Iowa LTAP has moved from CTRE to the Institute for Transportation
Planning the site
First in a series of articles about web site development.
A well planned web site takes time to develop, but it's worth the extra effort when your customers can easily find the information they need. Even if you plan to outsource your web site's design and maintenance, answering the questions below will help your future webmaster (and you) understand your vision for the site.
1) What's your purpose for publishing a web site? Remember that the web is an interactive medium. Not only can you provide information to your constituents, but they can interact with your department or agency. Think of a web site as an extra customer service counter, one that can be accessed 24 hours a day.
2) Who are the intended audiences? Knowing who you're planning this web site for will help you decide what kind of information to include on your site, how to organize it, and how to present it. Potential audiences include
- people who live in your city or county
- visitors to your area
- other city or county agencies/departments
- your city council or county supervisors
- utility companies
- local businesses
3) What are the short- and long-term goals of your web site? Is the web the best way to meet those goals? Possible short-term goals include
- publishing staff contact information and e-mail links
- publishing this year's construction plans
- describing your department's/agency's primary mission
- advertising job openings
- announcing bid openings
- announcing snow emergencies and road closures
- providing an e-mail link for customers to request maintenance
- publishing news releases
Possible long-term goals include
- providing an online service request form for customers to report maintenance problems on their streets or roads
- publishing an online newsletter for your constituents
- providing an online library of all agency policies
- publishing maps of future construction plans
4) What can you afford? There are several factors to consider here that basically break down into four categories: short-term and long-term costs, personnel, and equipment. In addition to the initial development costs, remember that a web site needs regular maintainenance. If you put all your money into setting up a web site and then never update the information or make sure all the links still work, you've wasted your time and money because your site will lose credibility with the very people you're trying to reach.Specific personnel costs can vary dramatically :
- Will you hire someone to be a webmaster to create and maintain your site?
- Will you contract with someone to develop the site but have existing staff maintain it?
- Will your staff do all the development and maintenance?
- Will you hire an outside firm to develop, maintain, and host your site?
- Who will oversee or manage the site?
A web site needs a computer, called a server, to run on. Your department doesn't need its own server in order to have a web site. If your city or county already has a network and server in place, it's possible the city or county would host your site. Another option is to have an Internet service provider host your site for a monthly fee, usually about $50 for small sites.
The City of Ames saves $3,000-4,000 per year by maintaining its own site. Clare Bills, the city's public relations officer, is the overall webmaster, but each department maintains its own pages. Bills says "we looked for natural talents" when it was decided that existing city employees would maintain the site. "Each department has a sense of ownership," Bills says. Interested people volunteered and were trained on Microsoft's FrontPage software. No additional salary is paid to anyone. The city's site is hosted by Lighthouse Communications, an Internet service provider in Des Moines. Bills sends the changes people have made to the web site to Lighthouse Communications at the end of each day.
The next article in this series will address hardware and software needs for developing and maintaining a web site and how to get connected to the Internet.
For more information about the City of Ames' site (www.cityofames.org/), call Clare Bills, 515-239-5101. For more information about developing a web site for your transportation agency, call Michele Regenold, communications specialist and webmaster at CTRE, 515-296-0835, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 1999, Center for Transportation Research and Education, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.