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Your Website is Your First Impression – Part 2

In part 1, I discussed how an organization’s website is often a stand-in for its brand – and its quality can impact how customers consider your jurisdiction over other options. Potential residents and businesses will use your website as a convenient measuring stick for the services you provide your customers and how easy it will be to work with you. Today, I want to go over two other personas that are likely to treat your website as a barometer of your agency’s quality and abilities: tourists and job seekers.


Most jurisdictions get a certain number of tourists visiting in a year. At the extreme, Hawaii had 9,404,346 visitors in 2017 – nearly seven times their population, despite being the most geographically isolated place on Earth.

Researching is a typical top task on a tourist-friendly agency’s website. Some tourists will look to sites such as TripAdvisor for activity ideas, but others will just search “things to do in ______.” Locations that are tourist magnets typically have dedicated websites for visitors (e.g., https://www.gohawaii.com/) that will be the top result of such a search, but the vast majority of agencies will not have the funding or volume of tourists to warrant such a site. In that case, your parks, your historical facilities, and your museums should be among the top results for that search, as most of those destinations will be somewhere on your agency’s site.

Other tourists will need to perform transactions on your website (e.g., hunting or camping permits). Sometimes, tourists have the choice of geographically adjacent jurisdictions where they could go instead — and that could mean lost revenue if you don’t provide good customer experience. You need to be sure that tourist-focused tasks are easy to find on your site and use plain language instead of content only a local would understand. Failure to do this can result in a frustrated potential customer who instead goes elsewhere.

Job Seekers

As of this writing, the national unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, a 50-year low, and about 3.4 percent in the largest metropolitan areas. While government has a near monopoly for some positions (e.g., soldier, firefighter), they have typically struggled to compete with the private sector for employees whose positions they share (e.g., software engineer, accountant). Private companies can be nimble, offering benefits that are hot to a certain segment (e.g., student loan forgiveness, bring your dog to work), while government HR departments typically take longer to respond to such market demands.

That sometimes stodgy reputation means you need to double up efforts on your organization’s website to ensure you present yourself as a modern, exciting place to work. Other than an in-office visit, your website is the most telling depiction of your brand. For example, police department pages showing photos of officers in formation holding the leashes of police dogs, or of officers carefully lined up on their motorcycles presents a much different culture to potential employees than images of officers at a park speaking to kids or at a community center with senior citizens. If your goal is to attract more regimented recruits, those photos of dogs and motorcycles are for you. However, if your focus is to get recruits who are more interested in community-oriented policing, consider using photos of officers interacting with the public.

Many private sector companies do a great job of leveraging their websites to show their culture and attract like-minded employees. I like to point to SnackNation, whose “Join Our Team” page presents them as a fun, youth-friendly (and dog-friendly) place to work. It’s noticeable that there aren’t any people highlighted who seem to be over 40, so that could be a coincidence or an oversight. In the worst case, middle-aged potential employees could interpret it as a message that they might not be a good culture fit.

Under these market conditions and organizational constraints, what can government agencies do with their website to attract the best candidates? Here are a few tips:

  • Create a dedicated “Work for Us” link in your navigation. Not only is it likely to show up higher in search results, but it also gives you the chance to share photos, videos and information about the sort of culture your organization is fostering. For those not already working in government, it’s a chance to show why the public sector is an exciting area to consider.
  • Use plain language. Don’t call your page “Employment.” Consider the ways you talk to your friends and colleagues about your agency, and then use that language (e.g., “Jobs”).
  • Ensure your jobs page is showing up near the top of related searches. There are companies willing to help you for a price, but there are a number of free resources that’ll give you a head start.


Both parts one and two of this blog can be distilled down to one idea: The internet can’t be a side project for government. After 25 years of the web, most government agencies have yet to leverage its full power as a communications medium. In this modern, digital era, your citizen customers expect to be able to find the information they seek on your website – whether it’s about garbage collection, business licensing, tourism or job seeking – understand what they find and be able to act in the time they think worthy. Now is the time to leverage the best practices from both the private and public sectors to ensure you’re keeping up.

Martin Lind is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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