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What Works on the Web
There's more to a successful website than flashy graphics.

Barbara Miracle
December 2002
Florida Trend

When the city of Tampa put together its First website in 1996, the site served as a descriptive brochure more than anything else. For years, content was limited. Today, the website has more than 4,600 pages of information.

Tampagov.net offers users the chance to pay parking tickets and water bills online, check crime maps and police calls, apply for a job and even search for a dead relative in Tampa's cemeteries. "It's a tremendous time savings for citizens," says Steve Cantler, Tampa's MIS project leader.

Many business sites have had similar transformations. "At one point, everyone just wanted to put on an online brochure and make it look cool," says Gaston Legorburu, founder of Planning Group International, a Miami advertising agency that focuses on interactive media.

Tampa's site, recently named the best local government website by California-based Center for Digital Government (Miami-Dade County came in second), illustrates what it takes to make a successful website:

    Pick a memorable URL. For a business, the best choice is typically the most logical, such as the name of the business. If your business isn't well-known, you might try a descriptive URL. Matthews Benefit Group in St. Petersburg, for example, uses eerisa.com -- "e" as in e-commerce and "erisa," the well-known acronym for the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act.

    When Tampa upgraded its website in 2000, city officials decided that the conventional address used nationwide for city government sites (in its case, ci.tampa.fl.us) was awkward. After finding that tampa.com was already taken, the city settled on tampagov.net and purchased the .com and .org versions also.

    Keep it timely. Every website should be refreshed on a regular basis, even if only to change the date and add some information. A retailer might add a special sale or discounted items to the home page; a hotel might add vacation packages; and a city could include local news bulletins and details on upcoming special events.

    Include interactive features. The days of using a website as a descriptive brochure are over. Web users want to do something at a site, whether it is purchasing a product, requesting a brochure or paying a bill. Tampa's site has nine e-commerce activities, including getting a construction permit, requesting a police report, paying a utility bill or buying an item at the Tampa Museum of Art online store.

    Personalize the site. Tampa has launched MyTampaGov that lets residents register and keep a record of all of their electronic transactions with the city, such as parking tickets, utility bill payments and business license renewal payments. As for any privacy concerns, Rick Smith, director of Tampa's Department of Planning & Management, says, "It's the citizen's choice to give us that information."

    A simpler way to personalize a site is let users pick and choose information for their own home pages, such as local news and weather, favorite links and shopping preferences.