs of the ingenious sculptures were posted up on their website and judged by local people. 

Promoting your website further afield

If you decide your website is going to reflect wider community life as well as the day to day workings of the Parish or Town Council it is even more important to promote it throughout the local area. 

Your target audience may include tourists, visitors and those researching the area, so ensure you link out to or there is information on your website that they will find useful:

  • Local accommodation and food
  • Local transport and entertainment
  • Local history and information
  • Walks and parking

 Tell the local Tourist Information office your website address so they can publish it and link to it from their website. Ensure that local websites of interest link to your website and you link back to theirs. Submit your website address to regional and national websites and portals, they tend to be well visited and will be able to pass traffic (visitors) to your website. Use websites such as:

Submit your website to Search Engines 

It is essential that your website gets listed by as many search engines as possible. Search engines are how the majority of people find content on the Internet. Some current popular search engines are Google, MSN (Microsoft), Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves UK and Altavista though there are many more. It isn’t always obvious how you can submit your website to search engines and many of them charge a fee to list your website. Here are three ‘free’ submit URLs:

  • google
  • yahoo
  • MSN - the actual site is Bing and this adds it to MSN. 

Using these addresses, you won’t need to pay any website directories, companies or search engines for a listing on their service.

Do not assume that your website will appear immediately in search engine lists, it can take up to three months for your website to be indexed. To increase the chance and speed of pick up it is good practice to link to other websites and, more importantly, having other websites link to yours. Have a “Links” page on your website where you can promote websites that might be relevant and useful to your visitors. Do not assume that every website you link to or from will help your search engine position. 

You can easily check the popularity and usefulness of other websites by using the following technique. Type “site:nameofwebsite.co.uk” into most search engines and look at the content that is returned.  

Search Engine Placement

It is important for your website to be picked up by Search Engines, but to make the most of them you need to be placed high in listings. It is vital for good positioning in search engines that your website is designed correctly with up-to-date content. Search engines are generally looking for “keywords”. These are the important words that relate to your website. Test the keywords that you think are important by putting them into a search engine and look at which websites are successfully returned.

There are a few golden rules to follow that will greatly help your position and placement:

  • Page Title. The title of every page of your website should be different, reflect the page content and be no more than 12 words long. The title shows in the top left of the web browser window.
  • Page Content. It is important that your page contains, near the top, a summary of the content in words. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself.
  • Homepage Content. Include your keywords on your homepage. Your homepage should always be fresh, up-to-date and change frequently. Search engines will re-visit pages more often if they change on a regular basis. Try to have a “Latest News” section on your homepage with links to relevant pages  

Keeping your website fresh

The most important rule with a website is keeping the content fresh, relevant and interesting.   This can appear daunting - remember it doesn’t just have to be your responsibility – invite the local community to contribute content, form a websitecommittee to consider what to post up and remember it doesn’t all have to be serious.  You may find Help Sheet 2 useful.

Ensure that what is on your website is accurate:

  • Meeting dates and times
  • Contact details
  • Event venues and times 

Be proud of what you have achieved getting your Parish or Town Council online, and don’t worry if to start with there is only basic information available – websites build over time. As your website grows and improves, people will start to bookmark it and may even set it as their browser’s default homepage so every time they turn on their computer and go onto the Internet your Parish or Town Council website will be the first page they see. 

Congratulations on your website – enjoy it and don’t forget to tell everyone your website address.