What is visually pleasing is not always functional or reliable. Anyone who has ever been duped into buying a recently cleaned-up used car has likely learned that lesson. It may appear shiny on the outside, and give off that clean, new car scent, but when it comes to the vehicle’s most essential features: safety, performance, and reliability, what hides beneath that shiny veneer? Building a website is much like searching for a reliable vehicle. What glitters is not always gold, and what looks at first glance like a pretty website may not offer the functionality your administrators, and your citizens want and need.

If a municipal website is an iceberg, what you see on the surface should only serve as a fragment of its complete offering. Below the surface of pages adorned with pretty colors, clickable boxes, photo galleries, and interactive menus should be more. Much more. What follows is a list of the key features, functionality, and provider services you should look for in a reliable local government content management system (CMS) to ensure you are not buying a lemon.

A Single, Integrated Platform

For local governments, in an era where budgets and staff levels are shrinking while citizen expectations and their desire for digital self-service functionality are growing, technology allows municipalities to do more with less. Today’s smartest cities and counties are integrating their software stacks using a foundational enterprise-wide platform to enable the data-sharing needed to ensure local governments are serving citizens efficiently and at the highest levels possible, even when budgets and staff resources are lean.

API Connectors

Your municipality is likely already reliant upon specific systems and technologies to enable the efficient execution of critical administrative functions. Such software could include a human resource management system (HRMS), financial software, and project management software. Where siloed data leads to inefficiencies, workflow gaps, and data redundancies, integrations through application program interfaces (APIs) can enable you to streamline workflows, share data, and allow your staff to more efficiently service citizens.

Citizen Self-Service Functionality

Today’s citizens want to be able to self-service their needs, and they want to be able to do it from any device at any time of day, which means not always during your regular business hours. A pretty website with text and photos but no forms, interactive tools, sign-ups, calendar integrations, or live video will not do enough to satisfy the generation used to finding any information at any time from the palm of their hand. Make sure your local government website is as functional as it is beautiful.


Never before has the threat of hackers and cyber extortionists posed such a widespread issue in the public sector. A pretty website not safeguarded against the latest threats will be highly susceptible to cybercriminals, which could mean the loss or ransom of your civic or citizen data. Make sure you choose a CMS provider that offers the security of cloud-based hosting, redundant servers, 24/7 emergency support, constant monitoring, and proven success protecting data.

Strategic Consulting

You can be sure an organization that intends to sell you a website that has looks, but no substance is not going to take the time to analyze what your citizens want and need from your administration and translate that information into actionable decisions relative to navigation and functionality. Your solution provider should have the capability to assist with such strategic consulting services as usability testing and should bring you insights into the latest trends and technologies that can help boost your website’s performance and your citizens’digital engagement.

Automated Remediation

Your content management staff cannot achieve ADA compliance with a one-time upgrade. Websites, like the Internet itself, are dynamic, continually changing entities. Developing an impactful and sustainable accessibility strategy requires a multi-faceted approach that begins with a mix of automated and manual testing, end-user feedback, fixing issues of accessibility and validating remediation efforts through continuous maintenance and monitoring. Make sure you select a partner with integrated automated accessibility remediation to ensure you are never out of compliance.

Dedicated Project and Content Management

You likely have existing content you want to be migrated to your new website. Be sure to ask your CMS provider who will be responsible for migrating existing content, and what the timeline will be for such work. A vendor that can’t offer you a dedicated project manager and content migration team is most likely just looking to provide you with a pretty website without the in-depth content your citizens want.

Flexible Training Options

If an organization sold you a pretty website and walked away without training you on how to update it moving forward, you can be sure they are no long-term strategic partner. Be sure to choose a solution provider that offers customized virtual or on-site training as well as on-demand continual education resources. You will inevitably add team members to your administration, and they will need access to helpful training resources too.

Strategic Account Management Support

No municipal website design team is an island. Make sure you receive the support of a group of experts who will work with you to continue to analyze your website’s data and help you evolve your digital offering as the needs of your community evolve.

If you are starting to worry that all you have today is a pretty website with no intuition, security, or citizen self-service functionality, then it is time to commit to a website redesign. Use the critical criteria outlined in this article to help you find a reputable partner that can deliver a website with substance and style.

About the Author 

Rachael Walker

Rachael is a Product Marketing Manager at CivicPlus. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing from the University of West Georgia, and a MBA from Jacksonville State University. She has over eight years of experience in the marketing space focusing on technology.

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