Heathfield and Waldron Parish Council contacted us to invite us to tender for the design and build of a new website to serve their community. We have over a decade of supplying and supporting local Councils and our experience in working in this sector, as well as the glowing references our existing clients gave us, meant that we were delighted to be selected.
The old website had a few key issues that were crucial to address:
- The design was not well liked
- The information architecture did not make finding information intuitive
- It was difficult to update and maintain
- Large sections of the website were not indexed due to 'infinite pages' being presented (a common problem with calendars)
- The support given was not easily accessible
From the outset we were very clear that we wanted to supply a website that would work as an efficient 'tool' for the Council and the community it serves. This would have been an easy project to 'just build' but we decided, in agreement with the client, to go 'over and beyond' a basic website (and the set budget...), work in partnership and evolve bespoke functionality to make the day to day management easier and more efficient, as well as meeting all legislative requirements.
We were very open with our client in declaring that in working this way, once the project was finished, we would then offer this to other Councils.
During our planning phase we identified 4 types of content that would need different solutions. namely:
Non categorised content
Pages that sit outside of a category.
Pages that sit inside a category.
e.g. Local Information - Schools, Doctors, Library etc.
Meetings and Events
Information that can be best organised by a calendar.
e.g. Planning & Highways Committee on a Date with Documents - Agenda, Unadopted Minutes, Adopted Minutes, Supplementary information etc.
Details about each councillor including Electoral Ward, Committee Membership and Position, Contact information and Register of Interests. This information should also display in different parts of the site (in a full list of Councillors by Ward and on a Committee page to show members)
The two areas that required bespoke web development for integration withe the Jolojo core were the Calendar and Councillor information. Both of these functionality sets were wire-frame designed (for internal use) then mocked-up using Adobe XD. These mock-ups were then discussed with the client, tweaked and once agreed they were passed to the Development team.
The first task in assessing content is to create an accurate sitemap. Now this is sometimes more difficult that just using an online generator or using any available .xml that the site should, in an ideal world, be showing. Yes, we could have just used what the site was reporting and self linking to, but the Google index had many more pages that were evidenced by any interrogation of the content.
Additionally we also discovered that large parts of the website were being banned from indexing due to the 'infinite date' issue that can occur if calendars are not configured to show only dates up to a reasonable time in the future. The calendar in the old site had forward and back links that could in effect take you to any date in the past or the future (hence the infinite pages issue) and the previous supplier had used the robots.txt file to ban indexing of any /calendar pages.
So, amalgamating the .xml file from the site, externally generated site maps and crawling Google to see what pages were in the index (TOP TIP 1 - in Google you can use a search for site:www.yourwebsite.com and it will return all results from the www.yourwebsite.com domain) we were able to have a master spreadsheet of all pages.
The second task is to add some 'sense and sensibility' into this process by interrogating Google Analytics, which we were lucky enough to have access to (TOP TIP 2 - when your web agency or supplier adds Google Analytics or Tag Manager to your website, make sure you have been added as an Administrator of the account, YOU should own this and have FULL access and rights to add and remove whoever you want to.)
We created the following rules for content:
If ANY page had MORE than 5 visits in the past YEAR it WAS to be included in the new website.
If ANY page had LESS than 5 but MORE than 1 visit in the past year the CLIENT should decide if it was to be included.
The client could also ask for ANY content outside of the 2 rules above to be included.
As part of the content review, we also revised all URLs and changed the structure for better categorisation and information architecture.
Quite early on in the project we had the design template built on Jolojo CMS and started adding in the content. We used normal pages for the non categorised content and the Jolojo blog engine to create categories (e.g. Local information) for categorised content. It was then a simple task of adding blog pages to these categories (e.g. Schools, Doctors, Library etc.)
We did the majority of the content porting but also used this phase as a training exercise and tasked our client with assisting in this process.
Using the Jolojo URL mapping system we made sure that any old URLs were mapped to the new URL and forwarded on a 301 HTTP header. This tells Google and other Search Engines (yes there are others..) that the old URL has been moved permanently to a new URL.
It was at this stage that we handed over the Calendar functionality for beta testing. This proved to be very interesting as it is one thing conceptualising functionality but quite another seeing it being used and listening to users feedback (and yes, seeing how users can break your lovely new feature in ways you never imagined it would be used). We went through three revisions, tweaking and improving until we and our client was happy with the ease of use, error catching and stability.
Events can be singular (e.g. a one off Flower Show) or a series (e.g. Committee Meetings) and can have documents attached to each meeting date or link to a bespoke URL. It is possible to add a whole year of Council meetings in just a few minutes. Agendas and Minutes can then be added at a later date.
Here is a screen shot of the Calendar function in action where documents have been added to an Event (in this case a planning meeting).
The calendar display plugin then has different modes:
A month grid view (displaying all categories, which can additionally be filtered.)
A month list view (displaying all categories, which can additionally be filtered.)
Each of the events then links to either an automatically generated page to display common information (such as meeting location) and documents or a user selected page which can contain further and more detailed information about the event.
The calendar display can also be placed on any page to display just the events that are associated with that type of meeting (this is used for the individual committees for this client.)
Profile engine development
As a council with elected councillors there is a statutory duty to display information about those elected. The information required includes contact details and a register of members interests so the public are aware if there is a potential conflict of interest. Additionally we wanted to add a photograph, what electoral ward they were elected from and the membership and position of committees they serve on.
We didn't have time to build in a profile engine for the launch of the website (this also needed careful planning as we will use the profile engine on other site for different reasons), so added the councillors to the site manually (in individual text plugins that could be used on multiple pages.)
Public body websites also have a requirement to make their websites accessible to WCAG 2.1 AA standards. There is no 100% accurate automatic checking tool to do this, indeed the gov.uk website states that an audit for a public body to asses this standard should cost between £3,000 and £7,000 - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/accessibility-requirements-for-public-sector-websites-and-apps - the basis of the standard are sound (the website should be accessible to all), it can mostly be satisfied technically but is also requires examination and use by Screen Readers and users with disabilities.
The majority of this standard has already been satisfied, but we will be adding in:
- In file manager Title attributes for PDF documents
- Minor technical tweaks
- Testing by real prople
We are committed to ensuring that this standard is met as closely as possible, and as the platform will be sold to other councils this will be done 'beyond doubt'.
We would not normally make a website live knowing that there were accessibility issues to be solved, but as stated above this is a very in depth standard and is not the work of a moment to understand yet implement a robust solution.
We will also be offering regular audits (1, 3, 6 or 12 monthly) including Jolojo tools to automatically check common issues (e.g. Alt and Title tags on images - but even this can only be used to check that they are present, not that they are written correctly as designed by the W3C consortium and part of HTML standards).
Ready for live
Once all the pages had been built and our rigorous and imperative internal sign-off documentation and checking procedure had been completed, which makes sure that the site is working as expected on all specified devices, browser types and sizes, contact forms are being sent and received plus over 50 other checks. Although this checking system takes up to a day, it ensures there are no post live crises and ensures everyone sleeps well! We were then ready to push the big green GO button.
Launching a new or revised website is not the end of our work, we make sure that the site is working as intended and expected.
Post live checks ensure that Google Tag Manager is reporting properly to Google Analytics, Google Search Console is monitored for any stray old URL requests (which can happen if old websites are linking to legacy pages from even older versions of the website we maybe unaware of) and issues.
We further run our Rank Tracking software measuring the effectiveness of the site in the Google index against a baseline of rankings that were established pre-live. As we designed and built Jolojo, it is very effective in the Google index and we only see improvements when porting sites to this platform.
This is a great example of how we can work with a client with an 'idea' of what they want, help evolve this idea, bring new working practices to their organisation and then deliver really efficient functionality.
Working on Jolojo as core gave us an excellent head start and has proved to be a much better and easier to use platform for the client. As we continue to evolve the core of Jolojo the client will benefit.
We are identifying further usability improvements and encourage regular contact and feedback.