Mike Bires - Founder, Author and Host

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Improving Your Department's Website

Improving Your Department's Website

A police department's website is the core of their social media program, and for some, the first impression of the department. The internet is today's yellow pages, and your website is your listing. Make sure you get noticed.

You’ve all seen them, and in fact, you might have one. What I'm talking about are those police department websites which are something less than desired to look at. Many times, these websites are actually pages inside the city's website. Typically, when you ask members of your community what they think about your department's website, you'll probably hear something like “its horrible,” or “it's not very user friendly," and in some cases, someone might plain out tell you, "it sucks.”

Try asking someone in the city, who is responsible for maintaining your webpages, why people can't find information on your webpages. Most likely, you'll hear something like, “What do you mean, the information is right here?” That same person will demonstrate how to get to the information, in which you might find yourself confused and exhausted, as they perform this right in front of you.

Many departments would love to have their own website, but unfortunately, due to city politics, it simply isn’t possible. People who have limited understanding about marketing, branding, and communications (as it relates to websites and the internet) are responsible for making the decisions when it comes to city websites. The sad part is that corporations all over America have spent plenty of money to research what works and what doesn’t, in terms of attracting people to their websites. These same corporations have enjoyed great success both on and off the web, due to their efforts placed with online marketing. If city's would listen to what these corporations were doing, they themselves could have an awesome image on the web.

So how can you have the best police website with your set of circumstances? By improving your department's pages on the website which has been provided to you. Using a few tips and tricks, you can make it so your community actually uses it, as opposed to just looking at it. Here are the top problems I have found with the majority of police websites, and the solutions:

Photos

Make sure all of your photographs throughout the pages are of the same size and design, and not perfectly square. I like to use images that are either 300x200 pixels or 200x133 pixels. I suggest adding a border that’s not too thin or thick, and make sure the border’s color is either black, or a complimentary color to your website.

When adding photos to the main body of a page, or an article, place them to the right of any text, and add a margin of about 20 pixels. This will help keep words from running into your photographs.  However, if your page already has more photos on the right side of the page, you might want to consider adding the article's image at the top or on the left side of the text, to balance out the page.

Remember to maintain uniformity! If you are going to have article pictures on the left on one page, they should be on the left on all pages. If you are going to alternate between left and right, maintain that throughout the site. One of the key features to having the best law enforcement website is to do what we are known for, which is uniformity.

Modules And Icons

Lets say you have smaller modules or sections on a page, which allow users to click on a photo or word, to take them to another portion of your website. If this is the case, make sure you use a standard size for your icons, throughout the site. Consider using margins and drop shadows, and even rounded corners, to give some depth to the modules. When you do this, you draw attention to these modules, which means you draw attention to the important items, which are not on the front page.

module sample.fwClick image to compare between the original (left) and the modified modules.

Uniformity

Take a look at the original module in the sample image above. Notice how they give "call to actions" on the ‘Nixle’ and ‘Join Our Team’ section headings, but not on the other ones? If you look on the modified version we did, we used some brief words to explain what the visitors would actually be getting when they clicked on the button, module and words. Because the visitor's cursor will change from an arrow to a hand, we didn't need to tell them to "click here."

Last, we moved the image of the badge to a more relevant section. We felt the badge was more indicative to employment, as this is what you receive on graduation day from the academy. We created a new icon for the Bi-Weekly report, which was a stack of newspapers. As you can see, the point is to use photos that relate to the content you are directing your visitors to.

Administrator or Supervisor Photos

If you have a page of photos of your supervisory personnel or administrators, make sure the photos have the same background, with the subjects positioned the same way. Consider the message you want to convey to your community, and stage your photos accordingly. For example, the photo sample I've used in the sample image above for the chief, has me standing canted, outside, near a tree, smiling. This photo sends the message, "I get out into the community, I'm approachable, and I like my department and career." This is the message we want to send our community. The days of the stoic, no-smile, hardened, street warrior department photo are over.

Copy

Copy is the term for the typed content on your website. The style of copy on a website is far different from the style we're used to using for police work. Cold, just the facts, official, professional, legal terms simply don't work in many portions of a website.

Nowadays, people are in a rush to get everything done quickly. When they have time to actually stop and visit your website, they don't want to get exhausted reading long, difficult explanations or sections. It literally causes their brain to work more than it already has, and if their eyes are tired from reading all day, they are simply going to be turned off. By placing copy on the website which is simple, clean and soft, and with bigger than normal font, you're more inclined to keep visitors on your site.  

sample copy

You also want to speak to your visitors like a human, and not like a law book. Remember, a visit to your website is the initiation of a conversation, started by your visitors. Make that conversation enjoyable for them, and they'll want to visit more and more.

Logical Updating of Dynamic Content

So after you have spent the time to make your website look better, there is always the potential of ruining your hard work, when changing out copy, adding or deleting photos. Ideally, if you don't have website design and development skills, the main content on your website should not change often. Anything that does change often, like new community policing event photos, PSA videos, and news and information, should be handled by a third-party site.

This is how law enforcement social media really shines when it comes to integration with your department’s website. Make sure to add an icon to these other sites, so people can get to them easily and quickly.

You can also embed code from your third party sites onto your department's website, to display the latest photos, videos or news on these other sites. It helps lure your visitors to your other platforms, thus drawing more traffic to your department's online presence.

Tumblr

Let me share an example of how I would use a third party platform for my news, press-releases, safety tips, and crime blotters.

I would use a simple platform like Tumblr. If you aren’t familiar with Tumblr, visit their website at www.Tumblr.com. Essentially, Tumblr allows you, and your visitors, to download a smartphone app to not only publish, but read your information quickly on their phones. However, you can also visit various Tumblr blogs, as well as manage your own blog, from a laptop or desktop computer as well.

Tumblr makes creating new posts a snap. As you can see in the image below, you simply click on the option you want and begin creating your post. It's that simple.

tumlr

I like the cross-posting features and options for Tumblr. For example, let’s say you create a press-release about a burglary which happened today. After you publish it on Tumblr, it will push the feed to your Facebook Fanpage, and your Twitter page. If you have embedded your blog's code on a section of your website, it will also embed it there too. Now, your fans and followers will have seen your press-release on the website, social media and on their Tumblr app!

Here's another great feature of Tumblr, which will help those technically challenged members of your department who are charged with publishing press-releases. They can create an email with the press-release in the body, and send it to a special email address hosted by Tumblr, which will automatically publish it on your blog. Password and software operation issues are a thing of the past with Tumblr.

Please note: Since I use a full blogging component on our department's website, I do not use Tumblr. LawEnforcement.Social has not received any compensation from Tumblr for mentioning them in this article. We are simply using them as an example product.

The Biggest Fault On Police Websites

It's a consistent problem across the United States. Law Enforcement has important information to give to the public, and they want to make sure everyone gets the info. However, departments cram all of this important info on the front page or home page of their website. The thought is, if you put it on the homepage, people will surely see it. This is entirely wrong, for reasons I mentioned above; people are tired and overloaded with too much information. They don’t want to ‘work’ when they visit a website.

Think about this question: Why do people visit a police department’s website? In general, the reasons are:

  1. They need help in solving a problem
  2. They want to know how to contact or connect with you
  3. They want to know what happened on their street last night

So how do you make your website appealing, if you don't have any design or development experience? For starters, look for great websites you enjoy using. Look at what the big companies are doing to lure people past the homepage of their websites.

Then, visit websites like ours, where you can ask questions in our forum and network with other departments and officers to quickly solve this issue.

How LawEnforcement.Social Can Help You

We anticipate there will be many questions on how to do some of the tricks we've mentioned, or maybe even some who want to know more about their website, which wasn't covered in this article. We welcome these questions and want your input. 

Depending on the feedback we get, we might just start a whole section in the registered member's section of the website, with step-by-step instructions.

What do you think? Is this a valuable topic desired by many? We welcome your comments below.

 

 

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