Designing a citizen-centric sitemap: Putting user experience first
By Rebecca Christoforidis
Published April 21, 2023
The good news is that Governments websites are closing the gap with commercial sites. The not so good news, federal sites fare better in a head-to-head matchup with their municipal counterparts. The main reason? Usability.
Overcoming the usability deficit is simple. Make it easy for your residents to navigate your site and easily find the information they are looking for. A sitemap is a critical component to this endeavor. It acts as a guide for visitors, helping them navigate the site and find the information they need quickly and easily. However, creating a sitemap that is citizen-centric requires more than just listing pages and links. It requires a deeper understanding of what citizens want and need from a website.
1. Understand your citizens and their needs
The first step in creating a citizen-centric sitemap is to identify your citizens. Who are your target audiences, and what are their needs and expectations? Understanding your audience is key to designing a sitemap that meets their needs. This can be done through user research to identify your audience's demographic information, preferences, and behaviors. This can be achieved through surveys, interviews, usability testing and or by analyzing website analytics. By understanding your citizens' needs and preferences, you can design a sitemap that caters to their specific requirements.
2. Define the site's purpose and goals
Once you have a clear understanding of your citizens, it is time to define the purpose and goals of your site. What are the primary reasons citizens will visit your site? What do you want them to accomplish?
Some common goals for government websites include accessing services, finding information, and engaging with their community. By defining the purpose and goals of your site, you can create a sitemap that is focused on meeting those objectives.
3. Consider the user journey
A citizen-centric sitemap should be designed with the user's journey in mind. This means that the sitemap should be structured in a way that reflects the path that citizens are likely to take when using the site. For example, if your website provides information about government services, the sitemap should be structured in a way that reflects the distinct stages of the citizen journey, from initial awareness to accessing the service.
4. Organize content into categories
Once you have developed an understanding of your citizens' needs and have considered the user journey, you can start organizing your content into categories. This will help you to structure your sitemap in a way that is intuitive and easy to navigate. Use clear and concise labels for each category to help citizens understand what they can expect to find in each section of the site. One effective way to structure your sitemap is to use a hierarchical layout. Start with broad categories at the top, and then organize subcategories and pages underneath. This will help visitors quickly find the content they are looking for.
Once you have a list of topics and subtopics, prioritize them based on their importance to citizens. This will help you determine which content should be prominently featured in your sitemap.
5. Create easy navigational structure
The purpose of a sitemap is to make navigation easy. It should be organized in a way that makes sense to your residents. Therefore, it is important to design your sitemap in a way that is intuitive and user-friendly. Use clear and concise labels for each section of the site and ensure that the navigation is consistent throughout the site. Avoid using too many levels of navigation, as this can make it difficult for citizens to find what they are looking for.
6. Include search functionality
In addition to a sitemap, including search functionality on your site so that your residents can find the information they need quickly and easily. Make sure that your search function is prominently displayed and easy to use, and that the search results are accurate and relevant.
7. Test and refine
Once you have created your citizen-centric sitemap, it is important to test it with real users and gather feedback. Use analytics to monitor how citizens are using your site and identify any areas that may need improvement. By using this feedback loop, you can refine your sitemap and continue to improve your resident experience.
8. Use citizen-friendly language and labels
Finally, it is essential to use citizen-friendly language and labels in your sitemap. Avoid using technical terms or acronyms that citizens may not understand. Instead, use language that is clear, concise, and easy to read.
In addition, use labels that are descriptive and accurately reflect the content they link to. Avoid using generic labels such as "Information" or "Services." Instead, use labels that are specific to the content, such as "Renew Your License" or "Find Your Polling Place."
Creating a citizen-centric sitemap requires a deep understanding of your audience's needs and preferences. By identifying your citizens, defining the site's purpose and goals, organizing content based on citizen needs, creating a simple and clear structure, and using citizen-friendly language and labels, you can design a sitemap that is user-friendly and meets the needs of your audience. By following these guidelines, you can design a sitemap that is intuitive, user-friendly, and accessible.