Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Whether you’re a resident, business, or tourist in the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, a new and improved website is now at your service.
Glenn Jackson, corporate communications manager, and Cassandra Papas, corporate communications coordinator, previewed the new website at the Nov.2 Council meeting and explained the goals and strategy behind its development.
A large team of Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville staff joined forces with a team from external vendor GHD Digital (formerly eSolutionsGroup) to design and launch the new website.
The first step was establishing a “top 10” list of goals for the new format.
The team agreed that the new website would have to be mobile-friendly, fully accessible, maintain the Town’s branding, have straightforward navigation and usability, and use clear and simple communication.
“We all know that people don’t read the web – they skim,” said Jackson.
The group decided that the new website also needed to provide “calls-to-action” (CTA) in all the right places, which Jackson said was ineffective in the last website. A CTA is a website component that encourages the user to do something. “Join Us,” “Learn More,” or “Get Started” are examples.
The remaining top 10 goals included better use of visuals such as infographics to inform people, consistency, catching the user’s interest, and ensuring the website’s tone appeals to the residents’ needs, not the departments who provide the service.
Jackson used the example of a resident using the website to learn how to get a building permit. “You’re not going to go to the developmental services department. You’re going to go to the renovation section,” he explained.
In doing so, Jackson and his team recognized the update as a “perfect opportunity to make it a service-based website.”
In determining the new website’s content, Papas explained another issue with the last version. Each department was writing and publishing its content, which resulted in inconsistent “tones and voices” and duplication of information.
“This was not only confusing; it also left room for outdated information. This isn’t acceptable by today’s web standards,” Papas said.
Reviewing the existing content was involved, with about 150 pages of text to assess. Everything on the site was rewritten, and confusing jargon was removed to ensure that information was communicated in a non-technical, straightforward manner.
“When websites have a low literacy level, users can navigate and comprehend faster with less frustration,” Papas explained, adding that “we aim for a grade five to seven level for all materials across the board. It’s just best practice within communications and allows a high level of comprehension.”
The aim was to relay the information in a clear, functional, “warm and human” way.
Once the Town’s team had the new website laid out, it was passed on to the team at GHD Digital, who provided their professional insight and editing services.
With content decided upon, the design and layout of the new website was the next step.
“The content really is the meat of it all, and I’m tempted to say it’s the most important part, but really the science and design and the layout are equally important. It all happens together,” said Papas.
The new home page allows for content flexibility so that staff can make easy updates to highlight key items and events for residents. “Mega menus” (expandable menus that appear when a user hovers over certain topics) were incorporated to accommodate extra information and user options without taking up space.
The search function was simplified so that only Town website content is accessed. The prior website used Google search functionality that drew on information outside of the website. Searching for information was inefficient, confusing for users, and could not be managed by Town staff as needed.
Userway and AbleDocs platforms were used to maximize the accessibility of the new website and ensure it conforms to federal legislation (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG) and provincial legislation (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA.)
By clicking the wheelchair icon on the left side of the home page, a user can choose from several accessibility options on the Userway accessibility widget, including a screen reader, text size, and dyslexia font choices.
UserWay also utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) automation to constantly assess for accessibility violations on the website and ensure compliance. Fixes occur immediately without the website’s loading time or performance being affected.
The AbleDocs platform enables Town staff to make documents as accessible as possible. In the past, a user would have to phone to request accessible documents from the Town. Now, the documents are immediately accessible.
“The first thing that we learned when we started our accessibility training is that accessibility starts at conception,” said Papas, citing that in the past, the accessibility component came after document creation.
A digital communications coordinator will oversee the website, manage requests for updates from various departments, and ensure consistency and professionalism in how the information is displayed.
When asked by Ward 6 Councillor Sue Sherban, Jackson confirmed the website project was completed under budget.
Visit townofws.ca to explore the new website.
Photo: Two of the top 10 goals in creating the new Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville website were that it be mobile-friendly and fully accessible. The website is easy to read and navigate from a mobile device, and the green accessibility icon (bottom left) offers several options to enhance accessibility.