Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA Viewpoints: Preparing public sector websites for times of crisis

By Alex Jackson, delivery manager at dxw

Organisations, especially those in the public sector need to be nimble in times of crisis. When users want to engage with them, the first place they look is usually online and their first port of call is more often than not the website.

When users visit government or NHS websites, spending time admiring fancy graphics comes low on the priority list. They want a site that’s easy to navigate and allows them to access important information.

With this in mind, the homepage needs to feature the most up-to-date and popular content.  The website itself needs to be robust and well-supported to withstand a crisis and users need to be able to follow a clear roadmap that helps them quickly locate the information they need.

Nothing good ever comes from being underprepared, and here we run through the four most important things organisations need to consider when designing websites that are able to cope in times of crisis when traffic is sure to surge.

Infrastructure

Public sector websites largely act as hubs of information, allowing citizens to find essential news, advice and data. The last thing you want is for the site to be slow or unresponsive. the platform you use needs to provide a high degree of security, resilience, and scalability to cope with heavy demands and unexpected peaks. This means selecting a hosting provider with a proven track record of enabling sites to continue to run under extreme pressure.

Website crashes and slow loading pages create a sense of insecurity among users, so it’s much better to have a website that fails rarely and gracefully, then one that looks pretty.

Support

Not all hosting is created equal. If things go wrong, you want the reassurance that your hosting support provider has sound plans in place to handle any outages. It’s important that public sector organisations look to partners that offer monitoring and alerting services, as well as out-of-hours contracts and 24/7 emergency support.

Content design

Content design is fundamental to the effectiveness of public facing websites. In times of crisis emotional responses are heightend, so it’s important that users can easily access the information they need. The key here is not to overcomplicate the homepage, the more pages you have, the more complicated your website will be. Instead direct users to the most important information using banners.

A clean looking, stripped-down homepage is likely to perform better in an emergency, information is easier to update for those working behind the scenes as well as being accessible to users.

Although it seems pretty obvious, it’s important to remember that sites need to be optimised for mobile users too. People expect to be able to access high-quality information and services anytime, anywhere on any device – especially in times of crisis.

Content publishing models

When you need to get information onto your site quickly the last thing you want to be doing is creating a new process. The current need for timely information has put the responsiveness of organisations under the microscope and highlighted how slow some have been to get off the mark.

Updating your website is important but especially when you’re experiencing a fast-changing situation and a surge in visitors. it’s important that organisations have well-established and efficient content approval processes in place. Assigning team members according to their skills and expertise makes it so much easier to get vital information to users.

Final thoughts

While a surge of website traffic can be an adrenalin rush for organisations it can also be very stressful if their website isn’t properly prepared for it. Whether you experience a small spike in traffic or a large surge, it’s important to know that you are able to cope

There aren’t always warning signs that a surge is coming, so the best defence is to run your website the right way all the time, and make sure it’s updated, secure, optimised and backed up regularly. That way you’ll be prepared when the unexpected does happen.

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