Digital Media Insights for Business Owners

City of Raleigh: Top 10 mistakes of new Website

It has been a while since I wrote my last post and so with the latest news I thought I would take a second to write a bit.

The new website of the city of Raleigh is, in my humble opinion, a waste of tax payer dollars. As a professional website developer and strategist and having developed hundreds of websites myself, I can tell you that this website is overpriced and under-designed.

I am going to give you ten reasons why I think that this simply doesn’t work. But before I do, I want to let you know that I spent under 10 minutes finding these reasons. In other words, if I actually had time to take a deep look at this web property, I would certainly find way more.

The problems

1. The price. At $500,000 you would think that a website would have every single bell and whistle. You would expect that it works flawlessly and that it simply would have an infrastructure that is second-to-none, right? To put it in perspective, imagine that I could hire 20 people for 6 months straight at a salary of $50,000 a year to build a website with this budget.

Imagine what 20 people that know what they are doing can do for SIX MONTHS!!!! I mean, seriously a good team of web developers could be comprised of 10 people and if you payed $75,000 each for 5 months straight, you would have an amazing website anyways. But that is not the case. This website is full of bugs and problems; and the technology it utilizes is not the latest and therefore it’s outdated already.

2. It doesn’t display properly in the Apple iPad.You would think that with that amount of budget, the designers would test the design in at least the most popular browsers right? Well, one of the hottest products is certainly the iPad from Apple.

Well, try visiting the new website from an IPad and you would notice that the entire left bar is cut off. That simply shows that the design wasn’t created with responsive standards in mind.

3. Some images are not optimized for the web. I navigated to some deeper pages and saw some images taking an extra time to load and I was kind of intrigued. Sure enough, I loaded the image by itself and noticed that the image had bean uploaded to the site without resizing or compressing for the web.

For those non-technical readers, let me explain something: images on the web are different that the images for print. The images on the web have been sized and compressed to match the pixels actually needed, no more and no less. Why? Simple, the more information you have the more time it takes to load.

4. The “En Español” Section doesn’t work. You can click on the link to the Spanish section of the site and guess what? It takes a second to load and then -nothing happens. It gives you the homepage again. In other words, it simply doesn’t have a Spanish section. You may say: “oh well, it is under construction,” well if that was the case, then you shouldn’t include the link in your main navigation. Remove the link to the section that is under construction. Jakob Nielsen would have a heart attack if he saw this. Usability should be have been first.

And you would expect that a web design agency charging $500,000 for a website would be more careful with usability.

5. It contains 349 Errors, 26 warning(s) in the homepage’s markup. I simply did a quick test of markup compliance and sure enough it didn’t pass. Now, this test wasn’t performed by me, it is an automated test that allows you to see if your markup is written properly. In other words, it is like a test to see if I know how to write Chinese. I think it is interesting that the homepage of the site would have this many errors. I mean, think about it, this is what this people do for a living. They write in this language.

Imagine what would happen if I wrote a document for the city of Raleigh and they discovered that just in the front page of my document I had 300+ misspellings!  That would be unacceptable right? Well, it is more so when you are paying $500,000 for that document.

6. It doesn’t validate for Section 508. Even though the cities are not required to comply with the federal accessibility standard, they should do an effort to make their sites accessible, specially when you have a wide budget.

7. It doesn’t have a contact form. When you visit the contact us page in the website it simply gives you the address to contact the city along with all the traditional contact information (phones, address, etc). But what if people don’t have an email program?

Wouldn’t it be better to have a contact form that people can fill out and it sends an email to the appropriate people? Well, that is the norm. Not in this website though.

8. It has an interactive flash-based map. Why am I complaining about the flash-based map? Simple. There is no better map than Google Maps. If you really want to find directions you may do so by visiting Google Maps. You can even embed the map in the site if you want the convenience. But to build a complete map application is simply not a good idea in my opinion, but most importantly doing so in Adobe Flash, which doesn’t work in the most used mobile devices is not ideal.

9. The payment of bills is not part of the same website. The payment of bills happens in another completely different website. If you click on the link to pay bills you are redirected to another top level domain. The payment of bills happens in a website that looks completely different from this website. Why? What I think is that this part of the website wasn’t even developed new. It simply was linked to the old platform… perhaps?

10. Sloppy Design. The documents block in the lower left corner of the site contains several pdf documents that when visited with Firefox they “invade” the main content part of the page. That is simply bad design and shows how careless the designers were.

For crying out load, the average web designer fee is from $75 to $125. So lets say that you hire 2 designers for 40 hours each (one week) to make sure that none of this problems happened before going live – just in the homepage, you know how much money that would’ve been? About $10,000.

I think that I am done for now. I just wanted to vent for a second there. 

My goodness, I totally understand that government web projects often carry a higher level of complexity, I am not going to deny that. But often I see clients getting less than great results for their money, in this case: the community’s money.

I would like to hear from you. Share your comments about this.


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