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We're happy to announce the launch of the 'next' version of our Shropshire Council website –

This public beta version is the culmination of the lessons learned from building and managing the last few iterations of the Shropshire Council website, the insight we’ve gained from reviewing the data we have on how our current pages are used, and our research into the design trends and best practices used across commercial organisations, as well as central and local government.

In the spirit of our original blog posts around, we'll be writing posts around the thought processes and inspirations that led to becoming a reality, but, for now, let's focus on what's new!

What is so different about

The new design takes into account the simpler, task-based approach used by the GDS team to build the website, and is also evident in the websites that have been built through the LocalGov Drupal project. This further pushes our drive to make sure the website is there to help people find what they want, which is great for them, and also helps drive cost savings for the council by removing the need to use other more expensive contact options. Our new homepage reflects this by ensuring all our main services are listed there, with the 'popular' section being informed by the website analytics to ensure that the most used pages are even more easy to find.

A customisable design and a wide range of page layouts

A request/complaint we’ve had about the current website is that some people think it looks 'too corporate', and doesn't fully cover the needs of some services that do have a more commercial identity that they want reflecting on their pages.

To accommodate this, we’ve made sure that we have the ability to use more of our brand colours and provide options for different layouts and designs for our pages. This way we can support our more commercial services by giving them their own unique look and feel, but also keeping them within the overarching Shropshire Council brand identity.

Goodbye menu button!

We’re also taking a leaf from GDS and other councils in ditching the traditional ‘menu’ button in favour of displaying all our services on the homepage and letting our search feature take the load for specific requests. To do this, we're reviewing and rewriting our content so that it's more concise and easier to search.

This approach is backed up by our own website analytics, which show that most visitors come to our website via search engines and end up directly on a particular page rather than going to the homepage. Those that do hit the homepage usually go straight to the main feature or the search bar, and those that go directly to pages either use in-page links or jump straight to the site search box to find what they need. We also avoid the issues that come with implementing and maintaining a menu, which can be problematic from the point of view of finding a taxonomy that makes sense to the public and properly reflects the massive range of services we offer, and - for us - also creates some manual work to map in any satellite websites/online services.

Building on a solid foundation

There are also lots of improvements behind the scenes too, as we're using the newest version of Umbraco as our content management system. The features within v11 allowed us to provide those different layout options, which makes it much easier for our editors to create and manage content in the way they want, and we have scope to create more options for them as and when we need to. It also uses the latest .NET framework, which is easier to develop with.

All of this makes cleaner, faster and more secure, with a better experience for both editors and the visitors to our website.

Future proofing

With the new features and integration options available to us, it has triggered a lot of ideas about what else we can do to make things easier for both council staff and visitors to our website. Ideally, we really want to help blur the lines between the website and the many online services we provide to the public, which run on different platforms created by various companies.

Our first aims are to tie the website into the MyShropshire account and CRM to allow for enhanced content for those are signed in. This basically means that if someone decides to create a MyShropshire account, and then sign in when they visit the main website, they could see extra information on the page that they're currently on. This could simply be additional information that is relevant to them and their preferences, or we could provide quicker ways to access the related online services through using single sign-on. This wouldn’t mean a ‘lesser’ experience for those who aren’t signed in, but would instead make sure that our content is even more useful to those who are signed in, and will hopefully help speed up some existing processes.

For instance, this would allow us to show a signed-in visitor when their next bin day is on the ‘recycling and rubbish’ pages, rather than making them use the bin day finder service. This cuts out a whole bunch of steps, as previously they would have had to navigate from our pages to the bin day finder service, enter their postcode, then select their address and wait for the service to load up with the information for their property. The way we can do this is by automatically pulling the address of the signed-in visitor from the CRM and using the unique property reference number (UPRN) to query our bin system's API. We can also use the UPRN to provide direct links to the relevant reporting forms on the bin finder system if they do have any service requests that they need to make.

And there's more!

Over the coming weeks, we'll post about the approaches we took for creating a more flexible back-office experience for our editors, the trials and tribulations of reviewing and migrating thousands of pages, and - hopefully - how we've shared our website as part of a brand new LocalGov Umbraco collaboration project.

Watch this space!