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Report: City Websites Have Improved — But Need to Do Better

Five years ago, a report from the municipal website builder OpenCities found many ways local governments needed to improve. Now a follow-up finds that they’ve improved in some areas, but still have plenty of work to do.

City websites have made some improvements in the past five years, but still have a lot of room for improvement — especially when it comes to loading times and accessibility.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from OpenCities, a municipal website builder with a large presence in Australia and a growing foothold in the U.S. The report, conducted with help from the website assessment firms Monsido and CommonLook, took a look at the websites of more than 700 U.S. cities.

The results were a mixed bag for cities. According to the companies’ analysis, most city websites are doing well at adopting best practices in design, such as prominently displaying a search box on the homepage and prioritizing the placement of common tasks a resident might be looking for — things such as paying a ticket or finding waste pickup schedules.

In other areas, cities can do better. Website accessibility — for example, the ability of text to be resized and the positioning of navigation elements — was poor on 46 percent of the sites examined. Load times and response times were even worse; nearly all the sites examined were classified as “poor” or “fail” in the report.

The study is a follow-up on a 2016 report, so some of the metrics presented can be used to show what’s changed in the last five years — although methodological differences between the two mean that most of the metrics can’t be compared directly. That report examined more than 3,000 municipal websites but only included jurisdictions with more than 10,000 residents.

On the three metrics that could be directly compared between 2016 and 2021, cities improved in all of them. The most dramatic improvement was in the prioritization of top tasks on websites, a design trend that has become more standard in recent years.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.