CLEARWATER — Pinellas County has been talking about creating a new updated website for years. Now it seems staff may be only months away from a relaunch of a “most-used communication tool.”
Barbra Hernandez, Communications director, and Dan Schutzsmith, website and digital project manager, apprised commissioners about work being done toward making the site more user-friendly among other improvements during a Feb. 3 work session in the new Palm Room in the communications building in Clearwater.
The county had been meeting in the Magnolia Room at the Extension Office in Largo to provide enough space to meeting the guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention due to COVID-19.
Hernandez told commissioners that the website, www.pinellascounty.org, was the county’s top customer service platform accommodating about 3.5 million visits in 2021. However, she said, it is past time for a change.
About 51% of users in 2021 visited on phones, which was unheard of when the site was put into service many years ago. Over time, more content was added, and the site became cluttered. Technology changed.
Staff set five goals for improvements, using an inclusive approach with managed content control. It was not intended to be just a redesign.
The first goal was for the site to be mobile-responsive, which meant a changing view and interface dependent on the device a person was using for access — a desktop computer, tablet or phone. All county departments were included in the plans to make sure all user needs were met on a daily basis.
Hernandez said it was important to protect the county’s branding strategy as it had proved to be successful in recent years with the public indicating a high level of trust and respect. She said recent improvements on content presentation were working, giving an example of the new webpages devoted to COVID-19 information. She said those pages had received more than 7 million views.
The goals also include streamlining the site for accessibility compliance and implementation of a state-of-the-art content management system. Top priorities are technology, content, and design and user experience.
Hernandez said county staff isn’t the only ones being asked to help with create a new website. Residents have been invited to give feedback on the current site and to test the new site as it gets closer to completion. She said it is important to help users find what they’re looking for and offer information that could be useful to them.
The focus is on topics and services more than departments. For example, one topic of interest on the website is the fertilizer ordinance, which is part of the content found on the Public Works Department pages. However, the public doesn’t really associate the ordinance with the department. Creating a “quick path” using topics and common services instead of departments will make it easier for users to find what interests them and need to know.
In addition, pages have been edited to make them easier to skim, Hernandez said.
Schutzsmith said demonstration pages had been set up, which were still evolving. The site has more than 4,000 pages of content.
Schutzsmith showed several additions, including the quick find feature and new methods of navigation. He showed a new section devoted to the commission, a spotlight area, which can change as needed according to what is happening at any given time.
The most requested services are highlighted as are the most visited links. Most requested services and links will update as information changes, he said.
The new site includes a visitor information section with real time weather and a calendar of events. All pages have a footer of links to content areas and a link to report issues.
A group of testers will soon get to work with an emphasis on those who use screen readers to make sure the site is accessible to all.
Schutzsmith described the work done thus far as a “Herculean effort” to move all the pages from the old site to the new site. He said staff was in the “home stretch” now.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at [email protected]